High School College Application Advice

I'm a junior in high school, and parents, teachers, and -- perhaps most pressingly -- scholarship/summer program applications are asking me what college I want to go to and what degree/career I want to pursue.

I'm interested in financial careers, but my primary interest right now is software and data science. I've been told that quantitative finance would be a good career along these lines, but that most good jobs go to masters and PhDs. Some options seem to be:

1) Majoring in either math or CS with a minor in the other one

2) Double majoring in math+CS

3) Going for a 4-year master's in either math or CS

Are these actually logical or am I just being an idiot? Is it generally better to work before getting a PhD? Is a PhD even particularly useful? All else being equal, I think I want

1) A high-paying salary over the course of my life

2) A job that is actually intellectually stimulating with regard to data science

3) To go to school for the minimum length of time

Then again, I'm a stupid 17-year-old and maybe that's not the right order of priorities for the long term.

Does this type of plan change which schools are targets? According to this site, targets are UPenn, NYU, Harvard, Cambridge, Cornell, UT Austin, Columbia, Duke, U Chic, and U Mich. Does this list stay the same? Is there a strong ranking even within these? Does going to Cambridge severely limit opportunities to work in the U.S. after graduation (I know that there are many opportunities there for a 4-year master's there)?

How do quant salaries (for bachelor's, master's, and PhDs) compare with those of someone who goes into IB immediately after undergrad?

I've also been told that in finance more emphasis is placed on things like GPA and SAT scores than in tech, even to the point where I've been advised to retake my 1570 SAT score. Is this stuff true? Do employers really ask graduates for the SAT score they got in high school?

tl;dr As of now, when people ask where I want to go to school and what I want to study and what I want to do I say "I can't really tell colleges apart and I want to study either math or CS and I want to do data science or some kind of quantitative finance." I need help narrowing this stuff down and am not remotely well-informed.

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Comments (23)

Dec 28, 2018

Few things, personally if you can wing it, id do the double major in Math + CS.
If your SAT is 1570/1600, you're set. If it's 1570/2400 you've got a long way to go.
GPA and SAT definitely are weighted significantly. BB banks like UBS and Credit Suisse did ask for my SAT scores. It varies company to company.
Being a quant should net you a solid salary.
Cambridge is an excellent school BUT keep in mind if you want a job upon graduation in the US, the easiest way I can imagine is on campus recruiting at the target schools you mentioned. Just know that not all target schools are equal. If you go to Princeton, and Major in Sociology with a 3.0 GPA, you've got a better shot at any of these jobs than a 3.8 Math kid from UT Austin. School matters, Harvard/Penn/Princeton and such are definitely the way to go if you get in.
Find a few job positions and companies that you'd like to work. Then research which schools they go to for on-campus recruiting. That can be a definite list for your target schools.

Dec 28, 2018

It's 1570 out of 1600 lol

Double majoring sounds like a good plan, though it would prevent me from chasing a four year master's degree or anything like that.

And I think some schools, like Princeton, don't have double majors.

Are the top salary jobs most going to PhDs or is there an opportunity to break past that initial line of defense with just a bachelor's or master's degree?

Also, in another thread like this I read about something called an MFE, and that these are often regarded as being equal in value to a PhD in a hard science/math. Is this true?

On a side note, I'm still finding it difficult to rank in my mind the very top schools, Harvard/Penn/Princeton/etc.

Dec 28, 2018

1570/1600 is super solid. Congrats on that.
If you have to choose one just go for CS....
Although you probably can't go wrong either way, as they both count as quantitative majors.
See thing is, if you major in Math, yet can prove that you've got a bunch of programming languages mastered, no ones going to care about your major.
As for the ranking, here's a story.
I was at an IBD recruiting event @ a BB IB, and a bunch of us were talking to the Group Head. I go to a somewhat semi-target school, and a few other kids with me went to UVa. We were all Finance majors. I kid you not, this black chick comes up (not racist, she was quite a character), she went to Harvard for some freakin music degree, had the most bizarre questions, she basically had zero clue about IBD, and pretty much the Group Head turned the discussion into a one on one chat with her (Even though all of us were standing there, trying to ask a question that would've impressed him). It was BS cause she was asking batshit questions. Said Group Head gave a long speech on how they don't even care about the major, they just want good students.

I think Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and Penn-Wharton have their own rank among elite schools. If you're at Harvard majoring in bullshit, you probably have a better chance than some Cornell Finance kid. I'm speaking from my own observations here, maybe it's the other way around.

Basically let me put it this way
You go to Harvard/Princeton --> Major in bullshit--> Complete HBX CORe ---> Get your dream IB job
If you go to an BB IB recruiting sessions, they'll tell you they frankly "don't care" about your major, that's because they know Columbia and Harvard don't have Finance as an undergrad major.

If by MFE you're referring to Masters in Financial Engineering, then that's a solid program to go after. A bunch of guys at said BB IB event mentioned above actually had MFEs.

Just know that I'm speaking from my own observations and experiences, obviously someone who's a certified user is going to have more accurate advice. I'd suggest you do your research, and connect with Alumni of your targeted programs, and hear what they have to say.

Dec 28, 2018

Thanks. Is it true that the best quant jobs are traders and researchers, while the quant analyst and quant developer jobs are not much better than programming jobs?

How do salaries compare between people who go for the undergrad --> IB --> business school track versus those who go for quant positions?

Dec 28, 2018

I'm not exactly sure, I do think you'd be set salary wise no matter which way you go.
I have a huge bias towards trading and research, and personally would prefer being in one of those positions, just because I prefer roles focused on revenue generation.
Thing about programming jobs is that there are so many open positions. It'd definitely be very easy to snag one of those compared to being a Trader at a Quant Hedge Fund.

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Dec 29, 2018

Reading responses to these and other threads elsewhere leads me to think that a good plan would be to aim for Harvard/Princeton and aim to get a 4 year master's in CS. Will quant trading and research positions strongly favor PhDs? That is, will only having a master's reduce important opportunities? I guess the real question is whether those opportunities are worth several years' worth of lost income anyway.

Dec 29, 2018

Harvard/Princeton are very tough to get into. Worry about this once you're accepted. The first semester of college is pretty much the same for everyone regardless of major.

Dec 29, 2018

That makes sense. First things first.

Dec 29, 2018

If you want to be a quant, I would highly advise majoring in Math/CS/Physics. From my experience, the mathematics are often going to be more restrictive than the coding i.e. if you can understand the math, translating it into code is much easier than the opposite direction.

"one for the money two for the better green 3 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine" - M.F. Doom

Dec 29, 2018

Definitely, definitely. It's definitely going to be math or CS (or a double major).

My understanding is that math would be more useful for being a quant, but CS has more flexibility with regard to shifting to a job in machine learning/data science/regular software jobs. Also, my interests are mostly in machine learning and AI. Overall, I'm leaning now toward something like a 4 year masters in CS and not pursuing a PhD. Is this a good plan, or will there be career opportunities closed off from me as a result of going this route?

Dec 29, 2018

I can't nessesarily comment on how what kind of difference it will make career wise, but I will say this: I have no formal CS training, but also a very heavy mathematics background. As a result, self teaching some mid to high level statistical learning concepts has been very doable for me.

Also, you don't necessarily need a grad degree (Ms or PhD) to get into quant finance. From a lot of talks when I was considering that path, employers will actually be very exited by the prospect of a an undergrad who can walk the walk. Problem is, thats not easy to do and often is going to come from self study.

Lastly, don't plan your life out too far. There are some huge pros and cons to the quant path, many of which are very nuanced and not immediately apparent. For me the cons outweighed the pros, and I only realized this once I sat down with some people very experienced in the industry and started asking not so fun questions.

"one for the money two for the better green 3 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine" - M.F. Doom

Dec 29, 2018

"There are some huge pros and cons to the quant path, many of which are very nuanced and not immediately apparent."

Is there anything you wish you had known before starting out on said path?

Dec 29, 2018

PM me.

"one for the money two for the better green 3 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine" - M.F. Doom

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Dec 29, 2018

Wait until your college acceptances roll in before deciding what salary you deserve.

    • 1
Dec 29, 2018

I don't see the point of your comment. Could you point to where I'm deciding what salary I think I deserve?

    • 1
Dec 30, 2018

College applications are a dice roll. No test score or GPA assures you admission into a top school. Focus on high school for the moment. Reevaluate your situation when the cards are dealt.

Also, don't underestimate the important schools place on extracurriculars. Top colleges want well-rounded students who will contribute to a more diverse student body, not just someone who can do well on a test.

    • 1
Dec 30, 2018

If you're interested in CS, I highly recommend you to take up competitive programming while you still have time. There are three more USACO contests this year (in January, February, and March) - try to promote to the Gold or Platinum division by then.

Visit Codeforces.com frequently to improve your CP skills: it combines math, CS, and encourages algorithmic thinking in general.

Dec 30, 2018

I made it to Silver on the last contest but could only solve one of the Silver problems. Bronze is basically ad hoc so I still have a ways to go.

CodeForces plus theoretical study through CLRS should probably get me to gold and possibly/hopefully get me to platinum by the March contest, though getting to camp is probably out of the question.

Other than that, I have some apps on the Google Play store and am thinking about marketing/monetizing/expanding. I've made and app for the local badminton club to run their tournament pairings automatically and I've got one other business (hopefully a few more, but the hunting is extremely tedious) that'll let me make them a real website. I enter research competitions in the CS division but my results are middling at best.

I think I can build a very strong application, but at the end there's always a degree of luck for those of us that aren't Olympiad medalists or literal scientists.

Dec 30, 2018

Just to add: Princeton and MIT offer Master in Finance, and UCB/CMU/UCLA/Columbia etc. offer Master in Financial Engineering.

Dec 30, 2018

go to the best school that gives you a full ride - do mfe at top program if you need to - profit

excel is my canvas, and data is my paint - new york - brunch conesseiour - atheist - centrist - ENFP - TCU alum

Dec 31, 2018

if you have the aptitude/ability to major in Math....then major in Math. Advanced Math is the rarest skill....and is the most highly sought after.

Computer science is a relative waste of time when it comes to finance. You can learn the necessities of computer science from free youtube and coursera videos.

When finance firms look at computer science skills, all they really care about is your ability to
a-database
b-solve logic problems and implement the solution by writing code

But both of these things can be learned outside of college for free...so wasting your college tuition on them is, a waste.

a-database is just a storage container of data....you create the storage container with the format best conducive to store and retrieve the type of data you will be working with. This just means figuring out what tables and columns you need. Easy right? Then you setup inserting data, and retrieving data to/from those tables. Its not rocket science.

b-solving logic problems by writing code. This is a 2-step process
1-learn a programming language. any modern language will suffice, but since you are interested in data science, choose Python. Its easy to learn, and was purpose built to support data science. Learning the basics of a programming language is surprisingly easy. Here is a 4hour youtube video that will get you a top to bottom introduction.

2 - After watching that video, the next step is to learn HOW to use those basic programming skills to solve problems. There are a few books on algorithims that you should read, and then attempt to implement the solutions on you own. Learning how to program is actually a repetitive process of writing code to solve simple problems, and then progressively solving more complex problems. Every step in writing code is simple....its just being able to juggle all the steps in your head, so that you know "what should i do next" that makes somebody a good programmer....and the only way to get there is a combo of practice with trial and error. Programming is similar to a physical sport, in the regard that you learn by doing. You can read all the books about playing tennis....but that won't make you a great tennis player...only practice playing tennis will improve your tennis skills. Its the same with writing code...only trying to solve a problem with writing code will make you good at writing code. You start with a problem to solve, then you research what are the best ways to solve the problem (you might start by searching stackexchange.com)....then you write the code to solve the problem...and then you go back and try to make your code better (fix bugs, make certain processes more efficient, maybe you'll think of a better way of solving the problem...better being more elegant, more efficient, handles more possible situations, better understanding of edge conditions, etc..). Since you only really learn how to code by practice, it would be a waste of time and $$ to major in computer science when all the teaching material is available in free online courses...and the Python is available for free.

Math is a more difficult nut to crack. If you are not a math savant, then you will need lots of hand holding and guidance from your math professors, when it comes to the more advanced topics. The advanced math is where the big $$ is (in this quant developer career path), because so few have those skills. Basic law of supply and demand.

However, if you want to build apps, maybe build a startup company based on some tech design....build the next AirBnB, then computer science (double major with marketing) is the major for you. But, if you want to be a quant, then just major in math, and learn how to program on the side.

This brings me back to your original question with a question....what do you really want to do with your life?

just google it...you're welcome

Dec 31, 2018
Dec 31, 2018

just google it...you're welcome