I'm applying this fall for FE programs and was wondering what are some second tier safety schools. Also, does anybody know of any comprehensive list of admission statistics for the top schools? Thanks.
Hard to say - which schools are safety schools depends on the candidate. Also, I'd note that QF is a relatively small field, and MFEs aren't cheap... going to a school outside the top dozen or so, it may be challenging to get job interviews.
I agree with chrisd that going to programs outside the top 12 could make getting a job more challenging, unless the job is local to the program (geographically).
To me a safety school is a school that you are guaranteed in practically. All the schools on the ranking are great schools, and I would only think the last few on the list could be considered safety schools for top candidates.
For FE programs to apply to beyond the ranking list, I would recommend programs in areas strong in the financial industry. Meaning, you'll have a better shot at a job in NYC if you get a FE degree from a program in/around NYC. (For a ranking of other programs I would just look at MBA/general school rankings because while not a measure of the FE program, they will give a measure of the school's brand)
A safety school is a school where you believe you can get in with 100% certainty. To pass judgement on this you should also pay attention to the class size - different programs may enroll wildly different number of students. The higher the intake of a program, the more it qualifies as a safety program.
Just some humble advice from your friendly IT peasant:
-Grad school is a little different from college. In college, most of my second and third-best choices were to still go to school because the NPV was higher to me than working as a lifeguard for $7.50/hour. Most would agree that going to grad school to study Philosophy for six years does not carry the same NPV as keeping many existing jobs. And at some point, getting a financial engineering degree from a less-well-known school may not be able to get you much further than a master's degree in philosophy.
-It's often easier to get into part-time programs than full-time programs. If you already have a job at an investment bank or hedge fund that involves some connections with a group you want to work in and can't get into a top ten financial engineering program full-time, it makes a great deal of tax sense and professional sense to do a part time program at NYU or CMU in New York- especially if you can get your firm to pay for it. This strategy works best if you have regular contact with a group that requires a financial engineering background to work in and that you would like to work for. In the analytics groups where I work and some of the research and risk teams I've seen, for example, if another group is already familiar with your work and thinks you do an excellent job, it will be extremely difficult for an external hire straight out of grad school to outmaneuver you for the position once you are sufficiently qualified.
-Most hiring managers HATE uncertainty. And there's always a lot of uncertainty in bringing in an outside hire. They're not sure if you can work with the group, and the fact that you've answered a number of interview questions doesn't always prove you're competent. With an internal hire, you get to cheat. Instead of trying to guess whether they're going to be a B+ or A+ programmer, you get to look at their actual grades and see how they're doing in other groups. On top of that, you may already have first-hand experience with how that person is performing. If you have the choice of hiring a candidate that you've seen performing at an A- for the past two years and a top-five candidate that you hope will be an A or A+ but might also be a C- or D, which would you choose? The answer to this question will probably also tell us whether you would fire a solid performer to hire a freshly minted grad for the same salary. It's a lot cheaper in terms of information cost and information risk to hire internally.