I am occasionally asked by students which courses will increase one’s chances of getting a (good) job in finance and increase one’s likelihood of success in that job. Below are some thoughts. Other comments welcome.
1) It does not matter what major you are. As a concrete example, one of my summer interns from last year, Dan Gerlanc ’07, just started an excellent job at Geode Capital even though he majored in Comparative Literature. Geode did not care what his major was, but they did care (a lot) about his skill set. In particular, there is no advantage to being an Economics major (as I was). Very few of the economics courses at Williams have any direct application in the working world.
2) You must prove that you aren’t scared of math or computers. One way to do that is to take at a couple of classes in either, but that is not required. But few finance firms are going to want to hire someone that can’t deal with spreadsheets. It can be an advantage to take a bunch of MATH/CS classes, both to prove that you are numerical and to demonstrate your smarts. There are very few (any?) dumb CS or MATH majors at Williams. Employers know this.
3) The best classes to take are STAT. If you are even thinking of going into finance, or any sort of business, I urge you to take every STAT class that Williams offers. STAT 201 is a must. (Skip 101.) Courses like 341 and 346 will also be very helpful, although I wish there were more applied work in both. The best class to take this year, at least if you are interested in quantitative finance, is STAT 442T: Computational Statistics and Data Mining, a great topic, well-taught, with attention to all the messy details in the real world. I can’t recommend that class highly enough.
4) To take all those STAT classes, you will have to take some MATH. In particular, you need calculus through MATH 105/106 and linear algebra (MATH 211). The MATH Department is, as we all know, one of the best at Williams, but the vast majority of its other classes have nothing to do with a career in finance. But, if you like math, you should still take them all. Study what you love.
5) Before compiling this list, I had never seen MATH 373(S) Investment Mathematics. Is it any good? I think the world of the professor, Frank Morgan, and the topics covered are important. Highly recommended. Note that, if you are interested, you need to be taking Linear Algebra this fall.
6) Being able to make the computer do what you want it to do is important in finance and in business. While you do not need to take the intro CS courses (134 and 136), I recommend that you do so. It will help you get a job and, in all likelihood, make you better at the job you get. Then, if you like computer science, you should take more classes in the department, especially ones that involve building real programs (not theory) and getting your hands dirty with data. 319, 373, 315, and 374 all look interesting and educational.
7) What about economics? Well, I have nothing against economics and there are certainly many excellent professors. Despite my occasional digs, I am a big fan of professors like David Zimmerman and Ralph Bradburd. There are also many interesting courses. (ECON 458T(F) Economics of Risk and ECON 357T(F) The Strange Economics of College look fascinating. And, as always, you should take at least one tutorial every semester.) But are there any classes that will actually increase your chances of getting a finance job or your success in it? Not really. Being an Economics major does prove to potential employers that you aren’t scared of math, but an English major can do the same with a STAT course or two.
Other comments welcome.