Study Corporate Finance: Master's Degree & PhD Info

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What will you learn in a corporate finance degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and a doctorate and potential careers.
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Corporate Finance: Master's Degree and PhD Information

Finance is an economics sub-field, and corporate finance is a specialty covering governance, securities regulation and litigation, commercial credit, bankruptcy and financial services. Your interest in corporate finance could be addressed in a master's degree in finance with a corporate finance specialty, Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in business or finance program.

PhD candidates usually pursue academic or research careers. Master's recipients could be eligible for investment banking, asset management, securities research, sales or consulting positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment for postsecondary teachers would grow 17% from 2010-2020, while employment for financial analysts might grow 23% over the same period.

Master's PhD
Who is this training for? Individuals who aspire to professional or management positions in corporate finance
Individuals who want to conduct research or teach corporate finance
Common Career Paths (with approximate salary) - Financial analyst ($88,000)*
- Financial manager ($120,000)*
- Financial examiner ($84,000)*
- Quantitative methods and statistics professor ($137,000)**
- Finance professor ($161,000)**
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time
4-5 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - May range from 35-60 credits depending on school and student background
- Internship
- May require thesis
- 60-80 credits
- Orals and comprehensive examinations
- Teaching or research assistant responsibilities
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- May need to meet prerequisites prior to or during program if no background in math or statistics
Bachelor's or master's degree
Online Availability Online programs may be available Rare to non-existent

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 mean salary), **The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (2010 mean salary).

Master's Degree Programs Covering Corporate Finance

You could learn to understand corporate finance concepts, perform data analysis and manage risk through 1-2 year MBA programs or as a concentration within 1-year master's degree programs. Through master's degree programs like these, you could learn how to identify opportunities for investment, intermediation, mergers and acquisitions and options and futures for your organization.

MBA programs may provide a broader exposure to business disciplines and management training plus 15-18 credits in finance, but a master's program in finance could offer approximately 30 credits directly related to corporate finance. You might specialize in areas that include, but are not limited to, investments, financial markets, securities, venture capital, real estate or international finance.

Pros and Cons


  • Almost all organizations need professionals to manage their financial functions
  • Opportunities may be available for graduates with knowledge of international markets
  • Master's in finance programs could be attractive to employers who need corporate finance specialists
  • MBA programs with a finance concentration could be of interest to employers seeking management candidates with finance knowledge


  • A master's degree program in finance may not be as flexible as an MBA program
  • These degrees may require preliminary coursework or extra effort from students without math, statistics, economics or finance background
  • Full-time employment may not be an option during these programs

Courses and Requirements

Your program may include case studies, internships, real-world consulting projects and field study. MBA programs may require basic courses in all business disciplines, as well as 4-5 core and elective courses in finance. Master's programs in finance may permit as many as 30 credits in finance topics, including courses in finance and financial accounting, data analysis for investments and financial intermediation. Precise requirements for either degree may depend on your previous background.

You might take advanced courses like these in a corporate finance master's program:

  • Financial markets and institutions
  • Global finance
  • Financial risk management
  • Complex deals
  • Investment banking
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Introduction to derivatives

Online Class Options

Completely online MBA programs are available from both traditional and online schools. Completely online master's in finance programs may be harder to find but they are available. Traditional and online or proprietary schools may offer full or part-time programs and courses that are available days or evenings. Students will meet the same requirements as in on-campus programs, but will communicate with faculty and fellow students electronically.

Online classes or continuing education units may also be available from professional organizations like the Commercial Finance Association and the Association for Finance Professionals (AFP). These are generally non-credit opportunities for working professionals to obtain very targeted and up-to-date information for a fee on topics ranging from forecasting and budgeting to commodity risk management.

Standing Out with a Master's Degree

Your program may provide preparation for industry credentials like the Chartered Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) designation offered by the CFA Institute or the Certified Treasury Professional credential from the AFP. You could take advantage of seminars, workshops and networking opportunities offered by relevant centers, institutes and professional organizations.

Some schools might host in-house consulting entities that provide students and faculty with real-world problem-solving challenges and contact with business leaders. Students interested in an international career may be able to study corporate finance entirely or partially abroad or combine undergraduate studies with a master's degree in finance that includes international study.

PhD Degree Programs Covering Corporate Finance

Doctoral candidates interested in corporate finance may consider a PhD in Business program hosted by a finance department. Corporate finance could be one of several sub-field specialties. Students are usually preparing for an academic career, or occasionally for a research leadership position in another organization. You could specialize in an area of corporate finance that your faculty's expertise will support. Advanced finance topics might include debt levels and markets, time models, game theory, bankruptcy or capital allocation.

Pros and Cons


  • PhD study is an opportunity to gain unique expertise in a niche area of corporate finance
  • Strong performance could lead to a lucrative academic or consulting career track
  • This degree may lead to relationships with key business leaders in varied fields


  • Programs generally require years of commitment to academic study
  • Full-time outside employment could be difficult or impossible
  • Though the academic employment market is expected to be at or above average, it's still highly competitive

Courses and Requirements

First and second-year students may focus on finance, statistics, econometrics, microeconomics and game theory basics. A minor field may supplement a major field, and you will work with an assigned faculty mentor and a dissertation committee based on mutual interest. Exams and papers may be required at intervals. You may have teaching duties.

Corporate finance doctoral candidates might take these upper-level courses:

  • Dynamic asset pricing theory
  • Corporate finance theory
  • Financial markets
  • Market microstructure
  • Empirical and behavioral corporate finance
  • Tax and finance seminar

Online Courses

Completely online PhD programs covering this field are rare to non-existent. PhD candidates should probably not expect upper-level courses to be available online, though your school may offer some courses meeting core requirements virtually. If you need to earn some credits remotely, your best option may be to partner with a faculty member who will support an independent study on a topic of mutual interest. This flexibility may be more available to advanced students.

Getting Ahead with a PhD

Besides hitting all-important academic career targets like high GPA, publication or conference presentation record, teaching experience and evidence of ability to obtain funding, you may be able to participate in consulting engagements that involve complex corporate finance challenges. These might be offered by a campus research center that provides contact with business leaders. These centers may also offer research presentation venues through seminars or conferences. You might take advantage of laboratory research support, such as real-time data feeds of major financial information providers, valuation and risk management software or trading and other simulation software.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

      • PhD in Business Admin - Financial Management
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Financial Management
      • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Advanced Accounting
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

      • DBA - Management
  • Champaign, IL

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

      • Doctor of Management (DM) - General Concentration (Executive Format)
  • San Antonio, TX

    The University of Texas at San Antonio

  • Austin, TX

    The University of Texas at Austin

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Business Admin - Financial Management
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Financial Management
  • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • DBA - Management

What is your highest level of education?

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management (DM) - General Concentration (Executive Format)

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The University of Texas at San Antonio

The University of Texas at Austin