By Andrea Coulis
A master’s degree in finance is a postgraduate program tailored to individuals who want to springboard their careers in finance at a relatively early stage.
Students pursuing a Master of Science in Finance (MSF in North America, or MSc in Finance in the UK/Europe) typically only have a few years of work experience and are looking to gain potentially prestigious and fast-tracked, yet more-or-less entry-level positions after they graduate.
Here’s four things you need to do before pursuing a master’s in finance:
1. Make sure it’s the right path for you
Up until recently, MBA programs were considered the holy grail of advanced business degrees; however, an increasing number of employers are now looking toward graduates of more focused programs to seek candidates with the specialized skills they need.
While an MBA is broader and can give a higher-level overview of business, an MSF is for those looking to deepen their understanding of finance specifically and gain the particular skill set necessary to excel in a financially-driven position. Softer skills like networking, negotiations, and the like are generally not the priority in these types of programs, so make sure that finance is truly your desired path before diving in.
Also, note that students in these types of programs are typically much earlier in their careers than the average MBA student, with generally only around one-to-two years of work experience. If you’ve got more experience or are unsure that an in-depth financial career is right for you, you may want to look elsewhere for an alternate advanced degree that may be a better fit.
2. Note that you won’t have a lot of downtime
With most programs lasting only one year or less, there is an immense body of knowledge to instill in a very short amount of time.
Expect some serious academic rigor with more exhaustive content than an MBA program, in addition to less emphasis on the networking and socializing opportunities central to many MBA programs. Expect to be fully immersed in all things finance for the entire duration of the program, and don’t expect to have a lot of free time along the way for self-reflection.
3. Have your career goals in mind before you start
MSF and MSc in Finance degrees are generally viewed as excellent pathways to building technical financial skills and knowledge that can help graduates break into specific finance jobs in areas like investment banking, corporate finance, or accounting. Knowing your target role early can help you further differentiate yourself to employers by allowing you to specialize in your desired field and dive even deeper into the area throughout the program.
This will not only demonstrate your passion and intention for the subject matter to employers, but can also help you make the most of your time in the program by allowing you to fully concentrate on gaining knowledge in the areas most beneficial to you.
4. Brush up before you begin
These types of programs generally do not start with a ‘Finance 101’ course and gradually ease into more advanced material. You’ll be expected to either catch on extremely quickly or have solid financial footing before you begin, as well as some familiarity with statistics and Excel.
An excellent source of foundational finance material is the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Level I curriculum. If you’ve taken at least the first level of the CFA exam already, great—you simply need to re-familiarize yourself with the material you’ve already studied. If not, try to find a friend or colleague in the field who has taken the exam and borrow their Level I books for self-guided study.
The CFA curriculum is probably the most comprehensive way of familiarizing yourself with the theories, background, and knowledge most useful to Master’s programs in Finance. In fact, several programs now incorporate several aspects of the CFA curriculum into their program material itself, so fully mastering the material may not only prepare you for the start of your journey but also give you a bit of a head start.
In addition to your finance-specific prep, make sure to do some brushing up on statistics as well – if you have a finance and/or business undergraduate degree, you likely already studied this at some point in the past; just make sure the general content is familiar.
With a solid foundation on the material and confidence that you’ve chosen the right path, you’ll be well on your way to making the most of your MSF or MSc in Finance program and embarking on an accelerated path toward your career goals.
Andrea Coulis is a senior tutor for MyGuru, a provider of online & in-person GMAT tutoring. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and an MBA from the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School.