Finance is an exciting field that offers a lot of opportunities for university graduates. But it’s certainly not the right subject for everyone. Picking the right degree is never easy - so read our guide on Finance and find out whether it’s the right choice for you!
This guide is written by Gerrit Bruno Blöss, Founder and CEO of Study.eu. He holds an MSc degree in Finance & Investment Management and worked for a global financial consulting company before founding Study.eu.
Finance is a broad term referring to the management of money and investments - and it’s a popular degree subject at university.
Finance degrees are offered by literally hundreds of universities in Europe. And regardless of the local language, you’ll be sure to find many options to study in English, as well.
Some popular destinations are:
At the Bachelor’s level, most degree programmes combine Finance with either Business or Economics. That’s because in order to fully understand the concepts and applications of the field you need to have insights into other areas.
Bachelors commonly last 3 to 4 years. 4-year degrees also sometimes include mandatory company placements to ensure practical experience.
The curriculum of a good Finance Bachelor usually includes modules such as:
If you’re serious about your career in Finance, getting a Master’s degree is the next logical step. The topics covered will be similar to Bachelor’s degrees, but more in depth, and with more demanding coursework.
Some Masters programmes are already specialised; others often give you elective modules to choose a focus. Popular choices are:
A Finance Master will typically last between 1 and 2 years for full-time studies. In rare cases, you can find highly compact 9- or 10-month curricula.
For admission, many universities in continental Europe require you to have a certain number of ECTS credits in financial or Business courses when you apply for admission. Meanwhile, institutions in Ireland or the UK are more open to students switching subjects between their Bachelor and Master. You may need a good GRE or GMAT score to get into some top Finance Masters.
If you’re planning to start your postgrad degree directly after your Bachelor’s, try doing a relevant internship beforehand. The lectures and modules you have will be much more practically relevant - this article’s author can confirm it! (For more on this: Should I get a Master’s degree now - or start working?)
Pursuing a doctorate degree is a demanding challenge that will take you many years, and that is no different in Finance. Be clear about what your objectives are. If you’re excited about a research topic and want to pursue an academic career, the PhD may be the smart or even necessary next step.
However, with corporate employers - at least in the Western Hemisphere -, a Finance PhD almost never brings any tangible advantage. To advance your career in the financial sector, you are far better off pursuing a practice-oriented qualification like an MBA degree or less expensive alternatives like the CFA charter, or the local Chartered Accountant title. There are exceptions, of course, such as in Economic or Equity Research. For some positions, however, a PhD may even be a disadvantage; you might be asked why you spent so many years focusing on research when you could have gained practical experience.
If you want to get a Finance degree from a top school, university rankings are a good place to look. While their methods are far from perfect, employers are looking at them, too.
The Shanghai Ranking 2021 lists the following top 10 universities in Europe for Finance:
|Rank in Europe||University||Country|
|1||London Business School||United Kingdom|
|2||London School of Economics and Political Science||United Kingdom|
|4||Stockholm School of Economics||Sweden|
|6||Erasmus University Rotterdam||Netherlands|
|8||Copenhagen Business School||Denmark|
|9||University of Oxford||United Kingdom|
|10||City, University of London||United Kingdom|
Just don’t only look at rankings, as they cannot take into account your individual circumstances. For studying abroad, also consider this: If you plan to go back to your home country, it’s often irrelevant whether your university was in the top 10 or top 20. As long as you studied at a good institution, the fact that you gained experience abroad is more important when competing with other job applicants!
You may have heard the term “target schools”, commonly used by investment banks and consulting companies (and by students obsessing over getting into those top-tier banks). Target schools are those that these companies like to recruit graduates from because they know them to be highly qualified. There’s often overlap with the rankings, but also regional factors at play.
At the Master’s level, Finance can be studied as a specialist degree - then usually a Master of Science - or as a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Those degrees are different in their intended audience of students and how the studies are organised:
Finance MSc’s are usually designed for students with little or no work experience after their Bachelor’s degree. They prepare for a specialist entry-level or junior role, and/or help students with other academic backgrounds grow into such a role.
(Instead of an MSc, the degree itself can also be a “Master of Arts (MA) in Finance” or something else. This is a decision that the university makes; there are no fixed rules and it does not necessarily mean much with regards to course content.)
Finance MBAs, on the other hand, tend to put more emphasis on preparing students for a management role. That’s why MBA programmes usually require a few years of relevant work experience from applicants. (Some business schools publish the average age of their previous cohorts - that gives you an idea how well you fit in.) The curricula also include a focus on soft skills such as managing people, communication skills et cetera.
Are you asking yourself whether to study Finance at a university or a business school? Well, then - that question is moot because there is no hard distinction, and there is a wide variety of institutions with all kinds of different characteristics. Not to mention that a lot of universities, especially in the UK, are treating their Business faculties as semi-separate entities, many even with their own name.
Rather than how an institution classifies itself, you are probably concerned about specific aspects that you should just look into separately:
The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is a popular professional certification in the finance sector, especially at large investment banks and corporate financial consulting firms.
To become a CFA charterholder (and be able to call yourself “John/Jane Doe, CFA”), you must pass three exams for which you mostly self-prepare. Usually, these are taken over the course of two or more years. Of these, the “Level I” exam overlaps in large part with typical Finance MSc curricula; so much so that you can probably pass it with little preparation straight out of university. Levels II and III commonly require much more studying.
A growing number of universities and business schools have included the CFA in their programmes in some form, e.g. by including topic areas of the CFA exams in their modules and preparing students for the first of the exams. If you’re looking to begin your career at a top-tier bank or advisory firm, such a programme can give you a leg up.
Finance is a subject that is well-suited to be studied remotely. In past years, more universities and business schools have been implementing blended and distance learning options. This is especially true at the postgraduate level, so you will find many online Finance Masters available from European universities (and others, too).
Remote learning often also means the option to go part-time. If you’re already working, this could be a convenient way to “level up” your professional profile while still earning money.
Give that setup a try, though, before you commit to high tuition fees: It’s easy to underestimate the challenges of studying while working and it’s not the right choice for everyone.
Finance degrees can be tuition-free at public universities in certain countries; they can also cost a fortune at world-leading business schools; and they can cost anything in between. Of course, “it depends” is not a satisfactory answer.
Non-EU citizens seeking a tuition-free Finance degree are pretty much limited to Masters (Bachelors are rare) in Germany or Norway (which has high cost of living); while EU citizens can study tuition-free (or almost free) also in countries like Austria, Finland, France, Sweden, and a few others.
But how expensive is a Finance programme at business school? Broadly speaking, two main factors are the destination country and the ranking. You can typically expect:
With a freshly earned Finance degree, you have a wide range of career options available for you. One important choice is whether you want to work for a financial company or rather for any other kind of company, but in a financial role.
In the finance sector itself, typical career options include:
You don’t necessarily want to work for a financial company? Finance professionals are needed in any industry! Typical corporate functions include:
A career in finance comes with unique pros & cons. This field surely is not for everyone - or not for a lifetime, as the author of this article can confirm. Let’s look at some of the potential advantages and disadvantages:
Let’s summarise the key reasons to obtain a Bachelor’s or Master’s in Finance:
Finance is an appealing field for many, but it certainly isn’t the right choice for everyone. It’s a subject for students that enjoy working analytically and with numbers. You’re repulsed by the thought of crunching numbers in spreadsheets? There’s no shame in that - just pick a different subject!
Finance ultimately is not what you were looking for? If you like some of its aspects but are thinking about a slightly different direction, here are similar subjects in which you can pursue an alternative Bachelor’s or Master’s degree:
While Finance and Accounting are closely related subjects with similar course curricula at university, there are important differences. The key thing to note is that Accounting serves to measure, process and communicate financial information for purposes of an entity - usually a corporation.
Finance degrees tend to have a broader scope and therefore prepare for a variety of potential roles, while Accounting curricula offer much more depth on topics such as accounting practice, regulations, audits et cetera.
If you’re unsure before beginning your Bachelor, ask your university whether switching majors after a year or two is possible. Between Finance and Accounting, this is usually easy!324 Finance Programmes in Europe