If you want a front-office job at an investment bank, there are three qualifications that can be of great help: an MBA, a CFA charter and a master’s degree in finance. The issue with getting an MBA is that it typically takes two full years and is rather expensive, at least at most top schools. A CFA is cheaper and you can earn your charter while remaining employed, but it’s more difficult to attain and can take even longer to earn, even if you pass all three levels on your first try. Moreover, both tracks require previous experience.
Meanwhile, a master’s in finance seems to provide more of a middle ground, hence its ever-growing popularity. Most are cheaper and shorter than MBA programs – some degrees can be earned in as little as nine months – and the vast majority accept pre-experience candidates. Our own data suggests that there are now more people with a master’s qualification than with MBAs in all front office roles in investment banks, not just sales and trading, where the qualification is particularly attractive.
The rankings below are based on the proportion of people with finance-focused master’s degrees in our CV database who have gone on to secure a ‘front office’ investment banking job upon graduation, meaning M&A, capital markets, sales and trading or equity research.
We’ve allocated a greater weighting to those gaining a position at a tier one investment bank, as defined last year by Coalition. That list includes J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Citi, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America. Lesser weighting was given to tier-two banks (Deutsche, Barclays, Credit Suisse, HSBC and UBS) and all the other tier-three firms. While several French universities offer highly-regarded MSc finance degrees, including HEC Paris, Edhec Business School and Grenoble School of Business, they don’t rank as highly on our list because the big French banks are currently regarded as tier-3 firms.
So which universities offer the top programs for a front-office job at an investment bank? Probably not all the schools that would immediately come to mind, especially in the U.S. where the option is a bit newer, hence fewer U.S. universities made the list. Several of the best business schools don’t offer the qualification; they only have a finance focus within their traditional two-year MBA program. This includes Harvard, Wharton, Stanford and the University of Chicago, among other big names. NYU has a master’s degree program jointly offered by Hong Kong University of Science and Technology but it didn’t make the list.
Also not included are technology-based programs in financial engineering or computational finance that focus on people with computer science backgrounds. That means no UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Baruch College and Columbia. While these hybrid qualifications provide avenues toward becoming a quant or strat at an investment bank, they are not traditional finance degrees that focus on economics and accounting. We’ve ranked those programs separately here.
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