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Finance Subject Guide

Are you a whizz with numbers and savvy with your savings account? Know when to start selling off your old possessions on eBay and when you should be buying up the bargains? Whether you see yourself as a young Gordon Gecko or a behind-the-scenes advisor, if you’re interested in the movement of money, financial strategies and why businesses make the decisions they do, a postgraduate finance degree could be right up your (Wall) street.



What Sort of Person Would It Suit?

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Most postgraduate finance qualifications are geared towards preparing you for a job in business or banking, so a strong interest in pursuing a career in that sector would be a major plus.

You’ll probably be quite technically minded (though you’ll need to be able to handle the theory side of things too) and good at maths. Finance is a very quantitative course (meaning it has a lot to do with measuring and analysing numerical data), so a lot of courses require at least a good A level in maths, and others that your undergraduate degree is in a similar subject like mathematics, economics, engineering or science.

To be on the safe side, always check the course requirements at your chosen institution before you apply.


What Types of Finance Qualifications Can You Do?

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An MSc (Master of Science) is one of the most popular postgraduate finance courses at just one year in duration full time and more than enough to help you bag a top job in the finance world.

Most MSc finance degrees are intensive, taught courses with lots of classroom time and practical work, as well as some independent research, too. If you enjoy plenty of contact hours and a degree of supervision, and are looking to qualify quickly so you can dive straight into the world of work, you’ll probably enjoy and MSc.



If spending another year traipsing between seminars, lecture halls and group sessions sounds like your personal idea of hell, rejoice, because you can also gain a postgraduate degree in finance without spending nearly so long in the classroom as you might have done in your undergraduate degree.

A Master’s in Research, or MRes, is also a one-year postgraduate programme, only instead of attending regular classes, students are graded on a supervised research project instead. An MRes in finance will likely be on the theoretical, rather than the practical applications of the subject, so they’re best for students planning to move on to further study, like a PhD, or who’d like to work in an advisory or consultant role.



If you’ve already taken an MSc or MRes and are still hungry to learn more, you could apply to study for a PhD – a doctoral degree and one of the most advanced academic qualifications there is.

A PhD is a research degree graded on a 10,000-word thesis, which should take three to four years to complete if studying full time. It’s a lot of work to take on, but it’ll set you up for a career in academia as a lecturer or post-doctoral researcher, or as a researcher or top level analyst at a private company.


Other Options

If you’re set on a postgraduate qualification but at an MSc looks too intensive or time consuming, you might find a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) or Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) is for you.

Both are respected, academic qualifications but need fewer credits to pass than a Master’s – that’s 60 for a PGCert or 120 for a PGDip, compared to 180 for an MSc, so you should be able to pass more quickly, with less time spent in the classroom. Both are also ideal as a springboard to further study if you don’t meet the entry requirements for an MSc or MRes based on your Bachelor’s degree alone.

Similarly, if you want to study for a higher level research degree but a PhD is just too much to take on, you can enrol on an MPhil instead. You’ll get to focus on a single, favoured subject area on an MPhil curse, and learn many of the same skills as a PhD student, but you should be able to finish your dissertation in just two years, allowing you to gain an advanced degree and enter the workforce in around half the time.

Finally, if you’re certain you want to work in business and maybe carve out a name for yourself heading up your own or another large company one day, you might want to consider studying for an MBA, or Masters of Business. Like an MSc or MRes, it’s a one-year master’s degree course, but as well as learning about finance, you’ll also pick up some entrepreneurial skills as well as the management and leadership skills that will serve you well in the world of business.


Finance Courses

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Although a lot of postgraduate finance courses are broadly similar with lots of crossover in basic content, there are plenty of options for different specialisms within courses, whether your interest is in accounting, economics or business. Here are just a few postgraduate finance degrees you might find interesting:


If you’re looking for the best generalised finance course that will give you a grounding in all areas of the subject, a course like MSc Finance is for you.

You’ll study a broad range of subject areas, learn the latest research and techniques, and get to grips with the advanced mathematical and programming tools used in industry to find solutions to problems and create financial models. You’ll also need to get your thinking cap on, as you’ll be quizzed on your economic theory, and your ability to analyse and evaluate data, just like qualified financial analysts do when looking into the pros and cons of various investment decisions.


Banking and Finance

Finance and banking go hand-in-hand, so if you’re keen to forge a career banking or in many of the exciting international finance organisations that operate in London and other major financial centres across the world, this could be the course for you. As well as learning the basics of finance, as you would on a straight finance course, you’ll also learn about commercial and investment of banking, with opportunities to hone your skills in more specialised areas such as asset management, banking regulations and risk management.


Finance and Accounting

Another subject which is often offered alongside finance is accounting, so if you’ve got your eye on a career as an accountant for an investment bank or major multinational financial corporation, sign yourself up for a Finance and Accounting course pronto. You’ll learn all about accounting and financial management and some courses have various accreditations that mean you’ll get to skip some of the exams needed to become a qualified accountant that you normally have to take while training on the job.


Finance and Investment

A bit more niche than banking and finance course, a finance and investment qualification is a great way to put yourself on the fast track to a career in investment banking. On this course you’ll study investment as a specialism, learning about investment strategy, evaluation of investments and how to use financial statement information.


Global Finance

If you’ve got an interest in finance and an international worldview, you might want to investigate a postgraduate course in Global Finance. Course content is very similar to an ordinary finance MSc but with an international bent, so it’s ideal for students who want to work with multinational companies, and stand out to employers in countries all over the world.


Other Options

There a lots of specialist subjects you might choose to study in conjunction with finance. Just a few other course options include finance and trading, finance and management and finance and economics.


Why Study Finance?

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The financial sector is one of the largest employers with opportunities all over the world, plus a postgraduate finance qualification will make you a shoo-in for a huge number of different jobs in the industry, from frontline roles such as trading, to behind-the-scenes work like financial consultancy. If you’re willing to put the work in, finance can also be a pretty lucrative field, with starting salaries often above the average.

There are also jobs in academia and research to be had with a postgraduate finance degree, and you’ll learn transferable skills such as data analysis, critical thinking and problem solving and advanced use of mathematics and programming techniques, making you a catch for plenty of employers outside of the finance world too.


What Careers Can I Do?

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Most postgraduate finance courses are very career focused, but what a choice of careers! You could choose to become an analyst, a trader, or an accountant, or work in investment banking or risk management, or in a financial consultancy advising individual clients, other businesses, and even governments on their financial strategies.

If you don’t want to work directly in finance you could put your knowledge to good use as a reporter on business and finance for newspapers and magazines, or could train as teacher in subjects such as economics, mathematics or finance.

If you’ve got a passion for research, you could stay on at university as a post-doctoral researcher, or work at a think tank or advisory body. Your options will be wide-ranging and pretty exciting!


How to Fund It

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We’re sure that as the financial whizz you are, you’ve already got postgraduate funding under control, but just in case, here are a few options to look into to get you started.


Government Loans

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you’ll have heard about the government’s flagship postgraduate loans. Worth up to £10,000, they’re available for students of any master’s degree course and the only catch is that you have to be under 60, and start paying it back once you’re earning £22,000 a year or more. Loans are available from 2016, so get applying!


Career Development Loans

A career development loan is private postgraduate loan offered through banks and building societies. Although they’re only available to help fund courses that are necessary or beneficial to advancing your career, as most postgraduate finances are very career focused and with great job prospects, you shouldn’t have any trouble securing a loan. The amounts you can apply for vary from between £300 and £10,000; enough to cover your books and basic materials or course fees and entire cost of living.

Career development loans are distinct from government loans in that there’s less of a grace period before you have to start paying it back, and interest rates may be higher, though a body called the Skills Funding Agency will pay off the interest for you while you’re still working towards your qualification.


University Scholarships, Bursaries and Awards

Virtually all universities offer some kind of independent funding for the academically gifted, as well as offering scholarships and bursaries to students from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds. These can be independent of the course you wish to study, or tied to your subject.

All the information you need about help with funding should be on your university’s website, but if in doubt, give them a call or drop them an email, and they should be able to outline the different funding options on offer.


Employer Sponsorship

Postgraduate finance courses are popular among those already in work and looking to further their career through specialising or gaining an extra qualification – in many cases it’s beneficial for employers to help their employees with the cost of such courses, and your company may offer to help pay for part or all of your course in exchange for you using your new skills exclusively for them for at least a year or so after you graduate.

If you can’t see anything advertised on your company website, ask your boss or HR if they know about any schemes.


If you’ve exhausted all other options or simply don’t want to take out another loan, it’s always possible to pay for your course yourself. Although high course fees can make this seem daunting, especially in cities such as London, where the cost of living is also high, self-funding your postgraduate qualification is definitely achievable. If you’re currently working you may be able to drop your hours down to part time so you can fit in studying alongside your career, or could save your earnings to put towards eventually taking a sabbatical or leaving work entirely to study full time. It’s an expensive option but definitely worthwhile when you leave your course with increased earning power and no big loans to pay off.


Case Study

Postgraduate Search spoke to Jade Eastman, who’s studying MSc Finance at Trinity College, Dublin, to see find out why she wanted to study finance, and how she’s finding the course so far…


Why did you choose to study finance at postgraduate level? 

Graduate recruitment within finance is notoriously competitive, so I thought a masters would help me stand out from other candidates. A master’s in finance also helps to prepare you for the technical and analytical skills required in the field, in addition to gaining the opportunity to develop ‘soft skills’ like presenting and teamwork. 


What has been your favourite aspect of the course?

I’ve found being part of a master’s class is very different to the undergraduate classes I attended. The smaller class size means you get to know everyone really well and look forward to the social side of coming to class every day. You can make great friends and connections for life with some very bright people. I also really enjoyed learning about the complex intricacies behind headline events, such as the recent financial crisis.


What has been your least favourite aspect of the course?

The first semester was a shock to the system, especially after taking a year out after university to work. Getting back into the mind-set of balancing exam prep with accumulating project deadlines and graduate recruitment applications requires sacrifice and a lot of self-discipline.


Do you have any advice for any aspiring students thinking of studying finance?

Take the time to research all the different roles that exist within finance and be honest with yourself about where you would fit. It's also worth noting that some graduate recruiters have a list of target and non-target universities so this should be factored into your selection criteria when choosing your course. Lastly, don't underestimate how valuable your undergraduate extracurricular activities and internships will become when applying for both postgraduate places and employment.


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