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The finance concentration is about money: how to make it, manage it, and make more of it.

Graduate studies in finance will prepare you to make smart financial decisions for individuals, institutions, and companies. You’ll learn the techniques of financial management, from analyzing data to creating financial models and predicting future trends. Students who want a more general business education often pursue an MBA with a finance concentration. Others looking for a stricter focus on finance alone choose an MS degree, with those interested in academia continuing on to earn a PhD.

The finance curriculum has a macro and a micro component. You’ll learn how the global financial system works. But you’ll also learn how individuals and corporations gauge risks and returns, raise capital, and make smart investment decisions.

All classes have a strong focus on quantitative skills. Creative thinking is rewarded, of course, but your ideas will need to have a strong basis in the numbers. Typical classes include corporate finance, financial modeling, financial theory, risk management, and investments.

A finance concentration can lead to a number of satisfying (and very lucrative) careers in corporate finance, investment banking, commercial banking, private wealth management, sales and trading, and strategic consulting. But a finance concentration will also set you up for success in other fields. After all, people who know how to make and manage money are valued in every industry, including government and non-profits. You’ll be well-equipped for success, even when the economy is slow.

Degree Information

MS programs in finance are heavily quantitative. You’ll take few (if any) classes in “soft” skills like management and leadership, and you’ll have few opportunities to explore other business disciplines. Of course, this laser-sharp focus means you’ll end up with an extremely strong grounding in financial analysis. Most MS programs are a year long, as opposed to the two or three years it generally takes to earn an MBA degree. An MS can be a good degree choice if you’ve just graduated from college, as many MBA programs require you to have several years of work experience.

MBA programs offer more courses in management and other business disciplines (although the actual finance courses will be very similar to those you’d find in an MS program). You’ll have more interactions with students who have a wide variety of business interests, and you’ll be prepared to pursue management-level positions immediately after earning your degree.

Most students who earn a PhD are planning on a career in academia, although a doctorate can be helpful in the private sector as well.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • What kinds of jobs do graduates of the program go on to hold?
  • What career placement services does the program offer?
  • What are the research interests and/or work backgrounds of faculty and students?
  • What opportunities are offered outside the classroom?
  • Is the finance department well-financed and well-supported by the administration?

Career Overview

Many graduates of finance programs go on to work for banks, hedge funds, or in the finance department of large corporations. Others choose to work as financial planners, helping individuals build portfolios and manage their money. Still others pursue careers in real estate, risk management and insurance, and marketing. PhD students move on to careers in teaching and research.

Generally, the financial outlook for finance specialists is quite good. Given the current economic climate, many banks and investment firms are no longer hiring as many new employees. Starting salaries may be lower, and all but the most successful employees can expect to earn less in yearly bonuses. Yet the world of finance remains flush with cash. Students with advanced degrees can expect to earn a healthy wage once they find a job.

Career/Licensing Requirements

The certification you need will vary based on which career you choose to pursue, of course. Graduates who wish to become involved in financial risk management can take the Financial Risk Manager certification exam. Many financial planners choose to become Certified Financial Planners. Money managers should become chartered by taking the Chartered Financial Analyst exam. Consult with professionals in your chosen field to find out which test you should prepare for.

Salary Information

Starting salaries for finance specialists with advanced degrees are generally quite high, though the number depends greatly on what sort of business you work for, how much experience you’ve had, and (of course) how talented you are. A recent business school graduate who’s hired by an investment banking firm, for example, should expect to earn a starting salary of 60k to 100k, with a first-year bonus of ten to fifteen percent. Salaries and bonuses can rise rapidly in subsequent years, based on your performance.

Related Links

CFA Institute
The CFA Institute administers the CFA exam.