June 21, 2010 12:22 am

Listing analysis: To specialise or not to specialise

At www.studentroom.co.uk, one student posts a question: which MSc Finance offer shall I accept? Having targeted five schools, the prospective student is now not sure where to go. With the number of programmes on offer becoming more varied, this is a common situation.

There are 196 programmes in this year’s listing from 138 schools. Of these, 48 are new entries.

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The programmes can be categorised under three headings: pre-experience courses for those entering directly from their undergraduate degree; post-experience course for professionals; and “blended” courses for both. In all three categories, there has been an increase in specialist options.

Andrew Clare, associate dean at Cass Business School in the UK, says this reflects strong demand.

According to Mr Clare, which is better depends upon personal preference. The main thing prospective students must do is ask themselves: do I have a clear goal or not? Cass, like many schools then has a variety of courses to satisfy whatever the answer is.

Simon Taylor, director of the Master of Finance (MFin) programme at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School warns against specialising too early. He says it may prove harder to change jobs later on.

The MFin programme is one of only two finance programmes offered by Cambridge. It is for post-experience students and focuses on the practice of finance.

The second programme is a pre-experience, research-based MPhil in Finance. It is designed for those with no more than one year work experience, to give them a rigorous grounding in the foundations of finance.

In both cases, the main focus is to build a range of skills and analytical intelligence, as well as developing personal presence.

Grenoble Graduate School of Business in France uses a similar general model. Its MSc in Finance, for example, focuses on traditional teaching with specialist electives to build more in depth experience.

In September 2010, four new electives will be added to the programme: Islamic Finance, Micro Finance, Corporate Finance and Market Finance, which makes use of its newly opened trading floor.

Stephanie Boyer, MSc Finance programme director at Grenoble says this model helps ensure students are citizens of the world and not just financial experts.

She believes this is the best way to ensure employability.

In today’s employment climate, an open mind and flexibility are regularly cited as important attributes: 106 of the programmes in the listing included figures for the number of graduates that found employment within three months of graduation.

Of these, 78 programmes had a success rate above 80 per cent. This is an improvement from last year, but the search can still be difficult. For this reason, it is recommended students are flexible in their aspirations.

“Don’t stick to one goal or career choice if it’s just not going to bear fruit,” says Nick Bollen, faculty director of the MS Finance programme at Vanderbilt in the US. Several of his students have looked to other industries for employment and found roles in entirely different areas, such as healthcare.

The listing also shows a growing interest in the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) partnership. There are 13 programmes that did not have CFA participation last year that have acquired this accreditation. There are now 51 programmes in total with CFA participation.

Many believe it is useful to be aligned with this organisation, particularly as there is a growing number of students interested in pursuing a CFA as well as a masters.

“To have the CFA come in and say we are compatible with what they’re doing is important,” says Mr Clare.

However, these courses are not the only kind that prepare you for this qualification. The programmes at Grenoble Business School, for example, do not have CFA participation, yet three students took the exam last year and passed.

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