Determine If a Master’s in Finance Is the Right Move

Applicants should find out which concentrations and electives schools offer when deciding where to go, experts say.

If you’re interested in finance, employers are interested in you.

The job market may be especially favorable to people with this academic background, according to a January report from the Graduate Management Admission Council.

“78 percent of employers who hired Master of Finance graduates met or exceeded their 2014 hiring goals for this targeted group. In 2015, 78 percent of employers plan to match or increase the number of recent finance graduates they hired in 2014, including more than a quarter who did not hire these candidates in 2014,” the report states.

Jeffrey Harris, the chairman​ of the real estate and finance departments at American University’s Kogod School of Business, isn’t surprised that employers want these graduates.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, getting an MBA​ – a degree that more broadly focuses on management within business fields – may have been all that a budding business leader considered. But times have changed.

[Decide between an MBA and M.S. at business school.]

“Employers are looking for more targeted work experience or interest from the actual student,” says Harris.

The degree can help boost a resume and take less time to get than an MBA, experts say. It can be finished within a year at many schools, allowing students to enter the job market quickly.

Not everyone who wants to work in finance is a fit for this kind of degree program. It’s usually a match for people with a specific background and positions​ them for specific jobs.

Prospective students with an undergraduate degree​ in a quantitative subject or finance, and some years of work experience, might have an easier time in a finance program, says Martin Widdicks, director of the Master of Science​ in finance program at University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign College of Business.​ “Softer skills students struggle a little bit more with the material.”

Students often have one or two years of work experience or have recently graduated from college. For their master’s degree, they usually study statistics, financial economics, corporate finance, accounting ​and other subjects that give them tangible skills for the job market. After graduating, it’s common for them to become analysts. Many work at investment banks, commercial banks, accounting firms or consulting companies, experts say​. ​

Jamie Brown applied for the master’s in finance program at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee to distinguish himself for employers.

[Look to a business master’s to build specialized skills.]

“I want​ to develop the technical skill set that I could use as a springboard​ for my career in finance,” says Brown, who’s now a student at the school. While in undergrad at Durham University ​in the United Kingdom, he did an internship in investment banking. Several of his co-workers had a master’s in finance degree and urged him to also get it, he says. Brown started at Vanderbilt immediately after graduating.

“I basically just wanted to prepare as best as possible for a career in investment banking,” he says.

Brown warns prospective students who will soon start this kind of degree program to brace themselves for a very busy period in their lives. “It’s very intensive and fast paced,” he says. His schedule fluctuates, but right now if he in class for three hours a day he may spend another four or five hours on campus for school work, projects and related activities.

Brown says he is very happy with his experience at Owen. He likes that his classes are small and that he can tailor the curriculum to fit his interests. ​

About 45 students are in a class, says Maura Clark, the associate director of admissions for the master’s in finance and MBA programs. For the one-year program, students have a very structured fall but can take several electives later in the year, says Clark.

[Learn how to choose an MBA concentration.]

Prospective students who want this degree but aren’t sure which school will be the best fit for them should start by doing some research, says Clark.

They should find out what specific resources a school offers students in the master’s of finance program. Owen, she says, has a leadership development program specifically for its students. Applicants should also speak with current students, she says. They can ask: “What is the transition to graduate school like?” and “What is the relationship with faculty like?” 

U.S. News