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MBA vs. Master’s in Finance or Economics: The Main Differences

MBA vs Master in Finance or Economics: an overview

For many people looking to advance their careers in business, earning a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) degree might seem like an obvious way forward. But if you work in the world of finance or economics, earning a specialized degree might be a better alternative.

Both MBA and non-MBA programs have specific pros and cons, so it’s essential to assess your long-term goals before deciding which path to take. It’s about determining the types of skills you’re trying to learn and the job you see yourself doing once you graduate.

Key points to remember

  • MBAs are more expensive to obtain than a master’s degree in finance or economics.
  • MBA programs are broader, while master’s programs in economics and finance are more in-depth.
  • A master’s degree in finance or economics generally requires a strong background in mathematics.
  • Median salaries may be higher for MBAs, depending on the job.


Professionals often earn a master’s degree in business administration after spending a few years in the workforce. In fact, some MBA programs require applicants to have practical work experience before admission.

An MBA will cover finance and economics, but it will remain more general and include other business subjects. Almost all higher business degrees will require strong math skills. However, MBA courses require much less abstract mathematical theory than graduate courses in economics and finance. A working knowledge of algebra is often enough to succeed in an MBA program.

Many employers prefer candidates whose education encompasses the big picture, and an MBA certainly fits that bill. There is an advantage in learning something about a wide range of disciplines, from marketing at accounting and information systems. In a typical MBA program, students are exposed to all of these areas. During the process, they gain an understanding of how different parts of an organization relate to each other.

Earning an MBA can be Dear. If you want to attend a top school like Wharton or Harvard, plan to spend upwards of $150,000. Smaller private schools and even state universities are usually less expensive. However, it is still possible to spend between $75,000 and $100,000.

The good news? A 2021 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that MBA graduates tend to earn more than those on a narrower track. MBA graduates earned a median starting salary of $115,000 in this report, compared to $65,000 for those with a master’s degree in finance. MBA graduates may end up working in the technology sector or for financial companies. They may also find positions in sales and marketing for product and service companies or in consulting firms.

Master in Finance or Economics

Pursuing a master’s degree in finance means delving into topics such as investment analysis, corporate finance, forecasting, and risk analysis. In a master’s program in economics, students can expect to cover microeconomics, macroeconomics and econometrics. These more targeted programs tend to attract students who are particularly strong in quantitative analysis and critical thinking.

Specialized programs have significant advantages over MBAs. To begin with, graduates develop specific skills. This can make them more appealing to employers looking for experts in a particular field or topic.

The cost of earning a graduate degree in economics or finance varies by educational institution. However, it is usually much lower than the price of an MBA. According to 2021 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, graduate degrees can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000+ per year. Private universities are generally more expensive than public universities.

In contrast, economics and finance courses often require extensive prerequisites in mathematics. For example, graduate students in economics are usually required to take courses in differential calculus, integral calculus, and statistics before being admitted to the program. Also, top universities prefer applicants who take courses in linear algebra, multivariate calculus, and real-world analysis.

Many finance graduates go on to work in large corporations, global banks, and mutual fund companies. Economics majors often work in the private sector. However, many also enter academia or take up research positions after earning a master’s degree.

Special Considerations


If you plan to work in the investment field, there is something else you may want to consider when choosing a graduate program. Many professionals in this field go on to earn the Chartered Financial Analyst designation (CFA) proof of identity. CFAs must demonstrate competence in areas such as accounting, ethics, financial management, and securities analysis.

Some MBA programs help prepare you for a CFA designation, especially those with concentrations in finance.

Finance professionals can make their road a little easier by choosing a master’s degree program that incorporates much of the content from the CFA exam. This reduces the amount of preparation they will have to do later. A list of graduate programs recognized by the CFA Institute is available at the organization’s website. Many CFA Institute-affiliated programs aim for a master’s degree in finance.

Professional experience

Even if you get a specialized degree, companies are likely to be looking for relevant work experience. It often pays to work for at least two years after earning an undergraduate degree, rather than rushing headlong into a graduate program.

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