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Undergraduate Seeking Advice

First of all, I am new to the community and would like to say hello to everyone. I've been following the QuantNet blog for a few months now, but have never used the forums. They seem to be a great resource and I look forward to using them in the future. Now for my post...

I'm currently an undergraduate in my third year pursuing a B.S. in Finance and a B.S. in Mathematics. Until this past fall, I was unsure what path I wanted to take. All I knew was I loved math and had an interest in finance. After extensive career research, I discovered the quantitative finance industry and found a career path that seemed to fit my interests. My goal is now to get a MFE after graduation. Now that I have figured out the path I want to take, I am having trouble deciding what undergraduate program to complete.

My question is about which math track to choose. There are two choices and each has it's pros and cons. I would like to hear your recommendations on which program would best prepare me for an MFE program. At this point, the finance degree is definite since it is so close to completion and will open up other opportunities within finance if I don't get accepted to a MFE program. Here are the two options:
  1. Mathematical economics track - would graduate in two years due to overlap with finance degree, but lacks computer science courses
    Courses: intermediate macro/microeconomics, mathematical economics, econometrics, game theory, international economics, economic modeling
  2. Computational track - has computer science courses, but would require three years to graduate
    Courses: computer science (3 semesters), systems software, computer architecture, programming languages (2 semesters), operating systems, discrete computational structures
Both tracks offer: single and multi-variable calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, basic statistics, mathematical statistics (2 semesters), advanced calculus, mathematical modeling, probability theory, introductory c programming, complex variables, applied boundary value problems, and combinatorics.

Here is a sort of secondary question. Since I spent the first few years unsure of my path and didn't follow a plan, completion of either choice will require a total of 5 or 6 years. My question is whether MFE admission committees and/or future employers will consider this a bad thing. If so, would it be wise to base my decision on choosing the program that will take the least amount of time?

I apologize for the length of this post, I just wanted to give as much information as possible in hopes of getting relevant and complete advice. Thanks for taking time to read this, I look forward to your replies.

Tom
 
@tomsingle
Hi Tom! First, if you are more interested in quantitative finance the second option provided above looks more appealing I think. Since you are currently gaining the financial education it'd be of less importance to follow more economic side which is the first option and lack the programming experience and knowledge. So my advice would be the second option but it also depends on what position are you intending to get to in future. As for the second question:

Here is a sort of secondary question. Since I spent the first few years unsure of my path and didn't follow a plan, completion of either choice will require a total of 5 or 6 years. My question is whether MFE admission committees and/or future employers will consider this a bad thing. If so, would it be wise to base my decision on choosing the program that will take the least amount of time?

No. The admission committee looks your performance and background when you were active in that field - like GPA(s), recommendations, research experience and so on. The employers also are concerned on experience gained in related field and the educational background rather than how many years you "lost". I wrote "lost" because it is not a relevant issue to turn down an applicant/employee since he/she might be switching to another career from the different field. So don;t worry about this. On job interviews you might be generally asked this question what you have been doing in th past 4-5 years, but not of that much weight and importance.
Best
 

roni

Cornell FE
If #2 is the only way for you to learn programming, I vote for 2. Are you going to do any programming in the first track?

I don't think they will consider this as a bad thing because you are going to have two degrees. Even if you had 1 degree but it took you 5-6 years to complete it, you could always say that you ended up taking X courses to be prepared for a quantitative career or a MFE degree.
 
If #2 is the only way for you to learn programming, I vote for 2. Are you going to do any programming in the first track?

Actually this is what I got focused on while deciding which option to advice but didn't express properly. From the quantitative point of view generally the 2nd option looks more beneficial also. Pure economics is a bit boring and less applicable in quantitative field than math+programming.
 
Tsotne, thanks for your reply. I was also leaning towards the second option because of the programming knowledge that it offers, I was simply bothered by it adding another year to my education. Having read your thoughts about the second question, I am a little more comfortable with taking that extra time.

If #2 is the only way for you to learn programming, I vote for 2. Are you going to do any programming in the first track?

I don't think they will consider this as a bad thing because you are going to have two degrees. Even if you had 1 degree but it took you 5-6 years to complete it, you could always say that you ended up taking X courses to be prepared for a quantitative career or a MFE degree.

Thanks roni. If I chose to go with the economics path, I planned on learning the programming through self-education using books. My issue with that was that it would require a lot of time outside of school and also wouldn't be as strong in the admissions/employers eyes because they have no way of knowing the depth of my knowledge, where a degree would show that more clearly. Again, your advice on question 2 comforts me more, as that was a major concern of mine.

Something I forgot to mention, a third option would be to do the first choice and also complete a minor in computer science. That would end up taking one less semester than option 2 and would also only require the programming related CS courses; whereas the major requires somewhat irrelevant courses: computer architecture, systems software and operating system design. Any thoughts on that?
 
I vote for option #2. Economics is definitely useful in finance/business but less so in quant finance (for example, I've seen a few PE guys with economics backgrounds). Having the extra computer science classes will give you a greater understanding and open up more options for you.
 
Thanks roni. If I chose to go with the economics path, I planned on learning the programming through self-education using books. My issue with that was that it would require a lot of time outside of school and also wouldn't be as strong in the admissions/employers eyes because they have no way of knowing the depth of my knowledge, where a degree would show that more clearly. Again, your advice on question 2 comforts me more, as that was a major concern of mine.

There is nothing wrong with learning programming on your own but then the certification could be of much concern. As for semesters' length and employers' and admissions committees' factor, 2nd option is definitely worth taking more time.


Something I forgot to mention, a third option would be to do the first choice and also complete a minor in computer science. That would end up taking one less semester than option 2 and would also only require the programming related CS courses; whereas the major requires somewhat irrelevant courses: computer architecture, systems software and operating system design. Any thoughts on that?

If you say that this 3rd option is somewhat like "synthetic" 2nd option with one less semester, then it seems even better. You end up with the economics related degree + math courses covered + programming
 

roni

Cornell FE
Tsotne, thanks for your reply. I was also leaning towards the second option because of the programming knowledge that it offers, I was simply bothered by it adding another year to my education. Having read your thoughts about the second question, I am a little more comfortable with taking that extra time.



Thanks roni. If I chose to go with the economics path, I planned on learning the programming through self-education using books. My issue with that was that it would require a lot of time outside of school and also wouldn't be as strong in the admissions/employers eyes because they have no way of knowing the depth of my knowledge, where a degree would show that more clearly. Again, your advice on question 2 comforts me more, as that was a major concern of mine.

Something I forgot to mention, a third option would be to do the first choice and also complete a minor in computer science. That would end up taking one less semester than option 2 and would also only require the programming related CS courses; whereas the major requires somewhat irrelevant courses: computer architecture, systems software and operating system design. Any thoughts on that?

I think a minor is enough, take 3-4 CS courses and pick up from there. Then, both of the options are attractive. I, personally, would go with the first option as it teaches you game theory, econometrics and modeling (all are good for MFE). Plus, the first option is faster, which would be important for me.
Don't solely rely on my opinion, wait for a few more opinions.
 
I vote for option #2. Economics is definitely useful in finance/business but less so in quant finance (for example, I've seen a few PE guys with economics backgrounds). Having the extra computer science classes will give you a greater understanding and open up more options for you.

How about the third option? The second doesn't bring much to the table on it's own. I suggested it because of programming. 3rd seems to be a combined 1st option and programming. I think this is better.
 

Lyosha

Psychic in Training
Math econ all the way. Take a programming course or two on the side when you have some spare time.

Going to college over summers is a good way to cut a year off of your 5 years. Plus it shows resolve, which will look good on your transcript for grad school.
 
How about the third option? The second doesn't bring much to the table on it's own. I suggested it because of programming. 3rd seems to be a combined 1st option and programming. I think this is better.

If all you want is to be able to program at a high level, then a few CS courses is enough. But to go beyond throwing something together that just works, I think you need a deeper understanding. Option #2 has more CS, preparing him for a MFE but also giving him the background to get a general programming job or even pursue a masters in CS if he choices. A minor in CS doesn't open up the options that #2 does (I know I have a minor in CS...).

Personally I feel that economics has a huge role in finance and investing and wished undergrad finance programs required more economics courses. But I don't feel that MFE programs or the OP's future employers will value economics as highly as I do. Plus, how many more jobs are limited to cs/math graduates vs. economic graduates?

Hopefully I expressed all of that as clearly as it is in my mind..... :D
 
There is nothing wrong with learning programming on your own but then the certification could be of much concern. As for semesters' length and employers' and admissions committees' factor, 2nd option is definitely worth taking more time.

If you say that this 3rd option is somewhat like "synthetic" 2nd option with one less semester, then it seems even better. You end up with the economics related degree + math courses covered + programming
Thanks for more helpful advice. The third option is exactly that, it has the benefits of both, but weeds out the excess CS courses not related to programming. I'm thinking this would be the best?

I think a minor is enough, take 3-4 CS courses and pick up from there. Then, both of the options are attractive. I, personally, would go with the first option as it teaches you game theory, econometrics and modeling (all are good for MFE). Plus, the first option is faster, which would be important for me.
Don't solely rely on my opinion, wait for a few more opinions.
Thanks again. I didn't realize whether the economics courses would be useful for MFE, so I'm glad you cleared the up some. The speed of completion is important to me too. Even though it won't affect admissions, it will cost less which is always a good thing.

Math econ all the way. Take a programming course or two on the side when you have some spare time.

Going to college over summers is a good way to cut a year off of your 5 years. Plus it shows resolve, which will look good on your transcript for grad school.
Hey Alexei, thanks! Looks like the consensus is pointing towards the 3rd option. As for the summer semester idea, I already plan on going for at least one summer semester, but I would like to leave at least one open for an internship of some sort before graduation.
 
If all you want is to be able to program at a high level, then a few CS courses is enough. But to go beyond throwing something together that just works, I think you need a deeper understanding. Option #2 has more CS, preparing him for a MFE but also giving him the background to get a general programming job or even pursue a masters in CS if he choices. A minor in CS doesn't open up the options that #2 does (I know I have a minor in CS...).

Personally I feel that economics has a huge role in finance and investing and wished undergrad finance programs required more economics courses. But I don't feel that MFE programs or the OP's future employers will value economics as highly as I do. Plus, how many more jobs are limited to cs/math graduates vs. economic graduates?

Hopefully I expressed all of that as clearly as it is in my mind..... :D
Obviously programming at that "high level" is necessary for quant finance, and I realize that those excess courses would help, it just comes down to the time issue again. That's a great point about opening up even more options within CS, but I don't think I would want to go down that path. If MFE fails, I would be more likely to go into a different area of finance, which that finance degree allows. The economics would also be more applicable in the other area of finance I would end up in, as you said.
 
Thanks for more helpful advice. The third option is exactly that, it has the benefits of both, but weeds out the excess CS courses not related to programming. I'm thinking this would be the best?

I suggested 2nd option initially since it was better than first on its own alone. But you mentioned time to completion many times and seems it is important to you. So economics can be slightly less useful for pure quant career (not excluded though) but is beneficial in many financial fields and also it combines economics with mathematics. The programming can be gained in summer also, so you effectively decrease the time you need to complete your studies. As for MFE preparation, the courses you mentioned as common for 1st and 2nd options is good for MFE so 1st option can handle it from the math point of view. But if we also take into account the fact that MFE concentrates much on programming, you are adding that part from the 3rd option so you are in perfect position to go to MFE then. This is my opinion. Wait for other suggestions and arguments and sum up. Hope you'll find the path way to take. Good Luck
 
I suggested 2nd option initially since it was better than first on its own alone. But you mentioned time to completion many times and seems it is important to you. So economics can be slightly less useful for pure quant career (not excluded though) but is beneficial in many financial fields and also it combines economics with mathematics. The programming can be gained in summer also, so you effectively decrease the time you need to complete your studies. As for MFE preparation, the courses you mentioned as common for 1st and 2nd options is good for MFE so 1st option can handle it from the math point of view. But if we also take into account the fact that MFE concentrates much on programming, you are adding that part from the 3rd option so you are in perfect position to go to MFE then. This is my opinion. Wait for other suggestions and arguments and sum up. Hope you'll find the path way to take. Good Luck
Great, thank you. I'll definitely be considering other opinions, but your advice has been very helpful.
 
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