Financially rewarding and intellectually stimulating, a career in finance is often the most popular choice for business school graduates.
But the life of a young recruit at financial giants like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs is undeniably tough.
You’ll start your day at 6 am, be at your desk by 7 am, and can comfortably expect to stay until past midnight. Moreover, your employers will expect the best of you, as they strive to stay ahead in the competitive worlds of money, like Wall Street.
Preparing yourself for a job in the real world of finance and accounting isn’t something you can do in a classroom, or in exams—it’s so much about practical experience and application.
“The industry is incredibly competitive, and you need to reach that top level so that employers will pick you out,” explains Dr Umair Riaz, program director of the MSc in Accounting and Finance at Aston Business School.
Learning the skills will only get you half the way; learning how to apply them in real world scenarios with a professional work ethic is what sets aside the big fish from the minnows.
Qualifications for a lucrative career
For graduates looking to enter into the world of finance or accounting, gaining certain qualifications is often necessary. For accountants, this is the ACCA; for financial analysts, this might be the CFA.
These courses are offered through private tuition, or even just for students to take in their own time. All it takes is the necessary textbooks and the right time commitment to studying. The MSc at Aston, however, offers something slightly different.
“You can get the education elsewhere,” Umair acknowledges, before adding, “What we offer is the entire university experience, teaching the conceptual background of these topics. It is not just about passing exams.”
The MSc in Accounting and Finance is a one year full-time program aimed at those with little or no experience in the field but looking to switch careers towards finance.
Students receive the fundamentals of both disciplines, including courses in financial analysis, management accounting, and ethics.
Umair also announces innovations, including a new course in Islamic Accounting and Finance, particularly relevant in a diverse region like the Midlands.
Understanding accounting and finance in practice
Preparing for the rigorous world of work is invaluable for Master’s students, and offering practical work experience is central to this.
While many Master’s programs require all students to complete a dissertation at the end of the program, the MSc in Accounting and Finance at Aston Business School allows students to take a project as an alternative.
For this, students are assigned a real company. They must evaluate the performance of the company using different methods, as well as identifying key competitors, and opportunities for improvement.
It is quite unique internationally, Umair says, and is a big pull factor for students for whom a standard dissertation, found on most programs, does not appeal.
The personal development program (PDP) runs throughout the course, and is centered on individual progress in terms of employability, helping students to identify and hone the key skills which will aid their career.
Part of this is the opportunity to take international internships as part of the program. Current students have landed internships working in Dubai as an assistant finance manager, and in China in a wealth management department.
The chance to meet potential employers is also integrated into the program. Umair invites organizations to feature on or sponsor certain courses, as a way of offering expertise as well as a chance for students to meet representatives of interesting companies.
For auditing modules, for example, Aston invites professionals from companies like PwC to deliver sessions. A sustainability module, moreover, analyses the efforts of Kellogg’s. Students submit a sustainability report, which is then presented to representatives from Kellogg’s, who can provide industry insight and real-world applicable feedback.
But why not just take the ACCA independently and avoid the Master’s? What is the point of this extensive practical approach?
The MSc in Accounting and Finance is recognized by the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants (ACCA), and graduates get exemption for a number of courses on the ACCA qualification.
Moreover, it helps prepare students for an environment in which they are not going to be looked after and spoon-fed.
“We are teaching them to be an individual who graduates, and is ready to go straight into the world of work,” Umair underlines. “Just by studying at home, or in a smaller institution, you won’t get these skills or experiences.”