How to pick an MFE program

From Amsterdam to Zurich you can attend financial engineering masters programs in all the financial centers in the world, or places off the financial beaten path such as Bethlehem, Coimbra, Potchefstroom or Stillwater. You can be taught by some of the great names in academic quantitative finance—such as Carol Alexander, Marco Avellaneda, Emanuel Derman, Darrell Duffie, John Hull, Robert Jarrow, Mark Rubinstein, Philipp Schönbucher and Steven Shreve (leaving out many just as distinguished)—or by professors who may be as competent, but whose names will not resonate with as many potential employers. You can pay $20,000 to $80,000, and no doubt more or less, and spend one to two years or, in some cases, attend part-time.

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There are financial engineering programs with stellar international reputations, enviable starting salaries and top placement statistics; with graduates placed highly in most global financial institutions, but you can also opt for less famous programs that may be cheaper, easier to get into, more convenient or that offer special features that interest you. There are also programs as prestigious as the top financial engineering masters programs that offer similar master’s degrees such as computational finance, mathematics in finance, and financial mathematics. There are lesser-known programs associated with great schools, and top programs associated with less well-known schools. Then there are bad programs. There really are, and some of them are at schools with good reputations. I won’t name them. I’m not shy but I don’t want to taint their graduates. Anyway, it’s something you should find out for yourself. If you don’t do the due diligence to eliminate the bad programs, you won’t have the information you need to make a decision.[prbreak][/prbreak]

A bad program is a cynical attempt to get tuition dollars from students who are good at math and desperate for jobs, and deliver in return lectures from people who have nothing better to do. Some clues that a program is bad are:
  • Few students have financial experience or successful career experience.
  • Enrollment fluctuates with demand for financial quants.
  • No distinguishing approach, just a bunch of standard courses.
  • Instructors with no publications or experience in quantitative finance.
  • Few courses that truly combine math and finance, just pure courses in math, statistics, computers, and other quantitative fields, plus basic finance courses.
  • Dated content.
  • Exclusive emphasis on lecture and multiple choice or numerical answer exams.
Beyond these signs, you may be able to tell by the people you meet. Do the administrators, faculty, and students strike you as a group of successful people working together to create an exciting future? Or do they seem to be unsuccessful people trying to use each other for personal benefit?

Once you eliminate the bad programs, the next question is whether to try for a top program or select a lower-ranked one that may have other advantages. My general advice is to go for the highest-ranked program that will accept you, even if it is less convenient, more expensive, and less suited to your particular situation. That’s not universal advice. There are times to overrule it. But make sure you have clear, strong reasons if you do. Top programs have top faculty, top students, and top alumni networks. The best ones also have unique approaches. Along with the brand name advantage, those are powerful tailwinds to a career. Lots of people succeed without them, but why make things harder than necessary?

For some students, that is the end of the process. Once they eliminate the bad programs, they find there is only one acceptable alternative, or one obviously superior choice. But for many students, especially those who are willing and able to relocate anywhere in the U.S., there are going to be several suitable programs of roughly equal reputation and quality, at any level from first-tier to third-tier.

The next thing I would look at is the level of mathematics required. You have to dig deeply to find this out. There are, believe it or not, financial engineering programs in which a professor cannot work a simple calculus example and be confident that the class is following. Everyone passes a calculus exam of course, but that’s quite different from being able to use calculus or other mathematics in a classroom setting (not to mention a real-world setting). I think you will usually do best to choose the program with the highest level of mathematics that you can handle—and if that level is below calculus you should find another field. I’m talking about the actual mathematics used in classrooms, discussions and cases; not the course or exam requirements.

The other factors like faculty reputation and experience, placement statistics, rankings by independent parties, and admission metrics I lump together as general quality. They are too highly correlated to make decisions by weighting one versus another, you’re overfitting if you try (if you don’t know what that means, find another field). If you are accepted by two programs of the same overall quality and mathematics level, I think your choice is likely to come down to idiosyncratic personal factors rather than any systematic advice I can give you.

If everything above is not sufficient to make a choice, consider whether you are sufficiently decisive for financial engineering. After you get the degree, you will have to make much harder choices with less information at higher stakes if you want to use it. If you can make a choice, congratulations, and I wish you the best. I look forward to the benefits your financial innovations will bring to the world, making my eventual retirement secure and happy.

About the author:
Aaron Brown is risk manager at AQR Capital Management and the current Global Association of Risk Professionals Risk Manager of the Year. He is the author of Red-Blooded Risk (Wiley, 2012), The Poker Face of Wall Street (Wiley, 2006, selected one of the 10 best books of 2006 by Business Week) and A World of Chance (with Reuven and Gabrielle Brenner, Cambridge University Press, 2008). In his 31 year Wall Street career he has been a trader, portfolio manager, head of mortgage securities and risk manager for institutions including Citigroup and Morgan Stanley. He also served a stint as a finance professor and was one of the top professional poker players in the world during the 1970s and 80s. He holds degrees in Applied Mathematics from Harvard and Finance and Statistics from the University of Chicago.

A version of this article appears in the QuantNet 2013-2014 International Guide to Programs in Financial Engineering
 

Daniel Duffy

C++ author, trainer
Since mathematics seems to be important for MFE, why not just demand that a BA/BSc as a prerequisite and be done.

Then you can compare apples and apples.
 
It would be an amusing idea to make a list of all the bum MFE and MFM programs out there whose sole raison d'etre is to part students (usually unwitting international ones) from their money.
 
A very helpful post.
Thank you.!
Aaron , Can you please kindly throw some light on what kind of Job profiles we are usually offered after MS in Financial Engineering? Is it a right option after Bachelors and Masters in Economics, if I want to get into Portfolio Management in future?
 
for quantitative finance don't forget French school and university like : El karoui , DEA Laure Elie (with very famous teacher like Peter Tankov, Giles Pages...) or DEA Lamberton or ENSAE Paristech
it cost only 500$ a year and you get one of the highest level in quantitative finance all around the world.
 
A bad program is a cynical attempt to get tuition dollars from students who are good at math and desperate for jobs, and deliver in return lectures from people who have nothing better to do.

Lol. Sounds like Baruch.

Kinda of like a garbage program that took your money and refused to get u help for 8 years because of its amazing non existent alumni community?

Any school that takes your money and refuses to help you is absolutely garbage
 
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A bad program is a cynical attempt to get tuition dollars from students who are good at math and desperate for jobs, and deliver in return lectures from people who have nothing better to do.

Lol. Sounds like Baruch.

Kinda of like a garbage program that took your money and refused to get u help for 8 years because of its amazing non existent alumni community?

Any school that takes your money and refuses to help you is absolutely garbage
Did you attend Baruch? Its name gets passed around favorably but I haven't heard many reviews from students. The program is on the cheaper side, although not the cheapest.
 
Did you attend Baruch? Its name gets passed around favorably but I haven't heard many reviews from students. The program is on the cheaper side, although not the cheapest.
Yes I did. I want my money back tbh. I had 0 interviews coming from the program. The program can’t get Indians quant jobs. Privately he has tried sending my resume but he has struggled to land me an interview.

8 years is unacceptable to me. It’s trash
If he thinks I’m wrong he’s welcome to give a response to me here as to why the program struggled to land me an interview.

If you were in my shoes you will feel the same, trust me
 
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Yes I did. I want my money back tbh. I had 0 interviews coming from the program. The program can’t get Indians quant jobs. Privately he has tried sending my resume but he has struggled to land me an interview.

8 years is unacceptable to me. It’s trash
If he thinks I’m wrong he’s welcome to give a response to me here as to why the program struggled to land me an interview.

If you were in my shoes you will feel the same, trust me
to be fair I don't think any MFE programs (except maybe Linda from Berkeley) directly helps in landing an interview. Everyone I know from Columbia, Princeton and MIT had to find internships basically entirely on their own - MFE helps only in providing the brand name.
 
Yes I did. I want my money back tbh. I had 0 interviews coming from the program. The program can’t get Indians quant jobs. Privately he has tried sending my resume but he has struggled to land me an interview.

8 years is unacceptable to me. It’s trash
If he thinks I’m wrong he’s welcome to give a response to me here as to why the program struggled to land me an interview.

If you were in my shoes you will feel the same, trust me
I don't think your review of an MFE degree is unique to Baruch. I really don't see any degree from any school as a definite path to a job. I don't think it is realistic to expect an academic institution to line a job up for students. MFE degrees make a resume competitive for quant jobs, but there are other characteristics that employers are looking for outside of educational achievements. I have heard plenty of reviews from plenty of other programs that echo the same harsh reality. Seems like the best bet of getting a job lies on the applicant. Additionally, I think a lot of MFE students have completely unrealistic expectations when it comes to the job market. The odds that one lands a competitive top role at a top firm/fund/bank are low. If that is all you apply for then the outcome should be a little obvious.
 
I wasn’t even applying for those hard core jobs. I applied to mostly QD jobs. I’m smart enough to pass a Facebook interview. I’m definitely smart enough to pass those child’s play quant interviews
 
I don't think your review of an MFE degree is unique to Baruch. I really don't see any degree from any school as a definite path to a job. I don't think it is realistic to expect an academic institution to line a job up for students. MFE degrees make a resume competitive for quant jobs, but there are other characteristics that employers are looking for outside of educational achievements. I have heard plenty of reviews from plenty of other programs that echo the same harsh reality. Seems like the best bet of getting a job lies on the applicant. Additionally, I think a lot of MFE students have completely unrealistic expectations when it comes to the job market. The odds that one lands a competitive top role at a top firm/fund/bank are low. If that is all you apply for then the outcome should be a little obvious.
How about an interview? It never occurred, 0 interviews makes no fucking sense.

How come when I go to other schools, I see lot of Indians getting. Quant jobs. How come I don’t see any Indian quants from Baruch ?
 
Not to be the bearer of bad news but for reasons beyond anyone's control, the finance industry in both the USA and Europe is going to suffer a massive reduction in size and numbers employed. And so, if the job market hasn't been anything great the last several years, it's going to become bleaker yet. The point is that even if you get admitted into a first-rank program, you want to consider the chances of landing a job once you graduate.
 
i know several IIT indian students in columbia who got quant internships from cold applying to jobs (with absolutely zero help from columbia). For baruch, I think the sample size of indians is already small since their class profile seems to mainly consist of Tsinghua and Peking chinese students, but I'm pretty sure if an IIT student went to baruch, they would get interviews regardless. From personal experience, the # of interviews is correlated with where you did your undergraduate - tsinghua, peking, IIT and ivey league undergrads who went to MFE programs tend to get the most interviews regardless where the MFE is, and if ur not from these schools or dont have solid prior internship experience then the job hunt is really rough even if u go to cmu/berkeley
 
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How about an interview? It never occurred, 0 interviews makes no fucking sense.

How come when I go to other schools, I see lot of Indians getting. Quant jobs. How come I don’t see any Indian quants from Baruch ?
Interviews are typically tough to land too. Makes sense - firms don't have the resources to interview tons of people so they will interview the top candidates. The job market is rough. It took me 70 + applications to land a quant internship.

As far as who is getting interviews/jobs, I can't shed light on that. Could be a case of biased perspective leads to biased results. It is tough to get an accurate view of what employers look for the most.
 
How about an interview? It never occurred, 0 interviews makes no fucking sense.

How come when I go to other schools, I see lot of Indians getting. Quant jobs. How come I don’t see any Indian quants from Baruch ?

With respect, something must be wrong with your resume. I'm going to MFE Tandon and Baruch is looked up to by people in the industry. Even I, coming in without a degree in math and engineering or cs, got a quant offer. Not sure when you went to Baruch, maybe it was difficult back then? But to be fair, you can't completely blame a program for not delivering your success tho. It really goes down to you personally. Say even if the program gives you your first job, then without self-sufficiency, you won't last on the street for that long. You can only blame the program for not teaching you well. But even in that case, one should be responsible for teaching himself as it is graduate study. I myself applied for over 100 companies during job search, mostly on my own, yet never blame anyone but myself for my failure.

I wasn’t even applying for those hard core jobs. I applied to mostly QD jobs. I’m smart enough to pass a Facebook interview. I’m definitely smart enough to pass those child’s play quant interviews

Being technically smart, unfortunately, is not the only factor that guarantees one's success.
 
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Nothing wrong with my resume.
I had to do what I had to do to make a living. From meaningless 15$ an hour contract jobs to sustain living to finally becoming a quant developer at a systematic trading firm. This didn’t come easy. I got enrolled in Columbias robotics program. Literally within 3m of me joining, I’m banking close to quarter million at my new job. I’m not worried about my skills. I study everyday and it’s only going up.

The thing is, literally 4m ago I applied for a job at pimco through the Baruch alumni and didn’t get any interview for a Software engineer role. I was like “WTH even after working for fb I can’t land a quant dev role ?”
Then I applied on my own to pimco and lo and behold, a recruiter from the credit systemic trading team called me for an interview. By that time, I passed on that interview as I already had an offer from companies and another systematic trading firm. Completely unrelated department with pimco as the original one was in FI. But yea this saddened me, as I felt the program purposefully kept me out of any job opportunities.

This kinda got me very sad tbh. Because initially i was in love with Baruch. I felt it was the best place for me to grow academically. Due to health issues, shit just didn’t work out right for me.

Yea the program is excellent no doubt. But it completely shunned me and few of my classmates. Whatever…I’m never reaching out to this program for help.
 
Nothing wrong with my resume.
I had to do what I had to do to make a living. From meaningless 15$ an hour contract jobs to sustain living to finally becoming a quant developer at a systematic trading firm. This didn’t come easy. I got enrolled in Columbias robotics program. Literally within 3m of me joining, I’m banking close to quarter million at my new job. I’m not worried about my skills. I study everyday and it’s only going up.

The thing is, literally 4m ago I applied for a job at pimco through the Baruch alumni and didn’t get any interview for a Software engineer role. I was like “WTH even after working for fb I can’t land a quant dev role ?”
Then I applied on my own to pimco and lo and behold, a recruiter from the credit systemic trading team called me for an interview. By that time, I passed on that interview as I already had an offer from companies and another systematic trading firm. Completely unrelated department with pimco as the original one was in FI. But yea this saddened me, as I felt the program purposefully kept me out of any job opportunities.

This kinda got me very sad tbh. Because initially i was in love with Baruch. I felt it was the best place for me to grow academically. Due to health issues, shit just didn’t work out right for me.

Yea the program is excellent no doubt. But it completely shunned me and few of my classmates. Whatever…I’m never reaching out to this program for help.

I see. Yet the fact that Baruch alumni responded to you after you graduated in 2012 already indicates more or less the sense of community right? Also, blaming the whole program and community for just one incident would not be a fair move in my opinion. Anyhow, I'm glad that you finally got your offer. Good luck and may you have good health going forward.
 
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