Master’s in finance vs MBA: which degree is right for you? | TopMBA.com

Master’s in finance vs MBA: which degree is right for you?

By Aisha K

Updated September 29, 2022 Updated September 29, 2022

If working in the financial services industry sounds like an ideal career path, it can be confusing to work out which type of postgraduate degree you should choose – especially when course content on finance can overlap across different business degrees. 

We’ve taken a look at two popular routes: a master’s in finance and an MBA with specialisation in finance to help you figure out which degree will help you land your dream job.  

Course curriculum 

Studying a master’s in finance can be a great way to deepen your knowledge in specific areas, such as econometrics, financial reporting, investments and corporate finance. If you have an idea of a particular area of finance that you want to work in, whether that be capital management or stock brokerage, studying a dedicated master’s might be the best choice to achieve the statistical and analytical grounding required in some of these roles. 

As an example, the MSc in Finance offered at the London School of Economics (LSE) (ranked ninth in the QS Business Master’s Rankings: Finance 2023), consists of two core courses in corporate finance and asset markets, with options to choose electives in subjects such as credit markets, mergers, buyouts and corporate restructuring.  

Although many MBA degrees will offer specialisations or tracks in finance, it’s important to bear in mind that they’re predominantly focused on how businesses run in all areas concerned including operations, supply chain management, marketing and strategy.  

To give you a flavour of how broad an MBA degree can be, the curriculum at MIT’s Sloan School of Management (ranked fifth in the QS MBA by Career Specialisation Rankings 2023: Finance), is made up of six required courses: leadership challenges for an inclusive world; economic analysis for business decisions; data, models, and decisions; communication for leaders; organisational processes; and financial accounting. 

Depending on your career aspirations, a master’s might be better suited if you want to pursue a specialised financial position and you’re keen on learning the fundamentals. In comparison, studying an MBA offers greater flexibility when choosing a career, with opportunities to also pursue roles in leadership, consulting or starting your own business.  

Work experience  

Arguably, one of the most distinguishing characteristics that differentiates a master's in finance from an MBA is the level of work experience required for entry onto an MBA programme. The exact prerequisites vary across different schools, but candidates can expect between two to five years of work experience as a minimum requirement in order to demonstrate suitable leadership potential.   

However, it’s worth pointing out that some schools will consider candidates with little or no work history. For example, the Wharton School (ranked first in the QS MBA by Career Specialisation Rankings 2023: Finance) says that whilst the average student has worked for five or six years between graduating from university and entering the MBA programme, they ultimately evaluate work experience not in terms of years, but the depth and breadth of an individual’s position, their contributions to the work environment, and level of responsibility and progression.  

Work experience isn’t mandatory for a master’s in finance at some schools. ESSEC Business School (ranked seventh in the Business Master’s Rankings: Finance 2023) says that although work experience isn’t a necessity, it does help as it improves the quality of your application. So, despite the fact that professional experience may not carry as much weighting in your application, it can give you a competitive advantage, particularly when applying for oversubscribed institutions. 

Entry requirements 

In terms of entry requirements for an MBA programme, an upper second-class honours (2:1) undergraduate degree, results of the GMAT or GRE exam, personal statements, essay questions, references and an English language test (if you haven’t studied in an English-speaking country) are normally required as part of your application.  

The above is largely true for entry onto a master’s degree although some schools won’t require taking the GMAT or GRE exam, instead placing emphasis on proficiency of maths and statistics. In fact, although a 2.1 undergraduate degree is normally a minimum requirement, it’s worth noting that a large majority of successful applicants at competitive schools will have achieved a first-class degree or the equivalent. 

Career outcomes 

Understandably, one of the biggest motivations for students to pursue a master’s or MBA degree in finance is the positive impact on their career in the long term. At Cambridge Judge Business School (ranked 12th in the QS MBA by Career Specialisation Rankings 2023: Finance), faculty members closely engage with hiring banks and finance institutions to understand what they look for in their new recruits. 

As a result, graduates have progressed into venture capital and private equity, impact investing and fintech. Jens Peters, a graduate who took classes in the finance concentration now works as a national director and co-leader at Aon Canada. Having switched job roles to move into the financial services industry, he said: “The job function, moving into business development, was enabled by the MBA. The new role involved directly speaking to c-suite stakeholders, something the modules of the MBA helped me prepare for. In fact, I have taken a lead role on negotiating with large multinationals.” 

If return on investment (ROI) is an important consideration for you, MBA degrees are well-known for boosting salaries post-graduation. The MBA Wharton class of 2021 earned a median salary of $155,000 (£143,327), whereas those who pursued careers in financial services such as private equity and venture capital investing earned a higher median of $170,000 (£157,197).  

Even though a master’s degree may not yield the same level of financial return straight away, it’s important not to understate its career benefits. The employment report from LSE reported examples of top employers who recruited their graduates in a range of finance roles such as Citi, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Credit Suisse.  

In order to prepare its graduates for a competitive job market, the school also runs an extensive professional development programme featuring a city speaker series, one-to-one CV checking, alumni panels and network receptions.  

With that being said, many top business schools will offer similar resources when it comes to professional networking, career coaching and travel opportunities for both types of degrees. 

So, master’s or MBA? 

As mentioned previously, deciding which degree is best for you relies on your career goals and what you want out of your studies. Here’s a quick summary of what to consider before making your decision: 

MBA 

  • Higher ROI 

  • More work experience required 

  • May need to sit GMAT/GRE 

  • Curriculum covers other aspects of business 

Master’s 

  • Less work experience needed 

  • Higher academic requirement for competitive schools 

  • GMAT/GRE less important  

  • More focused curriculum 

This article was originally published in September 2022 .

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Written by

Aisha is Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, creating and publishing a wide range of articles for an international student audience. A native Londoner, Aisha graduated from the London School of Economics with a degree in Philosophy and has previously worked in the civil service. 

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