James Magrane put out ambitious applications to London banks as an undergraduate in Autumn 2010, but it quickly became clear that he was acting prematurely. “I realised it wasn't happening; that I was naive to apply and unaware of the amount of work that’s really needed to get in.”
These doubts drove his decision to apply for an MSc Finance at Cass Business School. Now halfway through, James has already had offers from RBS and BNP Paribas.
The MSc Finance is the main factor behind his success, he claims. “I was just far more confident.
“It gave me a deep understanding of the background and workings of financial markets that a year's work experience couldn’t. I’m more relaxed now, too. Back in November, the main aim was to get a good job. But now I can focus on getting more out of an education from the course.”
And this is a good thing – many would claim that financial MScs give the best grounding a budding investment banker could wish for.
But why? What makes the MSc Finance shine in the eyes of students? It depends who you ask, though every serious answer is about employability.
The post-recession job market is in an unusual state. Although some entry-level financial recruitment schemes remain buoyant, competition is up and recruiters no longer prowl campuses for talent on the scale they used to. Fewer jobs and higher competition mean hirers now expect you to come to them, with directly relevant work experience or qualifications.
For many young graduates, this is the key appeal of the MSc Finance. They look at the practical orientation many courses have and see the chance to gain both experience and a valuable qualification at once.
To these students, a big part of the appeal comes from the way financial MScs are taught. Students are often asked to submit coursework which is effectively a real-life task based around real data from real cases. So rather than setting a class an essay on the theory of financial reporting, many lecturers now ask students to actually write a financial report using a case study, which is then assessed as a piece of professional work. It can be a nerve-wracking test – but the chance to make mistakes in a safe environment holds obvious benefits for those looking to graduate into a successful career.
“I’m studying the full corsage of products that are traded/exchanged in finance,” says Calvin Mhembere, who is studying his MSc at Exeter. “This includes how they are created, regulated, monitored, their full attributes and most importantly, how returns are recognised from these products.
“The program is very comprehensive, hence the intense schedule. There are hardly any free weekends, days or nights and this in a way trains you to develop the necessary tenacity and self management necessary to be a successful in the financial services industry.”
The hard-won practical benefits are clear both to yourself and potential employers, he claims.
However, some would rather study financial MScs to sharpen their knowledge of financial theory. Sebastian Kaufmann had already interned at a few banks before he applied to do his MSc Finance at Warwick Business School. But working with employers made him see the importance of academic credentials. He now believes it is essential to get to grips with the theory behind investment in order to come across as credible in job interviews.
“I’ll have practise when I’m working, so I wanted to get into the academic side now,” he says. “Employers want a mixture of academic and practical experience; up against a rival job candidate who’d done the same internships but had instead chosen a year’s practical experience over the MSc, I’d have the edge.”
He cites the theoretical content of his course - training in statistical software like S Plus, as well as Bloomberg and Reuters terminals. Module options are likely to include everything from vanilla economics to Empirical Finance, Financial Reporting, Investment management and Corporate Finance.
Some courses even cover up to 70% of the internationally-recognised CFA qualification, increasing your appeal to employers who prefer graduates to hit the ground running.
But regardless of whether they first wanted hard knowledge or practical skills, the biggest value-added benefits students get from an MSc Finance are the career connections and the chance to associate themselves with a respected university.
Visits to banks for lectures are also common, and provide the added bonus of scoping out potential employers. James Magrane says a friend even managed to secure an internship by charming a bank representative after a class. James feels that this is the sort of opportunity was only made possible by choosing to study at a top school.
And, of course, getting to know lecturers who networks in the finance industry is a big help for many young aspirants – not to mention the classmates who’ll soon be in high places.
- The MSc Finance is designed to be challenging and usually requires an undergraduate degree with economics or statistics content. However, some schools allow students of all backgrounds to apply with GMAT test results.
- A limited number of UK courses have partnership with the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute (including Imperial, Exeter, Warwick, Durham and Cass).
- The classes tend to be highly diverse, often with less than 15% of students from the UK.
- Usually about two thirds of students have finance, accountancy, business or economics undergraduate degrees, and most of the remainder come from science backgrounds.
- Most full-time courses last 12 months, but many part-time courses can be completed in 18 months.
- Generally speaking, courses based closer to the City of London have more practical content, whereas those further away place higher value on financial theory.
- Last year, 50% of Durham MSc Finance graduates went into finance jobs and 20% went into consulting.
- Courses can cost anywhere between £8,000 to £24,000
- Scholarships can range up to £20,000
- Many college career services allow students to upload their CVs for potential employers to browse.