Business Administration

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Finance Program

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Finance Program
An online degree offers convenience and flexibility that an on-campus program cannot, plus it allows you to attend an out-of-state program that may be better than any of your local options without having to relocate. Image from Unsplash
Tom Meltzer profile
Tom Meltzer February 25, 2019

One of the most prestigious institutions offering an online master's in finance, Harvard University, charges a very reasonable tuition.

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So, you’ve thought about whether an MBA with a finance concentration or an MS in finance better fits your career objectives, and you’ve decided on the master’s degree. Now you have to decide whether you want to complete your degree on campus, online, or in a program that combines both formats.

An online degree offers convenience and flexibility that an on-campus program cannot, plus it allows you to attend an out-of-state program that may be better than any of your local options without having to relocate. While not all top programs offer an online option, there are some great online finance master’s programs. But how do you decide which one is best for you? Here are the factors you should weigh: curriculum, method of content delivery, cost, flexibility, accreditation, and reputation among employers.


Curriculum

Online finance master’s programs vary significantly in focus and approach. Their differences are driven in part by the geography of business: programs offered by schools in New York City, for example, are likely to emphasize investment banking, while schools in Silicon Valley are more likely to focus on finance in the tech sector. You might think that an online program, marketed to a national audience, would have a less regional flavor. Remember that these programs are adapted from schools’ on-campus programs, and that region influences which businesses hire graduates and which experts are on the full-time faculty. These factors all influence curriculum.

Fortunately, online master’s in finance programs post their curricula on their websites. Review these carefully to make sure that the program meets your needs. Some programs emphasize theory and advanced quantitative analysis, while others focus more on practical skills. Which is a better fit for you? Also, do you want to specialize? Some programs offer specialization tracks, others only a generalized degree. There are programs that offer only a fixed set of courses with no electives. Others mandate a small core with plenty of latitude to customize. More finance programs are going online every year, making it easier for students to find the exact right program for them.


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Method of content delivery

Before committing to a program, you want to know what the online experience will be like. Is all the content asynchronous, or are there classes and assignments that require you to participate at a specific time? Is the asynchronous content entirely text-based, or does it include streaming video and interactive simulations? Are the lectures simply videos of on-campus lectures, or were they created exclusively for the online program? Online presentation offers unique opportunities to customize content for the benefit of students—it can be made more interactive than is possible in an on-campus lecture, for example—but not all schools take advantage of these opportunities.

Preview the learning platform.

Some school websites provide videos that demonstrate the online learning experience. While these are promotional pieces that show the platform in its best light, they do at least allow you to see the interface and determine whether it is intuitively designed. Some school websites don’t even provide that much of a peak. Don’t commit to the program until you’ve seen how it delivers its content. You wouldn’t buy an automobile without taking it for a test drive, so why would you choose a master’s program—which costs at least as much as a car—without taking it out for a spin?

How will you deliver your work?

As you consider the learning platform, remember that a finance master’s involves a lot of advanced mathematical work. You definitely want to find out how this work will be completed, delivered, and graded. Will you be working entirely in online spreadsheets? Will you have to do work by hand, scan it, and upload it? Are assessments primarily or exclusively multiple-choice (if so, ask yourself whether that’s because multiple choice is the best way to learn finance or because multiple-choice questions are easier to grade)? The mechanics of work delivery may seem like a small point, but it won’t seem that way once you’re in a program and you have to deal with this issue regularly.

What (if anything) happens IRL?

Take into consideration whether the program includes live sessions as part of its coursework. Small group live sessions led by an adjunct faculty member are costly to schools, but they are very effective in identifying and addressing areas in which students are falling behind. They also facilitate valuable interaction among classmates, providing not only a beneficial sense of community but also helping to build a peer network that can be very useful come job search time. However, you may decide that live sessions are too difficult to accommodate in your schedule, and that’s fine, too. There are excellent programs available that are 100 percent asynchronous.


Cost

Tuition for an online master’s in finance can run anywhere from $690 per credit (Indiana University, Kelley Direct Online) to $2,360 per credit (Georgetown University). Schools require between 30 and 40 credit hours to graduate. As a result, tuition costs at these programs range from $20,700 (Indiana University, Kelley Direct Online) to $75,520 (Georgetown University). It should be noted that one of the most prestigious institutions offering an online master’s in finance, Harvard University, charges a very reasonable $33,000 in tuition. Remember that various fees and the cost of books are not included in tuition and can be significant.


Flexibility

Most online graduate students work at least part-time as they pursue their degrees. Many have reached a point where major life events—marriage, children—arise. If this describes you, you should find out whether the programs you are considering will allow you the flexibility to reduce your course load for a semester or two, or to take a semester off. Fortunately, most online programs are designed with working professionals in mind and are generally willing to accommodate students. Make sure by looking into a program’s policies before enrolling.

Remember also to check whether the program can be completed 100 percent online or whether some in-person participation is required. Some programs require students to attend orientation on campus. Others schedule several mandatory in-person weekend intensive sessions, and others still require that some courses be completed on-campus (these part online, part on-campus programs are called hybrid programs). If you choose one of these programs, make sure to factor in the cost of traveling to and from the school when budgeting for your education.


Accreditation

Master’s in Finance programs are typically awarded through a university’s business school, which are typically accredited by national and international accreditation organizations. Because the national accreditors emphasize different qualities, some business schools seek accreditation from more than one (in order to demonstrate their strength across different metrics).

Some programs opt for regional accreditation. Regional accreditors survey and affirm universities as a whole, not individual programs or schools within the university. Even so, regional accreditation is widely recognized and respected, and is typically regarded as at least equal in value to national accreditation. Some programs acquire both national and regional accreditation.

Unaccredited schools are not necessarily bad schools, nor are all accredited institutions problem-free. Accreditation simply ensures that the school has submitted to review and met baseline criteria (which, to be clear, are typically pretty stringent). Regardless, employers generally prefer candidates whose degrees come from accredited institutions, making accredited programs the safer choice.


Reputation

You want your degree to impress potential employers, obviously. Equally obviously, a master’s from MIT or Harvard will serve that purpose well. There are lots of excellent online master’s in finance programs, however, all of which will give your career prospects a significant boost. A select few programs have national reputations; many more are widely respected regionally and locally. Nearly every online master’s program will list recent employers of graduates among its online promotional materials. Review these lists carefully; they reveal which employers and industries favor the program. Any master’s from a well-known, well-respected program will assure potential employers that you can take on and master challenges similar to those you will face as a financial professional.

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About the Author

Tom Meltzer began his career in education publishing at The Princeton Review, where he authored more than a dozen titles (including the company's annual best colleges guide and two AP test prep manuals) and produced the musical podcast The Princeton Review Vocab Minute. A graduate of Columbia University (English major), Tom lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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