Finance is a complex field devoted to cultivating a scientific understanding of the relationship between money and other assets in an economic system. Financial professionals study the processes by which capital is raised and invested; the various financial instruments that facilitate the transfer and protection of capital; the banking system and its impact on capital flow; and the other private and public institutions that influence monetary policy. By cultivating knowledge in these areas, financial specialist aim to properly valuate assets, assess risk, accurately calculate expected returns on investments, and implement sound strategies to protect assets, mitigate risk, and manage long- and short-term gains and losses. There are three primary divisions in the field of finance – personal, public, and corporate finance. And there are many other subdivisions, including entrepreneurial finance, financial accounting, risk management, global finance, investment banking, portfolio management, private equity, and real estate. These divisions and subdivisions represent areas of specialized training for those seeking a career in the field of finance.
Master’s in finance degree programs provide formal training in the theories of capital, investment strategies, monetary policy, and other aspects of the financial system. Students in these programs learn how to apply various conceptual models and quantitative tools in order to make informed, data-driven decisions about asset valuation and management, risk mitigation, market volatility, and other important financial variables. This kind of decision-making requires a foundational understanding of business and economics; specific proficiencies in mathematics, statistics, and accounting practices; and specialized knowledge of business law, government policy, banking systems, and a range of financial instruments, including stocks, bonds, options, futures, and derivatives. Students in master’s in finance programs study the interactions between these parts of the financial system. They learn how make informed judgments about future trends. And they develop the tools to apply this knowledge professionally in corporate finance and governance, financial planning for individuals and businesses, investment portfolio management, consumer and commercial banking, financial accounting, and other fields in the private and public sectors.
Colleges and universities offer online master’s in finance programs as a means of providing students who cannot or would prefer not to travel to a campus the same curriculum and training as campus-based programs. Online master’s programs utilize distance-learning technologies to provide a more convenient and flexible alternative to traditional, classroom-based instruction. Students in online programs are able to log on to a learning management system (LMS) for lectures and discussion forums, and for access to a variety of other course materials. In addition, online programs may require students to travel to a campus or another designated location a limited number of times during the program for instructional activities. However, many master’s in finance programs are offered 100% online and do not include any mandatory campus visits.
Like their campus-based counterparts, online master’s in finance programs are typically housed within schools of business at larger colleges and universities, although they may also be offered through other related academic departments like economics and accounting. But finance is an inherently interdisciplinary field that, along with business and economic theory, policy research, accounting practices, and proficiencies in mathematics and statistics, incorporates big data IT systems and advanced forms of quantitative analysis and predictive modeling. There are finance programs that focus on economic theory and its application to monetary policy; programs that are grounded in the practices of commercial and investment banking; and programs that delve into the experimental side of data analytics and financial modeling. Some programs offer students a range of options through elective coursework and/or formal specializations in areas like capital markets, corporate finance, investments and securities, and financial engineering. These programs are typically designated as Master of Science in Finance (MSF) programs, but there are a number of other names for master’s in finance programs, including:
OnlineEducation.com conducts independent research of online master’s in finance programs and classifies programs based on curricula and several other significant criteria. To be included on the site, programs must be offered by a regionally accredited, non-profit college or university. They must also offer all or most of their instruction online. Programs that require more than two campus visits per academic year are considered hybrid programs and are not included in our database. In addition, online master’s in finance programs, regardless of their name, must offer a curriculum that covers foundational elements of the discipline. These include financial accounting and reporting practices; quantitative tools for financial analysis; legal and ethical concerns in professional finance; and the economic basis for financial decision-making.
Online master’s in finance programs are designed to prepare students to work professionally in banking, business, investing, and other sectors of finance. As such, students in these programs receive foundational instruction in financial accounting, financial reporting, the banking system, investment instruments, business practices, and professional ethics and communications for financial managers. The master’s curriculum in finance also provides students with an overview of markets, monetary policy, the tax system, and other structural elements that define the larger financial system. Students then learn how to navigate the complexities of this system using various tools and techniques for assessing risk exposure, diversifying assets, analyzing market trends, and maximizing investment opportunities. Specific aspects of finance are addressed in courses devoted to the application of general knowledge and skills to the practice of corporate finance, public finance, entrepreneurial finance, and global finance. In addition, students may have the opportunity to enroll in elective courses that cover topics like derivative trading, portfolio management, option pricing, private equity, and real estate.
The table below provides an overview of some the coursework that is typical of an online master’s in finance program. This sampling of courses is drawn from actual online master’s in finance curricula.
|Accounting and Financial Reporting||The vocabulary, methods, and processes by which business transactions are communicated, with a focus on the accounting cycle and financial statements, including balance sheets, statements of income, and cash flows.|
|Financial Markets||An overview of bond and stock valuation; the relation between risk and return; and the function of financial markets.|
|Financial Econometrics||Quantitative methods for analyzing economic and financial data, including large databases of financial information.|
|Business Leadership and Human Values||The ethical challenges of financial management in a business context, and the value of ethical leadership to businesses in a competitive global economy.|
|Quantitative Analysis in Finance||The use of advanced statistical methods to analyze the time value of money, compute returns and yields, and calculate risk.|
|Investments||Portfolio theory, with a focus on the valuation of equities, fixed-income securities, and alternative investments, as well as strategies for controlling portfolio risk through asset management and diversification.|
|Corporate Finance||Strategies for maximizing shareholder wealth within a legal and ethical framework, including modules on capital budgeting, cost of capital, capital structure, payout policy, and derivative pricing.|
|Managing Financial Risk||An introduction to the process of identifying, measuring, and controlling risk exposure, including market and credit risks, liquidity, operational and legal risks, volatility modeling, and derivatives.|
Admissions policies vary by program, so prospective applicants should examine each program’s criteria carefully as part of the application process. The baseline prerequisite for admissions to an online master’s in finance program is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Programs may have a list of two or three undergraduate course prerequisites – typically an economics course, an accounting/business course, and/or an advanced mathematics course. Some programs offer these undergraduate prerequisites online as part of a preparatory curriculum for students who have not already taken and received a passing grade in courses that cover these subject areas. In addition, it is not uncommon for programs to take into account an applicant’s cumulative undergraduate grade point average; standardized test scores (GRE or GMAT); and prior work experience in the field of finance. Admissions departments may also request that applicants provide a written personal statement and/or two or more letters of recommendation.
All of the programs included on this site offer a master’s in finance degree curriculum utilizing online instructional methods and distance learning technologies. However, not all online programs are the same. There are several structural variables in the format of online programs that may make one type of program more preferable than another, depending on the needs of an individual student. In general, online master’s in finance programs are designed to be convenient and flexible enough to accommodate students who may already be working or who may have significant commitments outside of school. Nevertheless, there are three important considerations that students may want to take into account when comparing different programs: instructional methods; enrollment options; and campus visit requirements.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Synchronous and asynchronous instruction are two contrasting methods for delivering online coursework. Synchronous instruction is analogous to traditional classroom instruction in that it takes place in real-time and requires students to be present online to participate in a virtual classroom experience. If a program uses synchronous instruction, that means that lectures and other class activities are scheduled at designated times during which students must be logged on to the LMS in order to participate. This method of instruction may be appeal to students who prefer a more structured learning environment. Asynchronous instruction does not involve having to view or participate in lectures and discussions on a particular day or at a particular time. Instead, students have access to lectures, presentations, and other course materials 24-7 through the LMS. Asynchronous instruction affords more scheduling flexibility, but it also requires more self-discipline. Students enrolled in programs that utilize asynchronous instructional methods are still responsible for keeping up with course syllabi and completing assignments on time.
Part-Time and Full-Time Enrollment: The time to completion for a master’s in finance degree program depends on how many courses a student takes per term. Online programs are often designed to accommodate a broad range of students who may or may not have already embarked on a professional career, and who may or may not be able to manage full-time enrollment. Students who enroll full-time and take three or more classes per semester may be able to graduate in a few as 12-to-18 months from a program that has a full-time enrollment option. The same program will commonly take two or more years to complete by students enrolled part-time, which would mean taking one or two courses per semester. Many programs have both part-time and full-time enrollment options.
Campus Visits: There are master’s in finance program that are offered 100% online and that do not require students to attend any on-campus informational or instructional events. There are also online programs that utilize a limited number of campus visits as part of their standard curriculum. These campus visits, sometimes referred to as immersion sessions or intensives, typically include lectures, workshops, discussions, and/or networking opportunities. They may be as short as a couple days, or run as long as a week or more. For students who want the opportunity to meet face-to-face with instructors and interact with classmates, these sessions can be a useful addition to an online master’s in finance program. However, campus visits require travel and students may incur expenses in addition to regular tuition costs and fees while attending these sessions. Prospective applicants should research programs carefully to find out whether or not they require campus visits. OnlineEducation.com does not currently include any programs that require more than two campus visits per year.
There are two types of accreditation that may be relevant to potential applicants to online master’s in finance programs: institutional and programmatic accreditation. Institutional accreditation is granted by regional accreditation bodies and is based on the overall integrity and quality of the degree granting institution (i.e., the college or university). OnlineEducation.com online lists programs offered by regionally accredited colleges and universities.
Programmatic accreditation is conferred to academic degree programs in specific fields. While no organization currently offers specialized accreditation to master’s in finance degree programs, many master’s in finance programs are offered through schools of business and management that may have programmatic accreditation.
There are three widely recognized bodies that accredit business programs and schools of business and management: the Association for Advancing Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International); the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). Online master’s in finance programs offered through schools of business and management may be indirectly accredited by AACSB International, the ACBSP, or IACBE, which serves to indicate that these programs have undergone an assessment process and met certain criteria for training an instruction in various business specializations, including finance.