Financial Engineering or Economics Major?

I'm going to a big three ivy, and am wondering what would be better to take for ibanking:

I can enroll in the engineering school and take Operations Research and Financial Engineering Major, or simply take an Economics course.

The engineering course is probably more difficult, and thus would look better on a resume. Especially because Financial Engineering is a more pragmatic approach to finance than Economics is. The downside is my GPA might take a hit, because engineering is more difficult and my competitors are smarter.


Comments (10)

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Apr 18, 2011 - 11:15pm
jumbo, what's your opinion? Comment below:

First, you already told everyone you are going to Princeton, so you don't need to disguise that anymore. (Also, I think Princeton is the only Ivy with an ORFE program). I'm a (fairly) recent Princeton grad, so I'll offer some advice...

When I showed up at Princeton, I went to the "Major Choices" event where upperclassmen talk to you about their majors, and the kid at the Econ desk told me that he thought ORFE was the strongest major at Princeton. I didn't major in it, but took most of the core classes and they were my favorite courses. Really well taught and (for the upper level ones) sufficiently practical.

In the end, it really depends a lot on what you are interested in. For IBD, I would say you will be equally prepared either way, as many of the upper level Econ classes most relevant to IB (Corp Fin., etc.) count as departmentals for ORFE as well. For BB S&T, I would say ORFE at Princeton is possibly the single best degree you could have from any school, and depending on your focus, you would also be well set up for the top prop firms and quant funds (Two Sig heavily recruits ORFEs).

But the real question is what interests you. Do you like math? Do you like programming? Are you any good at either of them? You won't have to do any elaborate proofs in ORFE (you actually don't even need to learn measure theory), but you will certainly have assignments that require some creative thinking and a few pages of calculus. If that doesn't sound like fun to you, ORFE probably isn't your thing.

One other thing to keep in mind is that ORFE is officially an engineering major, so you still have to do the freshman engineering requirements (CompSci, Chem, Calc 1+2+3, LinAlg, Physics 1+2), although you can use APs to place out of these (as an ORFE, there's no sense retaking chemistry). The benefit is that if any of the engineering stuff interests you, a lot of the upper level EE/MAE/CivE/CS classes count as departmentals for ORFE, so you have that freedom.

As for difficulty, obviously ORFE is harder than Econ. The coursework is more difficult and time-consuming and the curve is harder too. Also, since it's engineering, you have to take 36 courses instead of 31. You are right to assume there will be a GPA hit. But the ORFE program is really well known on the street, so employers will know that you had to work a lot harder than the hordes of Econ kids applying for the same jobs.

Feel free to PM me if you want more info, as I had several very close friends go through the Econ and ORFE programs and took a bunch of classes in each department as well.

Sep 3, 2012 - 7:37pm
thesd0, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Jumbo, I want to go into business school eventually and do not want to be categorized as a geek, engineer etc. I love mathematics, physics and finance. I thought ORFE or economics will be equally interesting but as a career path towards not just banking or finance, maybe even public service, which would you suggest. Not afraid of hard work or mathematics. Need to decide before orientation. Given you are a Princetonian, and had a nice post, thought will get your input. Cannon pm for some reason- something about bananas!!!

  • 1
Apr 18, 2011 - 10:49pm
manbearpig, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Princeton's ORFE department is excellent. I would definitely take it over economics. It will make you stand out.

Apr 18, 2011 - 10:53pm
Status_Quo, what's your opinion? Comment below:

FE Curating the best advice and making it actionable.

Apr 19, 2011 - 7:28am
jumbo, what's your opinion? Comment below:
ORFE major. Then, directly progress into their MFin program.

Not sure how helpful (or common) the ORFE-->MFin route is. Many of the upper level ORFE classes are cross-listed with the MFin program, such that many classes called "FIN 5XX" are actually just 400-level ORFE or Econ classes with a fancy title for the grad students who sit in the exact same classroom. Also, I'm not sure it will really help with job opportunities or preparedness anyway (recruiting out of ORFE is really, really good).

Apr 19, 2011 - 3:21pm
-caP1taL1sm.., what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks jumbo, good advice

I'm just not sure if I want to consider working as a quant either. I've always assumed ibanking would be the best career path.

"I did it for me...I liked it...I was good at it. And I was really... I was alive."
Apr 19, 2011 - 10:57pm
jumbo, what's your opinion? Comment below:

At your age, I think being dead-set on I-Banking (or even finance in general) is perhaps a bit narrow-minded. I'd wait and see which classes you like better. If you like ECO 363, then I-banking is probably for you, but if you like ECO 362 or ORF 309/335, then you might want to consider S&T (warning: ORF 309 is not easy).

Also, neither degree will pigeonhole you one way or another. ORFE probably looks better if you decide you want to be a quant, but I have know a guy in ORFE who interned at a BB IBD and is going to BCG full time, so you still have plenty of options either way. And if you decide you want to major in something else random (e.g., some other engineering, or even history or politics), you can easily pick up the Finance certificate and just take the Econ/ORFE classes that interest you... you'll still do just fine come recruiting season.

One final point: definitely do NOT talk about how you want to get into I-Banking with your freshman friends. There are lots of kids at Princeton who show up "knowing" that's what they want to do (usually because their Dads are bankers), but everyone else on campus thinks the ones who talk about it are douchebags. So do your work and set yourself up for banking on your own, but keep in mind that using the acronym "IBD" at a party is a surefire way to not get laid.

Apr 20, 2011 - 1:10am
jumpshooter, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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