Quants Could Be Hottest New Professionals
HOT MARKET FOR FINANCIAL ENGINEERS
It's not often that graduate students enjoy a payday that covers the cost of their program more than fivefold. But that's what happened this year when current Baruch Master of Science in Financial Engineering (MFE) student Konstantinos (aka Gus) Tsahas won second place in the 2007 Interactive Brokers Collegiate Trading Olympiad. He took home a $50,000 prize; Baruch's MFE tuition currently ranges from $9,800 for in-state students to $18,000 for nonresidents. His win is more astonishing given that last year MFE candidate Bharath Govindarajan also placed second. "Money aside, being second in this competition, which was a lot more popular and hotly contested this year, is a great achievement," says MFE Program Director Dan Stefanica. "And having the second place two years in a row, as a program, is an excellent feat for the Baruch MFE." The program, which vies successfully with the best programs in the nation in more than just this competition, is just
five years old.
Illustration by Peter Hoey
The MFE Program, offered through Baruch's Weissman School Department of Mathematics, combines a rigorous treatment of the mathematical concepts required for modeling and solving financial problems with a strong emphasis on computational techniques. Stefanica describes the MFE as a "professional master's program offering high-quality education with the goal of graduating people who will be successful in the job market." Graduates with strong math and programming skills work on quant desks, as liaisons between, and support for, quantitative analysts and traders, or as data, IT, and research analysts. Those with stronger financial backgrounds work in risk management and structured finance or as financial analysts. Students have been hired by the Bank of New York, Bloomberg L.P., Credit Suisse, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and UBS, among others.
By almost any standard, the MFE Program can be considered a huge success.
“It is harder to be admitted to Baruch’s MFE Program than to the country’s top-rated program at UC Berkeley.”
—DAN STEFANICA, MFE PROGRAM DIRECTOR
When the program first started accepting applications in 2002, there were 58 applicants, of whom 25 were admitted and 20 enrolled. For Fall 2006, there were 184 applications, 42 acceptances, and 34 enrollees. Given these numbers, as Stefanica likes to point out, it is harder to be admitted to Baruch's MFE Program than to the country's top-rated program at UC Berkeley. These numbers translate into tougher enrollment standards every year.
It doesn't hurt either that Baruch's program is financially accessible. Competitors Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, and NYU offer MFE programs costing $63,700, $36,600, and $38,900, respectively. With nary a difference in quality or outcome—Baruch graduates command salaries upward of $130,000—Baruch is often an applicant's first choice.
Stefanica cites other key selling points. First is location: Manhattan is the world's largest capital market. Next flexibility: Students have the option to attend either part or full time, with all classes offered after 6 pm to accommodate traditional job schedules. "We don’t treat part-timers as second-class citizens; everyone takes the same classes and studies together," says Stefanica. Part-timers complete the program in five or six semesters, full-time students in three. Once they do, they have excellent employment prospects. The program boasts a graduation placement rate of more than 90 percent.
Stefanica is himself stunned by the commitment of students and graduates alike. For example, last October alumni formed the Baruch Financial Engineering Alumni Association on their own initiative. "Over 50 percent of our alumni participated in the kick-off event—some coming from as far away as Chicago and London to attend!" says Stefanica. The association's first order of business: offering one-on-one mentoring to any current student who wants it.
Graduates are also integral members of a new curriculum committee, their input helping administrators anticipate FE trends and the needs of employers. Alketa Hysenbegasi (MFE '05), vice president of portfolio management for a major bank in New York, echoes the sentiments of all graduates when she says, "I am proud to be an alumna of the MFE Program." It seems to be the nature of this program—its heavy emphasis on team projects—that spurs collegiality.
('05, MFE '07)
Vladimir Voronov ('05, MFE '07) explains, "Since your performance in class depends not only on your individual effort but on your collaboration with people in your group, your classmates become your comrades. It remains that way even after graduation." Voronov, a risk analyst with CIBC World Markets, is ambitious not only for himself but for the MFE Program. "We all want to see our program rise to first place among comparable programs. The only way we can achieve that is by working together: the professors, current students, and alumni." Berkeley, watch out.