How to Get a PhD or DBA in Finance

The pinnacle of business education, the PhD in Business, has long been overshadowed by the popular master of business administration (MBA). But doctorate-level business degrees–the PhD and Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)–are growing in popularity as the discipline steadily raises the bar for business school instructors and industry leaders. A PhD or DBA in Finance represents both mastery of the discipline and a significant contribution to academic theory and its application in business practice. Graduates typically go on to faculty positions in business schools or careers in corporate leadership and consulting.

An Overview of the PhD in Finance

Business schools originated around the turn of the twentieth century to satisfy demand for business leaders with advanced vocational training. By mid-century, 1950s through the 1960s, the leading business schools began to gravitate toward scientific research using social science methods. Today’s PhD programs in finance focus on applying the disciplines of economics, sociology, psychology, systems engineering, and mathematics to advance scholarly research in business. The advent of online doctorate degree programs has made it possible to earn a PhD or DBA in Finance at a flexible pace from anywhere with Internet access.

PhD in Finance vs DBA

The PhD in Finance is distinct from the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), a professional doctorate. DBA programs tend to have a heavier emphasis in vocational training. While PhD research focuses on advancing business knowledge, DBA projects apply existing theory to practical business problems. PhD and DBA in Finance degree programs are broadly similar, both requiring similar coursework, an exam, and a doctoral dissertation. The distinction between the two doctoral degrees becomes clear at the dissertation and job search phase. The PhD is a pathway into an academic career as a professor and university researcher. The degree may also lead into advanced consulting or research roles in business or public administration. The DBA can lead to a business school faculty position, but its applied curriculum has a more immediate application in corporate leadership and management or public-sector research.

PhD Career Track

Most PhD candidates head to academic careers, splitting their time between research and teaching. Career prospects for business faculty are strong, reflecting a persistent shortage of business PhDs. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the leading professional association and accreditation body for business schools, forecasts strong opportunity for aspiring business academics, with an estimated “2,400 new [faculty positions] opening by 2012.” About a third of doctoral program graduates go on to careers outside academia, often as business consultants or as senior-level researchers in the private or public sector.

How to Apply for Doctorate Programs in Finance

A doctoral degree in finance requires commitment and discipline. Programs can take four to six years to complete, so careful planning is crucial.

How to Choose a Program

The AACSB accredits nearly 600 business schools. Each doctoral program offers a unique slant on the discipline of finance, with different faculty specializations, courses, online and campus formats, and institutional resources. Which doctorate program in finance is right for you?

The following steps will help you research your options and find the business school that best matches your career goals. The below steps are outlined for a PhD program and also apply to those seeking a DBA.

Step One: The Fundamentals

Goal. Determine the fundamental qualities you need in a doctoral program. Online, searchable databases of business schools can help you build a list of schools that meet your baseline criteria.

Must-have features. Your career goals and life circumstances will dictate the non-negotiable features of your doctoral program.

  • Accreditation. Accreditation by an independent authority is the fundamental measure of academic quality for any higher education institution. AACSB International is the premier international accreditation authority for business graduate programs, but you’ll also find schools accredited by regional authorities. Accreditation is a crucial safeguard of the value of your degree and could help you qualify for federal financial aid.
  • Career Track: Academic or Professional? A clear sense of your career ambitions can help you decide whether to pursue a traditional academic research PhD or a broader professional doctorate. Some PhD in Finance programs track students directly into an academic teaching or research career. Other PhDs allow you to keep one foot in professional practice, with applied research that also advances business scholarship. These applied PhD in Finance programs track graduates into either faculty or professional research roles. For management and corporate leadership careers, consider a DBA in Finance.
  • Online or Campus Format. Business schools have led the development of innovative online delivery formats in order to accommodate working professionals returning for an advanced degree. The right format for you will depend on your life circumstances and career goals.
    • The online degree format features self-paced education mediated through computer technology. Online delivery is a popular choice for adults balancing work and family obligations alongside their doctoral work. Since the format attracts working professionals, online delivery tends to favor doctorate programs with an applied, professionalpractice emphasis. Aspiring business professionals will appreciate the opportunity to network with colleagues and carry out applied research projects in connection with their work. Online PhD in Finance programs also tend to attract faculty with industry experience, and prize innovative, forward-looking courses, curricula, and projects.
    • The traditional campus format is a strong choice for PhD candidates with academic teaching and research ambitions. Campus programs offer ready access to on-site research facilities and teaching assistantships. Resident graduate students also forge strong relationships with faculty, who serve as mentors and research partners. Campus programs also tend to offer better support resources for candidates on the academic job market.
    • A hybrid format combines the best of both worlds: students complete coursework and independent research online, and convene periodically on campus to consult with faculty advisors and take advantage of campus resources. These temporary residency periods vary from program to program.

Keep in mind that if you choose a campus or hybrid format, the school’s location will become a primary factor in your research.


  • AACSB Accreditation. AACSB International maintains a searchable database of accredited institutions. Search by degree level, field of study, program format (online or campus), location, and more.
  • Department of Education. The Department of Education maintains a list of authorized accreditation agencies. Consult this resource to verify the validity of regional accreditation.
  • Online Directories. maintains a searchable online directory of accredited programs. You can search for online PhD programs, campus education options, or find a list schools in your area through the degrees by location function.

Step Two: Specializations

Goal. Focus your school search by gauging the direction of your scholarly interests. Networking with faculty and gradate associations can help you assess the strengths of different campus and online PhD in finance programs.

Specializations. Finance is a broad discipline with many specialized applications and areas of inquiry. Common specializations in finance may focus on a specific type or function of financial analysis, such as:

  • Quantitative Finance, including Financial Modeling
  • Financial Planning
  • Applied Management and Decision Sciences
  • Risk Management

Or the program may focus on a particular application of finance practice, such as:

  • Corporate Finance
  • Insurance
  • Real Estate

Faculty. A school’s formal specialization areas offer a good starting point for determining the PhD programs’ strengths. But to find the best fit for your area of interest, go a step further and explore faculty research interests. The AACSB explains: “Students often incorrectly assume that all schools offer similar types of specializations and pay relatively little attention to the specific research interests of faculty.” Since faculty mentorship and collaborative research are essential to the PhD in Finance, it pays to find a faculty member whose research interests match your own.


  • School Web sites. Graduate schools of business offer information about program specializations online. Course requirements and faculty vitas can help you glean the program’s strengths in a given specialization.
  • Academic counselors. Business school counselors and can offer guidance about a school’s areas of specialization. streamlines the research process by putting you in touch with school representatives. You can fill out a form online and school representatives contact you by phone or email to answer your questions about the program. Communicating directly with school representatives and counselors saves time, enabling you to compare many programs.
  • Network with faculty and graduate students. Professors and other graduate students can be a valuable resource in your school research. Your undergraduate instructors, for example, can direct you to faculty at other schools doing research in your area of interest. To meet faculty and graduate students at other colleges, attend department or industry networking events. Or visit the campus and meet with faculty one-on-one.
  • Academic research journals. Academic journals help you identify which scholars who are publishing research in your field of interest. The following academic business journals feature research in finance:
    • Journal of Finance
    • Journal of Financial Economics
    • Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking
    • Securities Regulation Law Journal


Step Three: Criteria and Evaluation

Goal. Narrow down your list of schools by evaluating their relative merits. Rankings and graduate performance data can help you determine which school presents the best value given your career goals.

Criteria. Take into account the following criteria to help you evaluate the finance doctoral programs on your list.

  • Reputation. How selective is the school? Where does it stand in the rankings?
  • Job Placement. The placement history data of recent doctoral graduates can help you gauge the value of the degree on the job market. Many schools report how many graduates took academic vs. non-academic jobs, how many received tenure, and even starting salaries.
  • Graduation Rate. How many graduate students complete the program? What kind of support services does the school offer?
  • Resources. Consider the availability of libraries, research facilities, software and technology, and teaching assistantships.
  • Funding. Many PhD students are eligible for stipends and tuition grants. Explore the availability of scholarships, teaching assistant positions, student loans, and other funding sources. Finally, evaluate the total cost of your investment, taking into account the cost of living, tuition, and the expected time to completion of the degree.


  • Rankings. A number of impartial sources rank business schools according to factors such as reputation, quality, ROI, etc. Major ranking publications include:
    • Financial Times
    • The Wall Street Journal
    • BusinessWeek
    • Forbes
    • EIU Economist Intelligence Unit

In view of the diversity in rankings, Financial Times has initiated a master ranking that collates results from all the major sources.

  • Campus Visit. A campus visit can be especially helpful in the final stages of the selection process. Plan to meet with admissions counselors, faculty members with whom you might want to work, and other graduate students.
  • Online Resources. offers general information on graduate education funding. In addition, you can find answers to your questions via the Education Advisor resource.

How to Prepare for the PhD Program in Finance

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to four or five prospective doctoral degree programs in finance, you’re ready to begin the application process. Most PhD programs in finance require the following:

  • Prerequisite Degrees and Courses. A bachelor’s degree in finance, economics, or a related field is the standard prerequisite for a PhD program. Most finance PhD programs do not require a master’s degree or MBA. If you do not have a basic academic background in business, you may have to satisfy course prerequisites before proceeding.
  • Work Experience. Since many finance doctoral students work before entering the program, it’s common to submit a resume detailing work experience.
  • Test Scores. Many doctoral programs require standardized tests such as the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) or GRE (Graduate Record Examination).
  • Recommendation Letters. Assemble recommendation letters from professional colleagues or undergraduate professors who can attest to your academic or work abilities.

Aiming for a Career in Finance

Besides lining up these practical requirements, you can facilitate the application process by developing a specific sense of your research and career goals.

  • Academic Careers. Graduate of DBA and PhD in Finance programs are finding particular opportunity on the academic job market, which is chronically short of qualified candidates to fill faculty positions. About fourteen percent of business school faculty members have a finance background. Finance professors generally earn about fifteen percent more than their colleagues in other business fields.
  • Professional Careers. Finance PhDs can also find demand for their research and analytical expertise in organizational consulting and research. Business and government employers value graduates of finance PhD programs for work in financial projections, business strategy, consumer behavior, and other areas.

As the highest academic achievement in the field, the PhD in Finance opens doors to a variety of research, teaching, and consulting roles. Lay the foundation for success today, and you’re sure to discover a world of career opportunity tomorrow.


  • AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, 2009-2009 U.S. Salary Report
  •, AACSB Accredited Business Schools Database
  • AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Becoming a Business Professor
  • Financial Times, Business Education, by Della Bradshaw
  • BusinessWeek, Business PhD Applications on the Rise, by Alison Damast
  • AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Doctoral Education Resource Center
  •, Doctoral Programs in Finance
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business, Finance PhD Program
  • University of Wisconsin, PhD in Finance
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