MIF and MBA Degrees Take Graduates Down Different Career Paths

Discover the differences between the MBA and the MIF

Business schools and recruiters view masters in finance (MIF) degree holders differently than those with a masters in business administration (MBA). While some outsiders think of the MIF as a viable alternative to the MBA, graduates of each program typically go on to have quite different career profiles.


Which route should you take?

Recruiters seek MIF graduates for finance roles within a corporate finance function or in an investment bank, whereas MBAs are hired into general management or executive positions, says Donna Svei, an executive resume writer for AvidCareerist.com. She recommends earning an MBA unless you want a strictly finance-related role.

Indeed, the first step to a career in finance or management is choosing the right program. Even though Europe dominates the top of the QS Masters in Finance Rankings 2018, much like it does with the QS Masters in Management Rankings 2018, a few American schools do demonstrate strength.


Which US business schools offer the best MIF programs?

MIT Sloan School of Management comes in second to London Business School (LBS). What is interesting is that Sloan’s MIF program ties LBS for employability and alumni outcomes. With a score of 100 for thought leadership, Sloan is tied with the Berkeley Haas School of Business program and bests LBS’ score of 97.2. Sloan loses points for return on investment (ROI) and diversity. Still, its overall score of 93.7 is hot on the heels of LBS’ 94.4.

US programs appear further down the rankings as well. University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business and UCLA Anderson School of Management come in fifth and seventh respectively on the global list. All three of these top American programs for MIF degrees are among the best for their MBA programs, too.


The differences between MIF and MBA

Most administrators and faculty at US business schools see these degrees as distinct. There is some slight overlap in hiring, but it is rare. Haas and Anderson are unique in that they have Masters in Financial Engineering programs. These are even more quant-focused than traditional MIF coursework.

“We are interested in recruiting highly qualified candidates with quantitative academic backgrounds, including computer science, mathematics, statistics, physics, engineering, and economics graduates and undergraduates,” says Elisa Dunn, executive director of the MIFE program at Anderson.

Students at Anderson experience a curriculum that integrates mathematical, statistical, and programming tools with finance theory. It includes an internship and a corporate-sponsored project. Some of the work focuses on studying pricing models, data analysis techniques, quant investment strategies for equities, fixed income, currency, and so on.

The goal, adds Dunn, is to train students for positions as quantitative researchers, desk strategists, risk analysts, asset managers, and data scientists to name a few. In comparison, traditional MIF programs concentrate on the theory and practice of finance, and graduates might find themselves working in financial consulting or investment banking, also the domain of MBAs. However, the coursework of MBA and MIF students is different.

MBAs try to develop their soft skills, such as communication, while at school. They also focus on leadership and creating a vision for departments and companies. While they are expected to learn the basics of finance, they do not normally experience as quant-heavy a curriculum as those in MIF programs. The divide between the quantitative work grows even larger when discussing MBA and MIFE courses.

As a result, companies usually hire MBA and MIF grads for different positions. Among the recruiters for Anderson MIFE graduates are Citigroup, Deloitte, and Goldman Sachs. Certainly, those employers are hiring MBAs, too. But most of the time it’s for different jobs, says Dunn.

In addition, international students studying in the US might be drawn to the MIF degree for another reason. Because these are quant-heavy courses, MIF can gain status as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program as determined by the US Department of Homeland Security. As a result of having STEM status, which is the case at Sloan, for example, international students can extend their optional practical training (legal time working in the field) by two years.

Gaining a work visa in the US has become increasingly challenging. Some employers, in fact, request schools don’t even have them meet with international students. STEM status alleviates some of that tension. 


Focusing on finance with an MBA

Even those who choose the MBA route can benefit from zoning in on finance. Just look at the QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report 2018. “Finance continues to grow at a more modest pace a decade on from the global financial crisis, though the smaller figure must be read in light of a larger base in terms of MBA hiring,” according to the report. “Slightly more robust growth is forecast over the next two years.”

Finance skills rank among those employers are looking for in new hires, but leadership, strategy, and innovation are more important. The latter might give an edge to MBA graduates. Indeed, of the four listed industries, finance is the only one expected to increase in the percentage of MBA recruitment; the estimate shows MBA recruitment for finance rising from 5% in 2017 to an expected 7% in 2019. The average MBA salary is the highest among industries at US$97,100, according to the Jobs & Salary Trends Report 2018.    

In the end, opting between the MIF and MBA depends on the kinds of roles you hope to attain post graduation. Quant jocks should go the way of MIF. And long-term visionaries should take up the MBA. 

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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