MBA vs. Master’s in Finance or Economics: The Main Differences (2024)

MBA vs. Master’s in Finance or Economics: An Overview

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

Both MBA and non-MBA programs have specific pros and cons, so it is essential to evaluate your long-term goals before choosing which route to take. It comes down to figuring out the types of skills you are trying to get and what job you see yourself pursuing.

Key Takeaways

  • MBAs are more expensive to obtain than a master's in finance or economics.
  • MBA programs are broader, while master's programs in economics and finance are deeper.
  • A master's in finance or economics typically requires a stronger background in mathematics.
  • Median salaries may be higher for MBAs, depending on the job.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Professionals often get a master of business administration (MBA) degree after spending a few years in the workforce. In fact, some MBA programs require that you have practical work experience before admission.

An MBA will cover finance and economics, but it will also include other business subjects. Nearly all advanced degrees in business are going to require solid math skills. However, MBA classes require much less abstract mathematical theory than graduate classes in economics and finance. Working knowledge of algebra is often sufficient for success in an MBA program.

Many employers prefer job candidates whose education encompasses the bigger picture, and an MBA certainly fits that bill. You may find a benefit in learning about a broad range of disciplines, from marketing to accounting and information systems. In a typical MBA program, students get exposure to all of these areas. In the process, they gain an understanding of how different parts of an organization relate to one another.

Earning an MBA can be expensive. If you want to attend a top-tier school, plan on spending over $100,000 to $200,000 for two years. Smaller private schools and even state universities are generally less expensive.

A 2023 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that MBA recipients were expected to see a salary increase in 2023 whereas recipients of other business-related master's degrees were not. MBA grads earned a median starting salary of $115,000 in 2022, compared to $65,000 for those with a master's degree in finance. MBA graduates could work in the technology sector or for financial firms. They may also find positions in sales and marketing for product and service companies or at consulting firms.

Master's in Finance or Economics

Pursuing a master's degree in finance means taking a deep dive into topics such as investment analysis, corporate finance, forecasting, or risk analysis. In an economics master's program, you can expect to take on microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics. These more focused programs tend to attract students who are particularly strong in quantitative analysis and critical thinking.

Specialized programs do have some significant advantages compared to MBAs. For starters, graduates develop specific skill sets. That can make them more attractive to employers looking for experts in a particular field or subject.

The cost of getting an advanced degree in economics or finance varies depending on the educational institution. However, it is generally much lower than the price of an MBA. According to 2021 data from The National Center for Education Statistics, graduate degrees can cost on average from about $10,000 to $30,000 and up per year. Private universities are usually more expensive than public universities.

On the other hand, classes in economics and finance often require taking extensive prerequisites in mathematics. For example, graduate-level economics students usually must take courses in differential calculus, integral calculus, and statistics before being admitted to the program. Furthermore, top universities prefer applicants who complete classes in linear algebra, multivariate calculus, and real analysis.

Many finance graduates go on to work at major corporations, global banks, and mutual fund companies. Economics majors often work in the private sector, but they may also enter academia or go into research roles after receiving a master's degree

Special Considerations


If you plan on working in the realm of investments, there’s something else you might want to consider when choosing a graduate program. Many of the professionals in this field go on to earn the chartered financial analyst (CFA) credential. CFAs must demonstrate competence in areas such as accounting, ethics, money 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 bit smoother by choosing a master’s program that incorporates much of the content for the CFA exam. That reduces the amount of preparation they’ll have to do later. A list of graduate programs recognized by the CFA Institute is available on the organization’s website. Many of the programs affiliated with the CFA Institute are aimed toward a master's degree in finance.

Work Experience

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

How Hard Is it to Get an MBA?

Earning masters of business administration (MBA) is considered challenging. In many cases, you will need to land a job first with a company to get experience before pursuing your MBA. MBA degrees are also expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars or more.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master's Degree in Finance?

Like many masters degrees, a master's degree in finance typically takes about two years, but it may take longer depending on your course loads. Some colleges offer accelerated programs that allow you to get a master's degree in finance sooner than two years.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Economics?

If you have a master's degree in economics, you may pursue many types of careers. You could work for private companies, non-profits, or the government. For example, you could work in for an insurance company or become a college professor.

The Bottom Line

The right degree for you will depend on many different factors, including your desired career trajectory, your budget, and your available time, among other factors. In general, the difference between and MBA and a master's degree in finance or economics is that your earning potential tends to be significantly higher with an MBA. However jobs that require an MBA are generally very demanding.

MBA vs. Master’s in Finance or Economics: The Main Differences (2024)


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