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MS Finance vs. MBA in Finance: Which One is Right for You?

Sep 11, 2019
Four must-know facts for candidates debating between a Master of Science in Finance or an MBA finance concentration

By Jong Eun Jung

So you want to attend a finance graduate program — but you’re not sure whether a Master of Science in Finance (MSF) or an MBA finance concentration is the right fit for your career goals. While both of these degrees are offered by business schools, they’re tailored to different types of candidates, and set you up for slightly different jobs after graduation. Here’s what you need to know as you weigh your options.

It depends on your background and experience level.

Maura Clark

Most MS Finance programs are designed for students two years or less out of undergrad, with minimal finance experience. On the other hand, most MBA students have an average of 4-5 years experience. Usually, the students debating between the two programs have two or three years of experience, so they’re right on the edge. “I always encourage them to talk to (an MSF recruiter and) an MBA recruiter, because it’s really going to be very unique to each person of why and when they want to get a graduate degree and what they want to do,” said Maura Clark, the Director of Admissions for the Vanderbilt Business MSF program.

The curriculum of the two degrees are different.

The biggest distinction between these two degrees are the paths to graduation. The MBA is two years long while MS Finance programs usually take half that. For example, the MSF at Vanderbilt Business is 10 months long. “Because (the MSF is) a one year program, it’s very intense,” said Betsy Karounos, Senior Associate Director of Academic Programs

The difference in program length is due to the curriculum. For the MSF program, both core classes and electives must all be focused in finance. On the other hand, as a generalized degree, an MBA has more leeway. Out of the 62 required credits at Vanderbilt Business, 23 are for core courses that build up a foundation in general management in the first year. Out of the remaining credits, 12 can be used for the finance concentration.

While an MSF is more concentrated, an MBA has more flexibility.

Betsy Karounos

While MSF students at certain programs, including Vanderbilt Business, can choose some electives, they must all fall within the field of finance. Meanwhile, MBA candidates can complete more than one concentration, so a student could specialize in both finance and marketing for example. In addition, MBAs have access to a broader range of courses to hone different kinds of skills beyond just finance. The flexibility of the curriculum also allows an MBA student to switch tracks if they decide finance isn’t for them after taking a core introduction class. “There are some things that are available to (MBA candidates) that are not to MSF, such as the opportunity to fill their tool box with other skills (that can help them get) a management position,” Karounos said.

There are different starting points on the career path.

Although MSFs and MBAs can have potentially similar career paths, such as investment banking, they have different starting positions. After earning an MSF, students will go into entry-level positions, while MBA graduates will usually be recruited into mid-level manager roles. “So within finance, we see MBA graduates — if we use banking as the example — going in as associates, whereas our MSF students going into banking start as analysts,” Clark explained.

Since the starting points are different, so are the salaries: MBAs will have higher starting salaries than MSFs since they already have past work experience, have learned more business skills than just finance, and therefore secure higher-level roles after graduation. This can be seen by comparing the Classes of 2018, where MBAs had an average starting salary of $111,168 while MSFs had one of $71,530.

So, which program is right for you?

If you’re still debating between an MS Finance and an MBA finance concentration, Clark recommends that you talk to each school about the options to see whether an MSF or an MBA is right for you. “I think it’s very individual to the person and where they are at that point. So I always encourage candidates to call schools and talk to the admissions representatives,” she said.

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