They’re lucrative, prestigious and sometimes grueling. And while they may have gotten a bad rap for their role in the global economic crisis, financial services jobs continue to attract an enormous number of candidates — about 110,000 students this year applied for Deutsche Bank’s graduate scheme alone.
One way to set yourself apart from the pack is by obtaining a Master in Finance —or MSc in Finance—degree. The courses cover the nuts and bolts of finance — including investments, corporate finance, valuation, financial accounting, analysis — and often lead to well-paid jobs at top investment banks, asset managers, hedge funds and the like.
The courses, also referred to as MiFs or MFins, can be taken full-time, part-time, online or a combination of those methods. Some are designed for those fresh out of undergraduate studies, while others are aimed at experienced professionals in the finance sector.
Some Master in Finance programs help you specialize in facets of finance, like the MSc Investment & Wealth Management program at Imperial College Business School in London, or the MSc Financial Markets and Investments course at France’s Skema Business School.
But with so many courses, how can you pick the one that is right for you? “It can be a confusing market — we encourage our applicants to do their research,” says Dawna Levenson, assistant dean in the Office of Admissions at MIT Sloan School of Management, which offers a Master of Finance (MFin) course.
“Talk with current students and alumni. Participate in information sessions and visit campus if you have the opportunity. Curriculums can overlap, but cultures are unique and finding the right fit for you takes time and research.”
There are many considerations when choosing a course — not least quality of faculty, flexibility of curriculum, alumni network and opportunities post-graduation.
“A Master of Finance is an investment that should generate returns throughout a lifetime,” says Levenson.
The application requirements for Masters in Finance can vary.
At MIT Sloan, for example, in Massachusetts, entry requirements for the MFin include a bachelor’s degree, and the course is geared towards “high-tech” professionals such as financiers or engineers. The school receives approximately 1,700 applications each year for about 110-120 places on the program.
“Successful applicants join [the] program with proven academic excellence, strong personal accomplishments, professional promise, and a passion for finance,” Levenson says. “We look for a solid background in math and relevant exposure to the finance industry [via internships or other work experience].”
HEC Paris, whose MSc in International Finance course is currently ranked first globally by the Financial Times, is “extremely selective”, says Olivier Bossard, director of the course. It receives about 2,000 applications each year, but only 100 are admitted. And a 19 percent bump in applications this year, which Bossard puts down to Brexit uncertainty in the UK, means the French school has gotten even more selective.
Very high quantitate and analytical skills are prized, and HEC Paris pays close attention to the ranking of an applicant’s undergraduate school, their GPAs, letters of recommendation, and GMAT score — the average is typically about 710.
“Beyond passion, we are looking for candidates who have attributes to become the future leaders of tomorrow’s world,” says Bossard. “Being creative, innovative and at the same time being humble, and having a great team spirit are qualities we try to identify in all of our incoming students.”
Compared to an MBA, a general management degree for experienced managers that covers finance, and CFA exams for investment professionals, MSc programs in finance can generally be completed more quickly — most courses last a year, though some are longer — and provide deeper and broader technical content.
“Students go through a rigorous, quantitative curriculum that has a strong practical bent, equipping students with a framework to tackle problems rather than just applying brute force formulas,” says Marwa Hammam, executive director of the Master of Finance (MFin) course at Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK.
“One-year degrees have a higher cost-benefit ratio,” says Hammam. “Students face lower opportunity costs from being away from the [job] market.”
The intensity of the academics, plus networking, recruitment, internships and extracurricular activities, can be a challenge for students to manage. “But it is the same intensity they will encounter in their professional lives,” Hammam says. “The ability to manage their time while tackling coursework, job search, and family life is something [that is] highly prized by employers.”
At the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, Joep Elemans, director of the career services department, says that fresh finance master’s graduates have always been attractive to financial services organizations.
About half of the Dutch school’s MSc Finance & Investments graduates work in the financial services industry, while some go elsewhere.
Rotterdam runs a more advanced version of that MSc, and about a third of students from that course work in investment banking. “Employers value the specialized master’s [programs], as students are very committed, focused and determined to succeed in the financial sector. Together with high level financial knowledge, [the programs] give students a good starting point and good access to financial organizations.”
At MIT Sloan, students pursue early career finance roles across the
industry, from asset management, investment banking, venture capital and private equity, to fintech and the public sector. “Our graduates will go to the largest firms such as Goldman Sachs and BlackRock, to the well sought-after hedge funds like Citadel or AQR, and to small boutiques or startups,” says Heidi Pickett, assistant dean for the MFin program.
MIT Sloan’s most recent employment report revealed that 93 percent of eligible students received a full-time job offer within three months of graduation, with a medium salary of $80,000.
Data from the FT suggest that the returns are even greater later on in students’ careers. At HEC Paris, for instance, finance master’s students earn on average $135,873 three years after graduation — the highest in Europe.