Is a Master's in Finance Worth It? The Top Programs—And Jobs—You Need to Know About.
March 10, 2021
If you're ready for a deep dive into finance, the Master of Finance degree will take you where you want to go. An MF can prepare you for a lucrative career in a broad range of finance professions.
It should come as no surprise that finance—the business of investing money to make money—earns its practitioners a handsome income. You think financial professionals would make money for everyone else and not for themselves? That wouldn't make any cents!
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that financial analysts earned an average yearly income of $85,660 in 2018, while the median annual pay for personal financial advisors was $88,890. Financial managers fared even better, earning a whopping $127,990 per year. Apparently, you can make a lot of money making money.
Moreover, finance is a growing field, with employment expected to rise faster than average compared to other occupations. For financial analysts, the projected employment rate is expected to grow 11 percent; for personal financial advisors, the growth rate is 15 percent. Once again, financial managers enjoy the brightest prospects, with an estimated employment growth rate of 19 percent.
How exactly do you get a foothold in finance? Earning a master's degree might just be the perfect starting point for your finance career.
This guide explores the ins and outs of earning a master's in finance, from the top schools offering the master's program to future career paths and certifications that could boost your prospects. Wherever you are in your career—whether you're a recent graduate, someone who wants to switch fields, or a finance professional looking to level up—this guide to a Master of Finance has you covered.
In this article, we'll discuss:
- The prerequisites for earning a Master of Finance degree
- Commitments required to earn a Master of Finance degree
- Top schools for earning a Master of Finance degree
- Exams and certifications to complete a master's in finance
- Possible fields and career paths for someone with a master's in finance
Prerequisites for earning a Master of Finance degree
Each Master of Finance program sets its own admission requirements. You can find the specific requirements on each program's website.
Here are some of the most common prerequisites for a master's degree in finance:
- A bachelor's degree in accounting, economics, finance, statistics, business administration, or a related field: You may be able to enter a program without a bachelor's degree in a finance-related field, but you will almost certainly be required to take some supplemental courses to get up to speed with your classmates. Some universities may accept an undergraduate degree in a quantitative field such as computer science, engineering, math, or physics.
- A minimum GPA: Most programs require a minimum GPA. Selective programs typically require at least a 3.0; many set the bar higher.
- __GMAT or GRE test scores__: Some schools waive this requirement, so it's best to check the program website.
- __ Letters of recommendation__: Choose your recommenders carefully. They might be people you've worked with directly in a professional setting or previous academic supervisors who can vouch for your performance. Make sure they are willing to write a positive, persuasive letter. Middling letters of recommendation can severely hurt your chances.
- Application essay or interview: Some schools require a written essay (also called a personal statement or statement of purpose) explaining why you're interested in pursuing a finance degree. Others prefer an in-person interview to understand your motivations for applying.
Give yourself enough time to gather and prepare all the needed requirements so you can submit them on or before the application deadline. Early or on-time submissions could help make an excellent first impression with your prospective school.
Commitments required to earn a Master of Finance degree
Like any degree, a master's in finance requires funds to cover the costs of the program, as well as the time and effort to complete it. Consider all these factors in determining whether a master's in finance program lines up with your objectives.
A Master of Finance typically takes two years to complete. Accelerated degree programs (such as the one offered by the University of Arizona) could fast-track your degree, allowing you to finish within a year or less, but expect an intense, challenging experience.
Some schools offer a combined bachelor's and master's degree in finance; Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, for example, offers a five-year track (four years undergraduate, one year graduate) resulting in both a bachelor's degree in finance and a master's degree in finance.
Tuition for a master's degree in finance ranges from approximately $8,000 (West Texas A & M University) to $119,000 (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Public universities may have different tuition rates for resident and out-of-state students. Finance students should also consider other expenses such as books and school supplies, as well as miscellaneous fees for student facilities and services. It is best to check with your prospective university regarding additional fees.
Choosing to complete your finance degree full-time allows you to focus all your efforts on your coursework. However, you'll need to find a source of funding for your degree program. Consider applying for financial aid or student loans, and ask your school if it offers any scholarships.
Part-time study might be the best option for working professionals or those with families and other commitments. Your salary might be enough to back your degree, or you could take advantage of any tuition reimbursement programs offered by your employer. Take note of any conditions that come with your company reimbursing your tuition, such as maintaining a high GPA or additional years of service.
Top schools for earning a Master of Finance degree
Master of Finance curricula typically include core courses covering such fundamentals as:
- Corporate finance
- Financial modeling
- Financial reporting
- Risk management
Most programs also allow students to pursue electives, often in pursuit of an area of specialization. Specialization areas may include:
- Banking and financial services
- Capital markets
- Future markets
- International business
- Investment management
- Real estate
- Wealth management
On-campus Master of Finance programs to consider
Here are four schools with strong on-campus master's in finance programs:
_Texas A&M University_
Located in College Station, Texas, the Mays Business School's Master of Science in Finance program can be completed in one year (18 months with the internship option). The school notes a 90+ percent employment rate for students, with graduates securing jobs in areas such as commercial banking, corporate finance, investment banking, and investment management.
_University of California, Irvine_
The Paul Merage School of Business' Master of Finance degree is a one-year, full-time program that equips students with a solid foundation in the field of finance. The program features a capstone course in which students solve real-life finance problems with the school's partner companies, such as Mazda USA, Pacific Life, and Western Digital. The curriculum also includes a required career management course that helps set students up for success in their future finance careers.
_University of Utah_
Located in Salt Lake City, Utah, the David Eccles School of Business' Master of Science in Finance degree earned a "best value" designation from the Financial Times in 2018. An industry-driven program, the Eccles offers experiential learning opportunities such as study trips to companies in New York City and San Francisco, case competitions, and participation in finance consulting projects. The curriculum also includes courses to help prepare students for the Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) exam.
This Ivy League school's Bendheim Center for Finance offers a highly competitive Master in Finance degree. The program, which accepts only 25 students each year from more than 600 applicants, focuses on the mathematical aspects of finance. Princeton offers specialized tracks such as data science and financial technologies, financial engineering and risk management, and quantitative asset management and macroeconomic forecasting. The school's excellent performance is reflected in a 100 percent employment rate for its 2017, 2018, and 2019 graduates. Also, it's reflected in the name Princeton.
Online Master of Finance programs to consider
Online programs provide a flexible learning environment suited for those looking to complete their degree part-time. Here are four schools with outstanding online master's in finance programs:
_SUNY Empire State College_
This university's Master of Science in Finance degree is a fully online program with three tracks: corporate finance, general finance, and international finance. Full-time students can complete the program in 20 months, while part-time students can finish it in 24 to 27 months.
This university offers a master's in strategic finance degree that treats financial management as a tactical discipline, preparing students to approach financial decisions in a strategic manner. The curriculum offers a wide range of concentrations, including acquisition and contract management, business analytics, and healthcare finance.
_Southern New Hampshire University_
This university's online master's degree in finance is one of the most affordable, and doesn't require GMAT or GRE test scores for admission. The curriculum provides practical experience through case studies resembling real-world financial reports. The program, which can be completed in as little as 15 months, offers two specialized tracks: corporate finance and investments and securities.
_Colorado State University - Global Campus_
The online master's degree in finance at Colorado State includes a comprehensive capstone project. The school offers a tuition guarantee ensuring a uniform tuition rate for the duration of your enrollment.
When searching for schools, look for those with a finance program that's nationally or regionally accredited. This ensures the higher education you're getting complies with stringent standards and aims for continuous improvement. Accreditation may be granted by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), or other recognized organizations.
Exams and certifications to complete a Master of Finance degree
You could start the job hunting process immediately after completing your master's degree (or, in some cases, bachelor's degree) in finance, but you may find that some employers prefer candidates with one or more certifications. Certifications that could bolster your credibility and enhance your job prospects include:
- __ Chartered Financial Analyst: (CFA)__ The CFA Institute offers this certification to financial analysts. Candidates must hold a bachelor's degree, pass three exams, and have four years of professional work experience in the investment decision-making process.
- Certified financial planner (CFP): The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards offers this certification to financial planners. Requirements include a bachelor's degree, successful completion of an exam, at least three years of relevant work experience, and agreement to adhere to a code of ethics.
- Certified treasury professional (CTP): Offered by the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP), this certification entails passing an exam and having at least two years of full-time work experience in corporate cash or treasury management or a corporate finance-related position.
- Certified corporate financial planning and analysis professional: This is another certification offered by the AFP. It requires a bachelor's degree, successful completion of an exam, at least three years of full-time work experience performing financial planning and analysis tasks, and adherence to standards of ethical conduct.
Financial analysts selling financial products may need to obtain a license from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Personal financial advisors may need a combination of licenses based on the products they sell (such as bonds, insurance policies, or stocks) or services they provide (such as investment advice). Additionally, financial advisors in smaller firms must be registered with state regulators, while those in large firms must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Possible fields and career paths for someone with a master's in finance
A master's degree in finance can lead to work in small firms or big financial institutions. You could start your own business as a personal financial advisor, or you could work with government agencies, non-profit organizations, or private entities. You won't even be limited to financial industries—you could work in manufacturing, science, or technology, among other sectors.
A master's of finance can open career opportunities in:
- Corporate finance: You'll deal with capital structure and valuation, financial strategy, and long-term financing of organizations in the corporate sector.
- International finance: You'll need expertise in global economics, international accounting, and international financial laws and regulations, as well as knowledge of investment opportunities in global markets.
- Investment banking: You'll create capital for entities. An investment banker brokers trades, facilitates mergers and acquisitions, and helps with complex or large financial transactions.
- Portfolio management: You'll manage a collection of investments, also known as a portfolio. Portfolio managers oversee the performance of a portfolio, making decisions on the right mix of investments based on changing market conditions.
- _Quantitative finance_ : You'll apply quantitative methods and complex mathematical models to the pricing and trading of securities. Quantitative analysts design and implement these models, which requires them to be highly skilled not only in finance, but also in math, programming, and statistics.
- Risk management: You'll manage financial risk through risk management techniques and risk measurement tools. A risk manager tries to limit the probability of a financial loss or a company's exposure to financial uncertainty.
And here are other career pathways for a master's in finance graduate:
- Financial analyst: Also called securities analysts or investment analysts, financial analysts evaluate the performance of bonds, stocks, and other investment types. They study financial trends and develop strategies based on those trends.
- Financial manager: Financial managers oversee the financial activities of a company. They conduct financial data analysis to find ways to reduce costs and increase revenues for organizations.
- Personal financial advisor: Personal financial advisors guide individuals on how to manage their finances. This includes short- and long-term financial goal setting and monitoring, as well as providing advice on savings and investments. They may focus on areas such as risk management or retirement.
- Chief financial officer (CFO): This senior executive is responsible for the overall financial health of a company. Working with other finance and accounting managers, the CFO is involved in financial planning and has the final say on strategic financial decisions.
- Wealth manager: Similar to personal financial advisors, wealth managers help people manage their wealth.
When searching for career opportunities, take advantage of the resources offered by your alma mater. Some universities host career fairs to connect graduating students with prospective employers, while others have a career development office that provides career counseling to help you with your job search. Additionally, you could leverage your school's alumni network, attending events and meeting with alumni to learn how they got started in the industry.
You could also visit the AFP website, which has a careers section packed with resources, as well as a career center listing available jobs and internships in finance and treasury. Similarly, the Financial Planning Association has a job board that lists financial planning jobs and internships.
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