The CFA Institute has been a great asset in my academic development.  The study regime was grueling, and the test itself was no walk in the park, but I did pass on my first try!  I was fortunate to earn a scholarship to help pay for the Level I test, and am currently enrolled for the Level II test in June 2012.
The UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School was a great experience.  I loved the ability to shape my academic career and chose to dual concentrate in investment management and corporate finance. The Applied Investment Management (AIM) program, a student-run hedge fund with AUM of approximately $2 million, was the most memorable experience while I was at Kenan-Flagler.  While part of the AIM fund, I managed the IT/Telecom sector.  From the period of April 2010 to December 2011, my sector outperformed the benchmark by more than 1000 basis points (Sharpe ratio of approximately 2).  I also enjoyed the Training the Street workshops, and many informative extracurricular workshops and lectures by top financial professionals.

Another great advantage to UNC's MBA program is the Capital Markets Lab (CML).  It is a computer lab specifically for business students that have most of the tools mentioned below. There are 12 Bloomberg terminals, and around 20 other computers with Factset, Morningstar, Pertrac, and other premium financial tools.  It was great to have classes in the CML and have the professor log into the Bloomberg terminal and show us exactly how the swap prices are calculated. Or another professor showing us how to manipulate the efficient frontier in Morningstar Encore.  Another great opportunity was that we had some classes that actually incorporated some of the programs right into our homework so that we would have applicable experience using the tools.
My initial financial exposure began at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management.  Although BYU has a small business program, I found it to be thorough and challenging.  Upon graduation, I found that my undergraduate experience was every bit as comprehensive as some of my peers who went to Ivy League undergraduate business programs.

Financial Tools

Bloomberg is probably the tool that I miss most now that I graduated from UNC.  I had a lot of classes in the CML, and always tried to get a seat at one of the Bloomberg terminals.  I also enjoyed the Excel API, although it turns out it was somewhat hobbled by the academic license.  Even though I am no longer in school, I still enjoy watching Bloomberg TV and listening to Bloomberg Radio, both of which stream live over the internet for FREE!
I enjoyed Factset because if its easier user interface and visual aspects.  For instance, when comparing valuations, its graphics were a lot nicer and easier to navigate.  I probably used the Factset Excel API the most, because all of the CML computers had Factset, while only a limited number were Bloomberg terminals.
Thomson Reuters is a great source of research. Not much else to say!
Out of all the tools listed, I probably used CapitalIQ the most while I was at school.  The reason being was that it was the only tool that I could use on my own computer.  UNC gives each one of its MBA students their own username and password so I had 24/7 access.  I really miss the ability to easily grab a long-term spreadsheet of company financials.
The main tool that I used from Morningstar was Morningstar Encorr.  I learned how to create risk-optimized portfolios and generate a lot of statistics and reports.  I used Morningstar Encorr to weight the holdings in the IT/Telecom sector for the AIM fund.  However, before running the scenarios, I adjusted each of the holdings expected returns and volatility measures to come in line with
I used Pertrac to compile performance data, mainly from the database. I really liked its ability to create a mock portfolio of specific assets. One utilization of Pertrac was that I created sector-specific portfolios of hedge funds and compared their performance to the hedge fund industry, the overall market, and sector-specific equity portfolios. My main goal was to track betas and correlation over time.
Interactive Brokers is my brokerage of choice. I know the user interface is a little rough, but I really appreciate the Excel API, extremely low commissions, and broad coverage of securities. If you are interested in Interactive Brokers I would highly suggest trying the demo before you sign up.
SMF_Addin (Free Excel Market Data): Once I graduated from UNC, I sadly lost the access to almost all of the financial tools listed above. The only consolation was that I still had Interactive Brokers Excel API and this Excel addin as well. This addin is great because it can easily collect data from a variety of websites using one standard formula. I would highly recommend using it, although it is a bit quirky sometimes. To officially download it, you must join the Yahoo Group (click the link above). However, if you don't want to go through that hassle, click here for a direct download link. In the long run, I would highly suggest joining the group for the support aspect of the site but to each their own.
AutoHotkey is akin to a macro/VBA program that works in the Microsoft Windows environment. It does have a macro recorder, so if you are a little shy around VBA code, this *may* still work for you. If you are a code master, the code is simple and easy to understand. This program has been a lifesaver many times when I wanted to scrape data from the internet but it was in a non-Excel compatible format. Click here for the direct download link.

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