Those looking to get into a career in finance often are encouraged to continue their studies by earning a Master's degree in business administration (MBA). An MBA offers a broad curriculum in finance, markets, accounting, entrepreneurship and management.

But a more focused alternative that is becoming increasingly popular is a Master's degree in finance—or MF. Choosing which of these programs best suits a prospective student may be challenging, but both programs offer the potential for high-paying career opportunities.

What's the difference between these programs? The MBA equips graduates with a broader skill set and knowledge base comprising multiple aspects of business. A Master of finance program is much more finance specific. The applicant's career goals will largely determine which type of program he or she chooses. Read on for more information on both degrees. (For more, see How Much Does GPA Matter When Applying to Business School? and Should You Get A CFA, MBA or Both?)

MBA 101

Earning an MBA can be an important step in climbing the corporate ladder. MBA coursework involves a broad spectrum of business-related topics including accounting, statistics, economics, communications, management and entrepreneurship. MBA programs not only ready students to work for financial institutions such as banks, they also prepare students for management positions in other fields or as executives in start-up companies. Applicants are expected to have good undergraduate GPAs and achieve an adequate score on the GMAT exam.

There are two routes one can take in earning an MBA: a full-time or a part-time program. Although both result in an MBA, there is a trade-off: A full-time student won't make much money for the 18 to 36 months that he or she is in school. These programs are most popular, therefore, with younger folks who have recently earned their bachelor's degree and can afford to study full-time on campus.

Part-time MBA programs typically come in two flavors. The Executive MBA (EMBA) is designed for students who have been in the workforce for some time in executive or leadership roles and are typically 32 to 42 years of age. These programs can be very expensive; usually employers pick up the tab. The other, the part-time MBA, is geared for employees who work full time, but are not yet in leadership positions. These students tend to be 24 to 35 years old and take classes after work, in the evenings or on weekends in an effort to enhance their career. (See also Part-Time vs, Executive MBA)

The Master of Finance

For students looking to focus specifically on finance or closely-related fields, the Master of Finance degree may be appropriate. MF programs zero in on finance in a comprehensive manner, with courses in financial theory, mathematics, quantitative finance, investments, markets, financial reporting and analysis, and valuation. These programs do not typically require any previous work experience, so students tend to be younger than their MBA counterparts.

MF programs also tend to be shorter, taking up just one year of full-time study. They're also becoming increasingly popular. While the MBA prepares students to work in a variety of fields, the MF trains its graduates to enter fields such as trading, investments, or risk management.

MF graduates can expect to earn lower salaries than MBAs, since the latter usually have some relevant work experience already under their belts. But as more universities offer MBA programs, the field is becoming a bit more crowded and more people are seeking alternatives. Expect top MF programs to become more and more competitive over the next few years.

The Bottom Line

Graduates of both MBA and MF programs can expect a quality education that can't help but further their career paths.

While an MBA offers more flexibility in terms of curriculum and ability to take classes part-time, it is becoming a more crowded space while business schools are becoming more competitive. A Master of Finance is a good alternative for students seeking a finance-specific career, while devoting only one year to earning their degree. (For related reading, see Finance vs. Economics Masters vs. MBA.)

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