Should you pursue a master’s degree? – perspectives from working in finance


Should you pursue a master’s degree if you were not successful in undergraduate finance recruiting? Or maybe you developed an interest in finance a bit later than your peers and are now considering a master’s degree to give yourself an opportunity to compete. Either way, this is a common dilemma that many students face.


Of course everyone has unique circumstances, but here are a few general principles to consider before making the substantial commitment of pursuing a master’s degree.


1. Self-Assessment

Why were you not successful in recruiting? It is critical to be honest about this because a master’s degree can address certain weaknesses, while there are others that a master’s degree is definitely not the solution. So ask yourself, will a master’s degree address why I was not successful in recruiting.


2. Buying Time

Students frequently pursue a master’s degree to buy more time because they may not be sure what they want to do. For students pursuing a one year master’s degree, this is a problem because the programs are so short and students find themselves having to make career decisions almost as soon as they matriculate, so they’re actually not gaining that much time.


3. Not All Master’s Degrees Are Equal

This is common-sense, but especially for finance recruiting, make sure you attend a target school for your master’s program, especially if your undergraduate university was not a target. Frankly, there are only a small number of finance-oriented master’s that are very strong and will help with recruiting at top financial institutions, give you a good educational experience, and allow you to build a network (e.g., finance focused master’s at places like the London School of Economics, MIT, Oxford, and Princeton to name a few). These types of programs are the exception. Unfortunately, the vast majority of other finance-oriented master’s programs will not be that strong and likely not that helpful in recruiting. Due diligence is critical.


4. Due Diligence

The reality is that business/finance-oriented master’s degree programs at many universities, even at many good universities, are viewed as cash cows and are not that focused on supporting students.


Given that, you should ask for employment reports/data of the programs you may be interested in attending. It’s important to review such data with a skeptical eye. You have to be critical because schools like to frame data in the most positive light or may be reporting on small sample size (e.g., only providing data of students that actually have employment and not including those that are still looking).


Also, talk to as many current and former students as possible. Do your due diligence and consider this like you would an investment if you were analyst, because it is an investment in your life.

Finally, be sure to consider the demographics of the class such as class size, average age, experience level, etc to find where you fit. You may also want to consider the percentage of nationalities represented. For example, if you are planning to attend a US university and a majority or a sizeable minority of the class are from one particular foreign country, then be cautious. Frequently, in such situations, the university just wants to collect tuition fees and does not provide much student support, especially since it’s likely that many students will return to their home country after graduating. These are the type of educational environments to avoid.


5. Internships

For the finance role you are trying to land, do you need an internship? Most entry roles at investment banks, completing an internship is a key step in the process.


If so, then a one year master’s program may not help you and you should pursue a program that will allow you to intern. If you require a summer internship, then maybe an 18 month or two year program is most suitable. Alternatively, even if a one year program, perhaps the curriculum builds in an internship or maybe you can intern while in school, which is a real possibility if you attend a program near London, New York, or other large financial center.


Conclusion

A master’s degree can be helpful for finance recruiting, but it’s key to find the program that makes the most sense for you given your background and what support you might need.


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