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Career options after college

  1. May 16, 2013 #1
    Hello folks.

    I am a European student applying to MIT, Harvard, Princeton and Cambridge in the UK this fall. I have a strong passion for mathematics, I have self-studied for past two years, I went through 20 textbooks – 4 pure, 5 mechanics, 5 statistics, 3 further pure and 3 decision maths. I am also taking intensive private maths classes for past 1 year, taught by a PhD in applied mathematics - we plan to go through some linear algebra this summer and I also took Harvard’s programming course – CS50x. (it really helped my maths "vision".)

    I have seen college maths, I am actually preparing for Cambridge STEP – which is based on high school curriculum but questions are much more demanding and tough. (http://www.mathshelper.co.uk/STEP III 2007.pdf) In case I would get an offer, I would be asked to achieve grade 1 (second best - 4 problems solved completely) in all three papers.

    With that being said, I am unsure about my career options after graduation. So far, a quant analyst caught my attention – lots of maths involved, PhD required, competitive salary. Though I am afraid that you can’t really progress in your career as a quant. You get to become a quant, maybe you get promoted to some leading quant, but that’s it I guess. I like the fact that PhD is required because it seems like quite an achievement to achieve it, especially from a top-tier institution, I would be proud of myself.

    I am also considering a MBA. The problem with MBA is that you don’t necessary work with maths. Sure, some basic statistics, addition, subtraction, median, mod, but I doubt that there are some math-oriented jobs for MBAs. Also, it costs quite a lot of money. But in return, an average 20 year salary of HBS graduate is 3.6 million, go figure…

    So what I am thinking about is both PhD and MBA. I’ve heard it’s quite common in STEM fields, you don’t necessary end up on the same position for the rest of your life, you end up knowing some really cool maths and you are basically a rocket scientist that’s capable to do some managing jobs.

    I understand that I shouldn’t even think about this stuff as I am not on even on college yet, but I doubt that my interests will move to other area than mathematics and CS. I know a guy who is a HBS graduate and he told me that having a vision of future career is always a good thing, so I would like to know what options do I have.

    Thank you very much for your advices. 
    Last edited: May 16, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. May 16, 2013 #2
    I don't know anything about that route, but here's one point:

    You talk about career progression and note, as a negative, that there isn't much upward mobility in that field.
    You then talk about a possible MBA and note, as a negative, that in a managerial position you won't use much maths.

    These are probably both true, but this is a phenomenon which is pretty much ubiquitous. If you want to use maths your whole career, you have to keep your position as a number cruncher, you can elevate yourself so that maybe you are a lead or associate researcher (or whatever title they give you) but if you want to keep doing math, you really can't make the switch to management which is, of course, where the upward mobility exists. If you get the MBA, you have more career options, but you also are making a conscious choice to focus on managing the business you are involved in, and not so much doing the actual math work / research.

    You should be thinking about it as it gives you direction and helps you make the tough decisions about academics and whatnot that you'll have to face, but don't stress over it. You've got a while to do all this stuff, and you won't even begin to think about the MBA until you've been in the industry a few years.
  4. May 17, 2013 #3

    Travis makes a good point. There really aren’t high level jobs where you crunch numbers; those jobs are ultimately about persuading people to do something. The closest you might find to doing both would be in a consulting position where you are responsible for both finding clients and doing a portion of the work for them.

    I wonder whether any job really fits your definition of “doing maths”. The math is usually already done; you’re applying it. Or, more likely, a computer is applying it for you. Lots of “math” jobs are really better described as programming jobs.

    I encourage you to be careful of where you get your information about quantitative analysis work. The career has changed drastically between 2008 and today. Ensure any information you get on the subject is very recent, and keep up with changes in the field.

    You sound like you’re bright and work very hard. Sounds like a recipe for success, regardless of what you choose. Best of luck to you.
  5. May 20, 2013 #4
    Thank you for your replies.
  6. May 20, 2013 #5
    I'll say some things which might not sound too pleasant, but they are entirely in good will:

    1. You should apply to some safeties nevertheless. For international admissions, and especially since you come from a privileged background (from the sounds of it), past the minimum threshold of having one or two Olympiad medals or ISEF achievements, MIT, Harvard, Princeton is still a lucky draw. I know several people with more impressive achievements than you on paper (no offense) but were nevertheless rejected.

    2. The least fun thing about being a quantitative analyst is that you will probably come up with the most brilliant idea you've had in your entire life, pitch it to an investment committee, and they will say, OK great, we'll think about it. You don't get to publish any of your ideas. So if you say you enjoy mathematics but also want to be a quant, you should have some consistent reason why you say so.

    3. I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that all of your choices are driven by prestige rather than passion: you want to draw a large salary, you want an ideal job where you can do only the things you like the most, and you are applying to top universities. I don't know about Princeton but this would reflect pretty badly on a MIT/Harvard application because you'll be joining a community where you cannot hope to be the best - so admissions is very cautious about admitting people whom they think will burn out.
  7. May 20, 2013 #6
    I didn't want to get into details as this topic wasn't about admissions, but it seems like I gave a wrong impression.

    Firstly I would like to state that I am nowhere near being from a privileged background; in fact, I was technically homeless for 2 years, my father was an abusive drunk and mother has a schizophrenia. I currently live with my grandma and I am lucky enough to have a generous grandfather (who lives separated from us) that helps me with financial situation (i.e. tutoring, books, applications, certificates etc.)

    I am not exactly sure how could you evaluate my chances based on few paragraphs, but trust me, I've done my homework. I know exactly what to expect, I am aware that the competition is huge and I know that "being the best" is not enough. As far as I am concerned, Ivies don't differentiate between domestic and international students, they have need-blind admission as well as financial aid.

    As Cambridge does not care about ECs unless they are extremely relevant to your chosen field, let's ignore it for now. However, I am extremely aware about the emphasis on ECs in the US. I also know that having 2250+ on SAT and straight As is a no-brainer, you shouldn't even bother applying without them. Here is a short list of what I am doing outside of school:

    1. I've started a project - one of a kind in our country, aimed to bring extremely detailed information about degrees, careers and universities in our country, as well as detailed information about admissions to universities in the UK, US and Denmark. We are a team of 6 people, currently finishing the preparations to launch a website this summer. We are also collaborating and sharing content with two other similar projects, both of which emphasize on the career paths. Needless to say, we are a nonprofit organization.

    2. I am also involved in an other project, we travel around the country and we are making presentations to high school students about their possible careers. The bottom line is that we want to motivate students to study STEM fields, as they are not really popular here and there is lack of STEM graduates on our "market".

    3. I have been accepted together with 19 other students out of 1200 applicants to a program that's going to organize workshops with successful people from all around our country, gives us career guidance and coaching as well as offer internships in companies such as Google, Intel, AT&T. I am also hoping to find some people there for my own project (1.) so we have a large team that can run it after I leave for the university.

    4. I have self-studied mathematics and physics. You talked about "passion", so let me tell you that I have incredible passion for mathematics. I have been part-time teaching on a private English secondary school, I have been tutoring 9 different high school students and when I get bored, I go to answers.yahoo.com and solve some problems there. Sadly, I haven't participated in any mathematics olympiads as our high school didn't organize such things and I wouldn't be ready back then anyway. I also tool "Calculus one" online course from Ohio State University and mentioned CS50x from Harvard.

    5. Piano for 6 years, swimming for 3 and volunteering in a dog shelter for past 6 months or so.

    I am quite confident about Cambridge, they give a lot of offers as they expect large amount of students to fail STEP. I was accepted to universities in Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow last year with really medicore personal statement, so I think I definitely have a shot on Cambridge.

    I have no idea what are my chances in the US though. I am aiming for 2300 on SAT, I already graduated with straight As, I have quite good ECs, but I still cannot evaluate myself.

    To your 3. point. Yes I know that "being the best" is not really possible on Harvard, there are only less than 3 people each year achieving 4.0 GPA in field (probably no-one with overall 4.0) and I am ok with that. I have this state of mind to work my behind off no matter what, I do not feel pain, I do not sleep and I am trying to do everything I can to strengthen my chances to succeed, but I am not a person that is used "to be the best".

    I "appropriated" this Eric Thomas' quote, (I actually thought about getting a tattoo with it :D), it is my motto, it is what defines me - "When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful"
    Last edited by a moderator: May 23, 2013
  8. May 21, 2013 #7
    Again, congratulations for getting this far in life, and I absolutely hope you keep it up wherever you go after this. I am definitely not trivializing your personal experiences, but as far as admissions is concerned, they apply a blanket view that most Europeans are privileged unless proven wrong.

    I had classmates who were born with blindness and were abandoned by their birth parents; were homeless for 17 years; fought with cancer and did chemo twice a week during their critical months while coming out top of their fields; whose entire family died in a single incident. I don't think any of them benefited from their fates because they would have been admitted even if they experienced none of it - they were that accomplished. Think of it this as a standard score problem. There's a distribution of luck - positive for good fortune and negative for misfortune. If you're in the misfortune side of the draw, you have very good company because the mean is on the negative side. What you should be thinking is, am I several standard deviations less fortunate than everyone else?

    You are definitely mistaken here: International admissions are tremendously more competitive than domestic admissions, and more so if they are need-blind. Again, I think you're a bright individual but I really recommend at least having a safety of some kind. Seeing that you were admitted to Manchester etc., I guess you'll be fine. When I did one of my college interviews, the first question I was asked was what other colleges I had applied to, and I started with my safeties, and explained why I understood the chances at university X were eventually down to luck. My interviewer replied, "Good." He explained he wasn't asking this to throw me off that I was applying to rival school Y - he was asking to make sure that I had given meaningful thought into why I was applying to X and Y besides the prestige and that I took ownership of my own college application. IIRC, in my year, Harvard and MIT were about 4% for international admissions as compared to 8~13% for domestic admissions. It should be more competitive this coming year.

    Note that this doesn't just mean you have half the chance to get admitted as compared to a domestic student, because there's self-selection: it takes a lot of effort and confidence to put together an application to a university outside of your country. You're talking about a smaller fraction of a more competitive pool.

    And with due honesty, your application sounds very generic. Volunteer work. Self-study. Project. It's not that it's a bad thing in itself, but you are setting yourself up to compete with everyone else who has done all of the above - which is everyone.

    Take it this way, I could be the best Apple analyst in the world. But if I sold myself as an analyst who could do discounted cash flow, relative valuation, CAPM performance attribution etc., and supposing the hiring committee didn't recognize that I was the best Apple analyst in the world, then my chances of getting hired are just the same as any other analyst - because practically every analyst will know DCF, P/E ratios and CAPM.

    I don't know Eric Thomas, but I am sure he expressed this in the wrong words. I'm certain everyone who has been successful was extremely driven and wanted it very bad. But this is a small subpopulation of those who wanted it very bad. Luck plays a ridiculous role.

    If you suceed, then you must have wanted to succeed <=/=> If you want to succeed, then you will succeed.
  9. May 21, 2013 #8
    You are a pessimist, aren't you?

    If I would have to decide right now, I wouldn't even bother applying after reading your message, it is THAT much pessimistic.

    When I met a guy who runs Google in our country and who went to MIT college and Harvard Business School, he had a lot more different approach. He didn't question my ambitions at all, he acted like it was an everyday thing to apply to such schools. He also discouraged me from applying to 5 different colleges, he told me that I should apply to maximum of three to show genuine interest in them. When he was applying, he applied only to MIT and Harvard and for business school, only Harvard. He knows loads of graduates from top schools from our country, he even helped around 30 people all around the Europe the same way as he helped me (guidance, advice, connections), all of them were successfully accepted to Ivies. I am not saying that this means that I will "surely get in", I know that my chances are small, but he gave me hope. He said that my ECs are great and that I should focus on preparing for SAT and I am good to go.

    I also know a guy who is currently studying neurobiology on Harvard and his ECs were that he was in a debate club, he worked as a freelance translator and he volunteered in a church choir. Go figure.

    Collegeconfidential is full of people who claim to be "regular students" without any international awards, medals or anything else and yet they got in. Sure, being a winner of USAMO is a great thing, but it is not necessary.

    Yet, I come here and I don't even want to apply. To small hope these people gave me is gone. I regret that I came here and I regret that I replied to you yesterday.
  10. May 23, 2013 #9
    Who cares if it's hard to get in to Harvard, MIT, and Cambridge? I mean, Duh. Apply wherever you want, that's not really what you asked. If you can, I'd get in touch with some people who've spent time in the field you want to pursue. Talk to them and get a picture of what a day-in-the-life is like. You don't have to worry about the MBA now. Get into engineering, gain experience with both detailed engineering and managing teams. See what you like more. Decide later. You can get an MBA at any point in your career. Take it one step at a time, you'll be fine.
  11. May 23, 2013 #10


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    Last edited: May 23, 2013
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