Top quantitative finance students are becoming more intelligent


Masters in financial engineering (MFE) courses may be the lesser known route into quantitative finance, but it looks like more elite students are catching on. At Columbia University, students of the MFE program are getting “smarter” in multiple metrics, based on admissions statistics released by program director Lars Tyge Nielsen.

The first metric students are improving is grade point average (GPA). The median average GPA for Columbia’s MFE program was 3.8 between 2019 and 2022 had been 3.8, consistently. Now it’s 3.9.

Columbia MFE students are also improving on the standardized Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test. Mean quantitative reasoning scores improved every year up to 2022, raising from 169.1 (out of 170) in 2019 to 169.8 in 2023. Average verbal reasoning scores increased by a more significant margin, from 160 in 2019 to 163 in 2023, though 2022 saw scores peak at 163.9.

Other universities don’t release similar metrics for their students. But maybe MFE programs everywhere are becoming more competitive?

Perhaps, as Columbia is struggling to hold its position in the MFE course rankings. Formerly a staple in the top four, it has dropped to number five in the last two years, despite the rising scores of its participants.

MFE courses have been fighting an uphill battle against more established degrees like math and computer science for top prospective students. These statistics indicate that the reach of MFE is growing, bringing in students that didn’t know of its existence, or maybe even tempting away students previously set on studying in STEM with their eye-catching graduate salaries.

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