What You Need to Know About the Best Finance MBA Programs
March 10, 2021
If you have a head for numbers and a knack for business, this specialization might be for you. Just know that if you're only in it for the money, you may end up bored.
Getting a traditional Master of Business Administration can, by some estimates, double your salary. There are, however, some MBA concentrations and MBA specializations that can lead to an even bigger salary boost. Among these: the MBA in Finance.
Now, before you get too excited, know that this concentration isn't for everyone. Working in finance means lots of responsibility, major-league stress, and long, long hours. And finance jobs aren't especially sexy; there's a lot of number-crunching involved. You'll spend more time using your quantitative and analytical chops than your soft skills in this role.
In return, a finance MBA can launch your Wall Street career or help you land a job at a high-profile corporate finance firm or investment bank—even if you don't graduate from one of the best finance MBA programs. You'll be well compensated for what you do regardless of your academic pedigree, though graduating from a top-tier school can't hurt your prospects, and will almost certainly help them. If you can enroll in one of the colleges or universities below, do it. You'll pay a lot for your degree, but you'll learn a lot and earn a lot, too.
In this article about the best finance MBA programs, we cover:
- What kinds of professionals pursue finance MBAs?
- What do students in MBA in Finance programs study?
- Which schools have the best finance MBA programs?
- What sets the best finance MBA programs apart?
- What kind of commitment do the best finance MBA programs require?
- Are there accelerated programs at the best schools for finance MBAs?
- How does an MBA in Finance differ from a master's in finance?
- What can you do with an MBA in Finance?
- How much will you earn after getting a finance MBA?
What kinds of professionals pursue finance MBAs?
There are many ways to launch a career in finance, from earning a bachelor's degree in business or finance to pursuing a Master of Finance. An MBA in Finance is the best choice for professionals who have work experience in banking or finance and want to advance into managerial and executive positions. The MBA in Finance is a highly versatile degree that prepares students to step into a wide variety of roles in both business management and finance. It's a good option for those who have a passion for finance but also have their eye on the c-suite or key positions in central banks.
What do students in MBA in Finance programs study?
The best MBA in Finance programs touch on nearly all the core business topics covered in traditional MBA programs, including:
- International business
- Operations management
- Risk management
At some point in finance MBA programs—usually in the second year—graduate students begin tackling coursework focused on this concentration, such as:
- Advanced Financial Management
- Behavioral Finance
- Capital Markets
- Financial Derivatives
- Financial Reporting
- Fixed Income Securities
- Government Finance
- International Finance Markets
- Investment Analysis
- Investment Management
- Managerial Finance
- Real Estate Investments
Finance MBA programs can vary significantly from school to school. At some colleges and universities, the 'finance' portion of these specialized MBA programs is only three to five concentration-focused courses that students choose themselves. In other programs, most of the curriculum is designed to support students' future finance careers.
Which schools have the best finance MBA programs?
According to US News & World Report, the best business schools for finance include:
- Columbia University Business School
- Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business
- Harvard University's Harvard Business School
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management (MIT)
- New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business
- Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business
- Stanford University's Graduate School of Business
- University of California - Berkeley's Haas School of Business
- University of California - Los Angeles's Anderson School of Management
- University of Chicago's Booth School of Business
- University of Michigan - Ann Arbor's Stephen M. Ross School of Business
- University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School
Not every school known for its finance curriculum offers an official 'MBA in Finance.' At some colleges and universities, graduate students create de facto concentrations through their elective choices. At others, students earn finance certificates while pursuing MBAs, and the end result is an education that is basically identical to an MBA in Finance program. And finally, there are MBA programs in which students can create their own custom concentrations. Don't cross top schools off your list of possibilities just because they don't officially offer this exact concentration. You may find many other traditional MBA programs support a finance career path.
What sets the best finance MBA programs apart?
The reason some finance MBA programs have a stellar reputation isn't just that they're offered by famous name schools. In most cases, that reputation is well-deserved for a variety of reasons:
- The best finance MBA programs have strong ties to the finance and investment banking industries that allow them to place students into career-boosting internships. At NYU's Leonard N. Stern School of Business, students have opportunities to work with industry leaders in New York City. Students at University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business work directly with executives from sponsoring companies.
- These programs allow graduate students to participate in the management of actual investment funds, so they get hands-on experience working with a real fund with significant assets before graduation.
- Classes in top finance MBA programs are taught by leading finance scholars. At the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, the faculty includes Nobel laureate Eugene F. Fama, considered the father of modern finance, and fellow Nobel laureate Lars Peter Hansen.
- Top MBA in Finance programs are typically in locales where you'll also find the world's largest financial markets. There are many advantages to studying in cities like New York and Chicago (or locations outside the United States like London and Hong Kong), where your chances of being recruited by a major investment bank or corporation are much higher.
- The best finance MBA programs have high rates of post-graduation student employment because they have relationships with recruiters and companies hiring in the financial industry as well as robust alumni networks. Graduates also earn higher-than-average starting salaries (more on this below).
- Price is another way these programs stand apart. The best finance MBA programs are typically a lot more expensive than the average master's degree. It's not unusual for students to pay more than $2,000 per credit to attend the most prestigious programs. The good news is that scholarships, financial aid, and student loans are all accessible to MBA students.
What kind of commitment do the best finance MBA programs require?
A two-year commitment is standard for top MBA programs, regardless of concentration. These programs tend to be full-time (that's true even for online programs). Most follow a format in which students spend the first year of their studies focused on core business and management topics. In year two, the curriculum veers away from traditional MBA coursework. Students are immersed in finance, both in the classroom and in the time they spend fulfilling experiential learning requirements.
Some colleges and universities ask more of their finance MBA students than just two years of study. At Dartmouth College, for instance, students pursuing finance MBAs are required to live in on-campus housing—often in the school's graduate student housing complex—or in off-campus housing nearby. The idea behind the requirement is to promote cohesiveness within the MBA program (and other graduate programs), so students form stronger networks.
Are there accelerated programs at the best schools for finance MBAs?
The best finance MBA programs tend to follow the schedule outlined above or another two-year format. As you dig into each of the programs we've listed here, you may come across the University of Michigan's Fast Track in Finance track. While the program name suggests you'll be done sooner, the reality is that students in the program finish at the same pace as students in the standard finance track. What makes this program 'fast' is that some core courses are waived, and students take an accelerated sequence of finance courses starting in year one designed to make them better internship candidates come summer. Throughout the program, they also have additional opportunities to customize the curriculum with finance classes.
How does an MBA in Finance differ from a master's in finance?
While the curriculum in full-time and part-time MBA in Finance programs and Master of Science in Finance programs can be very similar, there are some critical differences between these two academic pathways. For instance, you can earn a master's in finance more quickly at most schools. An MBA program will generally take two years of full-time study to complete. In contrast, there are several well-regarded one-year Master of Finance programs.
Additionally, you can enroll in most master's in finance programs without any prior professional experience. Finance MBA programs generally hold applicants to a higher standard. You might need three years of experience in finance or even more to enroll in the best finance MBA programs.
Master's in finance programs also tend to be less expensive and more attractive to younger students who have recently graduated with bachelor's degrees in finance or business. Students in MBA programs are usually older.
Perhaps most importantly, your earning potential will likely be a lot higher with an MBA in Finance. The average Master of Finance salary is $79,000. MBA holders routinely earn $100,000, and, as we discuss below, graduates of top programs earn, on average, a lot more than that.
What can you do with an MBA in Finance?
Finance MBA programs will prepare you to work in a lot of different roles. With an MBA in Finance, you can work in portfolio management, investment banking, personal money management, underwriting, and securities advising… or even in sales, real estate, or consulting. You might become a/an:
- Accounting manager
- Asset manager
- Cash manager
- Corporate controller
- Credit manager
- Finance manager
- Financial analyst
- Financial services manager
- Portfolio compliance specialist
- Portfolio manager
- Risk manager
- VP of corporate finance
With a degree from an on-campus or online MBA program from a top school, you'll also be primed to advance into upper management and leadership positions like Chief Financial Officer or even CEO.
How much will you earn after getting a finance MBA?
Degree pathways don't come with salary guarantees. Still, it's almost certain that your earning potential will increase once you have your MBA in Finance in hand from a college or university at the top of the business school rankings. While the average salary for finance MBA holders is $103,000, you can potentially earn a lot more if you aim for roles like director of financial planning, investment banker, financial manager, private equity associate, or chief financial officer. You'll also probably earn more than the national average for finance MBA graduates if you attend one of the top programs. According to The Financial Times' MBA rankings, Stanford grads typically earn about $252,000, Wharton grads earn about $227,000, and Booth grads earn about $211,000. Students from all three institutions tend to earn more than double their pre-MBA income.
Just keep in mind that finance isn't the easiest discipline to master in school, and it won't be the easiest one to stick with once you're out in the business world. If you're only in it for the money, you may discover that becoming a quant feels like a never-ending slog. Earning an MBA in Finance—especially from one of the top business schools—means putting in a lot of hard work and can also mean sacrificing years of income, working long hours, or relocating. The same is true when it comes to succeeding in finance. You'll be much more likely to succeed in school and beyond if you're in it because you love working with numbers and using those numbers to help people and businesses make better financial decisions.
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