Columbia MSOR some truth about the Columbia MSOR

financeguy

Active Member
So midterms are over and people are beginning to worry about finishing up term projects and final exams here in sunny Morningside Heights. It's weird to think that I'm almost half-way done with a master's degree in operations research considering I still don't know all that much about this boringly-named subject. I think that's a good segue into what I wanted to say this afternoon on this thread. I hadn't posted anything in a while since there weren't many other helpful facts I could dig up to provide about the programs here at Columbia that everyone seems to be so concerned about: the MSOR, MSFE, and MAFN. But this has changed now that I have been here for three months. Here is what I have learned since being here to help all those applying for next year:

1) All three programs are the same. Read that again. All three programs are the same. Now I know you're going to quote coursework on me, but I'm just telling you like it is. Considering the state of the economy (which I'll talk about in a minute), I was thinking of doing the MAFN program next year to complement my skill-set learned in the MSOR. After all, mathematical finance is totally different from operations research, they're even in different departments at Columbia. Right? *Buzzer sounds* Wrong. I emailed with the director of the MAFN, Mikhail Smirnov of the math department, to find out about the admissions process to the program because I figured I could get away with having the IEOR (industrial engineering and operations research) department just forward the math department my application materials and have an easy worry-free acceptance. The response I got was as follows: we do not accept Columbia master's students because there is too much overlap in the coursework. "[Y]ou already have [a] quantitative masters from Columbia for your resume". I was pretty surprised at the time, but didn't mind all that much because the truth is I probably wouldn't learn all that much from the MAFN after having taken the MSOR. The absolute truth of the matter is that the programs are so similar and are only interpreted as different because of the names. I suppose the MAFN has more statistics, but come on people. Some examples are: Stochastic Processes (math) = Stochastic Models (IEOR), Intro to Mathematical Finance (math) = Intro to Financial Engineering (IEOR). Oh, there's Numerical Methods in Finance and Stochastic Methods in finance offered for the MAFN, but you can just take them for your MSOR if you want. It's the same. I'm taking a MAFN class right now called Quantitative Methods in Investment Management. It's a good time: my group members are one MSOR, one MAFN, and one M.S. in Electrical Engineering. You come to Columbia for a "quantitative masters" and you are essentially given free reign to do whatever you want, essentially making all three programs the same. (You can even take courses in international relations if it suits your fancy, but that you'd probably have to explain to anyone who looks at your transcript.) I know I didn't talk about how MSOR and MSFE are the same, and the reason for that is because once you study here in the IEOR department for any reasonable amount of time, it is just so overwhelmingly apparent that it feels almost silly to write about. The IEOR department tries to make it look like MSFE students are given preference over and more respect than MSOR students, and as a lowly MSOR student (which is ludicrous already as a lot of us here simply liked the MSOR program better and decided to apply for this one over the MSFE), you actually believe it for about a month or so. But it's simply not true. At the end of the day, you get to take all the same classes (I don't care what the website says, this is the real deal), you get all the same interviews (yes, we do, I'm living proof), and you are treated the same by professors. The only people who seem to enjoy providing you with an inferiority complex are the IEOR administration and admissions people. I have to believe that this is just how they are promoting the programs in order to make it seem like the MSFE is made up of only demigod students and to become more well known as a leader in the field. I suppose it's a way to differentiate. But it's just not how it really is. We are looked at the same by professors and recruiters alike. It's just an excuse for Columbia to admit more students who all want to study the same stuff. If you only have one degree program, you can only admit so many people before it looks weird. But if you have three, then you get three times the tuition. Don't argue with that logic; I'm in a quantitative master's degree program at Columbia.

2) I figured I should give an update about what the job market looks like for everyone. It's bad. It's really, really, really bad. If you're looking for a job right now you know what I mean. If you're not in the job market and you're trying to imagine what's going on with on-campus recruitment right now, it is absolute lunacy. It is madness. There are firms with hiring freezes that show up to interview students just because they want to make it look like they are healthy on all fronts, and then of course don't hire ANY. I want to emphasize one thing though. It is horrific for EVERYONE. It is bad for the undergrads, the MSOR, MSFE, MAFN, and the MBAs alike. You get to chat with people close to you in line to interview, and they come from all three programs. There doesn't seem to be any discernible pattern in who gets more interviews. I don't think I've heard of even one person in any program landing a full-time offer. I mean, there probably are a few, but clearly not many. That said, I have final rounds coming up with a truly top notch investment firm (can't name because that might ruin my whole anonymous thing, but just trust me), and if I get it I will do cartwheels down 120th street in front of the Mudd building and then sing praises to the demigod FE students. More applicable to this discussion, though, I have never had an interviewer ask me why OR and not FE. All that matters to them is the coursework, which you can make the same (or splash in some "mathematical finance" or some finance from the business school to look extra suave), that you list on your resume. And your grades of course matter, but the beauty of the MSOR is that you don't have any grades yet while you're applying for jobs, assuming you're completing it in two semesters. Then again, maybe you want your grades up because the grade inflation here is truly remarkable. Especially the business school, they distribute A+s (yes, you can have a 4.3 here) in a manner that I believe was inspired by how crack was handed out in nearby Harlem in the late 1980s.

So, in conclusion, it really doesn't matter which program you do. Just get here any way you can, because it's a much better place to be than in a job right now, and don't be disheartened if you're "only" accepted into the MSOR program. Take the courses that are relevant to what you want to do and then go after it and everyone appreciates you for it.

Good luck to everyone out there, lord knows we all need it.
 

doug reich

Some guy
Hi financeguy,

Thanks for your follow-up. It's great to get some good, solid feedback from people in the program, plus some straight talking.

I am a little confused about your conclusion:

So, in conclusion, it really doesn't matter which program you do. Just get here any way you can, because it's a much better place to be than in a job right now, and don't be disheartened if you're "only" accepted into the MSOR program. Take the courses that are relevant to what you want to do and then go after it and everyone appreciates you for it.
Why do you say it's better to be in the program than in a job? What are you basing that on?
 

Aidan

New Member
financeguy,

Did you manage to get an internship last summer? I'm trying to find one (I just started an MFE program), and it's almost next to impossible to even get an interview.


Great insights on the Columbia programs.
 

financeguy

Active Member
I'm responding to both Doug and Aidan in this post. First for Doug. I can't claim to be an expert in this field by any stretch of the word. What I do gather from my limited work experience and from my conversations from more experienced practitioners is that the climate out there right now is great from an educational standpoint. Now is probably the best opportunity to stand on the sidelines, study, and learn about everything that is going on in the market. Important issues are on the front page of every major industry periodical daily. These issues are complex, and moreover the degree of complexity with which we can examine them varies with the level of sophistication of each individual. Being in any one of the three quant programs at Columbia (MSOR, MSFE, MAFN) allows for you to develop the technical foundation, from both a theoretical and mechanical point of view, that is necessary to more accurately understand today's market. Most of the students enrolled in these programs, and I'm assuming then most that are applying to get into these programs, would be in entry level quant or analyst jobs otherwise. In these jobs, you would most likely learn a specific field more in depth (rather than get a big picture perspective) and participate in an absolutely miserable market. I have been working part time for a hedge fund for some time now and while it used to be an extremely vibrant and educational experience, it has turned into delving into this one thing full force. While I am probably now very knowledgeable about this one thing (which may not even exist next year), if this were all I was doing, the only important lessons I would be learning would be about stress management and old sayings like "don't count your chickens before they hatch". That said, if I were my boss in this market, I would probably be absorbing all sorts of information and knowledge about the market at large. Then again, I would also have a family to support and a net worth that has been cut in half. So the part time gig is a good, sobering experience, but I would much rather be in school observing than doing it full time. Most people that are doing it full time would respond by saying, "you don't know what it's like out there unless you're in the office day in day out suffering". I would respond to that with, "I'd rather watch and learn from you suffering than suffer myself if I can avoid it". That's what I meant. But, again, that's just my own personal opinion and I'm sure a lot of other people have very different and very valid points of view.

Now for Aidan. I've had an internship but I landed it back in the summer of 2007 and then proceeded to work part time through my senior year of college, then went back this summer, and am continuing working there part time while I hang out at Columbia. So I'm not experienced at getting summer analyst positions in this market. I just talked to a couple people between my last post and now, and have now heard of people getting jobs. They are all IT / systems development / more-comp sci-than-finance jobs. It really depends on the job you want. I'm personally going for something in between quant and sales/trading/i-banking (but must say I'm applying for pretty much everything now). The thing about these quantitative masters programs is that they really do their best to pigeonhole us as purely quants even if it's not what we want. If quant is what you want, I would suggest going after one of those systems development jobs, which seem to be more in abundance right now, for a summer position and then leveraging that back into a regular quant finance role for full time. If you do systems development, though, I'd imagine it would be more difficult to get into a non-quant role come next year unless you get yourself some relevant part time internships during the school year. If you're not in NYC this can be hard. The other thing is that I don't think summer analyst programs have even started interviewing for the most part. I would go to all your company information sessions hosted by the career center and try your best to network with the people there. Unless you have some sort of connection somewhere, I don't know what else you can do. Getting the interviews doesn't seem to be a problem, though, it's getting the job at the end of the day that is. Then again summer internships might be much easier to get this year than full time positions, and all that I've said about the full time recruitment process may not apply for the summer process. We'll just have to wait and see. Just know that everyone is getting screwed right now and not just you.
 

Aidan

New Member
financeguy,

Thanks for the reply. I'm in NYC, and yes, you're right about the positions these companies are hiring for at this moment---they're mostly for software developers. I've been going to company presentations, conferences, and what not. We'll see.

Good luck with your interviews.
 

financeguy

Active Member
End of Year Reflections on MSOR

I recently checked this forum after having not visited it for months and discovered that my inbox was full of messages asking for more information and a post-finals posting. I had no idea so many people were reading this stuff, but since there's demand for it and I have a bit of free time, here it goes.

Second semester is now over, I along with many of my classmates have finished the MSOR program, and there are basically two questions that are being asked of me to provide: 1) What am I and what are my classmates now doing with our lives? 2) If you are just entering the MSOR program in the fall, what courses should you take if you want to get the most FE out of the program?

I'll start with question #1 as people seem to be most interested with this topic. I am pleased to report that I have been offered 3 great positions at large financial firms. One position is in risk management, one in derivatives trading, and one in portfolio management. All are bulge bracket companies. I have not yet decided which one to take, but I can tell you that I would have been very happy to have been offered just one of these jobs, let alone all 3. These positions are also the kinds of positions I wanted before I entered the MSOR program, before I knew there would be a horrific hiring situation, so I am doubly happy that this deplorable market has not forced me to compromise my job prospects. That said, it was definitely waaaay more challenging to find these jobs than I thought it was going to be. My resume and cover letter must be in the trash cans and shredders of over 400 offices by now. In the end, each offer came from postings on Columbia's career center website. One was on-campus recruiting, two were just regular postings. So I guess the takeaway from my story is that even in this market, you can get the job you want out of the MSOR program. Next year it can only be better for the new MSOR class. If it gets worse, we have bigger things to worry about than our dream jobs.

Now for the more sobering part of the story for question #1. First of all, as I have said in my previous posts, I am a bit different demographically from most of the MSOR, MSFE, and MAFN students at Columbia as I am an American citizen. 2 of the 3 jobs I was offered had either hinted or made it clear that they would only hire people they didn't have to sponsor for visas. (The other job I was offered did hire at least one person they have to now sponsor for a visa - and they're making good on that offer.) Another thing we're seeing here is that a lot of students who originally had planned to finish the program in a year and seek full-time opportunities immediately are now extending their stay to a third semester to try their hand at full-time recruiting next year. A good number of these students have secured summer analyst positions in the meantime, as it seems that firms were much more willing to offer these positions this year. This means that there will be increased competition next year for full-time positions out of the MSOR and MSFE programs simply because there are more students left over from this year. I encourage anyone who plans to do those programs next year within one year to get themselves a good summer position NOW to be able to compete with my classmates, who will have that experience.

I'll now address the lighter topic of question #2, which is how I think you should decide your courses if you want to maximize your exposure to FE. First of all, there are 4 required courses: Probability & Statistics, Stochastic Models, Deterministic Models, and Simulation. Nearly everyone waives Probability & Statistics since we've all taken it in undergrad, so I will take that as given. If you can, try to waive Simulation as well, but most people take this course. You CANNOT waive Stochastic Models or Deterministic Models. You can certainly place out of them if you have already covered the material in your undergrad program, but in that case you will have to replace them with their PhD level equivalents. I would encourage anyone who can do this to do so, because employers are more concerned over the rigor of your program than your GPA. Get yourself above a 3.5 with PhD level coursework and you're absolutely golden. They won't tell the difference between a 3.6 and a 3.8 and a lot of times won't even ask for your GPA since they assume you're good enough if you're already in the MSOR program in good standing. I am saying this because a lot of students opt to stay in courses they've already done to get an easy "A" out of it. Nobody respects this, including both employers and your fellow classmates - trust me. Anyways, there are two types of students who are in the MSOR program and want to do a lot of FE: there is the student with a good amount of finance coursework in his background, and then there is the student without this background. For the student without any finance background, take Intro to FE your first semester and then fill up on electives in your second semester as much as possible. A common question I'm asked is, "Can I take Intro to FE without having taken Stochastic Models first?" The answer is YES. In fact, most people take them at the same time in the first semester. For the student with a finance background, chances are Intro to FE is too basic for you. You then have the option of taking Pricing Models for FE in your first semester, but this may even be too basic for you as well (it was too basic for me). If you think both courses are too basic for you, then I would encourage you to do what I did. I took Stochastic Models, Deterministic Models, and Simulation all at the same time in the first semester along with a business school course and a math course. With all my required coursework done, that left 5 electives for me to take in my second semester, all of which were entirely my choosing. I actually ended up doing 5 classes plus an extra 1.5 credit class because I wanted to learn the topic. Which brings me to my next point. The electives are the best part of the program. Don't do something like take continuous-time asset pricing (a required course for MSFE); you can do it, but the electives are much better, more interesting, more applied, and make for better conversation during interviews. Anyway, all you need to graduate at the end of the day are those required courses and 6 total courses taught by the IEOR department (the required courses can be included in this total, so you can take 4 courses outside the department if you want). You also need a GPA above 2.5, but really the bare minimum you should get is a 3.0. Shoot for a 3.5+.

I have a bit more insider information for course selection. Stochastic Models and Simulation are offered both first and second term. The following is an interesting little tidbit of information that the IEOR department doesn't want you, as master's students to know. It offers these courses both semesters under the same course number, but the material and level of difficulty is MUCH different by semester. Stochastic Models is taught in the Fall by David Yao and the class is made up of all MSOR students. It is then taught in the Spring by Ward Witt and the class is made up of mostly undergraduate students. As I think I have said in previous posts, the gap between the undergraduate and graduate students is vast. It is not surprising, then, that Stochastic Models is much, much, much easier in the Spring when taught by Ward Witt because the makeup of the class is predominantly undergraduate. Similarly, Simulation is much, much, much easier in the Fall when it is taught by Mariana Olvera because the makeup of the class is predominantly undergraduate. (It is taught in the Spring by Jose Blanchet and most students are graduate.) To recap, Stochastic Models is way easier in the Spring, and Simulation is way easier in the Fall. This is due to Columbia pampering its undergraduates, calling the courses the same thing but then separating the undergraduates from the graduates and making the courses less difficult. Right now, MSOR students can cross over and take advantage of this. Once enough MSOR students do this, they'll probably give the courses different numbers and restrict graduates from taking them. But for now, it works just fine.

My last piece of information is that when taking Deterministic Models, keep up with the course and do your own homework. This course has TONS of material, and it is one of the rare examples I've found of a course that is extremely difficult to learn in a week before the final. I did just that and thankfully was cushioned by a good midterm. I ended up with a B, the lowest grade on my Columbia transcript, but know I could have gotten an A if I had just spent a bit of time going over the material each week. I also would have had less hellish finals period. At Columbia, you will VERY OFTEN have finals on consecutive days or two on the same day, so if possible, avoid that end-of-semester cramming.
 

quant physicist

New Member
hey is there anythin stopping me from just rocking up to a quant lecture at columbia even tho im not a student there???
 

financeguy

Active Member
There's a weekly financial engineering practitioner's seminar hosted by Emanuel Derman. He sits on a panel with a few other big financial engineers (who are different every week), and they all speak about a certain topic and hold a Q&A session as well. It is held on Mondays from 6:00pm - 7:30pm. Here is where you can find the schedule:
Financial Engineering Practitioners Seminar

You can certainly attend this forum. You wouldn't, however, be able to attend any class lectures. Classes are not huge and everyone in these programs knows each other, so you would be recognized and kicked out. Columbia security is pretty serious about people trespassing into its academic buildings, so they'd probably then have you banned from campus in general, which would then prevent you from attending the seminar. Columbia's security force does do a strangely good job of enforcing this. Aside from this, you need a Columbia student ID to get into academic buildings after a certain time.



hey is there anythin stopping me from just rocking up to a quant lecture at columbia even tho im not a student there???
 

financeguy

Active Member
I don't know how much more there is to say about the MSOR program, but I will address one major question I keep getting in my PMs. The question is: can I become an investment banker out of Columbia's MSOR program? If you want to be in IBD (what I mean by this is the classical banking roles in industry/product groups), this or any other quant program is simply not what you want. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but generally there is nothing about MSOR or FE programs in general that would serve as any sort of preparation for IBD roles. If you don't get into a BB IBD group straight out of undergrad, you can try doing a master's in accounting or an MBA or do something else for a couple years then do an MBA and try again. These programs are good for capital markets (trading, structuring, asset management / hedge fund specifically) and all things quant, but not for i-banking as it is simply not a quantitative role.
 

young

Member
Columbia MSOR class requirements?

Hi, I'm interested in the MSOR program at Columbia and have researched their website for information. Although I couldnt find an answer to one question: Does anyone know if certain high level (4000's) math/statistics courses I already took at Columbia can count towards the MSOR degree... for instance, if I already took linear regression, and time series at the 4000 level (prior to entering the MSOR program), can I count those as electives and take only 8 out of the 10 classes that are required? I hope I explained that clearly. Thanks.
 

financeguy

Active Member
Of course not. No school would allow that. In order to get the MSOR degree you must complete 30 credits (10 normal courses) toward the MSOR degree while enrolled in the program. No way around it.

Hi, I'm interested in the MSOR program at Columbia and have researched their website for information. Although I couldnt find an answer to one question: Does anyone know if certain high level (4000's) math/statistics courses I already took at Columbia can count towards the MSOR degree... for instance, if I already took linear regression, and time series at the 4000 level (prior to entering the MSOR program), can I count those as electives and take only 8 out of the 10 classes that are required? I hope I explained that clearly. Thanks.
 

young

Member
Thanks for the reply... I was actually counting on you to answer since you graduated from the program. The reason I ask is because I had heard about it being possible in the MAFN program a few yrs back...



Of course not. No school would allow that. In order to get the MSOR degree you must complete 30 credits (10 normal courses) toward the MSOR degree while enrolled in the program. No way around it.
 
Well, well, well :) I did not mean to do any harm by saying that many courses are avoidable :) Anyway, I put a big smile at the end.

Before giving my opinion about OR, I would like to say a couple of things about "FE is just a branch of OR" mentioned by fffk. :)

FE is NOT a branch of OR, period. FE is an interdisciplinary area combining Applied Math, Computer Science, Finance, Statistics, Operations Research.

What might give you the idea that FE is a branch of OR is that FE is usually offered by the departments that offer OR degrees. But this does not make FE a part of OR. Financial Math is usually offered by Math departments. It just looks more natural when an engineering department offers a degree in financial engineering and a math department offers a degree in financial math. However, at Baruch, FE is offered by the Math department and has almost no OR component.

For a definition of Financial Engineering we can refer to the book by Salih Neftci "Priciples of Financial Engineering" and check the contents of the book. It is a book about "how to ENGINEER different ways of making money using math, computer and finance". I would rather say that it is more about applied math than about OR :)

What defines Financial Engineering and what separates it from Financial Math is that students are actually doing some real-world finance and are taught by real-world finance professionals rather than studying mathematical models and are taught by math faculty.

Now back to OR. When I said "it is a degree in OR in the end" I meant that you have to be responsible for knowing your major subject in the first place. That is, if your degree is in OR, you must be able to talk to OR professionals in the first place. Otherwise, it sounds unusual when an OR graduate does not know simplex method, queueing theory, simulations, max flow/min cost/shortest path algorithms :) [similar to FE being familiar with Black Scholes, Finite Difference, Girsanov words] So if you major in OR, your first job is to learn all these things to become an OR specialist, and only after that take electives in FE. If I were to go get a degree in OR at Columbia, I would make sure I take at least 6-8 courses in OR and then take electives in FE. As I mentioned before, some financial companies look for OR people, so it is great when OR skills are used in finance. What is not great is when you go for OR but study music instead :)

Regarding Poly's FE program. I have a feeling that they named it FE just because Poly is an engineering school. Also... since Poly was mentioned, I've heard that Poly might close its FE program after merging with NYU.

Finally, regarding "do you really know what OR is" :) yes, I do know. In fact, I know it too well (was even accepted into a PhD program in OR), and would like to have at least one OR course in Baruch's FE curriculum.


Sorry mate, I am gonna have to say FE is actually evolved from OR, which is a much broader subject.

Check out 5th paragraph.

http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2003/09/23/8578/
 

financeguy

Active Member
Both have valid arguments. But the point of this thread is not to debate if FE is a branch of OR in theory. The message here has been to highlight that at Columbia it certainly is treated as such and the programs MSFE, MSOR, and MAFN are essentially the same depending on how a student chooses his or her courses.
 

Hongfeng

New Member
Hi all,
I am a EMS student in IEOR, Columbia
just to provide some additional information about MSEMS in IEOR, Columbia
MSEMS(Engineering Management Systems) is very similar to MSOR, except that it has a required course named Operations Consulting, which is provided only to EMS student.
 

subhrain

New Member
I don't know how much more there is to say about the MSOR program, but I will address one major question I keep getting in my PMs. The question is: can I become an investment banker out of Columbia's MSOR program? If you want to be in IBD (what I mean by this is the classical banking roles in industry/product groups), this or any other quant program is simply not what you want. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but generally there is nothing about MSOR or FE programs in general that would serve as any sort of preparation for IBD roles. If you don't get into a BB IBD group straight out of undergrad, you can try doing a master's in accounting or an MBA or do something else for a couple years then do an MBA and try again. These programs are good for capital markets (trading, structuring, asset management / hedge fund specifically) and all things quant, but not for i-banking as it is simply not a quantitative role.
So if I get you right, you cannot be a investment banker from MFE/MSMF
 
So if I get you right, you cannot be a investment banker from MFE/MSMF
Of course you can apply to investment bank positions and be accepted. However the curriculum, your knowledge gathered during an MFE is focused on quantitative analysis. This is completely different than skills required as an investment banker.
 

subhrain

New Member
Stefan, the issue is, I have an engineering background and great work experience in one of the biggest engineering companies in the world. But, I want to move to IB and I know MBA-Fin from a top program will get me there, but I will not get admitted to any school without some financial work exp. So MFE is one way to shift and then probably get into MBA-Fin.

Dont know if I will get in another specialized field (mfe) and not be able to shift to IB even with a MBA
 

alain

Older and Wiser
... but I will not get admitted to any school without some financial work exp.
How do you know this if you haven't even tried? This is just an idea you made already in your mind.
 
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