Need Advice on choosing which MFE programs to apply to (given profile)

Hi Guys,

I'm from India, and I'm planning to apply to MFE programs for fall 2019.

Here's my profile.
1. Education:
High school - 95.6%
Higher secondary - 92%
Integrated MS (5 years) in Software Engineering from VIT University, Vellore, India - 9.35/10.

2. Work experience:
Software Developer Intern (6 months - Python, Django, JS) at PayPal
Software Developer in Risk Product Development at PayPal (24 months - C++ & Java - SDE1 & then SDE2).

I quit my SDE position as SDE-2 in July 2017 to start an artisan food processing business. I've been running the business ever since (I don't know if I should mention this in my resume - please advice).

Alongside, I've been exploring financial markets and over the period of last one year, I've found a passion for Statistics, Financial Markets & Finance, Data Science and I've been going through WQU's MS in Financial Engineering since January 2018. After going through three courses in WQU's MS, I realized that I should actually take this up very seriously and go do a proper MFE in the US.

Other projects I have done that's relevant:

1. College project: Forecasting Exchange rates in Forex market using Artificial Neural Networks. I used Matlab to do this project, and used ANNs and Supervised learning in this project.
2. Personal Project: Coded up a Low Frequency signal system for different equity trend following strategies in the Indian market - NSE stocks. I coded this up using Python (Pandas, Beautiful Soup, Python-Selenium) and Excel.

I am 25 years old now.

I am yet to give my GRE, and I understand that the best MFE programs require 170/170 quant and best you can get on Verbal - so I am beginning my work on that. I am planning to give my GRE by last week of September or at best first week of October.

I initially put together a self-study curriculum of sorts to become a retail systemic trader, but then I felt it would be much much better to go work in the industry and get an insider's view of the world and gain solid experience before striking out on my own.

My goal: To work at a buy-side firm as a front-office quant as a quant analyst/associate in research/modeling and eventually rise up the ladder towards Quant research. My intention is to become a algorithmic quant trader in a hedge fund - working on developing alphas through research, testing them, and deploying-monitoring them. But after conversing with few many people who have gone through MFE programs, I came to realize that that's an unrealistic expectation right out of college unless I have a Ph.D or a proven track record of atleast.

I still don't know how realistic my goal is and if i should go with a specific goal in mind or if I should be open to everything. My gut tells me to go with a specific goal in mind and bust my ass off for it (which i am ready to).

After doing some research, I am looking at the following programs.

My requirements: Curriculum > Fees > Location > Batch Size > Financial Aid possibility (scholarships and TAs) > Brand Name

1. Baruch:

Super hard and i heard they pick a lot of Ph.Ds - highly doubtful for me, but this is my first preference.
Reasons: Highly revered program, brilliant placements, Mr. Dan Stefanica, well balanced curriculum, small and tightly knit class, tuition fees, availability of TA.
Difficulty - Highest, also because highly technical interview - needs a good amount of prep.
This is my most preferred college to go to - well balanced in all aspects.

2. CMU:

I absolutely love CMU's curriculum. I love that their curriculum is the best of all - balancing between finance, programming and Data Science-ML. Also super hard to get in. Super hard to get scholarship. I don't know if there are TAs and if TAs are easily available. I'd like to know this.

Reason: Balanced focus on Buy-Side and Sell-Side related study. Brilliant career services. Business school. Location. Brand name.
Cons: Very high tuition fees. Not easily available Scholarship or TA opportunities.

This is my second preference.

Other colleges in no particular order.

3. Cornell:

Cornell is my third choice for applications. Again, well balanced curriculum with enough emphasis on finance and programming.

Reasons: Location, TAs availability, Scholarship availability, Curriculum.
Cons: Again, high fees, and higher living expenses.

4. Columbia:

I was enthusiastic about Columbia, but after talking to many people, I have understood the following.
- More focus on Sell Side.
- Over 56% people placed with IBs.
- Negligible career service help. Just the brand name is enough to get you an interview.
- Brand name is huge in Wall Street and Chicago.
- Competing programs with MathFin and MSOR - and total batch size goes to >300 - so getting good jobs is highly highly highly competitive. Huge batch size.
- MathFin is not as highly rated as MFE.
- Exorbidant fees. Total comes to $120k for 18 months tops.

However, I want to apply to Columbia too. Because it's one of the top programs nonetheless. I just don't know if there are TA opportunities and opportunities for scholarship. Even if there are, there's a huge competition to get those positions. So i am not sure about this one.

5. UChicago:

I spoke to few people who are going there. Some are given 1/3rd of tuition fee as scholarship.

My reasons: CHICAGO, well balanced curriculum, TAs available (I suppose), relatively small batch size compared to Columbia/CMU, relatively lesser living expenses as opposed to NY.
Cons: I heard that the career services are okay-ish. I saw similar sentiments in some threads here on Quantnet. I don't know about this. Anyone who is currently there, or went there and now working somewhere, please comment.

6. NYU Courant:

Want to apply here. The program and curriculum seems good. But i am not sure of anything else. Fees is high though. I couldn't gather much info about this program.

7. GATech QCF:

I spoke to two people who are going to this program. Learnt the following.

- Best ROI program for Quant Finance.
- Location Disadvantage - far away from NY or Chicago - Atlanta.
- A lot of people end up in Back office roles or Risk management roles. (Not sure, someone care to confirm?)
- Have to work triple as hard at GATech as you'd work at CMU or Columbia to get good Quant positions.
- Availability of TAship and scholarships, and if you're really good, you can cover 1/2 or more of your tuition and living expenses with internship and TAship together.
- Not a recognized name for Finance. GATech is more recognized for Tech.
- The curriculum seems dry at first glance - not sure if there's enough emphasis on programming aspects. Not much focus on Buy-side. More focused towards Risk.

GATech i am keeping as my last option.


I wanted to apply to UCB but the program is 1-year (I'd much prefer a 15-18 month program to learn things properly as I come from CS background and not Fin background).

I am avoiding Princeton as the fees is through the roof.

I am avoiding MIT because the program curriculum seems highly rooted in theoretical than practical - more suited for Ph.D aspiring candidates.

I am avoiding UWashington because the program is more geared towards Risk and Risk management. Also not sure of the program statistics.

Can anyone please help me out in how I am approaching things here?

The following are the questions i have.

1. What's the usual career progression of a quant?

2. If one wants to become a quant trader at a buy-side firm (asset management, portfolio management companies, hedge funds, etc.,), what are the available paths?

I heard that usually people work at Sell-Side for 2-3 years as a quant in research or analyst position and then switch to Buy-Side. I also heard that some people if they work hard in their MFE program, can actually get a buy-side position.

What would be more suitable for my profile? I know that my background is in Software Engineering/Computer Science. So, I am not sure how to approach this.

3. I saw that most people who are awarded Scholarships, most people who got into these programs at top universities I mentioned above - all have some sort of background or work exp in Finance. One guy who cracked all top unis and got priority admits had 4 years work exp as a Goldman Sachs Treasury Strategist Associate. My experience is totally on the other side of the spectrum. How much of a chance do I stand in getting admits to these colleges?

I am from a middle class family - so heavy tuition fees will be a bit difficult for me and I ll be taking a loan of over $80k. So, I want the best ROI for the money - and also opportunities to do TAship to cover portion of tuition fee and be eligible for scholarship opportunities. It would help if someone could shed some light on this aspect.

4. International students - i require your expertise on this. I have about $20k saved up. I can use that for the tuition fees along with loan. What is the maximum loan they give in India - and what are my options if my parents won't support financially?

5. What would be realistic targets for me - in terms of colleges? Please comment the programs you think I have a good shot at getting in - even those not listed here.

Can anyone please help me out with this, understanding these questions and my background - in relevance to the MFE programs? It would be very helpful for going forward with GRE and applications.

@Andy Nguyen @dstefan @mbeven @Geoffrey C @kpranjal - Any insights on this would be very very helpful!