Answer: A master’s in finance is typically a Master of Science degree program that focuses on the intricacies of financial management, monetary policy, and fiscal econometrics. An MBA in finance is a Master of Business Administration degree program that combines instruction and training in general business theories and practices with several specialized courses in advanced topics related to financial management and policy.
As an academic discipline and an area of professional endeavor, finance refers to the process of managing money and other material assets within dynamic markets. Studying finance means learning to apply theories of economics and quantitative methodologies to developing scientific models that explain how the relative value of various assets may fluctuate over time, and cultivating strategies for investing those assets. In practice, finance involves using a range of financial instruments, including stocks, bonds, derivatives, real estate, and other investment tools, to protect existing assets, generate revenue, and manage financial risks to individuals, businesses, corporations, and other entities. Working in finance requires knowledge of financial laws and regulations, an understanding of financial systems and institutions, and a familiarity with various strategies for investment and asset management. Financial specialists hold advisory positions in businesses and corporations, manage investment portfolios for individuals, and are employed throughout the financial sector in banks, regulatory agencies, and brokerage firms.
A master’s in finance is a Master of Science (MS) degree that provides students with foundational instruction in economic theories, accounting practices, and the structure of financial markets, as well as advanced training in quantitative approaches to managing financial assets. Students in an MS in finance degree program study theories of market volatility, investment strategies, and financial laws and regulations. They learn to apply this knowledge to the practices of personal, public, and corporate finance, and to the process of valuating assets, managing risk, assessing financial markets, and making capital investments. In many of these programs, students complete a thesis or capstone project in which they use what they have learned to analyze and address an issue in the real world of financial management.
A typical MS in finance program requires the completion of between ten and 18 courses over a period of 12-to-18 months of full-time enrollment, although curricular formats and enrollment options vary by program. Common core courses include: Financial Reporting; Money and Capital Markets; Equity Analysis; Business Communication; Risk Management; Quantitative Analytics; Financial Econometrics; and Portfolio Management. Many programs include professional development seminars and offer students elective coursework in specialized areas of finance, including venture capital, private equity, entrepreneurial finance, and real estate investments.
Master’s in finance programs are often housed in schools of business, although they may be offered through a department of accounting or economics. These programs provide their coursework through traditional campus-based classes, using online instruction methods, and in hybrid formats. While there is no formal naming convention for master’s in finance programs, they are generally designated in the following ways:
An MBA is a Master of Business Administration degree, which is the designation for programs that offer a curriculum that covers a broad spectrum of general business knowledge in accounting, business law, communication, finance, human resource management, marketing, operations management, and organizational leadership. MBA programs are designed to prepare students for a variety of professional responsibilities in the business world, including positions in financial management and banking. Many MBA programs provide students with the options of specializing in a particular area of business management and administration, including finance. Programs with this specialization may be referred to as an MBA in finance, an MBA with a specialization in finance, or an MBA with a concentration in finance.
MBA programs that offer a finance specialization provide students with a defined track comprised of several courses in advanced financial analysis, management, and strategy. Students in these programs complete a core curriculum of introductory and intermediate classes in general business functions and proficiencies, which in a two-year MBA program takes place during the first year. Specialized finance coursework in subjects like financial institutions, financial markets, financial instruments, and investment strategies is usually completed during the second year of a two-year program, and students may have the opportunity to select additional electives in special finance topics like hedge fund management, entrepreneurial finance, and/or fixed income securities. However, an MBA in finance only covers a portion of the finance coursework that is covered in an MS in finance program, as students spend more than half of an MBA program studying general business topics.
There are several distinct variations on the two-year format that are common for MBA programs. For example, there are one-year MBA programs that allow students to place out of certain introductory courses. There are also Professional MBA programs, which are designed for part-time enrollment by students who are working in a business field, and Executive MBA programs, which accommodate professionals who have five or more years of business management experience. And there are campus-based, online, and hybrid MBA programs that offer a range of full-time and part-time enrollment options.
Accreditation for MBA programs is provided by three organizations: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International); the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). This type of programmatic accreditation may also cover master’s in finance programs that are offered through business schools, but there is no specialized accrediting body for finance programs at the master’s level.
While there is inherently some overlap in the subject matter covered in a master’s in finance curriculum and an MBA in finance curriculum, there is a great deal of divergence. A master’s in finance provides in-depth training in the theories and practices of financial reporting, financial analysis, and financial strategies, and does not include courses devoted to other areas of business operations and administration. An MBA curriculum covers a broad range of general business topics, including business law, operations management, and organizational leadership. The specialization component of an MBA in finance program generally consists of several courses that delve into some but not all of the same topics addressed in a master’s in finance curriculum. The table below illustrates some of the similarities and differences between typical MS in finance and MBA in finance coursework.
|Master’s in Finance Courses||MBA in Finance Courses|
|Financial Economics||Financial Accounting|
|Financial Reporting||Managerial Economics|
|Financial Modeling||Decision Modeling|
|Money and Capital Markets||Project & Operations Management|
|Equity Analysis||Business Law & Ethics|
|Business Communication||Strategic Leadership|
|Risk Management||Financial Statement Analysis|
|Quantitative Analytics||Financial Markets & Institutions|
|Portfolio Management||Investment & Portfolio Management|
|Corporate Valuation||Derivative Securities|