I'm currently working but am going to take classes as a non-degree student to beef up the math part of my background.

I've only taken calc 1-3, ODEs, linear algebra, logic, and decision theory so my interests aren't really defined. Having said that, what kind of grad degree should I look into if these are my interests? I don't want to do an econ ma/phd, but I'd like to explore game theory, etc.

Any thoughts would be great.

Also, if I do go back, take classes for a year (2/semester for a total of 4), I think I'll have a decent foundation but I'd have to apply the following year for admission into one of these programs (whatever one makes sense). Is there any way around being stuck just waiting on admissions for a year? I won't be competitive without those 4 classes...

Thanks again,

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    $\begingroup$ Have you thought about operations research and financial engineering (ORF)? I think Cornell, Berkeley, and Princeton all have ORF departments. $\endgroup$ – ADF Sep 21 '11 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ I am tempted to encourage you to provide more detail on your situation, but I fear that would only make the question susceptible to being closed as "too localized". I hesitate to say this, as I don't want to dampen your enthusiasm; but, matter of factly, I fear that to be competitive for admission to one of the programs mentioned by @805801, you will need quite a bit more math background than you currently have. What is your ultimate objective in terms of education? You say you don't want to do an econ master's or PhD, but I assume you do want to do one or the other in some allied field. No? $\endgroup$ – cardinal Sep 21 '11 at 23:30

Echoing ADF's comment, a graduate program in operations research might fit what you're looking for. OR uses probability, statistics, modeling, optimization techniques, and sometimes game theory to solve complicated decision problems.

Your favorite school may have an OR program; you might just have to look in the right place and for the right name. OR is closely related to (and is sometimes indistinguishable from) programs that go by the name "systems engineering" or "industrial engineering" or "management science." It can be housed in a variety of locations, too, depending on the school: I think I've seen OR programs in engineering schools, business schools, math departments, computer science departments, as stand-alone departments, and even as an interdisciplinary center. Some of these programs are easier to get into than those mentioned by ADF.

As far as preparation, a solid grounding in mathematics, especially linear algebra, real analysis, and probability, is likely more useful even than undergrad courses in optimization or game theory. They'll teach you the latter material in grad school. Proving you have a strong mathematical aptitude by good grades in your math courses and a solid performance on the quantitative section of the GRE are also more important than taking specific OR-type courses in undergrad.

"Financial engineering" is a much newer field. There aren't too many schools that have such a program, although they are becoming more common. (Besides those mentioned by 805801, I believe Columbia and NYU have one as well, and I'm sure there are others.) I think Princeton is the only school with a department that's actually called "operations research and financial engineering," though.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi Mike, I know this was posted a long time ago, but I happened to come across this as I was interested in optimization. I too was thinking of taking some optimization and algorithms courses prior to applying to some programs. My logic for taking these courses was that I needed some way to show them I was interested in the subject (research wouldn't be possible as I'd be a non-degree student). But then I came across your post and you said it would be more useful to know algebra, analysis and probability. (see below)... $\endgroup$ – TheRealFakeNews Feb 27 '13 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ Would it really be more beneficial (both in my preparation for such a program, and getting in to one) to strengthen my knowledge in probability, analysis, and linear algebra than take OR related courses? I figured if I did the former, there would be no way other way to show that I have interest in the subject. $\endgroup$ – TheRealFakeNews Feb 27 '13 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ @AlanH: I still stand by the first two sentences in the third paragraph of my answer: "A solid grounding in mathematics, especially linear algebra, real analysis, and probability, is likely more useful even than undergrad courses in optimization or game theory. They'll teach you the latter material in grad school." You indicate your interest in optimization by 1) the personal statement you write as part of your application, and 2) the fact that you're actually applying to grad school in OR, as opposed to something else. Certainly undergrad OR courses would help, but they aren't necessary. $\endgroup$ – Mike Spivey Feb 28 '13 at 3:55
  • $\begingroup$ @AlanH: I'm partly speaking from my own experience. I had no undergrad courses in OR when I applied for grad school in OR, and I did not find that to be a barrier to getting accepted. While it would have been helpful to have seen, say, the simplex method from an undergrad's perspective once I got to grad school, it wasn't hard to pick up. I found the probability, linear algebra, and real analysis background I had from up to master's work in pure math to be more helpful than undergrad courses in OR would have been. I assume that the admissions folks felt similarly, as they admitted me. $\endgroup$ – Mike Spivey Feb 28 '13 at 4:09

Many quantitative business PhD programs rely heavily on optimization, probability, and game theory. Within business schools, relevant degrees often include (quantitative) marketing, decision sciences, finance, and accounting. Business school websites will usually have a link to information about their phd programs.

There are many perks to the business phd programs. The academic job market is much stronger than in many other fields, and the salaries are among the highest in academia. The interdisciplinary nature of the field can be rewarding for many -- the quantitative researchers often work alongside the Psychology-based experimental researchers who study management and consumer behavior.

  • $\begingroup$ +1, and some of these quantitative business PhD programs are OR programs! $\endgroup$ – Mike Spivey Oct 14 '11 at 3:37

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