The September term of the MSc Finance 2012-2013 programme at Imperial College came to a close last week with group coursework and individual tests in the introductory courses. I will therefore take the time to look back at the first month of studies and briefly summarise my impression of the business school so far. If you're thinking about applying to Imperial's MSc programme (applications will open again in November), the following might be a good description of what to expect from the first term.
As written before, MSc Finance students at Imperial College Business School (ICBS) start at the end of August already, while the other business school programmes usually begin in October. This first month of studies is meant to serve as a refresher for those who have studied similar topics before or as an introduction into the field of finance for those having another undergraduate background, such as engineering. In addition, it allows the ICBS careers team to work exclusively with MSc Finance and MSc Risk Management students, which is important due to the early start of the bulge brackets "milk round".
There were four foundation courses: Business Valuation, Markets and Securities, Financial Modelling, and The Finance Industry:
Personally, I found Business Valuation the most interesting of the four, because I think it was of the greatest benefit to me. The lecture introduced the basic accounting and valuation techniques used for valuing a firm or project. Especially the accounting lectures were a good refresher for me and, most importantly, they were not purely theoretical. Instead of simply going through definitions and concepts, we walked through the calculation of free cash flows and the stock prices of different corporations using real financial statements and we looked at past examples of accounting fraud (e.g. WorldCom). While the discounted cash flow method, financial multiples et cetera were of course known to me already and fixed in my mind thanks to my undergraduate degree and internships, I realized that my knowledge of the different financial statements had become a bit rusty over the years. The course served its purpose and got me up to speed in this department again.
Markets and Securities covered many topics, including the basic functioning of the capital markets, financial instruments, pricing theory, diversification and the CAPM. None of these topics was discussed in detail, but again, this was a foundation course to get all students onto a similar level before the beginning of the second term in October. What I mean by this is that, even if you didn't study finance, economics or business administration for your undergraduate degree, you should not feel discouraged. You can still apply to Imperial's finance programme, if you're interested. The first four courses will give you a good foundation, so you won't be lost once the actual courses start. I should also note that the Markets and Securities lectures were accompanied by Matlab sessions where students could work on practical problems through the application of the theories taught in the lectures. Part of the assessment for Markets and Securities was a group coursework that required students to use Matlab for risk and return calculations. In the end there was an individual assessment in the form of multiple choice questions.
Financial Modelling dealt exclusively with statistics, predominantly discrete and continuous probability distributions. There was a weekly Matlab tutorial for this course as well. I would say that most students have had a good grasp of statistics before, but it is crucial to know the basics inside and outside in order to excel in the forthcoming more difficult lectures.
When I got my timetable for the first week, I did not know what to expect from The Finance Industry course at all. The title is just not specific enough. It turned out to be a course by Imperial's careers team supposed to give students an overview of the different roles and career paths within the industry. The course was on Thursdays and usually lasted from nine in the morning to seven or eight o'clock in the evening, but it was very valuable for many reasons. First of all, the careers team gave really good first tips on how to go about applying to employers in the financial sector in the City. This really opened my eyes, because the recruitment process in London is different from the process in Germany. There were also practical careers sessions where students could get feedback on their CVs and cover letters. In addition, industry practitioners and several bulge bracket banks gave presentations, which not only provided further insights into what certain jobs might require but also were good networking opportunities.
There were different assessments for all of these courses, including written group coursework, a group presentation and multiple choice tests. Working in groups has been a great experience for me, because you get to know your fellow students better and it is also interesting to work with people who have different backgrounds. This is actually one of the things I enjoy the most about being at Imperial: You meet new people every day and they all have different stories to tell. The diversity of students in terms of nationalities and cultures, work experience as well as academic and personal interests is amazing. This is not just enjoyable on a personal level, but working in diverse groups also prepares you for a job in the major financial centres of the world, where a global mindset and the ability to work in teams are highly valued.
Finally, I want to point out that the MSc Finance programme team has been very dedicated and helpful so far. They have been friendly and very helpful during the initial weeks, always communicating important deadlines and actively asking students whether they have any questions or need help. Taking into account how much students pay for participation in the programme, students should expect a certain service level. I think we have not been let down so far.
Today the autumn term commences. It consists of four compulsory core courses -- Corporate Finance, Investments and Portfolio Management, Mathematics for Finance and Financial Econometrics -- and they should be a lot more difficult than the foundation courses. I will write more about these lectures soon. In the meantime, if you're going to apply to Imperial College Business School and have any questions, please feel free to ask them here.