Carnegie Mellon University

MSCF Program FAQ

Below are some frequently asked questions about the MSCF Program. Questions are sorted into three FAQ catagories:

General MSCF Program Questions

While the terms "quantitative finance," "computational finance," "mathematical finance" and "financial engineering" are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences in their meanings. Financial engineering programs often emphasize finance and financial markets at the expense of more rigorous computing and quantitative skills. Some mathematical finance programs focus on theoretical math at the expense of real-world application. Few programs embed programming into their curricula and fewer still have been able to replicate Carnegie Mellon's well-balanced and carefully coordinated mix of math, probability, applied finance and computation. Not all financial engineering degrees deliver the same value. We often advise students evaluating programs to ask the following key questions:

  1. The skills needed for the quantitative finance industry are, by definition, interdisciplinary. Is the program isolated in one department or top-heavy in math or finance?
  2. Will you benefit from a customized curriculum that is designed specifically for the jobs and careers of interest to you?
  3. Does the program offer knowledgeable career counselors who will work closely with you and with interested recruiters in helping you obtain your career goals?
  4. Will you enjoy a program with many years of experience in developing its curriculum and overall student experience?
  5. Will you be participating in a program with a large alumni network and which is committed to strong alumni ties?
  1. We are an interdisciplinary degree that offers you the benefit of a customized curriculum. Students not only learn sophisticated mathematical modeling tools, complex programming methodologies and data science techniques, but learn how to apply these skills within the context of financial and economic theory.
  2. We have deep industry connections and full-time career counselors who work exclusively and individually with students on the development and execution of a recruitment plan.
  3. In addition to formal coursework in business communications, we also offer the MSCF Communication Development Program that provides individual communications coaching to polish and enhance both verbal and oral communications.
  4. With over 1,500 alumni in the industry, we have a strong and committed alumni network that you can leverage throughout your quantitative finance career.

The MSCF program offers a rigorous and cohesive set of twenty-five courses designed specifically for the needs of the quantitative finance industry. Top employers know that MSCF graduates are highly proficient in the key competencies required for success vs. other program graduates that have a large percentage of elective courses. MSCF students can focus on areas of specialization via seven elective courses in their second year.

Students must secure permission from his/her Academic Advisor, with final approval from the Executive Director, MSCF to take any courses outside of the MSCF curriculum.  Courses taken outside of the MSCF curriculum will not be counted towards the MSCF QPA unless accepted in advance by the MSCF Steering Committee as an approved substitute. Course offerings vary by location and enrollment to non-MSCF courses is subject to university policies.

Students in the New York City location like the close proximity to global financial institutions and the many MSCF alumni employed by these firms for networking opportunities. Pittsburgh students enjoy the traditional campus environment and student life, greater access to non-MSCF courses and a relatively affordable cost of living. Regardless of the location, students receive the same live instruction from world-class faculty, professional support from career services staff and the opportunity to meet with recruiters and MSCF alumni.

In addition to C++ and Python, MSCF students will be taught and use a number of programming languages which are used to varying degrees in both buy-side and sell-side institutions including VBA, R, SQL and KDB+.

The MSCF program begins in the fall of each year. Since the courses are sequential, fall is the only time a student can enter the program. However, incoming students are required to be present for the MSCF Prep Program, our mandatory orientation, which begins in August. Admitted students will be advised of the dates for orientation. 

Unfortunately, at this time, we only offer a full-time, on-campus program. Courses are offered throughout the day at both our Pittsburgh and New York locations. Due to the rigorous nature of the program, it is impractical and not recommended that students work while in the program, with the exception of the summer internship.

No, the MSCF program does not accept transfer credits

Yes, a handful of our graduates have gone on to earn PhDs. However, the MSCF program is designed to prepare graduates for a job in the industry immediately upon graduation. If your interest is in academia, you should apply directly to a PhD program.

  • "Capital Ideas" – Peter L. Bernstein
  • “Capital Ideas Evolving” – Peter L. Bernstein
  • "The Complete Guide to Capital Markets for Quantitative Professionals" – A. Kuznetsov
  • "Options, Futures and Other Derivatives" – J. Hull

Admissions Questions

We are looking for candidates who are able to demonstrate their potential for success both academically as well as professionally.  The only commonality amongst all candidates is a proof of success academically in a depth of mathematics coursework as well as a demonstrated understanding of the field of quantitative finance and clear goals therein.  Beyond that, we seek candidates who can express their ideas clearly both verbally and in writing, have the motivation to be successful in the rigors of the MSCF program and beyond and are able to work well in diverse teams.

The admissions process is very holistic in nature.  We take a close look at all components of the application to make our decisions and any one area of weakness may be balanced by another area of strength.  While the class profile can serve as a guideline for candidate’s to assess his/her background, the only way for us to fully assess one’s candidacy is to submit a complete application!

The MSCF Program is highly quantitative. While the background of our students varies, most have taken engineering-level math courses beyond calculus such as Differential Equations and Linear Algebra. A calculus-based probability course is also required. The MSCF Program includes a detailed treatment of the mathematical models of quantitative finance, and this involves stochastic calculus and its applications. Undergraduate courses that cover both probability and statistics rather than just probability often devote insufficient time to the probability content needed to sufficiently prepare students for the level of probability encountered in MSCF. If you have not previously taken a calculus-based probability course, you should look for a course covering advanced topics in probability including the law of large numbers, the central limit theorem, moment-generating functions, multivariate probability distributions, conditional distributions, and independence, covariance and correlation of random variable. Students lacking one or more advanced mathematics courses may still be considered provided they are able to take steps to acquire the necessary skills before entering the program and satisfy the admissions committee requirements. 

Proficiency in a programming language is required, either a full semester C++ programming course or at least one year of work experience using C++ regularly. This course should cover, at a minimum: the basics of the edit/compile/link process; writing and using variables, decisions, loops, and functions; defining and using structures or classes; and memory allocation with malloc C, C++ or Java. 

Applicants lacking this knowledge may be required to take a C++ course prior to enrolling in the program.

Relevant professional experience is preferred but is not required. The entering class profile highlights work experience and background. Interest in finance, quantitative aptitude, educational background, character, language skills and work experience are all important determinants in the admissions decision.

Each year, starting in August, the MSCF program offers our four-week MSCF Prep Program.  As part of the MSCF Prep Program, matriculating students will have the opportunity to take courses that focus on probability, math and programming skills which are specifically designed to help prepare students for the rigors of the MSCF program.

All incoming students will be required to take and pass the MSCF Probability Prep course and will have the option to take one of the other two prep courses – Math Prep or Programming Prep.

The MSCF Prep courses are only open to students who are admitted to the MSCF program that are matriculating this August.  There is no additional charge for the course for entering MSCF students; however, students will be responsible for purchasing any reference texts or materials.

  1. Study. In particular, strong performance in your quantitative and computational coursework shows you have the potential for success academically in the MSCF program. 
  2. Fill in any gaps in your academic background by taking any pre-requisite courses you are missing in advance of applying.  Be sure to take any courses for a grade at an accredited college or university – open courseware coursework is not recommended!
  3. Find an internship in the financial services industry and/or research related to the key MFE areas to enhance your career marketability
  4. Follow the markets and read the news (Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Seeking Alpha, etc.).  Understand current events and form your own market view.
  5. Open a paper trading account and start developing and practicing your own trading strategies
  6. Start building your professional network. Take advantage of opportunities to build your network and understand roles in the quant finance space
  7. Practice your written and verbal communication skills. Most successful graduates are not only able to crunch the numbers, but can also sell their ideas to clients!

A GRE or GMAT score is required for all candidates.  You are required to submit an official copy of either your GRE scores directly from ETS or GMAT scores directly from Pearson VUE. You must have taken the test within five years of submitting your application. While the MSCF program accepts either the GRE or the GMAT, if you have yet to take either, we recommend that candidates take the GRE. When you take the exam, select the appropriate code as follows:

  • GMAT Program Code -  MSCF Program (Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business): 69H-XH-17
  • GRE Program Code - Carnegie Mellon University Masters in Computational Finance: 7383

If you hold a Ph.D. from a U.S. institution in a related discipline at the time of application AND are able to submit a photocopy of the GMAT/GRE that was part of your original Ph.D. application, you may not be required to submit a new, valid copy of the GMAT/GRE test results. Additionally, we will extend this for candidates who are expected to complete their Ph.D. studies at a U.S. institution by July 31, 2018 for students applying to the program for the fall 2018 entering class. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the MSCF Admissions Committee. If you meet BOTH of these criteria, you can request that your application to be reviewed with previous, non-valid test score.  You must submit the following THREE items: 1). submit a completed application; 2). include a statement requesting consideration of your previous test score in the optional essay section; and 3). submit a scanned copy of your previous test score report with your optional essay. We will notify you only if you have not been granted the waiver.

The TOEFL and IELTS scores apply to any prospective student who does not have English as their primary language. Candidates are required to demonstrate a level of competence in English to meet the admissions requirements of the university. You are required to take a TOEFL or IELTS exam unless:

  • You attended an undergraduate institution, for two or more years where you earned a bachelor degree (or will earn a bachelor degree by July 31, 2018 for the fall 2018 entering class) and the sole language of instruction was English. Although not required, we do recommend that you take the English Language Proficiency exam.
  • You earned a graduate degree that was taught in English. Although not required, we do recommend that you take the English Language Proficiency exam. 

Candidates who are required to take the TOEFL or IELTS must have received their unofficial scores prior to submitting their application. Be sure to request the official scores be sent to Carnegie Mellon University by the testing agency.   Scores are valid for two years and must be valid at the time you submit your application. When you take the exam, select the appropriate code as follows:

  • TOEFL Program Code: B522 (Carnegie Mellon University – MSCF)
  • IELTS Program Code: Select Carnegie Mellon University and Computational Finance

You can find our application and decision notification dates included on our apply page

Please carefully check your application before submitting it online to ensure you have included all the correct materials that best represent your background and qualifications for the MSCF program.  Once you submit your application, we will begin processing your application and matching test scores and other materials to your online application.  You will receive an email that your application is complete or incomplete via email within 2-4 weeks after you have submitted your application. You can then log into your application to view your status and submit any missing materials. 

Given the volume of applications received, we kindly ask that you not contact the MSCF admissions office regarding the status of your application unless you have not received any notification after 4 weeks post submission.

You may be contacted by email to arrange an on-campus or virtual face-to-face interview via Skype before a final decision is made on your candidacy. Interviews are granted at the discretion of the MSCF admissions committee after an initial review of your application. Therefore, requests for interviews will not be granted. Interviews can take place at any time in the application process.      

Interviews play a vital role in the admissions review process. Interviews are generally more behavioral than technical in nature and allow us to gauge your understanding of the field of quantitative finance, your fit with the MSCF program and your future career goals. Further, interviews give us an opportunity to better assess your communication and presentation skills, important qualities for one to succeed in the financial services industry. Interviews are typically between 15-30 minutes in duration and are conducted by a member of the MSCF admissions committee. 

All applications are reviewed in batches in accordance with our application rounds and typically all decisions for each round are released on the posted decision release date. Generally, decisions are not released in advance of our posted deadlines, we recommend that you consider planning your applications accordingly.

We do not defer enrollments but we will keep your admissions materials on file for one year. Should you choose to seek admission the following year, your candidacy will be evaluated on the basis of the applicant pool at that time. We do offer an application fee waiver for candidates reapplying within one year. 

Career Questions

Yes, the employment outcomes at the two locations are very similar:

PERCENT OF STUDENTS RECEIVING FULL-TIME OFFERS SIX MONTHS AFTER GRADUATION

Dec. ’17 grads
New York City 96%
Pittsburgh 93%
Dec. ’16 grads
New York City 88%
Pittsburgh 96%
Dec. ’15 grads
New York City 93%
Pittsburgh 100%
Dec. ’14 grads
New York City 91%
Pittsburgh 90%
Dec. ’13 grads
New York City 91%
Pittsburgh 88%

For the 2018 graduating class, the most popular career path was Financial Modeling/Strategies/Research (52% of graduates), followed by Sales & Trading (16%), Risk Management (12%) and Portfolio Management (10%).

Be sure to check out our yearly employment reports for complete career statistics.

The MSCF degree will better prepare you for a position as a data scientist in the finance industry, when compared with either a MS in Data Science which covers a broad range of applications or an MS in Business Analytics which focus is on improving a firm's performance using data-driven decision making. Neither of these programs has the laser focus of MSCF, applying machine learning and other data science tools to quantitative finance. Taught with mathematical rigor coupled with the necessary computational skills provided by our computer science courses, students emerge from our program exceptionally well prepared to adapt and assimilate new methods of data analysis that appear in this rapidly-expanding field.

This is a niche degree and it is important to the Admissions team that you know enough about the industry to be confident that a career in quantitative finance is what you want to do. However, many enter this program with only a few undergraduate summer internships behind them. Part of the value in being a part of the MSCF program is the opportunity to learn about the quantitative finance career paths through fellow students with industry experience, practitioners in the classroom, the MSCF Speaker Series, various alumni engagements and, of course, the summer internship.

While certain roles in model validation and fixed income research commonly require a PhD, the opportunities for well-equipped masters students are many, including quantitative research. Indeed, the very reason this program began in 1994 was to bridge the gap that existed at the time between the PhD’s who possessed the needed quantitative skills but lacked the commercial understanding of its application and MBAs with strong communication skills and solid market knowledge but lacked the math, statistics and coding needed by the banks and hedge funds. Strong quant skills coupled with market knowledge and the ability to communicate effectively is what the MSCF degree offers the employer and it has been a winning combination.