A master of finance provides the specialized training students need to occupy high-ranking positions in investment banking, private wealth management, and corporate or entrepreneurial finance. Graduate credentials also help learners acquire the 150 semester hours of postsecondary training needed to work as a licensed CPA. Students can typically complete traditional master's programs in two years. Alternatively, candidates can accelerate graduation by enrolling in an intensive one-year program.
Students who enroll in master of finance programs often take required coursework like statistical analysis, business leadership, and accounting and financial reporting. They also complete advanced electives and capstone requirements. This guide provides additional information about the finance degree, including tips on how to find and apply to the best master's programs. Prospective learners also gain insight into career options and professional development resources.
What is Finance?
Finance is the management of money and related activities, including budgeting, saving, borrowing, investing, lending, and forecasting. The field divides into three main areas of activity: personal, public/government, and corporate finance. Each subfield requires practitioners to possess highly specialized skills and, occasionally, professional certification or state licensure.
The broad coverage of the finance field yields exciting and diverse career opportunities. Personal financial planning represents an high-demand service, driven by changing national demographics. As the U.S. population continues to age and many people approach retirement, individuals find that they must create individual plans for investment and saving to offset diminishing pensions. This need fuels the demand for personal financial advisors, an occupation that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects will grow 7% between 2018 and 2028.
Growing automation contributes to decreasing employment in many industries. Fortunately, the highly analytical and individualized nature of finance often shields professionals from this dampening effect. The BLS projects that between 2018 and 2028, roles in financial analysis and financial management will grow by 6% and 16%, respectively.
You can learn more about the finance field by consulting this extensive degree page. In addition to profiles on the 25 best master's programs in finance, you can gain insight into concentration options and financial aid.
What You Can Do With a Master's in Finance
The financial services industry encompasses different occupations that help individuals and companies with monitoring, managing, and spending their money. Finance professionals develop a keen understanding of the market to serve clients. Professionals must also know how to connect with clients to sell products and services. Finance professionals need strong analytical skills and advanced mathematical knowledge to handle transactions. This list provides an overview of common industry occupations.
Accountants review financial records for accuracy. They also monitor the financial health of a company by preparing its taxes and recommending changes to increase revenue and reduce costs. Accountants can work exclusively for a company or as part of a firm.
Median Annual Salary: $70,500
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 6%
- Budget Analyst
Budget analysts collaborate with management to create budgets. They review budget proposals to ensure proposals meet state and federal regulations. They also combine departmental budgets to create a singular organizational budget. Analysts counsel top-level executives on budget plans and help them create alternate plans if the current budget is ineffective.
Median Annual Salary: $76,220
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 4%
- Financial Analyst
Financial analysts study the market and suggest bond and stock options to investors based on analysis. Analysts determine a company's financial value by evaluating its financial statements, such as reports and tax returns. With the data collected, analysts draft reports and review them with officials to provide insight into a company's financial standing.
Median Annual Salary: $85,660
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 6%
- Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts forecast sales and marketing trends by examining buyer behavior. They conduct surveys and polls to gauge consumer interest and spending. Analysts use this information to craft reports to present their findings. Analysts also monitor competing companies and marketing practices.
Median Annual Salary: $63,120
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 20%
You can explore additional careers for finance majors by accessing this in-depth guide. The page contains information on skill development and application, job opportunities by degree level, and licensure and certification requirements.
What to Expect in a Master's in Finance Program
Master's in finance programs typically total at least 30 credits, which you can finish in 1-2 years depending on degree structure. The curriculum often consists of core topics in financial econometrics, corporate valuation and modeling, and data analysis for decision-making. The best online master of finance programs enable you to personalize your graduate training by pursuing concentrations like real estate finance, risk management, and investments and portfolios. You may also focus on certified financial planning to prepare for the certification exam.
Interview With Alexander Lowry
Alexander Lowry is a professor of finance at Gordon College where he leads the school's master of science in financial analysis program. He's also a board of directors member for fintech and financial services companies. Alexander brings an unusual "bilingual" perspective to the academic world, having spent 15 years in senior executive positions in international business and finance. He's a frequent speaker at gatherings of business leaders, corporate events, and academic conferences.
- Why did you choose to earn an MBA rather than a master's in finance?
At the time I obtained my MBA, one-year master's programs weren't yet seen as equals to MBA degrees. However, ten years after the Great Recession, MBA degrees have lost their luster. Rightly so, since most of the companies that struggled were led by people from the top MBA programs; the MBA has lost some of its luster.
And now, one-year master's programs, such as a master's in finance, provide the same elite technical training but at a fraction of the price and half the time. If doing it over again at this point, I'd go with the master's in finance.
- What are some of the most crucial skills you gained in your MBA program that apply to your job on a day-to-day basis?
An MBA is really good at teaching general knowledge in the first year. You do a little of everything, e.g. audit, accounting, finance, marketing, strategy, ethics, legal, statistics, etc. Then you do a deep dive into your major in the second year. For me, that was finance. As a professor of finance, I use that second-year knowledge every day. (Not so much all the first year general knowledge.)
- What was the job search like after completing your degree? Did you feel fully prepared when making the transition from school into the workplace?
Most people go to graduate school to advance their career. Schools are focused on making that transition easy, since it's important for their metrics and ensures happy alumni. In addition to using the school's resources and recruiting tracks, I pounded the pavement on my own. I spent a considerable amount of time with the school's career director to refine my approach. This was invaluable.
- Why did you choose to go into academia?
The work-life balance is immensely better. My then-fiancee pointed out that me working 100 hours a week at a bank wasn't doing a lot for our relationship. We agreed I'd find a stimulating role that also allowed me to spend time with our growing family. Being a professor while also building a master's in finance program ticks all of those boxes.
- What changes would you like to see in future curriculums for a master's in finance?
The finance world is changing rapidly due to fintech. There's a need for schools to keep students abreast of those changes. Some do it better than others.
- What are some of the challenges you face in your day-to-day work?
I'm running a start-up now, since I've just launched a master's in finance program. It's incredibly exciting but also a tremendous amount of work. I'm highly ambitious and plan to do so much with the program. There just aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish as much as I want to as quickly as I want to.
- What advice would you give to finance bachelor's students who are on the fence about earning a graduate degree in the field?
Finance is a fascinating field! There's so much opportunity and a never-ending need for the best and brightest workers. For those who work hard and are intelligent and passionate about the topic, the sky's the limit in terms of opportunity. I cannot think of a more exciting field.
Concentrations Offered for a Master’s Degree in Finance
- Computation and Programming
- Students study the technical functions finance professionals use to assess data. Courses center on building complex systems for data and risk management. This concentration helps students gain the necessary skills to create financial products.
- Finance and Economics
- In this concentration, students study economics and how it affects finance. Students learn about corporate finance and how the economy affects a company's financial health and influences stakeholders' decisions. Students also explore foreign markets.
- This concentration focuses on derivatives; a financial security determined by evaluating assets. Courses cover key areas of finance, such as risk management, credit risk, and fixed income term and structure. The courses theorize the structures and models professionals use to examine these assets and their impact on the market.
- Asset Management
- The asset management concentration prepares students to work with individuals and companies interested in investing large sums of money. Courses like asset allocation emphasize the importance of closely monitoring a client's financial portfolio. Students also discover the science behind trading through algorithms.
- Computational Finance and Trading Systems
- This concentration takes a scientific approach to finance, teaching students about trading systems and the methods to analyze them. Courses like event-driven finance use practical examples of events that affect the market.
Courses in a Master's in Finance Program
Master's in finance curricula differ by school. However, each program teaches students basic concepts to interpret financial systems and work with different institutions, such as investing, tax law, and financial reporting. This sample curriculum features examples of core courses found in most finance programs.
- Financial Reporting and Analysis
The course teaches accounting and processing. Students dissect assets, liabilities, earnings per share, and shareholders' equity in financial statements and reports. Students learn the time value of money and present value measurements. Students also learn how to identify and fix accounting errors.
- Business Taxation
Students study the federal income tax system. Students learn about income tax reporting, including how to perform credits and deductions for business expenses. The course covers basic tax principles students need to know for CPA and CFA certification exams.
- Corporate Finance
Students study valuation in terms of time value, debt, and equity securities. Students may play the role of a financial manager providing risk management services to a firm. Students gain insight into different businesses and their financial statements.
- Investment Analysis
This course teaches about securities' functions and the markets they occupy. Students conduct analyses of portfolios' securities, solving problems with valuation models.
- Business Communication
This course strengthens students' written and verbal communication skills. Students learn to develop clear and concise copy for reports, white papers, memos, and emails. Students also work on verbal skills to effectively lead meetings and conduct presentations.
How to Choose a Master's in Finance Program
The specialized nature of a master's in finance requires you to clarify your practical needs, academic interests, and professional objectives. The following section covers important factors to consider as you research prospective graduate programs.
- Students must attend nationally or regionally accredited schools to earn degrees respected by employers, professional associations, and government agencies. Colleges and universities obtain national accreditation from authorities supported by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. They receive regional accreditation from one of six accrediting bodies, depending on location. Master's programs in finance also maintain specialized accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, or the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education.
- Program Structure
- Most higher education institutions let degree candidates individually pace their classes as long as they meet minimum requirements. However, certain schools operate a cohort learning structure that requires students to take courses at a predetermined pace and graduate at the same rate as their program peers. This format engenders collaboration but can slow down program completion. Students interested in distance education should consider how asynchronous or synchronous coursework affects their daily schedule.
- Career Preparation
- Finance students often pursue graduate academics with specific career goals in mind, whether to work as licensed/certified practitioners or to prepare for doctoral research and teaching. Therefore, students need to figure out if a master's program supports their distinct goals through concentration options, departmental resources, and capstone experiences. For example, candidates who want to work in international finance should enroll in programs that offer immersive global residences.
- Cost and Financial Aid
- The College Board reports that 74% of master's degree candidates graduate with student loan debt. To minimize how much they owe, students should attend schools that charge affordable tuition and provide adequate financial support. Online master's programs often deliver low, per-credit tuition rates that ignore residency status. Distance education also allows learners to save money on commuting and textbooks.
- Student Resources
- The best graduate schools provide academic counseling that caters to individual student needs and motivations. Learners should also pick colleges and universities that offer writing and subject-based tutoring and accessible research libraries. Effective career preparation is crucial to success after graduation. To this end, students should prioritize master's programs with internship-placement options, networking opportunities, and resume-building assistance.
Master's in Finance Program Admissions
This section delves into common admission requirements for master of finance programs, like academic preparation and standardized test performance. You can also explore a general timeline, which you should follow to effectively plan the application process.
- Minimum GPA: Master's in finance programs typically require first-time students to satisfy a minimum 3.0 GPA requirement. Transfer candidates often need to meet a 2.0 minimum. Some postsecondary schools accept applicants with inadequate GPAs if they score well on standardized exams and/or boast relevant career achievements. Many online graduate programs do not require minimum GPAs at all.
- Prerequisite Coursework: A master's candidate's success strongly depends on the nature of their bachelor's training. Graduate finance programs often require applicants to complete prerequisite classes in applied business statistics, business finance, and introduction to financial theory and practice. Candidates without adequate undergraduate preparation typically go through a bridge program before they can begin the master's curriculum.
- Work Experience: Some master's programs in finance (particularly executive MBA tracks) require candidates to evidence at least two years of career accomplishments. Students with relevant work experience may also earn transfer credits. Even if a school does not require an explicit number of years in the field, applicants gain a competitive edge and can qualify for paid fellowships if they can demonstrate past professional success.
How to Apply
- Standardized Test Scores
- Higher education institutions, especially schools that offer distance education, increasingly disregard standardized testing. However, some master's programs in finance do require applicants to submit GRE or GMAT scores. Minimum requirements vary. Some programs operate a set standard, while others scale the minimum based on an applicant's GPA and work experience.
- Personal Statement
- This ubiquitous application document allows graduate candidates to set themselves apart from other applicants by detailing academic and professional achievements. The personal statement also enables colleges and universities to determine if a student's motivations and worldview support the institutional mission. Some schools require candidates to submit a one- to two-page statement based on a prompt, while other institutions ask prospective students to answer a series of short essay questions.
- Recommendation Letters
- Applicants should expect to furnish 2-3 recommendation letters from professional and academic references who can attest to their personal qualities and career achievements. Although certain schools restrict who may provide a recommendation, these sources can typically include undergraduate professors, supervisors, and organizational leaders. In lieu of asking for a letter, some master's programs choose to contact recommenders directly.
If you need to send in standardized test scores, prepare to set aside 2-3 months (and a recommended 120 study hours) to prepare for the exam. After the test date, you can expect to receive GRE scores within 10-15 days and GMAT results in 5-20 days. Scores for both exams last for five years, and you can order additional official reports online.
You can determine how much time you need to gather and submit application materials by identifying the application deadline. Graduate schools generally set the deadline at two months before the start of the semester. Many online master's in finance programs operate rolling admissions that accept students year-round. In either instance, do not rush the process. Give yourself 4-6 weeks to create an effective personal essay and resume. A substantial block of time also allows your references to write engaging recommendation letters. When in doubt, work with your school's admissions specialists to plan a schedule that fits your needs.
Resources for Master's in Finance Students
Since its establishment in 1875, ABA has delivered industry news and offered professional training opportunities. Financial practitioners can find extensive research on topics like risk management, marketing and communications, and commercial banking. The association operates training sessions and self-paced online classes. ABA also provides nine professional certifications in areas like retirement services and securities operations.
With headquarters in Washington D.C. and Singapore, AFP supports over 16,000 financial professionals worldwide. Members enjoy the latest research insights and collaborate with peers through the AFP Collaborate mobile app. They can access career development guides, webinars, and on-demand training sessions. AFP also provides two certification programs for aspiring certified treasury professionals and aspiring certified corporate financial planning and analysis professionals.
The CFA Institute is an international organization for investment professionals with 159 locations worldwide. By joining their local chapter, students can participate in networking events, volunteer opportunities, and research competitions. The CFA Institute also hosts annual conferences and skill-focused webinars. Practitioners can obtain three levels of certified financial analysis credentials by satisfying curricular requirements and passing exams.
IFMA advances the education, ethical standards, and professional success of financial managers. Members can access resume-building guidance and apply for job listings. IFMA offers a variety of networking events, including global forums and student trips, in addition to training and certification programs in areas like internet finance, investment banking, and credit analysis and management.
Founded in 1983, NAPFA serves more than 3,000 members and supports students by offering academic scholarships and facilitating local study groups. Learners can also find mentorships and internships. Professional members benefit from virtual learning services, continuing education courses, and online job postings. They can also enroll in the Practice Foundation program, which provides training to prospective fee-only financial advisors.