Which Online Master of Finance Programs Are Best?
March 10, 2021
A Master of Finance provides a deeper and broader dive into finance than an MBA in Finance. Many excellent schools now offer this degree online. Some even piggyback it on their online MBA, allowing you to earn both at the same time.
Money is the fuel that keeps the engine of business running. That's why figuring out how to keep that fuel flowing—the job of finance professionals—is critical. And, correspondingly, remunerative: according to Northeastern University, a master's in finance is among the most lucrative graduate degrees available. A Master of Business Administration (MBA), which can also lead to careers in finance, is another.
Not so long ago, you'd have to attend an on-campus program to earn either of those degrees. Today, however, you can study online while continuing to work a full-time job, and without having to relocate. An ever-growing number of top schools offer graduate degrees, including the master's in finance, to distance learners.
Who offers the best online Master of Finance degree? This article provides some suggestions while also answering some essential questions about the degree. In this article, we'll discuss:
- What is a Master of Finance degree?
- What courses will I take in a Master of Finance program?
- Should I get a Master of Finance of a Master of Business Administration in Finance?
- Why pursue a graduate degree online?
- Are online Master of Finance programs as good as on-campus programs?
- What are the best online Master of Finance programs?
What is a Master of Finance degree?
A Master of Science in Finance (or, at some institutions, simply a Master of Finance) is a specialized business degree focusing on how businesses fund themselves. To succeed in finance, professionals must develop a rich understanding of all aspects of the discipline, including:
- Banking law and practice
- Capital budgeting
- Capital markets
- Cash flow management
- Data analytics
- Debt management
- Financial modeling
- Investment management
- Personal finance
- Stock market
- Tax law and tax practice
An effective master's in finance program teaches all of these fundamentals and trains students to synthesize them creatively and effectively. Upon completing the degree, students of finance can work in:
- Asset management
- Corporate finance
- Development fund management
- Hedge fund management
- International finance
- Investment banking
- Portfolio management
- Research institutes
- Risk management
- Wealth management
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), financial managers earn an average annual income of almost $130,000.
Most master's in finance degree programs require students to complete 30 to 36 credit hours. Full-time students can complete the degree in a year. Most online students, however, pursue the degree part-time, taking two to three years to graduate.
Programs rarely require a bachelor's degree in a specific major of prospective finance students. Still, most students in master's of finance programs will have studied accounting, finance, statistics, data analytics, business administration, or computer science in college. Those lacking a sufficient quantitative background must typically complete foundation courses, which do not count toward the master's degree, before commencing graduate work. Some, but not all, programs require applicants to submit GMAT or GRE scores.
What courses will I take in a Master of Finance program?
Online master's of finance programs typically consist of a mix of required core courses and advanced elective courses. Core courses cover the fundamentals that, according to the program philosophy, all finance professionals need to know. Electives allow students to develop areas of interest and specialization.
Because different programs take different approaches to finance, core curricula vary from one program to another. Despite their differences, it is safe to say that students in all of these programs must have highly developed quantitative and analytical skills.
Core courses in master's of finance programs may include the following:
- Corporate Finance
- Cost Analysis
- Equity Analysis
- Financial Accounting
- Financial Institutions
- Financial Markets
- Financial Risk Management
- Fixed Income and Derivatives
- International Business
- Investment Analysis
- Leadership and Organizational Behavior
- Portfolio Management
- Quantitative Analysis
Elective coursework options tend to be fewer and less varied in online programs than in on-campus programs. That's a result of the economics of developing an online course. On-campus, a professor can throw together a course if half-a-dozen students express an interest in the topic. That's not possible for online courses, which require a team of instructional designers, videographers, and, of course, faculty to create and, therefore, substantial student interest to justify. Even so, many programs offer a surprisingly robust slate of elective courses that may include:
- Behavioral Finance
- Corporate Governance
- Finance Applications of Python
- Financial Engineering
- Machine Learning
- Mergers, Acquisitions, and Corporate Restructuring
- Multinational Financial Management
- New Venture Finance
- Option Pricing
- Real Estate Finance
- Security Analysis
- Stochastic Calculus
- Valuation in Corporate Finance
Some programs allow students to concentrate elective study in one area to develop an area of specialization. The online Master of Science in Financial Management at Boston University, for example, permits students to concentrate in international finance or investment analysis. Additionally, it offers students the opportunity to earn graduate certificates in 11 disciplines, including corporate finance, data analytics, enterprise risk management, and financial management.
Many online master's programs in finance require students to complete a capstone project or some other terminal achievement, such as a thesis.
Should I get a Master of Finance of a Master of Business Administration in Finance?
A master's in finance is hardly the only route to a finance career. Schools offer other, more specific finance-related degrees, such as;
- Master of Financial Engineering
- Master of Financial Economics
- Master of Quantitative Finance
- Master of Science in Computational Finance
- Master of Science in Financial Mathematics
Or, you could go in the other direction, following the less-specific route by pursuing a Master of Business Administration in Finance. Indeed, an MBA with a finance concentration has launched many successful careers in finance.
Why enroll in a finance MBA program instead of pursuing a Master of Science in Finance? An MBA is a more generalized business degree, offering a survey of all essential business areas, including:
- Human resources
- Supply chain
In an MBA program, you'll spend the first year learning about all aspects of business. In the second year, you'll focus on finance through your choice of electives.
As a result, an MBA in Finance does not provide as much finance instruction, in either quantity or depth, as a Master of Finance. Instead, it delivers a more well-rounded business education. The MBA in Finance is better for those interested in finance AND management. If that doesn't appeal to you—if instead, you want to be a quant heavy hitter up to their elbows in data, formulae, and analytics—then the Master of Finance (or Master of Science in Finance) is the degree for you.
Another factor to consider: MBA programs are more likely to require applicants to have significant work experience. If you're jumping from undergraduate study right into graduate work, you are more likely to be admitted to a master's program. That's especially true if you have your heart set on a program near the top of the school rankings.
Can't make up your mind? Consider the online MBA program at Auburn University, which offers a dual degree: a general MBA coupled with a MS in finance. The MBA takes two-and-a-half years to complete; adding the MS tacks on only one additional semester.
Why pursue a graduate degree online?
The primary reason to pursue an online master's degree is convenience. Most online programs deliver content either primarily or exclusively asynchronously. That means that lectures, assignments, and readings are available 24/7, accessible whenever you have a moment—or a few hours—to devote to studying. Unless a program mandates live virtual online classes, students in online programs have no constraints on when they can complete their work. For those working full-time jobs and/or tending to family obligations, this is a huge benefit.
Online study also vastly broadens a student's choice of programs. To attend a traditional on-campus program, you need to either find one within commuting distance of your home or relocate. Both are inconvenient and costly. By choosing to study online, you expand your selection of programs to any, anywhere in the world. All you have to do is get in, and you can start studying from the convenience of your office or bedroom.
Potential savings is a less compelling reason. Most online programs charge the same tuition as their on-campus counterparts. You will save some money on relocation, commuting, and parking. You may, however, be charged additional technology fees that cut into those savings. Your most significant savings will be in time: not having to commute to and from campus is, for many students, a considerable time savings.
Are online Master of Finance programs as good as on-campus programs?
In a word: yes. That wasn't always the case. Back in the early days of online education, slow connections and poor course design meant online programs were unreliable, dull, and limited in what content they could effectively deliver. Today, online programs stream high-definition video and feature dynamic interactive learning tools. Some experts even argue that online education is more effective than live-classroom teaching.
Graduate programs of all types have figured out how to deliver content online, even programs requiring highly interactive learning (e.g., physical therapy, nursing) and field placements (e.g., social work, teaching). Business programs, the teaching of which involves more of the sort of 'information dump' associated with lecture courses, are especially adaptable to online instruction. Unsurprisingly, online business programs attract more graduate students than almost any other field.
What are the best online Master of Finance programs?
The term 'best' is, of course, subjective. Are you looking for the most competitive FInance MS program? The most affordable? The one with a curriculum best tailored to your career goals? No US News & World Report ranking can take all of those factors into account and condense them to a slot on a single list.
As you look for the best program for you, keep a few things in mind. Accreditation is important; it indicates that a program has met the minimum requirements set by an independent evaluating organization. Graduate schools certainly look for it, so if you're thinking of proceeding to a PhD, attending an accredited master's program is a must. It's important to employers as well. The two primary accreditation bodies for master's in finance programs are the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) .
For our list, we have selected 14 well-regarded finance master's programs that offer the degree online. Some are quite affordable; others are pricey. Some are 100 percent asynchronous; others deliver content in a hybrid format, meaning that some online—or even in-person—participation is required. All are primarily online, and all should impress most potential employers.
The online Master of Science in Finance at Auburn University's Harbert College of Business is a 30-credit program, including 12 hours of finance electives and 9 hours of free electives. Auburn also offers a dual MBA/MS in Finance option that can be completed in three years.
Metropolitan College of Boston University offers an online Master of Science in Financial Management. This 40-credit sequence is typically completed in 18 to 24 months. Students may choose from two concentrations—international finance and investment analysis—or they can earn a general degree without specialization. Students may also undertake graduate certificates in such areas as enterprise risk management and supply chain management.
__Creighton University __
You might think that it doesn't matter where you earn your degree if you study online. In a sense, that's true: you'll get the same education no matter where you're located. On the other hand, a diploma often has more impact in the region immediately surrounding the conferring institution than it does as you get farther away. It's a function of where alumni are located, since alumni networking figures so prominently in most people's job search. If you're planning to build your finance career in the Great Plains region, Creighton University's online Master of Finance is an excellent choice. Creighton is well-regarded across the country but is particularly so in its home region.
The online Master of Science in Finance at Jesuit-led Georgetown University consists of 32 credits, designed to be completed in 21 months. Georgetown's curriculum includes six core courses, two to five electives, and a week-long residency in the nation's capital to kick off the program. Georgetown's online delivery includes live synchronous classes.
_Harvard University (Harvard Extension School)_
The Master of Liberal Arts, Finance degree offered through Harvard Extension School includes 12 courses, of which four are finance electives (the other eight are required courses). Two of the required courses are offered on-campus only; the school offers several options for fulfilling this requirement, including conventional 15-week courses, weekend executive-style courses, three-week January intensives, or summer courses (offered in three- or seven-week increments). Your degree will indicate that you attended the extension school, so it will not be identical to the degree earned by on-campus students. It will, however, say Harvard on it, which should impress a few folks.
__Indiana University __
Indiana University offers a 30-credit MS in Finance as well as a 66-credit dual MBA/MS in Finance through its nationally ranked Kelley Direct program. Students typically complete the program in 18 months to three years. Course content is delivered asynchronously for maximum convenience. Hoosiers and out-of-state students pay the same tuition rate of $1,380 per credit hour or $4,140 per three-credit-hour course.
__Johns Hopkins University __
The part-time online Master of Science in Finance from Johns Hopkins University's Carey School of Business is a two-year, 36-credit program: 24 core credits, 12 elective credits. The content format is primarily asynchronous, with "a few recommended or required synchronous (real-time) activities)." Select electives are available on-campus only.
The D'Amore-McKin School of Business at Northeastern University offers a 16-month, 30-credit with available specializations in corporate finance and investment finance. The program stresses experiential learning through in-class case studies and exercises. Northeastern also offers an online dual MBA/MS in Finance.
_Pennsylvania State University - World Campus_
State College, Pennsylvania
Unusual among online programs, the Master of Science in Finance offered by Penn State World Campus operates on a cohort model, meaning that students move together through the program as a group. The system helps build class cohesion and collaboration, albeit at the expense of individual students' flexibility. Coursework is all asynchronous; only group study sessions and collaborative projects require students to participate in live sessions.
_St. Joseph University_
St. Joseph University offers its 30-credit Master of Science in Finance degree in both on-campus and online formats. The online program is organized in eight-week accelerated sessions, with classes meeting live once per week, usually on a weekday evening. Seven courses in the program satisfy the education requirements of the Certified Financial Planner certification examination. Students typically take two years to complete the online program.
_University of Massachusetts - Lowell_
The online Master of Science in Finance at UMass Lowell is among the more inexpensive options available to online finance students; over the summer of 2020, students paid a very reasonable $655 per credit. The ten-course, 30-credit program includes five core courses and five electives. The program is 100 percent online.
__University of Miami __
The Herbert Business School at the University of Miami offers a 100 percent online 8-course, 32-credit master's in finance. Content delivery is asynchronous; students regularly check in with faculty and each other to ensure that they remain on track. The program is designed to be completed in 16 months. The school also offers online 16-credit certificates in financial decision making and corporate finance.
_University of Nebraska - Lincoln_
At only $630 per credit hour (regardless of state residency), the 30-credit Master of Science at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln comes in as one of the genuine online bargains in graduate finance study. Like Creighton, UNL has a name that is widely recognized and respected across the Great Plains region and into Texas. The UNL MS in Finance program offers no electives, just ten core classes doled out in eight-week doses.
_University of Washington_
The online Master of Science in Computational Finance and Risk Management program at the University of Washington is delivered 100 percent online. Even so, online students "are an active part of the MS program" who interact with campus students "via email, course discussion forums, and web conferencing," according to the school's website. Online students are enrolled in the same courses as on-campus students but are not required to attend live sessions, as recordings of the lectures are posted soon after the session ends.
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