MBA vs. Master’s in Finance Programs

Would you rather be a jack of all trades or a master of one? Those debating between a graduate-level degree in either business administration or finance may want to ask themselves that question. While both degree options can lead to a boosted career and higher earnings potential, they take fundamentally different approaches and cater to different aspirations.

A master’s of business administration (MBA) is a generalist degree that provides students with a broad understanding of business fundamentals. The core curriculum includes subjects in marketing, accounting, management, and finance, but the focus is on leadership. Explorations of finance—even through specialization—will be cursory compared to those in more targeted programs. The reward for that breadth, however, is that MBA graduates can go on to practice in a wide range of industries, and generally enjoy a high earnings potential.

A master’s in finance program, on the other hand, takes a targeted approach to the subject. The core curriculum focuses on elements of finance such as quantitative analysis, applied calculus, multinational finance, wealth management, and derivatives and asset pricing. While graduates of finance programs often go on to take up leadership positions, they almost always do so within the scope of finance itself. The rigorous and technical nature of such programs means graduates leave with a thoroughly expert understanding of finance, both in its theory and practice.

Both an MBA and a master’s in finance can act as a stepping stone to the top levels of business. While there is overlap between the two in academic requirements and core classes, significant differences exist in focus and specialization. Read on to learn the details of each program in a side-by-side comparison chart.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.