Degree-seekers with an interest in business and a desire to advance to lucrative jobs may consider a degree in finance. In a master’s in finance, students study economic theory, investing, and banking. Career paths can include financial management, personal financial advising, and management consulting.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the business and financial operations sector will add 476,200 new jobs between 2019-2029. This level of growth outpaces the average for all occupations, making the present an ideal time to pursue a business career.
What Is Finance?
Since Ancient Mesopotamia, humans have recorded financial transactions. While ancient civilizations relied on clay and tablets rather than computers, the use of financial tools remains the same.
Today, financial professionals may handle investments, direct corporations, and advise individual clients about retirement and estate planning. The top industries for financial managers include finance and insurance; professional, scientific, and technical services; management of companies and enterprises; government; and manufacturing. Personal financial advisors tend to work in securities and related activities or as self-employed workers.
While specific skill sets vary depending on the position, finance professionals usually need excellent math and analytical skills. Good communication also proves useful when conversing with clients or supervising a team.
With a master’s in finance, graduates hone the skills they need to pursue leadership opportunities. Some employers prefer a master’s degree for advanced financial positions, as it demonstrates a high level of proficiency in the field.
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Why Get a Master’s Degree in Finance?
Aspiring finance professionals generally begin their journey by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in the field. For the widest available career options, however, a master’s in finance can be well worth the investment of time and money. Some employers, particularly large corporations, may prefer employees with a master’s. Advanced degrees can also develop niche expertise, lead to higher salaries, and provide significant industry knowledge and networking opportunities.
The benefits of completing a master’s in finance can include:
- With a master’s in finance, students can pursue specializations in global finance, quantitative finance, asset management, corporate finance, and banking and capital markets. This in-depth knowledge can impress future employers.
- Advancement Opportunities
- By obtaining a master’s in finance, employees demonstrate their dedication to the field. A graduate degree in any specialty, paired with experience, can help professionals land managerial roles.
- Salary Potential
- The median annual wage for all business and finance occupations was $72,250 as of May 2019, according to the BLS. A master’s degree can help graduates qualify for high-earning jobs like a financial manager, with an annual median salary of $134,180.
What to Expect From Master’s in Finance Programs
Finance master’s programs focus on the theory and practice of financial models. Students gain the technical skills to manage portfolios, assess financial risks, and participate in the global economy.
Learners can complete their degree in 10-24 months and 27-36 credits, depending on the program’s format. For example, a finance master’s program for experienced executives might run in periodic modules or on a part-time basis. However, accelerated programs may require full-time attendance over a shorter span.
Finance degree-seekers engage in core curricula involving investments and financial management. Students may add electives such as data mining, financial accounting, or computational finance.
While application requirements for the top master’s in finance programs vary, candidates need an accredited bachelor’s degree to qualify. Most schools require GMAT or GRE scores and expect a competitive GPA, typically exceeding 3.0. Other typical application materials include essays, 1-3 recommendation letters, a resume, and occasionally a video essay. Application fees can range from $65-$120.
Some finance master’s programs require students, particularly those focusing on executive skills, to enter with five or more years of work experience. However, many programs offer admission to students without prior experience. Candidates without a business degree may need to complete prerequisites in accounting, calculus, and statistics.
Comparing MS in Finance and MBA
Aspiring finance professionals may question whether to pursue an MS in finance or an MBA with a concentration in finance. While these two choices share similar elements, an MBA program provides a wider breadth of business knowledge, typically focusing on management perspectives. The finance concentration might consist of 9-15 credits of the entire program.
An MS in finance provides in-depth study on various financial topics rather than exploring other business areas. In a finance master’s program, students may choose specialization options in global finance, business analytics, or quantitative finance.
The following table compares the master’s in finance with the MBA program.
||MS in Finance
||In-depth financial expertise
||Business breadth and managerial finance
||Managerial economics; financial accounting; applied portfolio management; financial technology; investment theory and practice; corporate finance
||Principles of economics; managerial accounting; introduction to marketing; business statistics; financial management; investment management
||Personal financial advisor; financial analyst; financial manager; management consultant; top executive
||Financial manager; management consultant; top executive; general and operations manager
|Degree specialization options
||Global finance; quantitative finance; corporate finance; asset management; banking and capital markets
||Students generally choose electives to customize the concentration track.
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The best master’s in finance programs vary in curriculum offerings. Most schools require core classes that all students take, which can include financial management, financial accounting, and investments. Learners typically choose electives further in their studies, following their interests in areas like computational finance, quantitative trading strategies, and international finance.
Many programs also require degree-seekers to gain experience by completing a practicum or internship.
In this core course, students explore the foundations of corporate financial management by learning how to select profitable projects, calculate the time value of money, and evaluate cash flow. The course ensures that learners understand capital markets and gain proficiency in working with tools like Excel.
This course covers common techniques for optimizing investment portfolios. Students learn the theory of portfolio building, methods for assessment and recordkeeping, and economic principles that can affect investments. The course may cover approaches for individuals, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. Portfolio management may appear as a core course or as an elective.
Many finance master’s programs require at least one practicum, in which students collaborate with the finance department of a partner organization. Working as individuals or in teams, learners complete financial projects for the company and write up a report at the culmination of the experience.
How Much Will a Master’s Degree in Finance Cost?
Generally, prospective finance master’s students can expect tuition costs that range from $22,000-$60,000 per academic year. Deciding factors include the school’s location, reputation, program format, and public or private status.
Degree-seekers can often find lower tuition rates by seeking out a public school in their home state. Online programs often allow nonresidents to pay in-state tuition or provide other discounts to distance learners. Private institutions may not charge separate tuition rates depending on the student’s residency status, though these schools generally charge higher tuition.
Generally, prospective finance master’s students can expect tuition costs that range from $22,000-$60,000 per academic year.
Prospective students can find ample funding sources to help offset the cost of higher education. By filling out a FAFSA, degree-seekers may qualify for low-interest federal student loans, plus several grant opportunities. Many professional organizations offer scholarships for financial professionals. Employers may also offer tuition benefits.
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Choosing the Right Finance Graduate Program
Exploring the MS finance rankings can jumpstart the search for the right program. However, each student needs to also evaluate their situation and career goals before enrolling.
Potential students should always seek an accredited program. Regional and national accreditations assess the entire institution, with regional accreditation widely accepted as the higher standard. Students may also want to look for program-specific accreditation from an organization like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Some degree-seekers may want to continue working while earning their finance master’s, particularly if they can lean on past professional experience. These students might consider longer program timelines or online programs. Other students might choose an accelerated program to graduate quickly and start earning a salary.
Program reputation can also factor into the decision-making process. A prestigious school could carry a higher price tag, but students hoping to land competitive positions in large firms may want to consider attending anyway. A strong alumni network can also offer a significant advantage for those who want to build professional connections in the field.
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Should You Get Your Degree Online?
Online programs provide excellent educational opportunities with flexible schedules and potentially lower rates. Employers and other institutions recognize the value that distance learning can provide. Online programs allow professionals to access the best MS finance programs regardless of their location.
Degree-seekers may turn to online learning if they already work full time or manage other obligations that prevent them from relocating to attend school. Online education can also lower tuition costs.
When considering whether to enroll in an online program, students should remember that distance learning requires the same focus and attention as an on-campus program. Independent learning requires strong time management skills and self-discipline.
Online programs offer different styles to deliver the curriculum. Asynchronous courses allow students to access materials at their convenience, while synchronous programs require face-to-face time. Some programs require online students to attend on-campus classes or events.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a master's in finance better than an MBA?
It depends on the student’s interests and goals. A master’s in finance provides in-depth knowledge of investments, financial management, and securities. Alternatively, an MBA covers a wider breadth of business knowledge through a managerial lens.
Is a master's in finance worth it?
With a master’s in finance, graduates can qualify for various career paths. Advancement opportunities abound for those who hone their skills with a master’s. Employers may prefer financial managers and top executives who hold advanced degrees.
How long are finance master's programs?
Students can generally complete a master’s in finance in 10-24 months of study. Part-time students can find flexible programs to extend their timelines if necessary. Programs typically require about 27-36 credits to graduate.
What can you do with a master's in finance?
Graduates can follow career paths to become personal financial advisors, financial managers, management consultants, and executive managers. They work in many different industries, including finance and insurance, securities, government, and manufacturing.
Is finance a good career?
Financial professionals can leverage their expertise and experience to earn lucrative salaries. According to the BLS, personal financial advisors earn a median annual salary of $89,330, whereas financial managers earn $134,180.
MS in Finance Rankings 2021
A public research university located in Gainesville, UF offers a master of science in finance (MSF). Students may choose from one of two combined degrees: a BS to MS in finance or a JD/MS in finance.
The master's program includes 32 credits, with students specializing in corporate finance, financial markets, or investments. Students take courses such as business financial management, money and capital markets, measuring and managing value, and entrepreneurial finance.
Current bachelor's students apply for the master's program with a 3.5 undergraduate GPA during the second year of studies. For law students, applications begin after acceptance to the law school, and students may apply up to 12 JD credits to the MSF. Law students must submit standardized test scores (LSAT) and a statement of purpose.
UF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
The University of Texas at Austin
A public university based in Austin, UT Austin's McCombs School of Business offers a master of science in finance. The program prioritizes financial modeling and technical, quantitative skills. Students can complete the program in about 10 months.
Students begin the 36-credit curriculum with two courses: financial management and valuation. Students also participate in courses such as investment theory and practice, financial statement and security analysis, and intermediate accounting. Students take practicums for real-world skills application and study niche topics such as private equity, valuation of energy investments, and computational finance. All students can access career services and participate in STEM certifications.
Students must possess an undergraduate degree and submit GMAT or GRE scores to begin the application process. UT Austin is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
A premier research university located in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins offers a master of science in finance degree with a STEM-designated concentration in financial econometrics.
The 36-credit curriculum offers students training with courses such as advanced corporate finance, big data machine learning, the firm and macroeconomy, and cryptos and blockchain. These unique approaches to finance prepare students for the realities of innovative new technologies and concepts facing the finance world. Students prepare to sit for the CFA exam and study a functional core of computational finance concepts in econometrics. Full-time students may take part in the official econometrics concentration.
Students must submit GMAT or GRE scores to begin the application process and need an undergraduate degree showing quantitative preparedness from an accredited institution. Johns Hopkins is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
A private research university based in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt offers a master of science in finance through the Owen Graduate School of Management. Students take two courses per seven-week module. Students can complete the program in about 10 months.
The 33-credit program includes such course topics as financial modeling, corporate valuation, and professional development and communication. Students then choose a variety of electives from disciplines such as business or accounting. Topics may include applied investment management, accounting mergers and acquisitions, game theory and business strategy, or corporate restructuring for stressed firms. Students may also apply to the law school during their second year for a dual juris doctorate degree.
The school strongly recommends that students possess prior work experience before applying. The school does not accept transfer credits. Students must submit GMAT scores, and the average GPA for accepted students is 3.65.
Vanderbilt is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Located in Madison, UW offers a master of science in financial economics for students needing advanced quantitative analysis training for economics. Students receive training and mentorship from both the economics and finance faculty.
Many students complete the 30-credit program in 3-4 semesters. Core courses include investment theory and practice, derivative securities, econometrics, and financial microeconomics. Students choose six credits of electives, including options such as mergers and acquisitions, machine learning for economists, international finance economics, and data analytics for economists.
Students may submit GRE scores to strengthen an application, but the school does not require them. Applicants must also complete a math preparation form to record their ability to handle high-level mathematics. Students do not need to possess previous work experience. UW is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.