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MBA vs. Master’s in Finance: Which Works Better for Your Future Career Path?

Business Administration

Whether you wish to develop new skills, advance in your existing career, branch into a new field or increase earning potential, a master’s degree can support many of your career aspirations. Two master’s programs often compared by potential students are a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a master’s in finance. To decide between an MBA vs. master’s in finance, business professionals should consider their career paths and select the program that best aligns with their goals.  

How Do an MBA and a Master’s in Finance Compare?

An MBA program provides students with a well-rounded understanding of all business aspects, with a focus on leadership and management skills. Graduates can apply the knowledge they gain from an MBA program to various fields. In contrast, a master’s in finance program delivers specialized financial knowledge and prepares graduates to excel in careers exclusively in the finance profession. 


Students can complete most MBA programs in 18 and 36 months. Accelerated programs may condense the program into one year while online programs enable students to customize course loads based on personal schedules. Some prerequisites for an MBA program may include a résumé, a letter of recommendation, and a letter of intent or video essay, which explains the candidate’s interest in the program. Some programs require GMAT or GRE scores.

An MBA program’s core courses typically span all fundamental business areas, including topics such as managerial finance, strategic resource management, and strategic marketing. Some schools provide concentrations such as organizational leadership, technology management, and energy management that enable students to select a focus that supports their career paths.

Master’s in Finance

A master’s in finance program generally requires less time than an MBA program, with most completed with one year of full-time study. Similar to an MBA program, the prerequisites for a master’s in finance may include undergraduate degree transcripts, a letter of recommendation and an essay explaining why the candidate is applying for the program.

Students enrolled in a master’s in finance program can expect practical courses like financial reporting, investments, and corporate finance, as well as theory-based courses like financial economics and quantitative finance.

Skills Developed Through an MBA or a Master’s in Finance

Not only can MBA graduates develop a broad knowledge of core business functions, but they can also gain valuable leadership skills through courses that focus on leading change in organizations and international business management. Most MBA programs have curricula and projects designed to improve critical and creative thinking, written and verbal communication, as well as strategic planning skills. Upon graduation, students are prepared to solve business problems and identify implementable solutions.

Students enrolled in a master’s in finance program can develop technical skills that support a future in specific financial roles such as trading, investment banking, and accounting. Students are taught advanced mathematics skills with courses in statistics, mathematics, and accounting while the curricula for courses such as financial theory support the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

As both a master’s in finance and MBA program impart extensive business leadership expertise, students enrolled in either program can further develop time management and organizational skills.

Career Opportunities for MBA Graduates

While a master’s in finance is aligned with careers specific to finance, an MBA prepares graduates for careers across all business areas:

Project Manager

An MBA can support advancement into a project manager role within various industries such as an IT project manager or an engineering project manager. A project manager’s general duties include overseeing a project from start to finish. This may involve delegating tasks to a project team, monitoring the budget and schedule, and solving problems that arise throughout the process.

The average annual salary in 2019 for a general project manager is $73,349, according to PayScale. The career outlook for project manager positions varies by industry. According to the BLS, demand for computer and information systems managers is expected to increase by 12% between 2016 and 2016, and demand for architectural and engineering managers is expected to increase by 6% during the same period.

Marketing Director

Marketing directors oversee organizations’ marketing strategies and tactics such as advertising campaigns, market trend analysis, and marketing strategies. According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a marketing director in 2019 is $86,163.  The BLS estimates the demand for advertising, promotions, and marketing managers to increase by 10% from 2016 to 2026.

Operations Officer

Operations officers also referred to as chief operations officers are typically high-level executives within organizations. This role includes responsibilities for company operations, corporate goals, and strategic planning. As of May 2018, the median annual wage for chief executives, which includes chief operating officers, was 189,600, according to the BLS. The BLS expects demand for top executives to increase by 8% from 2016 to 2026.

Career Opportunities for Graduates with a Master’s in Finance

Graduates with a master’s in finance degree can pursue various finance-related careers including financial analyst, investment banker, and controller.

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts provide investment advice based on knowledge of economic trends, historical financial data, the current performance of stocks, bonds, and other investments. Various businesses, including banks and insurance firms, employ these professionals. As of May 2018, the median annual wage for financial analysts was $85,660, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  The BLS projects that demand for professionals in this field will increase by 11% from 2016 to 2026.

Investment Banker

Investment bankers guide mergers and acquisitions. They also raise capital by issuing stocks and bonds for government agencies and corporations. As of May 2018, the median annual wage for securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents, which includes investment bankers, was $64,120, according to the BLS.  The BLS expects demand for securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents to increase by 6% from 2016 to 2026.


Controllers are responsible for the accounting, auditing, and budgeting functions of their organizations. They also may oversee financial reports, including balance sheets and income statements. As of May 2018, the median annual wage for financial managers, which includes controllers, was $127,990, according to the BLS. The BLS estimates that demand for financial managers will grow by 19% from 2016 to 2026.

While programs and coursework vary by institution, Master’s in Finance and MBA degrees can both help individuals cultivate valuable skill sets, increase long-term earning potential, and advance their careers within a variety of business fields. For professionals inclined to pursue an MBA, Norwich University offers a framework for students to develop advanced leadership skills and an in-depth understanding of business and finance-related concepts, enabling them to seek out a variety of lucrative career opportunities.

Develop Leadership Skills with an MBA

Norwich University’s online MBA program is taught by a faculty of subject matter experts and features multiple start dates throughout the year. Students enrolled in this program can tailor their education to meet individual career goals by selecting from seven concentrations, including construction management, finance, organizational leadership, project management, supply chain management, and technology management.

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University maintains a leading position in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow students to make a positive impact in the workplace and communities.

Recommended readings
MSM vs. MBA: Which Degree Is Right for You?
5 Key Tactics of Successful Project Managers
Return to Norwich for Your MBA

MBA vs. Master of Finance: What’s the Difference?, Investopedia
Master of Business Administration, Norwich University
Determine If a Master’s in Finance Is the Right Move, U.S. News & World Report
What an MBA Degree Is and What You Need to Know, U.S. News & World Report
The Future of MBA Education, Harvard Business Review
Is an Online M.B.A. Worth It?, Forbes
Financial Analysts, What Financial Analysts Do, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Financial Analysts, Job Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
What Does an Investment Banker Do, The Balance Careers
Financial Managers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Average Project Manager, (Unspecified Type/General) Salary, PayScale
Computer and Information Systems Managers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Architectural and Engineering Managers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Average Marketing Director Salary, PayScale
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Top Executives, Job Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics