Though the MBA might be the most famous business degree, it's far from the only one. Depending on where you are in your career and your future plans, you might find that a Master in Finance (MiF) or Master in Management (MiM) fits you best.
Unlike MBA programs, where most students are in their late twenties or early thirties, Master’s programs tend to attract students in their early to mid twenties. Unlike with an MBA, it's common for students to enter MiF or MiM programs with little to no work experience.
Because they can accelerate the early stages of graduates' careers, master’s programs have been gaining popularity in recent years. If you don’t consider yourself a typical MBA applicant, an MiF or MiM might be the best thing for you.
Should I consider a Master in Finance or Master in Management?
Aside from the differences in age and experience, there are important differences to keep in mind between MiMs and MiFs.
The MiM is a general management degree, and can be likened to a more junior MBA. Like the MBA, the MiM gives a broad overview of topics in management. With less work experience, though, MiM students are less likely to transition directly into senior positions than their MBA counterparts.
The MiF focuses on finance in much greater depth, although it can also diverge into more technical topics. Therefore, it's best for those desirous of a career in finance, not those who want a wide-ranging education in management.
One thing to keep in mind is that while many MiFs are designed for students with little or no work history, not all of them are. Some programs, like the MiF at London Business School, are targeted at people with significant work experience looking to take on more senior finance roles.
Overall, both degrees are a great chance to get an edge over your peers in the early stages of your career.
What should I know before applying?
When applying for a MiF or MiM, there are several components to your application that schools take into account.
Master’s programs are interested in your resume, particularly your track record of leadership and your internships. While work experience isn’t as important as it is for MBA programs, that means the rest of your application becomes that much more important.
With a Master’s, it's likely that there will be a minimal gap between finishing your undergraduate studies and showing up at b-school, so your college transcripts are an important indicator of whether you'll be able to keep up in the program you're applying to.
Many MiF and MiM programs require the GMAT or GRE. Preparing for and then taking one of these standardized tests is one of the first milestones in the application process.
With less of a track record in the workplace, your letters of recommendation will also be essential in demonstrating that you have the qualities the schools you're applying to are looking for.
Finally, if your application makes it through the first stages of review, some schools will invite you for an interview. This is a chance for them to get a better sense of who you are off the page.
What can I expect to gain?
Both the MiF and MiM have been gaining popularity in recent years, and for good reason. Compared with a traditional MBA, the payoff from these programs comes earlier in your career. Since they’re typically one-year programs, they also usually command less money than an MBA does.
Either degree can give you a competitive advantage as you begin your career. As Tom Robinson, head of B-school accreditation body AACSB has pointed out, “Over the past five years, the job market has tightened and a Master’s in Finance is a way to show you’re better than the next candidate.”
Indeed, graduates from some of the top MiF programs command average salaries of up to $150,000 three years after graduation.
Whether it’s an in-depth view of finance or general management you gain from a Master’s degree, you can put your learning into practice right away as you start your career. Compared with the MBA, these more compact degrees demand less time and money, and make an impact earlier in your life.
What are the best master's programs?
According to the Financial Times MiF Ranking, 2020's best MiF program is found at HEC Paris, followed by programs from ESCP Business School, Skema, and ESSEC.
Meanwhile, the FT's top MiM programs include the MiM at The University of St. Gallen, HEC Paris, ESSEC, London Business School, and Rotterdam School of Management.
Of course, your perfect school will depend on your own priorities, as well as what you want to specialize in.
By Chioma Isiadinso. Chioma is an education entrepreneur and co-founder/CEO of EXPARTUS, the first MBA admissions consulting firm to integrate personal branding into every aspect of the MBA admissions process.
She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.
This article was first published in September 2016 and updated in October 2020.