UCB MFE UCB Pre-Program Review

Sky

Member
Has anyone gone through UCB's 3 pre-program courses in past years? If so, could you please write a little bit about how the courses went? Thanks.
 

jackcoke

double shot
C++ Student
I took the Statistics for FE class remotely, mainly because it looked interesting and I had some time on my hands. :) I'm not applying to UCB.

The Stats class is taught by an ex-NASA rocket scientist (literally). Therefore, it is very 'applied' in nature. We skimmed through the mathematical derivations and concentrated on applications to finance, since there were only 7 classes (<20 hours of lectures) and we had to cover basic stats (distributions, hypothesis testing etc), ARMA processes, GARCH, linear regression, ANOVA, Gaussian copulas...

I found the assignments fun since they were not merely textbook stats problems. For example in one assignment, we wrote a program to simulate the value of a portfolio of defaultable bonds and investigate the effect of "default contagion". It was a simple model but I enjoyed it. The lecturer was effective and the TA extremely responsive.

However, this course will not suffice if you're looking for mathematical preparation. What it does provide is a quick and brief introduction to the various statistical tools used in finance, and some interesting homework assignments. I would imagine if you're applying to UCB, this might be helpful for your admission chances since the assignments are all graded and recorded.
 

JPAlonso

New Member
I am currently taking the Math course, so I can describe my experience so far.

I agree with jackcoke, except for the ones in the first few of weeks, the assignments are fun and mostly applied (plenty of Black Scholes). While the lectures do cover the basics (PDE, ODE, Linear Algebra, etc.), the focus is on the financial applications. Great professor (I believe he lectures both the Statistics and the Math course) and TA.

BBB, if you are thinking of applying for the 2013 fall cycle keep in mind that the course will only be offered from January to March 2013 (as far as I can tell), so it may be too late to help you with the applications. Nevertheless, it is a good preparation/warm up course if that is what you are looking for.
 

BBB

Member
Thanks for the reviews. Yeah, I'm looking for a good prep in general. Not planning on necessarily applying to UCB.
 

Sky

Member
I just finished taking the UCB MFE C++ course. I also just finished with UCB's 2 other pre-MFE courses as well (Math Foundations and Statistics). I have to say that my experience with Berkeley has been the most pathetic and unprofessional experience I have ever had with a university.

About the Math Foundations and Statistics courses...
The Math Foundations and Statistics courses are taught by the same professor. Even though many students found appealing that he is an ex- NASA rocket scientist, I was not particularly impressed by this. (You could be the greatest professor in the world in your subject matter. Or, you could have worked on some really sweet projects in your time. But, if it doesn’t having anything to do with FE, then forget about it.) I had so many problems with these 2 courses. First, even though everybody pays the same amount of money for these courses (each course will set you back a cool $1,695, not to mention the opportunity cost), whether you are able to physically be on site or not, the professor only makes hard-copy solutions available for those who attend the lectures on site. True, he does go over solutions to the previous homework assignment in each lecture, but his explanations were weak (I had far better lectures from my unheard-of undergrad college that Berkeley just loves to hate), and this makes it very difficult to follow a step-by-step solution process for somebody who cannot be there on site. Now, his rational for not making the solutions available to everyone is that this gives an incentive to students to attend the lecture. While I understand that incentives matter, the issue here isn't one of incentives – it’s a matter of students getting what they paid for. Moreover, it was often the case that each successive homework assignment used the results from the previous assignment. I think that this is a horrible strategy for homework assignments. Yes, we should always be building upon concepts (this is MFE -- not a communications or a degree in jewelry making -- after all!), but, if a student obtained bad results in a previous homework assignment, then the student will certainly mess up on the current assignment. In addition, all homework assignments had to be typed up in LaTeX. While I understand that LaTeX is a good tool to have in your toolbox, and that not everybody has such great penmanship skills if we were to submit scanned-in homework assignments, having to type up your homework assignment in LaTeX turns a homework assignment that would normally take a few hours to do into a ton of hours to do. (For example, you do NOT want to be typing up a derivative chain rule in 3 variables in LaTeX -- it's bad enough by hand! But, sure enough, this is what we had to do.) I would much rather be doing homework problems where I’m actually learning something than wasting my time in trying to find that bracket that I forgot to type in LaTeX! Also, there is only one GSI assigned to each course. Although both GSIs are helpful, the GSI for the Math Foundations course could not get assignments graded in time, so you have no way of knowing if you are making the same mistakes on homework after homework. I also highly suggest that, if you do plan on taking these courses, you know Matlab and VBA like the back of your hand. (I saw many students running into issues with VBA because of Microsoft’s inconsistent statistical function design. Also, make sure that your computer can handle simulations that have to be ran a billion times – you’ll be doing simulations in most of your assignments.) I saw so many students struggle in these courses because of this. (For example, what somebody could accomplish in C++ in 20 lines of code, I could get done in Matlab in 1 line of code.) Know your tools and when to use them.

About the C++ course...
I had so many problems with this course as well. My piece of advice to do well in this course is don't take this course unless you are already comfortable with writing classes, templates, OOP in general, using the standard library, and knowing how to use off-the-shelf code for your own programs. (So, essentially you already have to be a very strong programmer to succeed in this course.) Also, don't be deceived by how easy the first assignment is. The first assignment is pretty much a joke, but you can count on spending at least 40 hours a week in this class alone from each assignment.) Moreover, if you are taking all 3 courses at once, plan on spending at least 90 hours per week on homework. Yes, you can kiss your job good-bye. In addition, the help available in this class is very hit and miss. There was one lab instructor and two GSIs assigned to this course. The professor would give two lectures in one day on a Saturday, and the lab instructor would very briefly talk about not-so helpful hints for the homework assignment the following Saturday. I had great help from only one of the GSIs -- he really knew his stuff when it came to C++. However, most of the time, my questions were not responded to in a timely manner at all. (On one occasion, nobody responded to my e-mails for about a week before an assignment was due – luckily, I figured out the solution to the problems that I was having in time, though.) What’s more, the answers to most of my questions from the other GSI and the lab instructor did not help at all. You’re pretty much on your own when it comes to help. (I recall from the final homework assignment that the lab instructor suggested I use something that we had not even covered in the lecture.) In addition, even though the professor obviously knew his stuff, many portions of the lectures were not pertinent at all. (Seeing advanced applications of C++ is nice and all, but I really don’t care to waste time by having to watch all of that – and you have to watch all of the lectures because you might miss a critical piece of information at a total random spot in the lecture video – when I have so much homework to be doing.) Furthermore, the examples presented in class were very limited. Here is what I felt like most of the homework problems were like… “Here is how to add 1 plus 1. Now, as an exercise, add 3 plus 4. For the homework, I want you to design a trajectory to the moon without any delta v’s given such and such parameters.” Needless to say, the homework assignments were totally from left field. Thank God for cplusplus.com, though! You could essentially teach yourself everything you need to know about C++ by cranking through the tutorials on that site, as well as other sites.

In general, I would highly suggest for anybody even considering taking the UCB pre-MFE courses to not do so. Especially do not do take these courses if you think that doing so will make your application more appealing to UCB. Also, don’t get ANY of the “recommended” books that they suggest. You will just be wasting money. You can survive on your old prob. and stats., linear algebra, and multivariable calculus books. (I highly suggest Jay Devore’s Probability and Statistics for Engineering and the Sciences, as it clearly presented topics that we were using in both classes.) You can learn far more (and, moreover, far more pertinent info that you will actually use in your career) by getting Dan Stefanica’s book “A Primer for the Mathematics of Financial Engineering” (along with the solutions manual) and Steve Shreve’s book “Stochastic Calculus for Finance.” Cranking through all of the problems in these books will most certainly get you up to speed for any MFE program, and doing so will save you the $5,085 (and the opportunity cost) that you would have otherwise handed over to Berkeley.
 

Chashu

Member
Uh Uh Hold on Sky ..I disagree with what you have reported above. I just finished taking the Mathematics foundation course(din take the other two) and this is what I feel
1. The course was well taught by the professor. His approach was to start with the mathematics basics, scan through the derivations and then arrive to the applications part of it with small examples and leave the big ones to us in form of assignments. Agreed the class wasn't much of an interactive session since there were very few people attending the course in class(10/150) although the prof kept encouraging.
2. Did you actually try solving the problems? I enjoyed doing the assignments a lot coz they weren't plain textbook problems. I had to invest time mastering VBA and MATLAB, but what better time than now to learn. Lots of people were quite active on the forums and we would discuss different approaches to solution. In fact, I would say if you would actually work towards solving, get your doubts clarified on the forums and learn from other's methods, you would be done with the assignment quite easily. Few of the assignments did depend on derivations from earlier assignments, but that wasn't hard to grasp.
3. The GSI was also quite prompt towards our queries. He had allocated skype hours for doubt clarification. If you weren't able to understand the solution at any point, did you try asking the GSI or on the forum?
4. And when the prof would discuss the solution in next lecture, we would mostly be comparing final numbers..in many cases, people even compared their final numbers on forums. So I never felt any issue with the GSI reporting scores late. I am glad to say that with all the effort put in, I scored perfect credit in all the assignments :) The prof's solution wasn't meant to be a detailed step by step, it was just supposed to guide you. Of course it wouldn't make any sense for people who were looking for ready solutions.
5. Latex was indeed a bit of pain but there were other ways suggested too eg. mathtype. In the end I din't mind putting in a couple of hours typing in the assignment and putting it in a presentable form.
6. Cost per program was high but I dont see any reason differentiating it between in-class and remote participants. If the remote participation fee would have been less, not even 10 of those people would have attended the class. And they made all resources available to everyone, didn't they?

I am guessing you might have had so much of problems because you were enrolled in all three and couldn't find enuf time.. But then again there has to be an efficient way to complete the course and not get lost. For me, it was 3-4 hrs listening to the lecture and browsing through the notes followed by 3-5 hrs solving the assignments and another 2 typing them.
 

Chashu

Member
Sky BTW I noticed from your other posts that you were waitlisted for UCB this year. What happened to that?
 

BBB

Member
Disappointed to hear that about the c++ course. I'm going to look into their programming courses offered through UCB Extension.
 

Sky

Member
Sky BTW I noticed from your other posts that you were waitlisted for UCB this year. What happened to that?
Yes, I was on the waitlist. I found out that I got rejected. However, what's even worse is that I had to actually call up Berkeley on the first day of classes (this past Monday) to find out my status. I kept prodding Berkeley for my status before then, but they kept me in the dark the entire time. I was told that we would be informed of our accept / reject status by the first day of class. I didn't receive any notification. In fact, the lady I spoke with said that they sent out final notification letters on Friday. There is simply no possible way that I could have received this notification (and, especially students who are not currently in the states) by Monday. Moreover, the same lady said that UCB should send out an e-mail notifying applicants. I thought this was extremely unprofessional.
 

Sky

Member
Uh Uh Hold on Sky ..I disagree with what you have reported above. I just finished taking the Mathematics foundation course(din take the other two) and this is what I feel
1. The course was well taught by the professor. His approach was to start with the mathematics basics, scan through the derivations and then arrive to the applications part of it with small examples and leave the big ones to us in form of assignments. Agreed the class wasn't much of an interactive session since there were very few people attending the course in class(10/150) although the prof kept encouraging.
2. Did you actually try solving the problems? I enjoyed doing the assignments a lot coz they weren't plain textbook problems. I had to invest time mastering VBA and MATLAB, but what better time than now to learn. Lots of people were quite active on the forums and we would discuss different approaches to solution. In fact, I would say if you would actually work towards solving, get your doubts clarified on the forums and learn from other's methods, you would be done with the assignment quite easily. Few of the assignments did depend on derivations from earlier assignments, but that wasn't hard to grasp.
3. The GSI was also quite prompt towards our queries. He had allocated skype hours for doubt clarification. If you weren't able to understand the solution at any point, did you try asking the GSI or on the forum?
4. And when the prof would discuss the solution in next lecture, we would mostly be comparing final numbers..in many cases, people even compared their final numbers on forums. So I never felt any issue with the GSI reporting scores late. I am glad to say that with all the effort put in, I scored perfect credit in all the assignments :) The prof's solution wasn't meant to be a detailed step by step, it was just supposed to guide you. Of course it wouldn't make any sense for people who were looking for ready solutions.
5. Latex was indeed a bit of pain but there were other ways suggested too eg. mathtype. In the end I din't mind putting in a couple of hours typing in the assignment and putting it in a presentable form.
6. Cost per program was high but I dont see any reason differentiating it between in-class and remote participants. If the remote participation fee would have been less, not even 10 of those people would have attended the class. And they made all resources available to everyone, didn't they?

I am guessing you might have had so much of problems because you were enrolled in all three and couldn't find enuf time.. But then again there has to be an efficient way to complete the course and not get lost. For me, it was 3-4 hrs listening to the lecture and browsing through the notes followed by 3-5 hrs solving the assignments and another 2 typing them.
After talking with a few people throughout the time of the courses, I found that people either hated the courses or loved the courses. Unfortunately, I was in the camp of students that hated the courses. Everyone is absolutely entitled to his / her opinion of the courses. Anybody considering to look into Berkeley (or any school for that matter) should always consider the whole range of opinions and reviews, not just mine or any other person's. But, in regard to your points...

1) While I agree with the approach to the lectures (i.e., basic math first, then making sure that we all understand the derivations behind key results, and finally applications), and while I think that the content matter covered was good, I myself did not find the actual presentation of the material to be well-planned. (I recall several homework assignments in which an equation was incorrectly typed or an example solution method was flawed. In particular, there was one assignment in Statistics where there was essentially a war on the forums about how to assign percentages to ordered data in the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, and there was no final determination as to what the correct approach actually is.) Moreover, even though we covered some good material, I think that, because of the "project" nature of the assignments, we failed to cover many other topics that I think we should have covered. (For example, nowhere did we discuss Put-Call parity, which I think is a crucial topic to cover.) While I enjoy project-style assignments as well, there is a time and place for those types of courses. Since the intent of the pre-MFE program is bring us up to speed for the full MFE program (and not just to be very strong in topics here and there), I don't think project-style courses are a wise approach for the pre-MFE courses. That being said, I think that, because any MFE program is very programming intensive in nature, UCB should make the programming skills required as separate pre-MFE courses. For example, perhaps they could have one course devoted to just Matlab and VBA. Or, maybe a better approach would be to just make this a required skill set even before the pre-MFE courses. Just a thought...

2) Yes, I actually tried solving the homework assignments (and, moreover, was successful in each). Even though I did quite well in the courses, and even though I was very active on the forums, again, I think a textbook homework style approach to the courses would have been better for the reasons stated above. I feel that I learned far more by cranking through Stefanica's and Shreve's books in a few months than I did with the pre-MFE courses. (Perhaps this is a problem with MFE programs -- or even most graduate programs -- in general. While I can certainly teach myself the required content and I can certainly display these skills in an interview, these schools only care if you have some official document saying so.)

3) Yes, I agree that the GSI for each of the math courses was helpful. However, I found that asking questions or bouncing ideas off other students in the forums was even more helpful. Still, I thought that there were points in the courses where the GSI began to be overwhelmed by all the questions being sent in and, as such, couldn't respond to every student's questions in time. Maybe it's because I'm used to small class sizes in which the professor could handle the workload.

4) I come from a profession in which we have to fully document our design / solution steps, making sure that we followed every law in the design code perfectly. So, if I were to mess something up on a homework assignment, I want to know why exactly. It does me no good to just see final numbers. I want to correct my mistakes such that I don't keep making them in future assignments. Moreover, if I'm asked to do something, I will do just that (and nothing more). I hate it when I have to read between the lines and guess what the professor is actually looking for. I often found this to be the case.

5) I guess your take on the LaTeX usage in this course is a matter of how comfortable you are with it even before you begin the courses. I really wish they would have informed us of this ahead of time to allow myself to brush up on my LaTeX skills ahead of time such that I'm not wasting time in homework assignments because I have forgotten how to align equation arrays properly.

6) Actually, as I indicated before, they did NOT make all course material available to everyone. Those who were able to be on campus physically were given hard-copy solutions to homework assignments; those who could only attend remotely were not given electronic copies of the solutions. Moreover, I got the feeling that UCB didn't want those attending remotely to find out about this, as this fact was not revealed in any administrative documents. Actually, I first found out about this issue because another student happened to discover this little fact in a response from the GSI on the forum.

I was fully aware of the expected time commitment to be successful in all 3 courses, and I had no issue with the fact that it would take considerable work to do so. It should be hard -- that is how we separate the weak from the strong. However, I was not expecting the lecture material to be flawed, incomplete, or vague (especially from the C++ side).

Anyways, I just wanted to give my take on things. Again, as always, anybody looking to purchase a product should investigate (within reason) reviews on the product, both good and bad, to make a fully informed decision. Because that is what all higher education is -- a product.
 

Chashu

Member
6)If UCB actually didn't want those attending remotely to find out, believe me, you and I wouldn't have. I remember the prof mentioning it clearly not just once but 3-4 times(in the initial classes). The video lectures are still there on the site for you to do a cross check.

Everything and yes everything( including Apple products :D) has a scope of improvement. Some people are okay accepting what is on offer and some keep waiting for better versions :).

PS: If you have such a strong feedback, you should go and share it with UCB folks.
 

costas

New Member
Unfortunately I don't have much time to elaborate on this issue; will try and do so at some point in the future. But as a UCB MFE applicant and one that took the three pre-program courses I can say that I am on the same page as Sky on this. With regards to the application, I don't remember being treated with so much contempt and disrespect before.
With regards to the pre-program courses, I believe the example Sky gives with the Assignment solutions says it all. For courses that cost 1700USD each, it is unheard of to be told that you are not going to get a soft copy of the solutions. The reason by the way is so that future students do not get ahold of the solutions and copy them down without attempting the assignments. Firstly, prospective MFE students should be old and mature enough to realise that copying down solutions will end up harming them! Secondly, if the professor is concerned about this, he should just spend some time every year to change the assignments, instead of penalising current students (who I repeat have paid quite a bit for these courses). Disappointing to say the least.
 

Me.rahul

New Member
I had a totally different experience. I took the Math pre-program course and really liked the content that was taught in the course. The best part was the homework assignments which, if you do them diligently, were very pragmatic at times. If you do your homework properly you would get the most benefit out of the course. Moreover, the instructor was very helpful, always tried to answer all the queries. For me, not having the slides of the solutions was not really an issue. You get to discuss the homework on the forum and later in the lecture; so if you are following everything then not having a copy of the solution given by Prof. won't pinch you much. The only limitation that I find is that being an online student you can not take part in class discussions. Overall, I will rate the course experience excellent.
 

ssk

New Member
Hi all,

Thanks for all the reviews you have posted here. I was wondering if you could let me know when in January do the courses start and when in March they end ?

Thanks,
 

nightkid

New Member
Hi all,

Thanks for all the reviews you have posted here. I was wondering if you could let me know when in January do the courses start and when in March they end ?

Thanks,
For Math Foundations, January 17 - March 15, 2012
For Stat, January 31 - March 13, 2012

Subject to change for 2013 admission year...

Hope it helps.
 
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