Princeton’s Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE) Major

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

an unidentified female student typing something unto a calculator

Princeton’s Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE) Major: What is it?

Princeton’s Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE), or ORFE for short, at one point catered specifically to students who wanted jobs as quants or traders on Wall St. Highly competitive prop trading firms like DRW, Jane St, GETCO, Citigroup, etc were having payouts of $300–400K per year for the top traders, which is an attractive salary for a college graduate only ~2 years out of school.

As the financial system collapsed in 2008 and as more players entered the space, many of these high-frequency trading firms folded and the top firms that survived required superior technology or sophisticated trading algorithms to beat out their competition. These days, the competition is incredibly stiff and there is a high barrier to entry within this space.

With lower payouts and demise of many of these trading firms, the field would soon become obsolete. And the branding of the major gave off the impression that it was specifically geared towards quants, with a derivatives course as one of the many core courses required for that major. Now as the technology sector began to really take off and with the demise of the financial sector, Princeton now advertises on its website that ORFE has a focus on machine learning and data science. And certainly, the very rigorous coursework within the department supports those fields of study.

But Princeton may have made a mistake in naming the major “Operations Research & Financial Engineering,” instead of a more suitable name like “Statistics” or “Applied Math,” because that’s really what the major is about, albeit with a greater focus towards finance.

While the coursework is amazing and many students do go into the tech field, the branding of the major is misleading to many employers on what exactly the field of study entails, especially if you’re applying to a tech job. And so you may have to clarify to employers what exactly the major was about.

The short answer is yes, you’ll be able to find a tech job with a Princeton degree and you’ll take a very rigorous mathematical coursework through the ORFE major. But just be aware that you’ll have to clarify to employers what your field of study is about, and perhaps even explain why you’re more interested in tech than finance.


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