What's the Difference Between a Master's in Finance and an MBA?


Updated January 17, 2023 · 5 Min Read

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Students may wonder if they should enroll in an MSF vs. MBA program. Explore similarities and differences between these two valuable degrees.

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Aspiring business students should consider all degree options before committing to a graduate program. Some students may consider pursuing a master of science in finance (MSF) or a master of business administration (MBA).

MBA degrees are the standard for degree-seekers working toward management and executive careers. However, students interested in specializing in finance or related fields may choose an MSF program.

Both degrees can help graduates pursue career advancement opportunities. The main difference between MSFs vs. MBAs are their areas of focus. MBAs develop broad and versatile business knowledge and skills while MSFs deliver targeted education on organizational finance.

Getting an advanced business degree is becoming more popular. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported a 10.9% increase in the number of master's business degrees awarded from 2009-2019.

This guide compares the knowledge and skills students develop in master's in business vs. master's in finance programs.

What Is an MSF?

MSF programs focus on finance. They apply economic theory and mathematics to topics in organizational and market-oriented financial analysis. Learners with skills in applied mathematics, data-based analysis, and an interest in finance may be drawn to this program.

Students in MSF programs learn how to:

  • Use financial modeling and economic theory to propose, compare, and analyze various organizational finance and investment strategies
  • Perform advanced, data-driven analysis of an organization's financial standing
  • Apply sound and responsible ethics to decision-making processes

MSF programs also help students carry out these core functions using partial information or projections.

MBA programs continue to attract surging interest, especially among women. MSF degrees offer an alternative to the increasingly competitive and congested MBA. Many MSF programs do not require a professional background in business.

What Is an MBA?

MBA degrees programs combine business theory with practical skills development, helping graduates pursue management careers across industries. Most MBA programs focus on three key areas:

  • Strategic planning and analysis
  • Leadership
  • Organizational behavior

Many business schools offer specialized MBAs including finance concentrations. MBAs in finance combine finance-related topics with a general business curriculum. Graduates may pursue broader business career paths. However, MBA programs do not cover finance topics with the same rigor as MSF programs.

Learners seeking to build business skills that apply to many industries may favor MBAs over MSFs. MBAs also appeal to degree-seekers with leadership and entrepreneurship aspirations while MSFs focus more on targeted and advanced financial analysis.

Should You Get an MSF or an MBA?

Students can answer the MSF vs. MBA question from a career standpoint. Both degrees provide rigorous education in critical areas but generally lead to different career paths. Those with MSFs can pursue jobs focused on financial analytics and strategy. MBAs support career paths in management and business operations

If analysis and strategy interests you more, an MSF might be a better fit. The opposite is true if you are drawn more to management and organizational operations.

Your educational and employment background may also impact your chances of acceptance to MSF and MBA programs in different ways. Many MSF programs are more accessible to learners with less background knowledge and work experience .

However, MBA programs may demand stronger foundational knowledge of business. Candidates may acquire necessary knowledge through undergraduate or graduate schooling, professional experience, or both.

The following table summarizes major similarities and differences between MSF and MBA programs:

Comparing MSFs and MBAs
Key Factor Master's in Finance Master's in Business Administration

Program Length

Usually one academic year

Usually 2-3 academic years

Formats and Delivery Options

Usually full-time

Programs can be campus-based, online, or hybrid

Full-time, accelerated full-time, and part-time options are widely available

Programs can be campus-based, online, or hybrid

Core Curriculum Focus

Heavily or exclusively concentrated on economics, finance theory, and analytics

Usually focused on versatile and broadly applicable business management concepts and skills

Concentration Options

Revolve around specialized areas of finance, such as:

  • Investment management
  • Risk management
  • Corporate finance
  • Derivatives

Covers specialized topics in business operations, including finance and many others

Cost Considerations

Programs are usually shorter in length, which reduces overall tuition fees

Demanding full-time schedules may impede the student's ability to work while studying

Programs are usually longer

Greater levels of scheduling flexibility make it easier to continue working while earning the degree

MSF vs. MBA in Finance

MBA programs with a finance specialization develop versatile knowledge of how finance-related issues impact business operations and decisions. MBA degrees may be a better fit for business professionals or those aspiring to management roles.

The MSF path generally appeals to students interested in the financial side of business. Many schools design MSF programs for learners who completed their undergraduate education recently. Professional experience affects MSF admission requirements less than MBA programs.

What's the Difference Between an MSF and an MBA in Finance?

Master's in Finance

MSF degree programs heavily concentrate on applied economic theory, financial analytics, and financial reporting. The curricula cover these subjects in more depth than MBA programs with finance concentrations. Graduates may pursue roles in analytics.

MBA in Finance

MBA programs with finance specializations cover finance topics plus general management and operations content. The program helps build business knowledge and versatile management skills.

MSF/MBA Dual Degree

Some schools offer dual MSF and MBA programs that award both designations. These programs build advanced knowledge of enterprise finance and develop essential business management skills. They may appeal to learners seeking to build executive-track management careers while establishing expertise in finance-related areas.

MSF/MBA dual-degree programs are intensive. Credit requirements often fall in the 68-80 range, and students may need 4-5 semesters or more to complete full-time programs. Costs depend heavily on the institution, but generally align with those of standard MBA programs. In most cases, standalone MSF degrees cost less than both MBAs and dual MSF/MBA degrees.

Careers With an MSF or MBA

MSF and MBA graduates tend to work in business management and corporate environments. However, the job titles and duties associated with each degree can vary significantly.

Possible career paths for MSF graduates include roles in:

  • Actuarial science
  • Corporate investment management or investment banking
  • Financial advisement
  • Financial analysis

In general, MBA graduates may pursue broader careers in management. Some fields include:

  • Accounting, budgeting, finance, and risk analysis
  • Branding and marketing
  • Human resources
  • Logistics, supply chain, and procurement
  • Operations and project management

Those with MBAs may also apply for roles in investment management, sales departments, and product development.

MBA-degree holders may have a slightly higher overall earning potential. However, actual salaries will depend on factors specific to your job role, experience, location, and qualifications.

MSF vs. MBA Salaries MSF MBA

Average Annual Base Salary (July 2022):


$90,000 (general)

$102,000 (finance concentration)

Source: Payscale (July 2022)

FAQ on the Difference Between MSF and MBA

What does MSF mean?

MSF stands for master of science in finance. These advanced business programs have a strong or exclusive focus on investment management, risk analysis, and enterprise finance.

What's the difference between a master's degree and an MBA?

An MBA is a master's degree in business. MBA students learn advanced concepts in finance, accounting, leadership, and management. Graduates can pursue management-level positions in various industries.

Is an MBA harder than a master’s?

Difficulty is a relative question in all academic subjects, including business. Many MBA programs require applicants to have years of professional experience in a corporate or enterprise environment. Candidates with relevant experience may find the subject matter easier than those with less experience.

Is it better to get an MBA or an MSF?

It depends on your career goals. More versatile MBAs generally make a better option for those seeking to pursue management positions. MSFs tend to appeal more strongly to learners who wish to specialize in finance.

Can you do MSF/MBA?

Some schools offer dual MSF/MBA degrees. These study paths are typically intensive and demanding but students earn both an MSF and an MBA degree.

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