What Is the Difference Between an MBA and a Master of Finance Degree?

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If you’re like many current or prospective business students, you might be considering graduate school. Most business and finance occupations don’t require an advanced degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics – but that doesn’t mean there’s no value to these degrees. On the contrary, master’s degrees can help candidates climb the corporate ladder, command higher salaries and attain leadership roles. While the Master of Business Administration (MBA) is the conventional path of educational advancement for a business professional to follow, another, more specialized degree is in demand: the Master of Finance, or Master of Science in Finance, degree. As they choose between these two options, students should ask themselves a number of questions about the degree of specialization they want from their degree, their work experience, their timeline to graduation and what they want to achieve by going to grad school.

How Specialized Do You Want Your Degree to Be?

The classic MBA degree is broad in scope, though choosing a concentration within the program can help students narrow their focus and develop an area of expertise. This breadth is, in part, what makes the degree so popular. It is versatile and attracts students with a wide range of work experiences and career goals.

A Master of Finance degree has a naturally narrower focus. Students in these programs develop the practical skills used in the financial market, specifically in areas such as corporate finance and financial economics, according to U.S. News & World Report. Master of Finance classes might focus on quantitative finance, financial theory and the practices of valuation and investments. Outcomes of an MBA vs. a Master of Finance degree also differ. MBA students focus more on important soft skills like interpersonal communication, creativity, leadership and strategic planning. Students in a Master of Finance program develop skills in analytical thinking, reporting and giving presentations, becoming technologically proficient in software used to analyze financial data and solving problems.

Statistics, accounting and economics coursework round out the curriculum of a Master of Finance student. MBA students take a blend of business classes in management, marketing and leadership, along with a few courses focusing on their specialization.

How Much Work Experience Do You Have?

 Though they are both graduate-level business degree programs, MBA and Master of Finance degree programs have different expectations. One of the biggest differences is your amount of work experience. MBA students typically need at least one to two, and preferably three to five, years of full-time work experience, according to U.S. News & World Report. While students aren’t required to be working in senior-level roles, they may be expected to have some sort of supervisory experience already. If you’re still in your undergraduate studies or have recently graduated but are eager to continue your education now, an MBA might not be ideal because it would require you to put your studies on hold.

On the other hand, students pursuing a Master of Finance degree tend to be recent college graduates or to have only one or two years of work experience, according to U.S. News. Because you don’t need years of work experience to get into the degree program, it is a great option for students who want to fast-track their graduate education and quickly develop the highly-specialized skills that will help them succeed in roles like financial analyst.

Different schools have different experience requirements for their MBA and Master of Finance programs. Likewise, standardized tests like the GMAT and GRE are more often optional for Master of Finance programs than MBAs, but some schools still require them.

How Much Time Are You Willing to Invest?

 Whether you’re postponing the start of your career in favor of your studies or working at double capacity to earn your degree while employed full-time, going to graduate school takes up your most precious resource: time. Which degree you choose can affect how much time you will need to spend in school. Generally, a Master of Business Administration, like other traditional master’s degree program, requires two years of study, though there are accelerated options. Since Master of Finance programs at many schools take just one year to complete, this is a great option for highly-motivated students who want to earn their graduate degree in half the time.

Prospective students should be aware that these one-year Master of Science in Finance programs often include coursework over the summer as well as during the fall and spring semesters.

What Do You Want to Do With Your Graduate Education?

Even if you truly have a love for learning, the reason you’re investing the time and money into earning a graduate degree in business is to advance your career. Since an MBA program and a Master of Finance program provide two different sets of skills, what you want from your education should be a big factor in deciding which degree to pursue. MBA graduates have a broader range of potential career paths, but they will be more limited in occupations in which a depth of finance knowledge is needed. Students who graduate from a Master of Finance degree program often go on to attain highly-specialized roles in financial services, equity and investment research, equity trading and risk management, with job titles such as financial analyst or investor.

How much do you want to stand out? Because the MBA has been around for decades and is so popular, this degree is much more common than the newer and more specialized Master of Finance degree, which may make your resumé stand out from the rest.

Additional Resources

What Are the Benefits of Earning a Master’s in Finance Degree Instead of an MBA?

What Is the Difference Between a Business Degree and a Finance Degree?

What Salary Can I Earn With a Master’s in Finance Degree?

Top 15 Master’s in Finance Degree Programs