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Finance gets to the heart of business and economics: money. Financial professionals bring quantitative skills and a knowledge of financial markets to the problem of managing money and other assets. They represent the financial interests of a corporation, bank, government agency, or private individual by analyzing risk and investment opportunities and developing financial strategies.

A master's degree or MBA in finance offers a one- to two-year crash course in the science of analyzing and managing financial positions. Programs are designed to accommodate working professionals; you can earn a master's degree online without taking time out from your job. You can cultivate both the analytical acumen and the quantitative skills to create value for a client or employer. In return, the master's degree may yield a competitive edge on the job market, greater responsibility in the workplace, and higher earning power.

WorldWideLearn.com's guide to the master's degree in finance prepares you to take the next step in your financial management career. Use this resource to focus your career ambitions and develop a solid plan for getting a graduate finance education.

Guide to Master's and MBA Degrees in Finance

An overview of campus-based and online master's degrees in finance may help you determine how graduate education fits into your career ambitions. Finance is one of the most popular and versatile business graduate programs. The discipline brings together economics and mathematics in an effort to maximize value in financial markets and transactions.

Professional and Academic Master's Degrees

The popularity of graduate finance degrees as a career advancement tool has led to a diverse array of campus-based and online master's degree options:

  • Master of Science in Finance (MSF) or Master of Finance (MFin). Modeled after a traditional science or social science master's degree, the MSF and MFin feature a focused, research-driven curriculum culminating in an independent research thesis or capstone project. Courses focus on finance and financial markets, with a strong emphasis in mathematical finance, equity valuation, and investment management.
  • Master of Quantitative Finance (MQF). Similar in structure to the academic research master of science, the MQF focuses specifically on mathematical and computational finance. Students cultivate skills in financial modeling to analyze risk, value, and investment strategies.
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA). The most popular finance qualification is the MBA. In contrast to the Master of Science in finance, the MBA is course-driven and provides broader exposure to business management. The MBA is a more applied degree than the academic MS, making it popular among mid-career professionals looking to sharpen their finance skills. The widespread availability of distance learning programs makes it easy to earn a master's degree online in business administration.

Master's in Finance Specializations

Finance specializations may take you deeper into a specific area of financial analysis and management. Options include:

Branches of Finance

  • Corporate finance analysts focus on increasing corporate value while managing investment risk.
  • Public finance analysts learn to finance government operations and social programs through taxes, government bonds, and fiscal policy.
  • Consumer finance analysts plan an individual client's finances. Budgeting, investments, debt management, insurance, and income tax strategies comprise the personal finance equation.

Areas of Finance

  • Banking introduces you to the global financial system and the role of financial services institutions in capital markets. Topics include asset and liability management, U.S. monetary policy, international banking, interest and price theories, liquidity, and risk management.
  • Investment management brings together quantitative and strategic skills. Topics include establishing investment objectives, assessing risk and return, analyzing and valuing securities, and diversifying the investment portfolio.
  • Insurance. Actuarial science and risk management are central to insurance finance.
  • International finance takes you into the financial issues that corporations face in the global arena. Skills include exchange rate forecasting, evaluating the cost of capital, and structuring the finances of a multinational.

Financial Markets

  • Equity markets specialists study stock markets and private equity investing.
  • Derivatives electives focus on financial instruments such as futures, options, forwards, and swap contracts derived from other assets.
  • Commodities specializations focus on the particular characteristics of markets that trade physical products, from oil to oranges.
  • Fixed income securities and bond markets specializations focus on government and corporate bonds, debt market structure, yield spreads, and interest rates.
  • International money markets covers the short-term, liquid asset markets (Treasury bills, commercial paper, and bank deposits) that make the global financial system work.

Quantitative Finance Specialty

Mathematical finance focuses on the application of mathematical models and computer applications to evaluate risk and make financial investment, trading, and hedging (positions that offset risk) decisions.

Each graduate finance program may feature a different mix of specialization opportunities, depending on the expertise of resident faculty, department resources, and historic program emphases.

Career Track for a Master's in Finance

Whether you pursue an MBA or MS in finance, the graduate finance degree opens doors to a world of career opportunities. Popular career paths may lead into investment banking, investment management, hedge funds, private equity investing, corporate finance, public finance, and consumer finance.

Typical job titles in finance include:

  • Financial analyst
  • Accounting manager
  • Management consultant
  • Chief financial officer
  • Investment banker
  • Credit manager
  • Insurance analyst
  • Mutual fund or hedge fund manager
  • Venture capitalist

Alternatively, you can use the master's degree in finance as a springboard into an academic career. The MS in finance may offer good preparation to continue your education, which may qualify you to teach and pursue academic scholarship as a college finance professor.

Outlook

Corporations and financial services institutions often rely on MBA and MSF graduates to navigate the world of complex financial instruments and regulatory requirements. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in securities, commodities, and other investments is more robust than banking and insurance. Careers facing the highest demand in the 2008 to 2018 decade include personal financial advisors--with 30 percent growth predicted--and financial analysts.

Plan for a Master's Degree in Finance

After you've clarified what your career goals and academic interests are, you may be in a strong position to identify and apply to the right graduate finance program for you.

Step One: Find the Right Graduate Finance Program

You may choose from hundreds of master's degrees in finance. The right program for you depends on your choice of the degree format, academic resources, and quality.

1. Choose Program Format

Today's business schools and finance departments offer a wide selection of program formats to suit diverse backgrounds. Options include:

  • Campus-based and online master's degree options
  • Full-time and part-time, self-paced study
  • Day, evening, and weekend schedules

For many students, the ability to earn a master's degree online, part-time, or on weekends makes graduate education possible. 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 their master's degrees.

Resources

WorldWideLearn.com offers various resources for exploring your program format options. Explore online degree programs and campus education for general information. Then, use the site's search tools to find programs that match your chosen delivery format. For campus-based programs near you, search degrees by location.

2. List Accredited Campus-Based or Online Master's Degree Programs

Create a list of accredited master's degree programs that meet your format preferences. Accreditation is an important factor in choosing a school. This certification by an independent program evaluator provides a baseline measure of educational quality. Accreditation may play into the value of your degree in the eyes of employers, and may also affect your eligibility for financial aid. For a list of approved accreditation agencies, consult the U.S. Department of Education Web site.

Resources

WorldWideLearn.com represents on-campus and online business degrees, all of which are accredited.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), which accredits hundreds of graduate business programs worldwide, features a searchable online database of graduate management programs. You may filter results by degree level, field of study, location, and campus-based or online format.

3. Explore Academic Programs

Focus your list of schools by researching each program's resources and academic emphases. The goal is to identify programs that most closely match your personal interests and career goals. Consider these criteria:

  • Curriculum. Investigate course lists and the structure of the curriculum to determine what aspects of finance the degree emphasizes (investment analysis? Corporate finance? Quantitative methods?).
  • Degree format. Each program features a unique mix of activities and requirements, including lectures, case studies, group presentations, capstone research project, work clinics and internships, etc.
  • Faculty. Do instructors bring industry experience or academic scholarship to the classroom? Does their research or expertise match your interests?
  • Industry partnerships. Finance MBAs should pay close attention to corporate involvement on campus. Look for internship and clinic opportunities, industry competitions, networking events, and corporate recruiting drives.
  • Career support services. Placement services may offer valuable advice in connecting you with potential employers and preparing you for the job market.
  • Student life. Given the importance of networking in business and graduate programs, it's important to find an academic environment where you feel comfortable. Look for a collegial, supportive environment with peers who share your interest and level of professional experience.

Resources

WorldWideLearn.com offers a convenient automated system for researching business and graduate master's programs. Indicate your program criteria, and the system automatically proposes matching schools. You can even sign up to be contacted by school representatives who may field your questions about the program.

School Web sites typically give you access to detailed information about the program. Find links to graduate student handbooks, course and degree information, faculty publications, student demographics, and more. If you don't see the information online, you may contact an admissions counselor directly.

Informational interviews with faculty, alumni, and current graduate students may help you assess the academic environment as well as the potential impact of the degree on your career. If possible, visit a campus for interviews, and experience school facilities and resources for yourself.

4. Evaluate Program Quality

Finally, select your top schools based on quality and selectivity. Rankings offer an initial sense of the school's reputation in your field. Also, ask questions of faculty and professionals in your field of interest. Other gauges of quality include admissions selectivity and job placement success. Keep in mind your own competitiveness as an applicant as you decide which schools are appropriate for you. Admissions committees may take into account your GPA, test scores, and work experience, among other factors.

Resources

Admissions data reports may offer valuable insight into the school's admissions standards and student demographics. In addition, you can find out where students took jobs and what starting salaries they commanded. Ask a school representative or admissions counselor for access to these valuable information resources.

Rankings give you a rough sense of the program's reputation. The most influential rankings are:

Step Two: Apply to MBA or Master's Programs in Finance

After you've settled on a short list of graduate finance programs, applying may be just a matter of connecting the dots. Plan to complete the following admissions requirements:

1. Prerequisites

To be eligible for a master's degree in finance, you should complete the following prerequisites:

  • Bachelor's degree in economics, business administration, finance, mathematics, or a related field. If your degree is in another major, you may need to supplement your education with prerequisite courses.
  • Standardized tests such as the GMAT (for MBA), GRE (for MBA or MS in finance), or TOEFL (for international students).
  • Work experience (for executive MBA degrees and other applied business programs).

WorldWideLearn.com's Education Resources Guide offers test preparation resources, links to prerequisite courses, and online learning tools to help you cover your eligibility bases.

2. Prepare Application Materials

Graduate school applications require an array of supporting materials in addition to the application form. Prepare and submit:

  • Academic transcripts
  • Test score reports
  • Letters of recommendation from academic or professional authorities
  • Resume
  • Entrance essays

3. Finance Your Finance Education

Before you learn to plan a corporation's finances, you should plan your own financing for the master's degree. Fortunately, you may have many potential sources of financial aid. Pursue the following options:

  • Academic, government, and private foundation grants and scholarships
  • Corporate tuition assistance and scholarships
  • Federal and private student loans

To apply for government funding, you should fill out the Federal Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), available online or at any college admissions office. This form gives you access to an array of popular financial aid programs, such as the Pell Grant and subsidized Stafford Loan.

If you've followed this guide from start to finish, you may be facing your graduate education with a clear sense of your goals and the resources to achieve them. Go forward confidently, making the most of the opportunities that come your way. Whether you earn a master's degree online or on campus, you're in a position to expand your knowledge, professional contacts, and job qualifications. Take advantage of the experience, and emerge from the graduate finance program with the resources to create value in today's competitive economy.

Sources

  • "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.
  • Best Business Schools Specialty Ranking: Finance, U.S. News & World Report (2009).
  • "Business School Rankings and Profiles," BusinessWeek.
  • Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
  • Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Education. U.S. Department of Education (2009).
  • Exploring Graduate Business Degrees, Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).
  • Financial Activities, Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Financial Analysts. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Master of Science in Finance, Boston College Carroll School of Management.
  • Master's Degree in Finance, AACSB International, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
  • Master's in Finance 2009 Ranking, Business School Rankings. Financial Times.
  • MBA in Finance, Wharton University of Pennsylvania.
  • "MBA Rankings and Executive Education Programs," The Wall Street Journal.
  • Myser, Michael. "The Finance MBA: Life Beyond Wall Street." BNet.com.

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