Risk is at the core of financial gain and loss. Managing risk effectively can create enormous value for an organization, tipping the balance toward profit and away from financial loss. Insurance, financial services, manufacturing, public agencies, and private corporations all rely on skilled actuarial science and risk management experts.
A master's degree in insurance and risk management prepares you to take on the challenge of managing financial risk. Graduate business schools accommodate working professionals with a range of one- to two-year MBA and MS programs. You can earn a master's degree online without taking time out from your career.
WorldWideLearn.com's step-by-step guide shows you how to get a master's degree in insurance & risk management. Start by focusing your professional ambitions and researching your graduate education options. This perspective will help you line up the academic resources you need to achieve an advanced leadership or consulting role in risk management.
Guide to Master's Degrees in Insurance & Risk Management
Risk management has been a top priority for business and public agencies since the 1980s. Phenomena such as executive and consumer product liability, medical malpractice, natural catastrophes, and the latest financial crisis have raised the profile of risk management. A graduate insurance & risk management program challenges you to build the necessary skills for managing risk, including quantitative and strategic analysis. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a graduate degree offers crucial preparation for this technical business specialty: "A master's degree, particularly in business administration or a related field, is an asset for advancement into higher levels of management."
Graduate Insurance & Risk Management Programs
Insurance and risk management professionals have two master's degrees to choose from: the MBA and Master of Science. Whether you choose the business administration (MBA) or social science (MS) credential depends on where you are in your career and where you want to go.
Master of Business Administration
The MBA focuses on applied risk management in the context of an organization--an insurance company, financial services firm, private business, or public agency. The program features a broad, course-driven curriculum touching on all the business fundamentals, from accounting to marketing. MBA, and especially Executive MBA, programs are geared toward mid-career professionals who bring some applied industry knowledge to the table. In this case, the MBA degree functions as a stepping stone to more responsibility and higher earnings.
Master of Science
The Master of Science hews more closely to the traditional academic master's degree, with an emphasis on building a conceptual framework for insurance work. The degree is an ideal segue from a business bachelor's degree to a professional risk management career. The MS in insurance & risk management also emphasizes specialized coursework and research, favoring risk managers who wish to focus their education on a specific issue or problem.
Whether you earn a master's degree online or on campus, the program is bound to include opportunities to specialize. Graduate insurance & risk management education offers a range of applied and academic specializations, available either as elective courses or research projects guided by faculty experts.
Theory and fundamentals of risk management take you into the concepts, science, and applied mathematics underlying the assessment and mitigation of risk.
- Decision Theory
- Actuarial Science
- Crisis management
- Econometrics and statistical analysis
Applied risk management specializations allow you to focus on a specific issue or application of risk management such as corporate operations or liability.
- Property Risk Management
- Liability Risk Management
- Employee Benefit Plan Design
- International Risk Management
- Operations and Markets Risk Management
- Enterprise Risk Management
Financial aspects of risk management include span financial strategies for mitigating risk (such as hedging) and financial planning.
- Risk Financing Strategies
- Estate Planning
Insurance specializations focus on the unique financial and business structure of insurance services, which rely on the reliable assessment, valuation, and mitigation of risk.
- Health and Life Insurance
- Business Insurance
- Insurance Accounting
- Insurance Capital and Market Structure
- Insurance Asset/Liability Management
- Underwriting and Pricing
Not all master's programs feature the full spectrum of electives. Typically, schools focus their resources on a selection of specializations that match faculty expertise and local industry needs. These program emphases will help you determine which school aligns with your interests.
Most graduates of MBA and MS programs head into the workforce, signing on with insurance companies, financial services firms, corporations, or government agencies. Career tracks include:
- Insurance company senior management: general manager, marketing, financial manager, research analyst
- Risk analysis and management: corporate risk analyst, management consultant, insurance brokerage risk analyst, risk manager at an insurance company
- Compensation management: employee benefit consultant, corporate benefits manager, group insurance manager, deferred compensation expert
- Financial sector careers: personal financial advisor, bank trust manager, pension fund management, insurance industry analyst and acquisitions expert
- Public sector careers: Social insurance agency director, insurance regulatory agent,
The career track you choose could influence which degree is best for you. Though there is considerable overlap between the MBA and MS in insurance and risk management, the MBA offers a broad education useful for financial sector and senior management roles. The MS' conceptual focus and research requirement produces strong risk analysts and management consultants.
Even before the latest financial crisis, the insurance and risk management profession was set for growth. Increased regulation, insurance reform, and complicated financial instruments are driving demand for risk managers with advanced technical training. In addition, the International Risk Management Institute (IRMI) estimates that about half of the insurance and risk management workforce will retire within fifteen years, fueling demand for actuarial science and risk management experts.
Plan for a Master's Degree in Insurance & Risk Management
The most important steps in getting a master's degree take place before the program begins. Finding programs aligned with your ambitions and preparing a strong application will set you up for a successful graduate school experience.
Step One: Find the Right Graduate Insurance & Risk Management Program
With hundreds of graduate insurance & risk management programs to choose from, finding the right fit takes careful research. WorldWideLearn.com guides you through the process with online search tools and links to informational websites. Focus your research by answering the following questions:
1. Which Program Format Suits My Lifestyle?
Master's degree programs have evolved diverse formats to meet the scheduling needs of working adults. If you're like many business graduate students, the ability to earn a master's degree online, part time, or at your own pace offers the only access to higher education.
- Campus and online master's degree options
- Full-time and part-time, self-paced study
- Day, evening, and weekend schedules
An estimated 75 percent of all MBA students and 61 percent of full-time MBA students work more than 35 hours a week while completing the master's degree. Flexible program formats make this schedule possible, allowing you to learn without putting your career on hold.
2. Are the Programs on My List Accredited?
As you develop your list of schools offering your chosen program format, be sure to check their accreditation status. Accreditation is a baseline measure of educational quality and a crucial element in establishing the value of your degree. In addition, accreditation is a requirement for many financial aid programs. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a searchable online database of approved accreditation agencies.
WorldWideLearn.com allows you to search for accredited programs in your desired format.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) is the most prestigious accreditation for graduate business programs. Search the online database of graduate management programs by degree level, field of study, location, and campus or online format.
The American Risk and Insurance Association (ARIA) maintains an extensive list of accredited university insurance and risk management programs.
3. Which Academic Programs Align Best with my Interests and Career Goals?
The heart of your program research challenges you to identify the academic emphases and resources of each school. Look for a program aligned with your own interests. Factors include:
- Curriculum: Required courses and specialization options.
- Degree Format and Requirements: Lectures, case studies, group presentations, capstone research project, etc.
- Faculty: Especially in MBA programs, instructors may bring credentials as industry insiders or academics. Each offers a different value to students. Also look for faculty members with expertise in your area of interest.
- Industry Relationships: Partnerships with local employers create valuable opportunities like internships, clinics, corporate-sponsored competitions.
- Career Support Services: Strong job search resources include recruitment events, resume and interviewing assistance, placement counseling, and more.
- Student Life: A collegial, supportive environment encourages networking, an important benefit of the master's degree in insurance and risk management.
WorldWideLearn.com features an automated system that puts you in touch with schools that match your essential program criteria. School representatives contact you to answer your questions about the program and connect you with faculty in your field.
School Web sites post detailed information about degree requirements, faculty areas of expertise, and campus facilities.
Informational interviews with faculty, alumni, and current graduate students give you a genuine perspective both the academic experience and the long-range value of the degree. An in-person campus visit also provides an inside look into school facilities, valuable even if you plan to earn a master's degree online.
4. Which Programs Offer the Best Balance Between Quality and Selectivity?
The most prestigious schools are also the most selective. At this stage, gauge your competitiveness as an applicant and look for schools admitting applicants with your background. Then rank those schools by quality metrics such as:
- Job placement and salary statistics
- Student background, including years of industry experience
Admissions Counselors typically supply selectivity information, job placement statistics, and student demographic information upon request.
Rankings give you a general sense of the program's reputation. The most influential rankings are:
- Financial Times. Online MBA rankings
- U.S. News & World Report. Business Schools Specialty Rankings in Marketing
- The Wall Street Journal. Executive MBA
- BusinessWeek. Full-time, part-time, and online MBA degrees.
- The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Full-time international MBA programs.
Also ask faculty in your field for their impression of the program's quality, taking into consideration your insurance or risk management specialization interest.
Step Two: Apply to MBA or Master's Programs in Insurance & Risk Management
Applications to master's programs follow a standard protocol, varying only in some details. Expect to encounter the following steps:
1. Complete Prerequisites
MBA and MS programs both set eligibility requirements for applying to graduate school. They include:
- A bachelor's degree in risk management, business administration, economics, or a related quantitative field.
- If your degree is in another field, plan to take prerequisite courses in business fundamentals or statistics.
- Standardized tests, including either the GMAT (for MBA) or GRE (for MS degrees). International students take the TOEFL to ensure English language proficiency.
- Some specialized and executive-level MBA programs require work experience in the insurance or risk management field.
2. Prepare Application Materials
Aside from completing an application form, you may need to prepare and submit:
- Academic transcripts
- Test scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal Essay
3. Finance Your Insurance & Risk Management Degree
Most graduate students--even those who earn a master's degree online while they work--rely on some form of financial aid. Sources range from the university to private organizations to the federal government.
- Meet with financial aid advisors at your top schools to explore academic funding options, including grants and university scholarships and federal aid, which is disbursed through the school.
- Fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid to apply for all government funding, from Pell Grants to Stafford Loans.
- Check with your employer about tuition assistance or other corporate continuing education incentives.
- Explore private sources such as civic organizations, non-profits, and bank loans.
A business or graduate master's degree may be the most important investment you ever make, but it doesn't have to break the bank. Plan your financial aid strategy early and make the most of available resources.
Step Three: Network, Network, Network
Finally, keep in mind that the expertise you build is only part of the degree's value. Just as important are the relationships you build with mentors and peers. Start building your network now by:
- Joining Professional Associations. Academic and industry associations include the University Risk Management and Insurance Association (URMIA) and the American Risk and Insurance Association (ARIA).
- Reading Journals in your field, such as The Journal of Risk and Insurance, Risk Management & Insurance Review, and Risk Management.
- Attending Networking Events and Conferences.
The connections you make in graduate school not only enhance your educational experience now, but pay dividends throughout your career.
Your success as a graduate student starts now, well before you enter the (real or virtual) classroom. Prepare for the master's degree in insurance and risk management by defining your career objectives and lining up the academic resources to achieve them. The right educational context will help you take full advantage of the opportunities that come your way in graduate school.
- "2009 Full-Time MBA Ranking," Economist Intelligence Unit. The Economist.
- AACSB Accredited Business Schools Database. AACSB International--The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
- Actuarial Science, Risk Management & Insurance, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business.
- Best Business Schools, U.S. News & World Report (2009).
- "Business School Rankings and Profiles," BusinessWeek.
- "College and University Programs in Risk Management and Insurance," American Risk and Insurance Association.
- Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
- Exploring Graduate Business Degrees, Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).
- Financial Managers. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Gardner, Lisa A., Schmit, Joan T. "Collegiate Risk Management and Insurance Education. Journal of Risk & Insurance, December 1995.
- "Insurance," Career Guide to Industries, 2010-2011 Edition. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- IRMI Directory of Risk Management and Insurance Programs. IRMI (Feb 1, 2009).
- "MBA Rankings and Executive Education Programs," The Wall Street Journal.
- Online MBA 2009, Business School Rankings. Financial Times.
- Online Risk Management and Insurance: Master of Science in Management (MSM in RMI). The Florida State University.
- Programs in Business and Management, The Sloan Consortium.