Earning a Master's in Finance Online

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A finance degree can lead to many career opportunities. For example, any company that earns or invests money needs qualified individuals to oversee its economic decisions, and a graduate degree in finance demonstrates a candidate's abilities to accomplish these tasks.

Studying finance also introduces students to a variety of technologies, preparing them for positions in multiple industries. For instance, employees who handle financial records must keep information secure, and knowledge related to cybersecurity elements proves useful to any company that works with private information.

This page explores how an online master's in finance helps increase career opportunities, what learners can expect from these types of programs, and the different resources available to students pursuing their degrees.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Finance?

Finance professionals who want to progress into advanced or higher-paying positions should consider earning an online master's in finance. This degree can also help learners pursue careers in specialized areas. For example, degree seekers can choose a healthcare focus to prepare for financial careers working at hospitals or insurance companies. Some colleges also provide professional certification tracks as part of or in addition to graduate programming.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Finance?

Pursuing Specialization

Students interested in an online master's in finance can choose from several specializations, including corporate finance, global finance trading, portfolio management, and capital markets. Each of these pathways prepare degree seekers for employment in multiple fields. For example, corporate finance programs teach students economic concepts that relate to all industries that earn or invest money. Graduates also build analytical skills that prove useful in any problem-solving career.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Candidates who earn an online master's in finance can more easily advance into high-level positions. For instance, organizations may require primary fund managers to hold a master's or doctoral degree. These advanced financial analyst positions pay a median salary of $165,580. Alternatively, general financial analyst positions, many of which do not require an advanced degree, hold a median salary of $84,300. These numbers indicate that higher-level employees who typically need a master's degree can earn nearly twice as much as workers in lower-level positions.

Online Learning Technology

To obtain an online master's in finance, students use technology to access classrooms, interact with classmates, and communicate with professors. Additionally, learners encounter software and applications that specifically deal with finance. Working with these technologies can help prepare candidates for employment, since finance workers use computer-based means to store and analyze data and virtually communicate with clients around the world.

Prerequisites for Online Finance Programs

Each master's in finance program sets its own entrance requirements. Since these details vary between institutions, candidates should consult their schools of interest to learn about specifics. For a general overview of possible prerequisites, learners can consult the following list.

    • Work Experience: Some schools require applicants to hold work experience in a finance position, while other institutions simply give preference to candidates with related experience. Either way, a finance background can help students earn admission into top graduate programs. Applicants should ask potential schools about specifics, such as how many years of experience they need.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Some schools ask students to submit test scores such as their Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) results. Although many schools do not have required minimum scores, applicants usually need to submit test results from the last five years.
    • Coursework: Applicants to graduate programs should hold a bachelor's degree, although this does not necessarily need to be in a finance-related field. However, students from other fields may need to complete prerequisite courses in calculus and statistics. Students may need a minimum undergraduate GPA -- oftentimes 3.0 or higher -- to pursue an online master's in finance at certain schools. Additionally, learners with an especially high GPA may receive waivers for GRE/GMAT requirements.
    • Recommendations: Students typically need to submit recommendation letters written by community leaders, professional supervisors, and/or college professors. Colleges and universities may also require the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of these references. Candidates should contact letter-writers before giving their information to schools and give recommenders several weeks to construct these documents.
    • Essays: Departments may ask applicants to submit previously written essays or other writing samples. Additionally, learners may need to create new essays based on prompts or personal statements outlining their interest in the field.
    • Interviews: Some online master's in finance programs require candidates to submit to an interview. This admissions step may only apply to students who pass an initial screening process and earn a subsequent interview invitation. Institutions may ask candidates to complete interviews in person, online, or by phone.
    • International Students: International learners may need to complete an English proficiency exam, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the Pearson Test of English Academic, or the International English Language Testing System. Schools may also use World Education Services to assess transcripts from international schools.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Finance?

Earning an online master's in finance prepares graduates for many traditional finance careers, such as budget analyst, creditor counselor, and accountant. The BLS reports that employees in business and financial operations occupations earn an average annual salary of $76,330, with the 10th percentile averaging $37,690 and the 90th percentile averaging $123,000. These positions may also require field experience, which workers can earn through entry-level finance positions or internships. Candidates can also pursue less traditional career paths as technical writers, computer programmers, and college educators focusing on finance.

Traditional Careers for MSF's

Career Stats Description

Controller or Financial Manager

Median Pay: $125,080

Job Growth: 19%

Financial managers operate and oversee financial practices and planning for companies in nearly every industry. Candidates must manage fellow employees, prepare financial strategies, and supervise financial pursuits for organizations. They often work in an office setting.

Ideal for: Candidates with strong communication and mathematical skills who can multitask and make informed decisions.

Financial Examiner

Median Pay: $81,690

Job Growth: 10%

These examiners frequently work in consumer compliance or risk management to assess the influences of policies on a company's finances. Candidates oversee bank transactions, consider potential loans, create reports, and teach other employees to supervise financial operations.

Ideal for: Finance graduates with an eye for detail and good writing, communication, and mathematical abilities.

Actuary

Median Pay: $101,560

Job Growth: 22%

An actuary determines the likelihood of risks and takes steps to lessen their impact through insurance plans and financial investments. These workers may develop visual aids and written documentation to outline analyses for clients, organizations, and shareholders.

Ideal for: Candidates with an eye for detail, a desire to solve problems, and solid interpersonal skills.

Senior Accountant

Median Pay: $69,350

Job Growth: 10%

Accountants supervise and review financial records for accuracy and lead companies in making financial decisions. Additional tasks may include preparing tax payments, determining ways to lower expenses, and delivering information to clients in person or through reports.

Ideal for: Organized and detail-oriented candidates with developed communication and mathematical abilities.

Non-Traditional Careers for MSFs

Career Stats Description

Auditor

Median Pay: $69,350

Job Growth: 10%

Auditors examine financial records for lost funds, unreported money, and fraud. They may also advise companies on ways to prevent these issues. Auditors can find positions within companies or do contract work for private clients.

Ideal for: Candidates who hold an interest in numbers and carrying out investigations.

Computer Programmer

Median Pay: $82,240

Job Growth: -7%

Computer programmers create code for new software and applications. They also test existing technologies for potential flaws that might require correction. Candidates with an expertise in finance can focus on software and applications related to the field.

Ideal for: Individuals with an understanding of computer languages and financial concepts.

Financial Analyst

Median Pay: $84,300

Job Growth: 11%

These analysts help companies determine favorable investments based on current trends, the company's goals, and the company's present finances. Additional responsibilities may include discussing opportunities with clients, evaluating stocks, managing portfolios, and creating reports.

Ideal for: Candidates with good computer, communication, mathematical, and problem-solving abilities.

Financial Technical Writer

Median Pay: $70,930

Job Growth: 11%

Technical writers put together information and instructional guides such as how-to manuals. These written works present complicated ideas in relatively simplified terms and may include visual aids. Writers may need to update documents based on feedback and product revisions.

Ideal for: Candidates who enjoy writing, understand finance, and excel at teaching others new skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Finance

Educational costs vary widely between schools, with certain details influencing tuition costs. For instance, public schools often charge lower tuition than private schools, and in-state students usually pay lower tuition than out-of-state candidates. Furthermore, the pace at which a student progresses through their course of study can impact expenses. As an example, a student at a school that charges tuition per term can save money by studying full time or at an accelerated pace. Alternatively, some schools charge by the credit, which may appeal to part-time learners.

Fortunately, no matter the program type, students can apply for financial aid to help mitigate their out-of-pocket expenses, and some scholarships specifically target individuals pursuing finance degrees.

Tuition Timelines

Candidates can pursue a master's in finance as a part-time, full-time, or accelerated-pace student. Since this decision can impact tuition costs and program length, learners should consider each option carefully to determine which format best matches their academic and career goals.

Part-Time Path

A part-time path allows candidates to take fewer classes each term. This approach may benefit working professionals, but extends the graduation timeline.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: The University of Michigan-Dearborn
Total Credits Required: 30
Summary: Part-time students can earn their degrees in about 18 months, depending on course load. Students must also pay a $390 fee each term, making full-time enrollment cheaper than part-time enrollment.

Full-Time Path

Graduate students studying full time often take three or four classes per term and complete programs more quickly than part-time learners.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: John Hopkins University
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: Full-time learners can finish this program in one year; in contrast to part-time candidates, full-time students do not pay tuition per credit. Learners must also pay a $500 matriculation fee.

Accelerated Path

This type of program allows students to take extra classes in order to graduate faster.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Miami
Total Credits Required: 32
Summary: Instead of full semesters, students take one course at a time in a 16-month sequence. The total program costs $64,960.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Tuition, fees, housing, and textbooks can cost thousands of dollars for a single semester. Learners who cannot pay for these expenses out of pocket can apply for grants, loans, and scholarships to receive assistance.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Finance Program

Earning an online master's in finance typically requires students to complete 30-38 credits, and participants can graduate in 12-18 months. During their course of study, learners may complete internships and seminars and explore technology and software used in practical settings. Departments prepare candidates to plan and analyze financial needs on a global scale, while also building interpersonal skills and allowing learners to explore field niches, including risk management, capital markets, and investments. Program details vary, but most degree tracks share common core curricula, credit requirements, and milestones.

Major Milestones

  1. Capstone - Final Program Requirement

    The capstone is a comprehensive synthesis of the program's curriculum. A capstone course may focus on a particular financial element, such as financial management. Depending on the program, students may create a research paper, confront an issue in the field, design a financial plan, analyze a case, or fulfill fieldwork to meet this requirement.

  2. Internship - No Specific Time During Program

    An internship allows candidates to gain field experience while working toward an online master's in finance. Students undertake these experiences at companies or organizations, typically under the supervision of a professional. Programs may also require students to submit reports based on their internships.

  3. Thesis - Final Program Requirement

    Many graduate departments ask students to complete a thesis, although the details for this requirement vary. For instance, some students need to write a long report and give a verbal defense of their thesis, while other departments do not require a defense.

  4. Licensure Preparation - Varies

    Candidates can consult with advisers to determine what, if any, certifications or licenses they should pursue to qualify for their intended careers. In some cases, students can apply for these credentials before graduation. For instance, individuals can pursue a bachelor's-level certification while working on their master's degree.

  5. Seminar - Varies

    Students pursuing an online master's in finance may need to attend a seminar or series of seminars, during which they learn from field experts about current financial matters. Departments may require participants to attend seminars at any point during the program.

  6. Graduation - End of Program

    Candidates may need to apply for graduation, pay a fee, complete a survey, and/or submit a portfolio at the end of their program to earn an online master's in finance.

Coursework

Finance coursework varies among schools, due in part to the different specializations offered. However, most finance programs teach students similar foundational business and accounting concepts. For this reason, learners can expect to encounter some of the following courses, regardless of where they attend school.

Risk Management

These classes teach learners to detect and evaluate business risks that can negatively impact finances. Students learn to deal with risks and oversee the execution of risk management plans through internal and external means. Participants also explore tools and techniques used to determine and alleviate risks, then examine how these threats affect businesses.

Financial Accounting

Candidates learn the financial theories needed to guide companies, such as how to manage investments and production costs. Faculty may use case studies to cover topics like recordkeeping and the importance of timing. The course can also advance students' communication, decision-making, and analytical skills.

Corporate Finance

These courses train learners to determine the value of potential investments, the risks associated with financial endeavors, and the extended consequences of investments. Covered topics include capital budgeting, pricing models, and liability. Students explore these concepts through practical and theoretical means.

Business Communication

Coursework covers the written and verbal communication skills needed to excel in businesses, including choosing effective communication approaches and delivering professional messages. Students may learn about specific citation formats such as APA. Learners explore these concepts by completing presentations, written assignments, and interactive group projects.

Financial Modeling

These classes cover ways to assess financial opportunities through computer-based methods such as spreadsheets and other finance-specific software. Students learn to use these tools for budgeting and assessing financial pathways. Coursework may cover important theories and strategies used to develop financial plans and statistics-related concepts.

Requirements to Practice

An online master's in finance provides a strong foundation for finance careers; however, the diverse nature of the field can lead to less-focused core coursework. For this reason, candidates should consider earning additional licenses and/or certifications that specifically align with their target career. As an example, a student who earns a master's in finance can obtain a certified healthcare financial professional credential to prove their expertise in that setting. Some careers require specific certifications. These credentials may require students to complete additional work, education, and/or examinations.

    • Certified Financial Planner: This certification prepares candidates to offer financial guidance in an ethical way, as determined by the CFP Board. Applicants must hold sufficient field experience and complete applicable coursework, which may be fulfilled by earning a degree in finance with a capstone project. Candidates must also take the CFP certification examination, which is administered during a seven-hour appointment and costs $595-$795.
    • Certified Management Accountant: Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) members can earn this certification if they hold a bachelor's degree or relevant certification and at least two years of finance-related experience. Candidates must adhere to IMA's ethical guidelines and pass the first and second parts of the CMA exam within three years. Applicants pay $311 and $415 for each exam section. This credential prepares individuals to work as budget analysts, treasurers, senior accountants, and internal auditors.
    • Certified Government Financial Manager: The Association of Government Accountants (AGA) awards this certification, which demonstrates a professional's ability to perform financial services for the government. Recipients must uphold AGA's ethical guidelines, hold a bachelor's degree, and pass three examinations. Each exam costs $125 and contains 115 questions. Candidates must have also earned at least two years of related work experience to earn this certification.
    • Financial Risk Manager: Individuals must complete parts one and two of the FRM exam within four years. These exams cover topics such as risk measurement and quantitative analysis. In total, the exam costs $350-$650. Candidates also need to submit proof of related work experience within five years of completing both assessments. FRM recipients can obtain positions with many finance organizations, including Wells Fargo and Citigroup.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Professional organizations often host events where members can learn about current finance trends and interact with other workers in the field. These organizations may supply certification and credential opportunities, as well as coursework that can help with career advancement. These educational opportunities often count towards any continuing education requirements that candidates need to renew their licenses or certifications. Some organizations also help members with career searches and provide assistance with job applications. Current finance students and graduates can take advantage of the following groups and resources.

  • Institute of Management Accountants: This institute offers the CMA certification and the certified in strategy and competitive analysis credential. IMA members also gain access to conferences, webinars, career guidance, and courses on ethics and financial planning.
  • Healthcare Financial Management Association: This association hosts seminars, virtual events, webinars, and a yearly conference. It also awards several certifications, including a certified revenue cycle representative credential.
  • National Association of Personal Financial Advisors: NAPFA hosts a fall conference and delivers webinars and ethics trainings. The association also offers self-study opportunities, provides members with discounts, and supplies guidance to help members find internships and job opportunities.
  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants: This institute awards several certifications, including options in cybersecurity, forensic accounting, and risk management. It also distributes publications, including the Journal of Accountancy.
  • American Finance Association: This association publishes the Journal of Finance and hosts events around the world on topics like financial modeling and research. Members can also submit resumes and connect with potential employers through the site.
  • Wall Street Journal: This publication provides information on U.S. and foreign politics and economics. Students can use WSJ's website to research finance topics -- including the stock market and real estate -- for academic assignments and personal advancement.
  • MarketWatch: This site helps keep individuals updated on the stock market and provides insight related to retirement, real estate, and investments. Students and professionals can create profiles and watchlists to keep track of important information.
  • Forbes: Individuals can visit this site to explore financial concepts, such as lucrative cities for starting businesses and the consequences of taking out student loans. Forbes also provides tips for using social media and information related to cybersecurity.
  • Business Insider: Finance students and graduates can explore global market trends through this source. They can also read about general tips, such as how to best use credit cards and how to find work as a freelancer.
  • The Economist: This source delivers U.S. and global finance information, including news about trade deals and the benefits of including new companies on the stock market. The Economist also hosts group events and summits.