University of Illinois
Courses to Consider
36% of UIC undergraduates go on to graduate school. That figure is
impressive because it is high in general and compared to the 25% of
UIUC undergrads who go on to grad school.
Every few weeks, a student asks me what courses I would recommend for
someone interested in working in quant finance or going on to graduate
school. Every semester I speak with students who wished they had
advice like this earlier in their academic career.
Below are my thoughts about such courses — in hope that you
will help increase that 36% to 50% or more. (Alternately: to help you
be successful in the finance industry so you can give back to your
alma mater to support the good work we are doing.) Note that
while these are my suggestions, they do not differ much from those of
others (such as
Mankiw in economics at Harvard).
Finally, if you are an underrepresented minority student, please look
into the Summer
Research Opportunities and McNair
Most students take too few math, statistics, and programming courses;
many take too few economics courses. The CBA requires:
- Econ 130 (Principals of Economics for Business);
- Econ 218 (Microeconomics: Theory and Business Applications);
- IDS 270 (Business Statistics I);
- Math 160 (Finite Math for Business);
- Math 165 (Calculus for Business); and,
- Econ 346 (Econometrics) or IDS 371 (Business Statistics II) for
These are the bare bones of what you should do. You will need
to do more.
Fulfilling only these requirements will make getting a job in
quantitative finance very difficult and going to graduate school even
harder. If you want to entertain — or even achieve —
dreams of excellence, these courses are insufficient. Recruiters and
interviewers will not tell you this: They see a lack of advanced
coursework as a signal that you are not worth their time.
So what courses should you take? Here are a few ideas.
You may replace Math 165 (Bus. Calc) with Math 180 (Calculus I). Do
this and take the three-course calculus sequence. If you have AP
calculus credit, skip Math 180 (and Math 181, if you can).
Calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations are key tools
for advanced finance. Therefore, I recommend taking:
You could even take Math 480 (Applied Differential Equations) and 481
(Applied PDEs) if you like differential equations. You might also
consider Math 410 (Advanced Calculus).
- Math 180 (Calculus I);
- Math 181 (Calculus II);
- Math 201 (Calculus III);
- Math 220 (Intro Differential Equations); and,
- Math 310 (Applied Linear Algebra);
If you want to go on to a PhD program and have free space in your
schedule, I highly recommend taking the analysis sequence (Math 313
Statistics is the science of uncertainty; and, you care about risk in
trading and research/modeling. If you have credit for AP statistics,
skip over IDS 270 to 371.
Beyond IDS 270 and 371, I would also suggest IDS 478 (linear
modeling, aka regression analysis) and IDS 476 (time series). The
probability sequence (Stat 401, 461, and 462) is also excellent.
If you cannot fit IDS 478 into your schedule, BSTT 400 might work as a
Optimization and Game Theory Courses
Try to take at least one course on optimization and one on game
theory. Stat 471 (Linear and Non-linear Programming) or IDS 435
(Optimization Models and Methods) would be great courses to learn a
bit about optimization. Alternately, you can take IE 471 (Operations
Research I) which covers linear programming and IE 472 (Operations
Research II) which covers nonlinear progrmming and dynamic
programming. For game theory, consider Stat 471 (Game Theory) or Econ
436 (Mathematical Economics).
For dynamic modeling, you could consider IE 312 (Dynamic Systems and
Control). Some of it might be too physics/engineering-focused; but,
the methods taught are very useful.
Another (possibly) useful IE course is IE 201 (Financial Engineering).
Amazingly, your main benefit from taking a programming course will not
be learning to program per se. Rather, you will need to
organize your thoughts and learn a little bit about how some tools can
be used in building a program. In general, any course teaching some
about algorithms and data structures will be fine.
I know many recruiters want to see that you have "learned" C++. I
don't care and neither should you. Learn to program in a language
that will be useful for learning about the ideas of programming
without distracting you with other bells and whistles. (I'm a big fan
of courses which use Scheme, a dialect of LISP, or C.)
I would recommend taking one of:
with a bias toward CS 107 or CS 108.
- CS 102 (Intro to Programming);
- CS 107 (Intro to Computing and Programming);
- CS 108 (Fortran Programming for Engineers with Matlab); or,
- CS 109 (C/C++ Programming for Engineers with Matlab)
Can you take all of these courses? Perhaps not. However, I suspect
someone taking the linear algebra and probability courses could
petition to have those replace Math 160. (I'm guessing here; check to
Please take something better than Business Calc. There is no
excuse for studying finance at a top-notch research university in
Chicago — one of the world's centers of quantitative finance
— and not taking a proper calculus sequence. Further: the
business world runs on linear algebra; you should know it.
Finally, linear modeling, time series, and game theory will help you
(at least conceptually) for the rest of your life.