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financeFor students considering an advanced business degree, both a Master of Science in Applied Quantitative Finance (MSAQF) and an MBA may be attractive options. But how do you choose?

Both offer curriculum designed to help young professionals advance their career, move up at their current employer or switch careers entirely. Additionally, both offer specializations to help guide students along the exact educational path they’re seeking.

We asked experts from each program at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business to weigh in on students choosing between a master’s in finance vs. an MBA.

What is an MBA program?

Carol Johnson

An MBA program is a natural next step for many growing business leaders, as the degree provides them with much needed skills to advance their career and step into leadership roles. MBA students are taught a multitude of important business skills, with courses in management, statistics, marketing, finance and more.

Carol Johnson, assistant dean of MBA Programs at Daniels, said candidates that are “interested in becoming leaders of an enterprise” should consider an MBA program to give themselves a leg up.

“They may be changing their career path, advancing within the organization or staying updated on best practices and theories,” Johnson added.

What is a master’s in finance program?

An MSAQF program gives students an advanced understanding of a variety of crucial skills, including equity asset management, hedging and return enhancement, code portfolio optimization and much more, said Doina Chichernea, PhD, director of the Master of Science in Applied Quantitative Finance program and associate professor at Daniels.

Students are also positioned well for CFA exams, as the course schedule incorporates a large portion of that curriculum. The finance master’s program at Daniels is primarily focused on hands-on learning, Chichernea said, meaning students are working in real-life situations to gain crucial knowledge.

“The MSAQF is very much focused on experiential learning,” she said. “Students are exposed to a multitude of hands-on, real-world experiences, such as getting equity asset management skills by directly managing a portion of the University’s endowment fund in our Marsico Fund course or having the chance to compete in a variety of case competitions and participate in internships.”

What are the key differences between a master’s in finance and an MBA?

Doina Chichernea

While both degrees are offered by the business school and give students a strong financial base, an MBA and master’s in finance have some key differences that you should know about. Chichernea said the narrower focus of the master’s in finance degree creates a different experience for students.

“Prospective candidates need to keep in mind that overall, the MSAQF program is a much more technical degree than a general MBA,” she said, adding that an MSAQF degree has a STEM designation.

Additionally, both programs have slightly different requirements for entry and varied completion times that are important to recognize.

MBA vs. Master’s in Finance Requirements

At Daniels, and this is true for many MBA programs, applicants are required to submit transcripts, essays, a professional resume, work experience and an application fee. Applicants will also be invited for an admissions interview and sometimes be asked to provide professional recommendations. Depending on the program, MBA applicants may also be required to have some level of business work experience and have the option to submit GMAT scores.

With four different MBA programs offered, Daniels looks for different levels of students for each, with work experience often serving as the primary differentiator.

“We look for people with at least two years of professional experience in our full-time program because they are then able to engage in deeper and applied conversations around the class topics in the DMBA program,” Johnson said.

In other MBA programs, experience is valued more highly, Johnson added. 

For a master’s in finance, admission requirements are roughly the same, though students are encouraged to have previous exposure to accounting, statistics and/or data analysis.

“While these skills are a plus, our program welcomes students from all backgrounds as long as they complete additional coursework requirements to cover knowledge gaps,” Chichernea said. “Previous work experience is also a plus, but not a requirement for admission.”

MBA vs. Master’s in Finance Curriculum

Wall StreetIn both an MBA and master’s of finance program, students take prerequisite, core and elective courses to give them a well-rounded educational experience. Elective courses give students the ability to customize their learnings to focus on key areas of personal and career growth.

Both programs are focused on real-world learning, getting students out of the classroom and into the field to gain critical skills. Chichernea said MSAQF students at Daniels are frequently exposed to this experiential learning and take part in coursework that brings them to the financial hub of New York City.

“By taking travel courses such as An Organized Walk Down Wall Street, students meet with and learn from professionals in brokerage firms, exchanges, commercial banks and other institutions in New York,” she said.

Within the master’s in finance program at Daniels, students can completely customize their coursework to their desired career path. Specializations include business finance, investments, financial institutions, wealth management or a concentration designed by the individual student.

MBA programs often incorporate similar elements on the travel side, with many programs taking students on international trips to expand their global business knowledge. Within an MBA program, students can also choose a specialized track to help guide their journey, though not as customizable as the MSAQF degree. Concentration options at Daniels include finance, business analytics, real estate and the built environment, accounting, marketing and more.

MBA vs Master’s in Finance Program Length

Depending on the program, an MBA can be completed in as little as 18 months, with the option to go full-time. Many programs have rolling start dates and offer both in-person and online courses to fit your needs. Daniels offers four MBA programs designed for the individual needs and experiences of modern business professionals.

For a master’s in finance program, coursework can take between 10 months and three years to complete, depending on the program. At Daniels, an MSAQF can be completed in as little as 10 months, with students taking multiple classes per quarter in a full-time schedule. Alternatively, the program can take 7 quarters when taking classes part time.

MBA vs Master’s in Finance Career Paths

finance femaleAs many business professionals enter master’s programs looking to boost their careers, the potential employment options after graduation are crucial in choosing the path that is right for you.

Both degrees offer the chance at elevated responsibilities in the workforce, whether at your current job or a new one. MBA degrees can lead graduates to roles with additional management responsibility or open up entirely new career tracks for them, in the focus area of their choosing.

When it comes to a master’s in finance, Chichernea said students are encouraged to customize their academic journey to fit the needs of their career.

“The world of finance is very wide and varied, and it is very easy to get overwhelmed by possibilities,” she said. “To help our students manage their career development, we encourage them to take classes along our highly customizable tracks in corporate/business finance, financial institutions, investments and wealth management.”

Class of 2021 MSAQF students from Daniels reported an average salary of $69,667 following their graduation, and nearly an 83% full-time employment rate.

How to Choose Between an MBA and a Master’s in Finance

Students choosing an MBA vs. a master’s in finance should consider what outcome they are looking for, their current workforce experience and their time commitment before landing on a decision. While both degrees will leave you with a master’s, the path to the diploma is very different for an MBA vs. a MSAQF.

For those still struggling with the decision, it can be helpful to engage with an admissions advisor to talk through the options available. With access to all the University’s resources, admissions advisors can also introduce prospective students to faculty members to help provide context or share graduate success stories to help cement their decision to pursue an MBA or MSAQF.

Prospective applicants can also speak with student ambassadors who are eager to share their experience. It can be beneficial to email an ambassador from a program of your interest with your questions or to arrange a time to come to campus and meet with them. Alumni will also give you a good idea of the potential career paths available to graduates.

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