Master of Science in Finance or MBA in Finance: What’s the Difference?

Undoubtedly, earning any advanced degree can have benefits to your career. The question is, though, which degree is the best for you and your goals? In some industries, degree programs that sound similar may actually be quite different, and choosing one over the other can have a lasting effect on your career.

One such example is the decision between a Master of Science in Finance and MBA in Finance program. At first glance, it might appear that they are the same thing, as they have similar names. However, when you explore these programs in greater detail, it becomes clear that they are actually quite different from one another, and which one is best for you depends on a few key factors.

masters degree

Program Differences in a Nutshell

Many people automatically assume that an MBA is their best option if they seek a career in business and want to reach the executive suite. And for some, that is true. An MBA is ideal for someone who wants to work in a management role. Coursework in an MBA program, which usually takes between two and four years to complete depending on if the student is full or part-time, tends to focus on a wide array of business topics, including management, accounting, economics, marketing, and yet, finance. Most MBA students opt to specialize in a particular aspect of business — hence the MBA in Finance designation — but the finance-related courses are studied in conjunction with the core subjects. The overall goal of most MBA programs is to prepare students for executive positions in a variety of industries, as the skills are highly transferrable.

A Master of Science in Finance, on the other hand, is highly focused and specialized. Usually completed within two years, coursework focuses almost exclusively on finance. More specifically, student can expect to take classes in financial theory, reporting, and analysis, as well as investments, markets, quantitative finance, and math. Some programs also include a leadership or management component, with those skills being examined through the lens of finance, but in general, MSF students do not take the general business courses associated with an MBA.

Students who enroll in an MSF program are those who want to land leadership positions in the financial industry. Often, those who wish to earn the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, a prestigious credential earned via a rigorous educational program and exam, opt to earn a Master of Finance degree, since the coursework usually dovetails with the principles on the CFA exams. In fact, many professionals find that their graduate program prepared them for the first part of the exam without any additional education.

Admissions, Career Potential and More

MBA in Finance and MSF programs tend to attract different types of students. MBA candidates, in general, tend to be those who have a few years of work experience under their belts and who are looking to build upon that foundation and move up the career ladder. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of MBA candidates who go to graduate school directly upon completing their undergraduate degrees, but overall, most MBA students have some work experience.

MSF programs, on the other hand, tend to attract a younger student base, as many students go right into the programs from college in order to improve their prospects in the job market. That’s not to say that experienced professionals cannot benefit from an MSF program, especially given that most are part-time and more easily integrated with a career than MBA programs, but for those looking to make headway in the financial field quickly, an MSF is a viable option.

One area in which MSF and MBA in Finance programs do align, though, are in career prospects and earning potential. Those who hold an MSF tend to move into more executive than management roles, but in either case, an experienced professional can expect to earn a salary of between $75,000 and $125,000 per year, depending on the market and specific position.

Finance specific master’s degrees are relatively new on the academic scene, but as more students look for alternatives to increasingly competitive MBA programs, or question the value of an MBA to their career goals, they will become more popular. So as you explore your option for business graduate degrees, consider where you hope to go with your career, and whether an MBA or a more specialized degree would be the best path to get there.