Updated on Wednesday 6 March 2013
An advanced degree in finance is a significant undertaking. The degree programs for it have almost as much competitive atmosphere and laser-like focus on achieving very specific outcomes as the jobs their students will be competing for after graduation. Earning a master's degree in finance has the potential to yield serious rewards, but shouldn't be pursued without specific, well-thought-out intentions.
Is an advanced education in finance right for you? A master's degree in finance can be a great investment for international students, but it's also a big commitment. Finance is a field known for it's competitiveness and high pressure environment, but also for significant payoffs to match. Because of the competitive nature of the financial sector, it's important to give careful thought to what kind of finance job you'd like to get, because it's not going to be handed to you easily.
You can earn a graduate degree in finance even if you had a different major for your bachelor's degree. Many schools prefer a related degree background, but almost none of them require it. If you haven't already done so, consider getting some academic or professional experience with finance. The time which international students spend in school should be foundational and exploratory - you can think of it like dating lots of different jobs you might want to end up with for the rest of your life. As a career field, while it can be a demanding career it can be financially rewarding.
If you're going to invest in a graduate degree in finance, it's a good idea to have explored quite a few things. You should have already developed relatively specific goals for what you'd like to accomplish using that degree, and what kind of life you're setting yourself up for after graduation. Some ways you might do this are: through an internship, by interviewing or shadowing finance professionals in your network, or by taking a few undergraduate classes in finance at a school in your area, like Concord University, which has a great undergraduate program in finance for international students. A master's degree in finance is an advanced degree - meaning you already know the basics of finance before you ever enroll.
Generally, graduate degree programs are much more specific and in-depth than those offered in undergrad. You'll spend more time learning about and practicing the actual things you'll need for your work, as opposed to just general theories. The latest financial crisis has changed the face of the financial sector very significantly in various ways across the globe, so it may be a good idea for international students to take some time to do research on the specific kinds of jobs they're aiming to get hired for before enrolling in an advanced finance degree program. You'll need to be very sure of what you want, especially in the field of finance where specifics matter and stakes are high.
You may even want to have an idea of what specific kind of finance you're interested in. Is it equity risk? Is it the private or the public sector? Which country do you want to work in? Is it a retail credit card company or a commercial bank? All of these require different skill sets & personalities. Graduate school is the time to find out. For many people, there is a kind of internal realization about what kind of work you want to pursue that happens during grad school. Are you already familiar with the basics and want to go further?
A master's degree in finance should be pursued as an intentional stepping stone toward a relatively specific goal. If the career goals you have specifically require a master's degree in finance, and you've spent some time in the professional sphere, whether through internships, or preferably, actually holding a full time job for a few years post-graduation, then an advanced finance degree might be for you. Some career paths even require a degree in finance to get a promotion and continue climbing the ladder. In cases like these, be sure to ask your employer what the requirements to be sure you are on the right track to a career in finance.