Setting yourself up to Excel

Tuesday, January 31, 2023
by Tyler, AFM student

My experience as a finalist in the Microsoft Excel Collegiate Challenge  

In early December, I had the chance to participate in the finals for the Microsoft Excel Collegiate Challenge hosted by the University of Arizona, and it’s something I encourage every student to sign up for next year. It served as a great chance to hone my Excel skills, network with top financial modelers in university and abroad, not to mention I was able to escape the snow for a few days. 

The challenge began as an online competition, where university students could sign up to complete a series of Excel challenges, such as modelling and budgeting. In addition, and what proved to be the biggest challenge for me, were the e-sports “games.” These involved analyzing a real-world scenario in Excel and creating a formula that can calculate the outcome of hundreds of games. In one round, we had three people playing rock paper scissors, and we had to determine the number of rounds won or lost. After two online rounds, where I placed eighth, the top 30 out of 400 were selected to fly down to Tucson, Arizona, for a weekend to compete. 

The day included four rounds, two of which were held live in their e-sports facility, outfitted with top-of-the-line PCs and monitors, and of course, a lot of RGB lighting. Interspersed throughout the day were presentations from employers and several meals. Our day ended with a reception in a skybox at the University of Arizona’s beautiful football stadium, allowing us to meet and chat with our fellow competitors as well as the top excel competitors in the world for the financial modelling world cup.  

What struck me the most about my time during the challenge was how achievable it all was. Admission to the first two rounds is free and can be done online, and my Excel skills were learned naturally through my work and school experience. The models we build also don’t require esoteric formulas and split-second, mouse-less navigation. All they require is some practice and the same intuitive knowledge and thinking we have been trained in as accounting and finance professionals. Even the e-sports games are everyday situations including sports games, dominos, poker etc. It simply requires us to see the world through a different lens and apply those same Excel fundamentals in a new way. I look forward to competing again next year and I hope to see a lot of fellow University of Waterloo students there!