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Is it Better to Get a Master's in Finance or an MBA?

A Master’s in Finance and a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) are both respected graduate degrees that can equip you for advancement in your business career.

While they might have some similarities in curriculum, duration, and cost, each degree prepares you differently for the career you might have in mind. As such, your personal and professional goals will play a significant role in your decision between which degree to pursue.

What’s the difference between a Master’s in Finance and an MBA?

Master’s in Finance vs. MBA Curriculum

MBA programs typically offer a broad and comprehensive business education that encompasses finance, markets, accounting, entrepreneurship, leadership, and management. An MBA can be tailored to different career interests with a concentration in Marketing, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Strategy, Management, Operations, or IT.

A Master’s in Finance (or Master’s in Applied Finance) curriculum will be less broad, but dive deep into finance-related areas, like financial theory, mathematics, quantitative finance, investments, markets, financial reporting and analysis, and valuation.

Master’s in Finance vs. MBA Careers

In looking at what you’ll study, you’ll probably notice that these two graduate programs prepare you for different types of careers. 

As an MBA graduate, you’ll have a wide range of careers and industries from which to choose – from executive roles, to product manager positions, to consultancy work, to general management. You might find yourself working for a hedge fund, a corporation, a tech startup, a nonprofit – just about anywhere a business leader can affect positive outcomes. 

Master’s in Finance graduates are certainly not cut off from any of those fields or positions, but the tailored preparation encountered in the MF curriculum prepares you to excel specifically in roles like financial analyst, financial manager, and personal financial advisor. 

MF graduates also find work in securities, commodities, and trading and principal investments by focusing on subjects like capital markets, investment management, and economic strategy. Corporate or entrepreneurial finance are also options, as is investment banking. 

MBA programs are excellent preparation for these arenas – particularly an MBA with a concentration in Finance – but a dedicated Master’s Degree in Finance might be a more efficient and expedient path.

Master’s in Finance vs. MBA Cohort and Schedule

MBA students tend to have more work experience than their MF counterparts, so the individuals with whom you’ll study in an MBA program might be slightly older than those in a Master’s in Finance program. 

Likewise, many MBA programs are built for those already in the workforce, so there are more options for part-time MBA classes, as well as flexibility for completion. On average, many MF programs can be completed in as little as one year, compared with most MBA programs, which are completed in two to three years. 

At Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business School, our full-time MBA program is completed within 12 to 20 months, while our full-time Master’s in Applied Finance is completed in 12 to 15 months. Depending upon the MBA program you choose at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School (part-time or full-time), your curriculum comprises 52 to 55 units. The Pepperdine Graziadio Master’s in Applied Finance is 39 units.

Every program and school differs, but many MF programs are designed for students coming straight out of their undergraduate school studies, which allows them to matriculate faster and leverage their learning quickly.

Master’s in Finance vs. MBA Cost

There are many factors that can affect the cost of your education when you compare an MBA to a Master’s in Finance, but we’ll start with part-time vs. full-time enrollment. 

A part-time MBA program will allow you to continue to work full-time and, therefore, earn more money while you pursue your degree. That said, if you elect to prolong your studies, as many part-time MBA programs allow, you could find yourself enrolled for longer, incurring school-related costs for that duration. Longer enrollment also postpones any financial benefits you might hope to gain as a degree holder.

If you elect to study full-time, you’ll finish faster, but your income will be limited while you do so. Another significant variable is housing. If you elect to study full-time at your university and live on campus, housing costs will figure in. 

Finally, your expected salary will be a consideration when you assess your overall return on investment. The cost of a degree can vary depending upon the school, and while you cannot be guaranteed a high starting salary or dramatic salary increase upon graduation, growth potential in your field is important—from a financial standpoint, as well as a personal one.

Master’s Degree in Finance vs. MBA - Conclusion

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to which degree is right for you—a Master’s Degree in Finance vs. an MBA—but consider your schedule, work-life balance, and goals when determining the path that will yield the most personal and professional satisfaction. Changes in the business landscape are increasing the demand for specialized degrees like the Master’s in Finance and Applied Finance. Greater access to data calls for more analytical thinking, so while an MBA continues to carry prestige, a Master’s Degree in Finance could open plenty of doors in your career.