Online Master’s in Finance From Selecting a Program to Advancing Your Career

find programs

Education and experience are the keys to a successful career in almost any field, including finance. A quality finance education provides knowledge that can be used in real-world applications, boosting business growth and ensuring a strong, vital economy. An advanced degree in finance, particularly an online master's in finance, helps students achieve the proper balance between learning and real-world practice.

Distance learning offers finance students a wide range of degree choices, along with the flexibility to fit academics into demanding work schedules. This guide is designed to help those individuals find the online master's degree program that best suits their lifestyle and professional goals.

Top Online Master's in Finance

Finance is a growing, bustling field; for students looking to go back to school to obtain their master’s in finance degrees, it can be difficult to find the time to fit classwork into their already busy lives. An online program can offer the flexibility needed to make pursing their master’s in finance a reality, though with so many programs now available, finding the perfect one can be a challenge.

Using our own methodology, GoGrad has scoured the field and ranked which online schools offer the very best in master’s in finance degrees. Below can be found all the information needed to discover a program offering the best in classes, flexibility and courses toward an online master’s in finance degree.

SCORE:  98.58 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: California

Golden Gate University-San Francisco students interested in earning their master’s degree in finance online can choose from a Master of Science degree or a Master of Business Administration degree. Those earning an MS will focus on role markets, financial decisions and financial statements, while students earning the MBA will look at corporate finance and global markets.

GGU offers an online demonstration class to help students get acquainted with the online classroom before starting classes. Students watch videos and participate in class projects via the online learning platform, and they must also contribute to discussion boards once per week.

  • Master of Accountancy
  • Master of Accountancy (accelerated)
  • MBA (Accounting)
SCORE:  95.79 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: New Hampshire

Southern New Hampshire University offers several graduate options for students interested in earning a finance degree online, including several Master of Science options and two Master of Business Administration options. Students interested in a Master of Science in Finance have two concentration options: Corporate Finance or Investments and Securities. Both degrees help students learn crucial financial concepts such as advanced economic theory and financial markets.

Online students at SNHU have access to several online resources, including technical support, the Shapiro Library and textbooks. Classes are presented through Blackboard, and students have 24/7 phone support for the learning platform if any issues arise.

  • MS in Accounting
  • MS in Accounting (Auditing)
  • MS in Accounting (Forensic Accounting)
SCORE:  95.40 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Nebraska

Students interested in earning their finance degree online can do so at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The degree is a Master of Business Administration, so students learn the basics of business, as well as the key concepts in finance. Students usually take two to four years earning the 48 required credits. Required core courses include Managerial Finance, Applied Organizational Behavior and Supply Chain Management.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln provides numerous resources for online students, including credit transfer assistance, technical support, library services and program advisers. There’s also an online student community where students can interact with one another.

  • MBA (Marketing)
  • MBA (Business Analytics)
  • MBA (Supply Chain Management)
SCORE:  94.58 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Illinois

Benedictine University offers an online MBA with a concentration in financial management. Students should gain a solid understanding of managerial finance that they can use in their workplace to rise in their career, or to strengthen their resume in a job search.

The program is 64 credits, including foundational and managerial MBA courses along with three courses specific to financial management: Cost Analysis, Profit Planning and Control; Theory and Practice of Financial Reporting; and Investment Theory and Portfolio Management. All classes are online, with small class sizes that allow students to interact closely with instructors and collaborate with peers.

  • MBA in Finance
  • MBA in Accounting
  • MBA in Entrepreneurship and Managing Innovation
SCORE:  94.49 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

Those earning a Master of Business Administration from Dallas Baptist University can choose a finance concentration. This degree has 36 credit-hours and can be completed online. Students study a variety of finance topics, like international financial markets, portfolio theory, risk management and more. Core courses like Managerial Accounting and Business Ethics comprise 24 of the required credits, while the other 12 credit-hours come from finance concentration courses such as Capital Markets and Institutions and Futures and Options.

DBU’s online classes are presented through the Blackboard learning platform. The university provides an online class demonstration so students can become familiar with how online classes work.

  • MAPD (Finance)
  • MBA (Finance)
  • MBA (Health Care Management)
SCORE:  93.80 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Alabama

Auburn University offers an online master’s program in finance geared towards professionals currently working in the field. The program has the same course content and rigor as the school’s on-campus finance master’s, and are taught by the same professors. Exams and assignments are also identical. Applicants should have completed several undergraduate prerequisites such as microeconomics and business analytics. Those lacking prerequisites may be able to enroll in the program but take these courses simultaneously with their master’s level courses.

Students can choose from many electives to specialize their degree towards their current or desired field of work. They include financial engineering, multinational financial management, advanced real estate finance and security analysis and management.

  • MS in Finance
  • Executive MBA
  • Master of Accountancy
SCORE:  93.43 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Indiana

Finance students at Indiana University complete 30 credit-hours of classes to earn their degree. While all classes take place online, there is a required 1-week orientation on the Bloomington campus before classes start. Students can complete the degree in 15 months, although they can take up to five years if necessary. This degree program covers numerous financial topics, including value creation, economics, risk management and capital markets in courses like Economics for Managers, Working Capital Management and Valuation and Capital Investments. Students also have the option of earning a Master of Business Administration through the university’s dual degree program.

  • MBA
  • MS in Finance
SCORE:  92.95 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Oklahoma

Oklahoma Wesleyan University’s online Master of Business Administration in Finance degree is designed for working professionals. As such, courses focus on advancing students’ careers. These courses include Advanced Managerial Accounting, Strategic Marketing Management and Leading Organizational Change. Students who earn this degree should have the skills necessary for executive managerial and administrative positions in government, business and nonprofit organizations.

OKWU’s online classes give students the flexibility to participate in classes at convenient times. The university says that students with the best online success have good time management and organizational skills, as well as self-motivation and good technical skills.

  • MBA (Finance)
  • MBA (Human Resources)
  • MBA (Marketing)
SCORE:  91.88 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Ohio

Youngstown State University has a Master of Fine Arts in Financial Economics degree that students can earn completely online. Key concepts covered during the program include application of advanced statistical software, financial models and econometric technique. Students take a mix of core courses and electives to earn their degree. Core courses include Macroeconomic Theory, Securities Analysis and Finance for Decision Making. Two of the three electives classes must be in economics, but the third can be in finance or economics.

YSU has multiple resources for potential online students, including an online class tour and a test that measures a student’s online readiness.

  • MA in Financial Economics
  • MBA
SCORE:  91.85 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Pennsylvania

Saint Joseph’s University has an online master’s degree in Financial Services that can be earned completely online. Students who earn this degree should be prepared to work in the financial sector. This degree explores the areas of portfolio management, tax planning, international finance and shareholder value management. Classes are held in 8- and 15-week formats. Students who earn this degree should be prepared to take the Certified Financial Planner exam as well.

Online students at SJU can attend a virtual open house before classes begin. They also have access to an online library, resource center and financial aid assistance.

  • MS in Financial Services
  • MBA
  • MBA (Executive Food Marketing)
SCORE:  91.45 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Georgia

The University of Georgia’s Master of Science in Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics degree program prepares students to take the Certified Financial Planner exam, as well as work in the field in areas like banking, brokerage and insurance. Students take 12 classes with their cohort group, six in each year of study. Each class lasts eight weeks. In the first year, students start with courses like Financial Planning and Analysis and Retirement Planning and Employee Benefits. Then they move on to courses like Estate Planning and Applied Theory and Research in Financial Planning in their second year.

  • MS in Financial Planning Housing and Consumer Economics
SCORE:  90.79 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Florida

Students interested in the world of flight can look to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide for a Master of Science in Aviation Finance, where they’ll learn about aircraft funding practices. All classes are available online, and are taught by faculty with business and financial industry experience and academic credentials. Students take part in classes like Strategic Marketing Management in Aviation, Advanced Aviation Economics and Air Transport Economic Modeling. At the end of the program students can either complete a research project in the field or complete an internship in finance, banking or leasing areas of the aviation or aerospace industry.

  • MS in Aviation Finance
  • MBA in Aviation
  • MBA in Aviation Management
SCORE:  90.54 CAREER COUNSELING: No JOB PLACEMENT: No STATE: California

Students earning a Master of Business Administration in Finance degree from Patten University earn 36 credits. In this program, students learn how to see business situations from a variety of perspectives, meet organizational goals and create marketing strategies. Key skills are learned in risk analysis, financial markets, portfolio management and investment analysis. Necessary classes include The Global Economy, Managerial Accounting and Risk Analysis and Insurance.

Students without an undergraduate degree in business have to show proof that they’ve taken college-level algebra and microeconomics courses. If they haven’t taken these courses, they must be completed before taking graduate-level courses.

  • MBA (Management)
  • MBA (Finance)
  • MBA (Health Care)
SCORE:  90.03 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Missouri

Culver-Stockton College has a Master of Business Administration in Accounting and Finance that can be earned completely online. The degree is 33 credit-hours and includes classes like Global Marketing Strategy, Investment Analysis and Data Analysis for Decision Making. There’s also a Strategic Management Capstone, which includes concepts and theories from previous classes.

Online classes at Culver-Stockton College allow students to turn in homework, attend lectures and have discussions with peers and instructors virtually. Online students have access to an online library, campus advisor and research sources. Each class is taught in an accelerated manner, and each class lasts eight weeks.

  • MBA (Accounting & Finance)
SCORE:  89.88 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Nebraska

Concordia University, Nebraska offers an online MBA with a concentration in finance that can be completed in two years. The program consists of 12 8-week courses: 24 credits of core MBA work, three finance courses and a capstone course. Students will learn about several key topics in finance, including real estate and small business investing, business analysis and modeling using financial statements and capital markets and institutions.

The program uses a cohort-based approach, putting students into small peer groups that progress through their courses together. These peers can be used for support during the program and to build a professional network after graduation.

  • MS in Accounting
  • MBA (Finance - Concordia Nebraska)
SCORE:  89.65 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus’ Master of Finance degree has both online and on-campus components. Classes take place online, but there’s also a mandatory residency experience. Students attend classes for five days, eight hours a day, at the Great Valley campus. Topics this degree program covers includes financial modeling, capital structure, multinational financial management and financial derivative securities.

Penn State’s online classes are the same as their traditional classes, in terms of topics and the level of challenge. Students progress though each class with a specific cohort, whom they meet during the residency experience.

  • MBA
  • Master of Finance
SCORE:  88.98 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Washington

The Master of Science in Computational Finance & Risk Management degree from the University of Washington-Seattle Campus is ideal for working professionals with solid math and quantitative skills. For this program, students take classes like Options & Derivatives, Monte Carlo Methods in Finance and Foundations of Electronic Trading. Students have three options for earning their degree: they can earn 42 credits in the general program, 54 credits with the risk management option or 54 credits with the computing option, which includes an internship.

Online students usually complete this degree part-time while they continue to work. As such, they usually complete less than 10 credits per quarter. However, students can choose to attend full-time with faculty approval.

  • MS in Computational Finance and Risk Management
SCORE:  84.52 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: No STATE: Florida

Students earning their Master of Business Administration degree online from Florida Institute of Technology-Florida Tech Online have two concentration choices in the area of finance, each with 36 credit-hours.

Those interested in accounting and finance receive a hands-on education that covers investment management, cost management and more. Core courses for this major include Managerial Economics, Financial Management and Organizational Behavior. Students earning a finance degree focus on cost management policy and investment management. Specialized courses include Financial Markets and Institutions and Portfolio Analysis. Both majors end in a capstone course, Strategic Management.

  • MBA
  • MBA in Accounting and Finance
  • MBA in Finance

Master’s in Finance vs. Master’s in Business Administration

While some may opt for an Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), others will find that the best choice for their career path is a master’s in finance, most commonly (but not always) designated as a Master of Science in Finance, or MSF. It’s important to understand the key differences between an MSF and an MBA.

Career Focus

Individuals concentrating strictly on the theory and practice of finance will likely benefit from an MSF program. For those with a broader interest in business, marketing and management, an MBA may be a better fit.

Course Offerings and Requirements

Depending on career focus, there will be different course offerings and requirements. MSF candidates will complete coursework in subjects including financial strategy, investment analysis, capital markets, valuation methods, stocks, bonds and derivatives. For MBA students, areas of study will include accounting, business strategy, manufacturing and production, human resources and operations management.

Completion Time

In most cases, an MSF degree can be completed with one to two years of graduate study, depending on how much time a student can devote to coursework. Students can expect to spend at least two—and more likely three—full years of study completing an MBA program.

Inside the Online Finance Master’s Degree

Although online master’s degree programs in finance are designed primarily with the working professional in mind, distance learning is also a popular option among students transitioning from an undergraduate degree. Whether pursued online or in a more traditional classroom setting, a master’s degree in finance or business administration is almost always a prerequisite for advancing into management or other finance leadership positions.

In most distance MSF programs, the degree can be earned either 100% online or with only a small (typically one week) on-site residency requirement. For many students, particularly those who have full-time jobs, this is essential to completing an advanced degree.

To meet the needs of working students, online degree programs provide tools and services to increase the chances of success. These include courses offered in asynchronous format; web-based access to libraries, textbooks, and other course materials; and software applications that allow for real-time interaction between students and instructors. In addition to these benefits, finance students should consider the following important factors when searching for an online master’s program:

Internships and Practical Experience

This is particularly significant for students who are moving directly from an undergraduate degree program to a master’s program. Competition in the job market among MSF graduates is fierce, and real-world experience is almost always a requirement for finding employment with a top-tier firm. Some graduate schools have even incorporated internships or practical experience opportunities into their finance degree curricula. Students should inquire about these options when considering an online MSF program.

Program Quality and Reputation

As the master’s in finance degree is a relatively new offering for most well-established universities and online degree providers, the quality and reputation of programs can vary substantially. It is important to fully research all potential programs. Check out the faculty backgrounds, paying particular attention to the instructors’ work experience outside of academia. HR directors at top corporations are likely to consider the quality of a school’s staff and reputation.

Program Accreditation and Professional Certification

Professional certification plays a significant role in the careers of most finance experts. Individuals often pursue one or more certifications offered by professional organizations, which indicates in-depth knowledge and expertise. Common certifications in the finance field include Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Certified Financial Consultant (CFC) and Financial Services Specialist (FSF), among many others. Some organizations grant certification only to applicants who hold a degree from a properly accredited and/or organization-approved graduate program. Make sure the online degree course you’re considering meets these criteria.

Career Services

Quality degree programs, online or otherwise, provide more than just superior classes taught by highly respected instructors. To help graduates land top-tier jobs and establish successful long-term careers, graduate programs should supplement coursework with solid career planning services. These should include resume preparation guidance, access to job recruiters and corporate headhunters, interview preparation, and instruction and practice in soft skills.

Specializations & Coursework

The finance field is broad, and includes segments of other closely related fields. By combining finance with other areas of study, students can customize their degree programs to stand apart from less specialized job seekers. Many finance degree providers, especially those with distance learning programs, supplement their MSF degrees with minors, concentrations or areas of specialization. Concentration subjects can vary widely among schools, but often have a connection to business or resource management. Below are just a few of the specializations offered by finance master’s programs:

Applied Business Management

With an applied business management specialization, finance students will learn practical skills in leading a business team or organization. Coursework typically includes subjects such as business strategy, product innovation, managerial accounting and human resource management. An MSF with a specialization in applied business management may serve as a viable and more efficient alternative to a full MBA degree program.

Corporate Executive

A corporate or business executive oversees the organization, sets corporate goals, and implements actions to meet those goals. Executives are typically elected to their positions by business owners, shareholders or a board of directors.

Financial Consultant

A financial consultant or financial advisor analyzes a client’s current financial status, creates plans to help the client meet his or her financial goals, and makes recommendations for future investments.

Management Analyst

Management analysts, or management consultants, analyze a company’s current organizational structure and make recommendations to improve efficiency.

Information Technology

With the explosion of big data, there is a growing need for professionals who can analyze and understand its ramifications on every sector of the global economy, including finance. Students choosing this specialization will learn how to integrate the latest IT innovations into financial systems and act as the link between businesses and their technology objectives.

Finance Security Specialist

This professional is responsible for developing and maintaining computer and network financial security systems for banks, corporations, governments and other financial institutions. Finance security specialists also train and advise support staff to ensure the security and efficiency of systems.

Financial Systems Director

Financial systems directors or managers are responsible for maintaining an organization’s financial systems, recommending new solutions and implementing system improvements. They may also design and develop financial reporting and interactive systems, as well as price and modeling tools.

IT Business Analyst

This tech-savvy finance role analyzes an organization’s IT requirements and processes, and makes recommendations for improving systems, applications, and automated processes. IT business analysts must have a solid understanding of application design, development and implementation.

International Financial Management

An international financial specialization is offered to finance students who are interested in working for a multi-national corporation, financial firm or non-profit organization. Topics include international trade, the international monetary system, global capital markets, international debt, business strategy in the global economy, multi-cultural and remote workforce management, and more. This specialization may be the ideal choice for professionals whose companies are looking to expand into overseas markets.

Foreign Currency / Investment Advisor

This specialist analyzes currency and other markets and makes recommendations to clients on international transactions and investments. These professionals must maintain up-to-date knowledge of global economics to help businesses achieve their global objectives.

International Management Consultant

International management consultants assist corporations and firms in facilitating and improving their activities in overseas markets. They often focus on specific business areas, such as sales, production, purchasing, distribution or human resources.

International Tax Specialist

This type of specialist analyzes tax laws and regulations both within and between nations. They are typically employed by multinational corporations as well as accounting and consulting firms. Tasks include researching the application of laws, completing tax forms, and facilitating capital optimization on a global level.

Money and Banking

Students choosing a money and banking specialization will focus on subjects including U.S. banking systems, money and credit, central bank policies, the global financial system, funds acquisitions, financial services companies, capital markets, investments and more. Graduates with a money and banking specialization will find employment opportunities in both the public and private sectors.

Chief Financial Officer

A chief financial officer, or CFO, oversees all financial activities for an organization. CFO duties include financial planning, managing income and expenses, and ensuring the accuracy of accounting procedures, financial reports and statements.

Financial Consultant

A financial consultant or financial advisor analyzes a client’s current financial status, creates plans to help the client meet his or her financial goals, and makes recommendations for future investments.

Investment Banker

An investment banker works raises and invests capital for businesses and other organizations in every sector of the economy. They also help to facilitate mergers and acquisitions and to restructure corporations.

Chief Financial Officer

A chief financial officer, or CFO, oversees all financial activities for an organization. CFO duties include financial planning, managing income and expenses, and ensuring the accuracy of accounting procedures, financial reports and statements.

Corporate Executive

A corporate or business executive oversees the organization, sets corporate goals, and implements actions to meet those goals. Executives are typically elected to their positions by business owners, shareholders or a board of directors.

Finance Security Specialist

This professional is responsible for developing and maintaining computer and network financial security systems for banks, corporations, governments and other financial institutions. Finance security specialists also train and advise support staff to ensure the security and efficiency of systems.

Financial Consultant

A financial consultant or financial advisor analyzes a client’s current financial status, creates plans to help the client meet his or her financial goals, and makes recommendations for future investments.

Financial Systems Director

Financial systems directors or managers are responsible for maintaining an organization’s financial systems, recommending new solutions and implementing system improvements. They may also design and develop financial reporting and interactive systems, as well as price and modeling tools.

Foreign Currency / Investment Advisor

This specialist analyzes currency and other markets and makes recommendations to clients on international transactions and investments. These professionals must maintain up-to-date knowledge of global economics to help businesses achieve their global objectives.

International Management Consultant

International management consultants assist corporations and firms in facilitating and improving their activities in overseas markets. They often focus on specific business areas, such as sales, production, purchasing, distribution or human resources.

International Tax Specialist

This type of specialist analyzes tax laws and regulations both within and between nations. They are typically employed by multinational corporations as well as accounting and consulting firms. Tasks include researching the application of laws, completing tax forms, and facilitating capital optimization on a global level.

Investment Banker

An investment banker works raises and invests capital for businesses and other organizations in every sector of the economy. They also help to facilitate mergers and acquisitions and to restructure corporations.

IT Business Analyst

This tech-savvy finance role analyzes an organization’s IT requirements and processes, and makes recommendations for improving systems, applications, and automated processes. IT business analysts must have a solid understanding of application design, development and implementation.

Management Analyst

Management analysts, or management consultants, analyze a company’s current organizational structure and make recommendations to improve efficiency.

The best way to determine whether an MSF degree is a good fit is to look at the curriculum of a typical graduate program. Below is a list of real classes that prospective MSF students can expect to encounter:

Corporate Finance and Financial Accounting

This course covers the basics of financial statements, the analysis and recording of transactions, and the fundamentals of financial accounting. Topics may include stockholders equity, inventories, bonds and other liabilities, long-term productive assets, statements of changes in financial position, and many others. Students gain the skills to effectively use and interpret financial statements and disclosures.

Commodities and Managed Futures

Students will explore the cash and futures markets for commodities such as metals, grains, energy and soft products, as well as equity investments in commodity-related firms. The course also covers the role of commodity market players, including institutional investors, hedgers and speculators. Other subjects include the value of commodities in an institutional portfolio, commodity trading advisers, commodity pool operators and the managed futures industry.

Critical Thinking and Effective Writing

This course is designed to help students develop critical thinking skills. Using a number of written formats, students will study analytic and persuasive skills with an emphasis on developing reasoned positions, identifying critical issues, and composing compelling written arguments.

Venture Capital and Investment Banking

This course examines the role that venture capitalists and investment bankers play in advising, financing and influencing companies through the initial public offering process. Additional subjects include compensation valuation, interaction between venture capital and economic activity, the structure of venture capital funds, the staging of investments, and legal, social and ethical issues.

Financial Econometrics

Students will learn how finance applies to econometric and statistical methods. Covered topics include linear factor pricing and portfolio problems, predictability of asset returns and volatilities, value at risk and extremal events, vector autoregressive and maximum likelihood methods in finance, estimation methods for continuous time models, nonparametric statistical methods for option pricing, and many others.

Structured Fixed Income Portfolios

This course deals with the valuation, characteristics and risk management of fixed income instruments. Specific topics include default swaps, inflation indexed securities, mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities, interest rate derivatives, repos and bonds. Term structured modeling and hedging techniques are also discussed.

Business Plan Fundamentals and Communications

In addition to the development of business plans, this course also covers oral and written business communications. Students will construct their own business plans with a focus on securing financial support and human resources. They will also gain communication skills to help them identify critical issues, display data, employ visual aids, present reasoned positions, and make compelling arguments in written and oral format.

Raising Capital in Silicon Valley

Directed toward entrepreneurs, this class examines the practical side of raising capital in Silicon Valley. After a brief history of local venture capital, topics include contacting investors, valuing an idea or company, crafting an effective business plan, presenting to investors and crafting exit strategies.

Early-Stage Company Building and Valuations

This course discusses the building and valuation of early-stage companies with revenue between 0 and $20 million. Topics include potential pitfalls, team-building techniques, product definition, pricing issues and early market identification.

Carbon Markets and Climate Risk

This course provides a working knowledge of the risks and opportunities arising from climate change and policy. Subjects include the effect of carbon regulations and cap-and-trade, as well as how climate change impacts business procedures. Students will learn about emerging tools to help businesses endure the physical, operational, and financial aspects of climate change.

Timeline of the Online Master’s in Finance

Most MSF programs are designed to be completed between one and two years. Many programs, especially those offered online, offer flexibility for working students. While non-working students may only need a year or so to complete their MSF, others will require as long as two years or more.

Additionally, length of study is sometimes determined by a student’s prior finance knowledge, work experience, mathematical aptitude or future job prospects. Although circumstances will vary, below is a typical timeline for completing an online MSF degree.

Year 0

“Year 0” refers to that period of time before actually entering graduate school, when a student is ready to apply to one or several master’s programs. In addition to getting good undergraduate grades and ideally some job experience, the key to getting accepted is submitting a complete, compelling application package within the deadline. The college application process varies greatly between the undergraduate and graduate levels. Below are the two most basic differences:

Undergraduate students typically apply to the institution as a whole. On the graduate level, a student applies directly to a specific academic department. The master’s in finance application and supporting documents must meet the criteria and standards of the finance department’s admissions committee.

The graduate application process is typically more complex, requiring more detailed information pertaining to the area of study. Along with the standard application form, official academic transcripts, and standardized test scores, a candidate will likely have to submit one or more letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and/or a personal statement.

There is little to no difference in application requirements between an online program and a traditional on-site master’s degree program. All candidates must abide by the rules and due dates. Here are a few important tips to keep in mind:

Candidates must meet all submission deadlines for the standard application form and supporting documents, standardized test scores (such as the GRE), and letters of recommendation. We recommend creating a calendar with all due dates.

The first important deadlines will likely be applying for and completing a standardized test, in most cases either the GRE or GMAT. Candidates should apply in a timely manner and complete the test no later than September or October of the year prior to the program start date (assuming studies begin with fall semester). Students should consider taking practice tests and/or a test preparation course.

Contact the faculty members or other people from whom you are requesting letters of recommendation no later than September or October of the year prior to the program start date. Provide each writer with all of the necessary information to create a persuasive letter, including the submission deadline.

The prior September or October is also the time to start researching financial aid resources. Familiarize yourself with all application requirements and deadlines. You will likely be required to file for any fellowships or other aid sources in November or December.

Allow plenty of time to write the statements of purpose and personal statements. These will likely play a major role in the finance admissions committee’s decision. Most programs provide a clear description of their criteria for these statements.

Follow up with everyone: the programs to which you’ve applied, financial aid sources, interviewers, letters of recommendation writers, and others. Polite, proactive communications will show the admissions department that you are committed and enthusiastic.

Year 1

For MSF students in a 2-year or self-paced format, the first-year curriculum will focus on subjects that include investment and analysis, as well as managerial and corporate finance. These core courses provide students with a solid foundation in economics, mathematics, probability and statistics. During this first year of study, MSF students will also have the opportunity to explore potential career options and choose elective courses that will prepare them for their chosen area of specialization.

Year 2

In the second year of study, finance master’s students will focus on coursework in advanced topics and, in some programs, will choose from two or more curriculum paths. The titles and subject matter of these paths will vary among programs. Examples include Energy Finance, Asset or Investment Management, and Corporate Finance or Consulting.

MSF students not currently employed in the finance field should consider completing a work-study or internship program, especially between years one and two or during year two. Work experience is often the determining factor for employers hiring new MSF degree graduates.

Master’s in Finance: an Insider Perspective

Sam Carrara earned a Master of Finance online and proceeded to start his own successful financial planning company. Carrara acquired his Certified Financial Planner (CFP) credentials soon after. He offers three pieces of advice for current students within master’s degree programs in finance:

Making money should be the effect, not the cause of what we do.

No matter how far into the financial world a student may go, it is still about the people with whom we work and serve.

During prosperity, be cautious; during adversity, be patient.

All current circumstances will change – bad to good, good to mediocre, etc. Think and plan head.

There is a ledger larger than yours.

Life is not always about the numbers. There are other important investments to make – family, faith, giving back. All of these are things which we should buy into.

The Cost of an Online Finance Master’s Program

Is an MSF degree worth the investment? The answer depends on the individual student. However, there are a number of ways to quantify the costs and expected returns of a finance master’s program.

Weighing the Costs

Whether pursued on-site or online, a college degree can be expensive. Although some of the costs of a traditional degree program don’t apply with distance education, there will always be a substantial expense for tuition, fees, books and more. In looking at several online MSF degree programs from a variety of schools, both public and private, tuition alone can average in the low- to mid- $20,000 range. Some quality programs are available for just under $20,000, and a few exceed $30,000.

The Payoff

The costs of a college degree must be weighed against the student’s potential earning power. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is an excellent source of information on salaries, education requirements, and job outlook. According to the latest BLS figures (2013), annual wage averages for financial analysts—one of the most popular job titles for MSF graduates—are as follows:

Salaries for communications professionals vary significantly depending on their occupation. As an example, let’s look at a public relations specialist, a common choice for some communications graduates. Below are salaries for public relations specialists in 2013:

Top 10 % $152,420
Median (50%) $78,380
Bottom 10% $48,100

Another study from the Sloan School of Management at MIT offers the following base salary figures for its Class of 2014 Master in Finance graduates:

High $115,000
Median $72,000
Low $35,000

While earning an MSF does not guarantee higher salaries, it does increase the potential for greater earnings and job opportunities as compared to a bachelor’s degree in finance.

Growth Industries in Finance

According the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook for Financial Analysts, the Department of Labor expects employment for financial analysts to grow by 16 percent between 2012 and 2022. By comparison, BLS predicts a 13 percent growth in total business and financial operations occupations and 11% growth for all occupations during that same period. Even more impressive is the expected job growth for personal financial advisors: the BLS predicts a 27 percent growth rate during the same 10-year period. The chart below shows BLS forecasts for job growth in several finance-related occupations:

Occupation
Expected Growth in Hiring
Management Analysts
19%
Financial Analysts
16%
Economists
14%
Securities, Commodities and Financial Sales Agents
11%
Financial Managers
9%
Budget Analysts
6%

Alternative Career Paths for Finance Master’s Graduates

If you’re looking for a career path outside of the traditional roles of financial consultant, business analyst or investment banker, there are some alternative options for online master’s in finance graduates. Here are a few examples:

  • Finance Software Developer

    With the emphasis on “big data” technology, there is a growing demand for experts to develop programs that can manipulate and utilize information. Tech-savvy graduates with MSF degrees will likely be in a good position to pursue a career in finance software development.

  • Military Finance Officer

    In this role, graduates can leverage their finance knowledge while providing an important service to their country. Military finance officers serve on active duty or in their branch’s reserve. They begin their careers by purchasing equipment, supplies and services. As they move to higher ranks, they take on greater responsibilities, such as negotiating contracts, creating budgets and forecasts, and much more. Students interested in military service are often compensated for their finance education costs and receive additional training in leadership and management.

  • Entrepreneur

    Startups need financial services just as much as older, well-established companies – maybe more so. Having a strong finance professional on the ground-level of a new business can make the difference between success and failure. If an MSF graduate is willing to take a risk for a chance at big rewards, becoming an entrepreneur could be the way to go.