Study Financial Management: Master's, PhD & Online Degrees

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What will you learn in a financial management degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD degree and potential careers.
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Financial Management Master's and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance

Financial managers are upper-level business professionals who ensure the fiscal well-being of companies and other organizations. While a bachelor's degree has customarily been considered the minimum requirement for this career, employers have more recently begun to prefer applicants who hold graduate degrees. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that financial managers who hold master's degrees, as well as professional certification, were expected to see the best job prospects from 2010-2020. Otherwise, job prospects in this decade were expected to grow at a slower-than-average rate of nine percent.

It usually takes about five years to work up to a career in financial management. If you have no prior experience or education in the finance field, you may have to start you career at a lower-level position like a financial analyst or personal financial advisor. These positions offer lower salaries, but job prospects are considerably brighter. The BLS reported that financial analyst jobs were expected to grow by 23% from 2010-2020, while personal financial advisor jobs were projected to increase 32% over that same time period.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Professionals interested in an entry-level financial management position Finance professionals seeking advanced financial management positions or postsecondary teaching/research positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Financial manager ($122,000)*
- Financial Analyst ($95,000)*
- Personal Financial Advisor ($92,000)*
Career paths for the PhD are similar to those of the master's
- Postsecondary business teacher ($87,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time post master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 30-36 credits
- Capstone course or research project
- Around 45-60 credits
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal and defense
- Comprehensive exams
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Bachelor's or master's degree
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Financial Management

A master's degree program in financial management will teach you how to solve business and accounting problems. This program can come in the form of a Master of Science in Financial Management or a Master of Financial Management, and some schools combine financial management with another major, like accounting or banking. You'll find that some of these degree programs prepare you for certifications, such as the Certified Financial Manager and the Certified Public Accountant credentials.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • May increase employment prospects in the competitive financial management job market
  • Can qualify graduates for various job titles in the finance industry, such as financial analyst or advisor
  • Prepares students for professional certification

Cons

  • Several years of experience may still be required for a management position
  • Some employers prefer financial managers with Master of Business Administration degrees
  • Financial managers often work long hours
  • Management positions involve a wide range of responsibilities and can be stressful

Courses and Requirements

In a master's program, your curriculum will generally consist of 30-36 credits and will focus on advanced concepts in budgeting and risk management. You'll take a set of core courses that provide you with the analytical skills and theoretical knowledge necessary for managing the finances of an organization. These programs often allow you to choose a specialization, such as fraud examination or financial asset management. Courses may include:

  • Accounting decision making
  • Financial analysis
  • Global economics
  • Data analysis
  • Valuation
  • Investment and portfolio analysis

Online Degree Options

Master's programs in financial management are available online. In addition to courses that are offered entirely online, hybrid programs are available that allow you to split your coursework online and on campus. These programs typically require the same number of credits as on-campus programs.

How to Stand Out

While employment growth for financial managers is expected to be slow, the BLS projected that work for self-employed financial managers would grow 20% from 2010-2020. As such, you may prepare yourself for self-employment during college by taking courses in marketing, business administration and other subjects relevant to running a small business. Additionally, you may benefit from pursuing an internship during your graduate studies, which can give you hands-on experience and allow you to make professional contacts. You may also consider earning the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) credential. While not mandatory, the CFA credential can show a commitment to the field and help boost your chances of employment.

PhD in Financial Management

Some schools offer PhD programs in finance-related majors that include a specialization in financial management. However, these programs are rare. More commonly, PhD programs in public administration or the public sector offer specialty tracks in financial management. Such degrees will prepare you for financial management and analysis positions in government at the state, local and federal levels, although the skills you obtain in these programs may transfer to the private sector.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can lead to more advanced positions and higher salaries
  • May qualify graduates for teaching and research positions at postsecondary institutions
  • Prepares students for employment in specific industries, such as government or healthcare

Cons

  • Financial management doctoral programs are difficult to find
  • Can take up to five years of study beyond the master's degree level
  • Keen competition for tenure-track postsecondary teaching positions

Courses and Requirements

In a program that offers a specialization in financial management, you'll take core courses specific to the major and electives in the specialization. These doctoral programs lay strong emphasis on research while allowing you to build on the concepts and practical skills learned in your master's degree program. Courses specific to financial management may include:

  • Financial institution management
  • International business finance management
  • Research methodology

Online Degree Options

Much like on-campus PhD programs in financial management, online programs are rare but available. These programs are usually available in an online-only format and are geared toward working professionals who need flexible course schedules. Courses are generally the same as in an on-campus program, and you'll still be required to propose, write and defend a dissertation. When choosing an online program, be sure to select one that is accredited.

How to Stand Out

It's essential to lay the foundation for your career after your PhD studies. If you want to become a teacher, you may look for courses in pedagogy and pursue opportunities to serve as a teaching assistant. If you want to work in global finance, you may incorporate international business and finance courses into your curriculum. Similar to individuals in a master's program, you may also consider earning the CFA credential.

Additionally, a career in finance requires you to be proficient with an array of industry-specific technologies, so you may benefit from gaining expertise in risk management and financial product development software during your studies. Financial managers also commonly use accounting, resource planning, spreadsheet and credit management software.

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