MBA or CFA: Which Is Better for a Finance Career?

If you’re pursuing a career in finance, earning an MBA degree or a CFA certification could help you meet your goals. An MBA in finance program and CFA courses offer many benefits. While both of these accomplishments may prepare and qualify you for new career opportunities, neither is a better career unless it truly suits your needs. Everyone’s journey is different, and the path that’s best for you will depend on your career goals.

Online MBA Programs with a Finance Concentration

The Online MBA From Syracuse University

Skip the GMAT and earn a world-class MBA online from Syracuse University’s AACSB-accredited Martin J. Whitman School of Management. The program features a rigorous curriculum with six career-focused specializations.

  • As few as 24 months to complete 
  • No GMAT required to apply 
  • Six concentrations available 
  • AACSB accredited

info SPONSORED

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School – Online MBA

Kenan-Flagler Business School is STEM-designated and prepares professionals to lead in an evolving business landscape. GMAT waivers are available. 

  • Complete in as few as 18 months  
  • GMAT waivers for experienced professionals  
  • 25+ electives available across five concentrations 

info SPONSORED

Earn an MBA Online from American in 15 Months

MBA@American, the online MBA program at American University, prepares business students through engaging course work and in-person immersions. The MBA can be completed in 15 months. No GMAT required.

  • AACSB Accredited  
  • Six focus areas available 
  • Complete in as few as 15 months

info SPONSORED

An MBA Online From University of Denver in 21 Months

MBA@Denver, the University of Denver’s online MBA, allows working professionals to build the skills to advance their careers in as few as 21 months. GMAT Test is optional; bachelor’s required.

  • All applicants are considered for scholarships.
  • The program can be completed in as few as 21 months.
  • GMAT Test is optional

info SPONSORED

The Online MBA from Rice Business

MBA@Rice, the online MBA program from Rice Business, helps aspiring business leaders rethink their approach to finding innovative solutions to modern business challenges.

  • Complete in 24 months
  • Small school, big ideas
  • Join a tight-knit community of bold, entrprenuerial thinkers

info SPONSORED

Earn an MBA Online From UDayton in 12–15 Months

GMAT waivers are available for eligible applicants to the online MBA program from the AACSB-accredited University of Dayton School of Business Administration. Earn your degree in as few as 12-15 months.

  • As few as 12–15 months to complete
  • GMAT Optional
  • Bachelor’s degree required
  • AACSB accredited

info SPONSORED

The Online MBA from the University of California, Davis

The online MBA from UC Davis brings a culture of collaboration and Silicon Valley connections to students worldwide. Earn your MBA in as few as 24 months. 

  • The Graduate School of Management at UC Davis is AACSB accredited
  • Students can complete the program in as few as 24 months
  • Combine business with data in a STEM-designated online MBA

info SPONSORED

Pepperdine Graziadio Business School – Online MBA

In as few as 20 months, students can earn their MBA online from Pepperdine’s AACSB-accredited Graziadio Business School and become part of Graziadio’s engaged network of over 40,000 alumni dedicated to ethical business strategy. Scholarships available.

  • GMAT not required to apply
  • AACSB-accredited
  • Complete in as few as 20 months

info SPONSORED

Different Roads to a Career in Finance

You’ll have many educational paths to choose from when pursuing a finance career. Finance degrees at the graduate level include a master’s in business administration in finance, a master’s of business administration in financial planning, and more. These degree programs may help prepare you for many career opportunities.

If you think pursuing a graduate degree isn’t right for you, online short courses and certificates still provide an education in finance without requiring the time and financial investment of a graduate degree program. These online finance certificate programs and courses may lead to a credential or certification and advance your career.

Which educational road is best will depend on your career goals.

Chartered Financial Analyst Courses

Chartered financial analyst (CFA) courses might help you prepare to take the three CFA exams and earn the CFA charterholder certification. This impressive credential demonstrates your dedication to this specialized, rigorous education.

Common CFA careers include research analysts and portfolio managers, though CFA charterholders are increasingly moving into careers as traders, brokers, risk managers and chief executives.

Master’s in Finance

A Master of Finance degree prepares you to work in a finance-related field such as trading, risk management or investments. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that a master’s in finance or business administration could expand your opportunities in careers as an investment fund manager or personal financial adviser.

Unlike MBA programs, which take two to four years to complete and often require work experience, some MS in finance programs don’t require work experience and may be completed in just one year. Common courses cover investments, mathematics, financial theory and markets. In addition to traditional in-classroom programs, you could also pursue an MS in finance program online.

Master’s in Business Administration in Finance

An MBA with a degree concentration in finance may help advance your career or prepare you for new career opportunities, including work as a financial manager, business operations manager and marketing manager. Getting an MBA in finance typically takes two years of full-time study, and there are multiple ways to earn this degree.

If you’re ready to earn your MBA with a finance concentration, online MBA programs offer an accessible way to do so. Online programs tend to be highly flexible, allowing you to meet your full-time job commitments while balancing your education needs. Getting an MBA in finance online also means you won’t have to relocate for school.

Master’s in Business Administration in Financial Planning

An MBA in financial planning may prepare you to become a certified financial planner (CFP) if the coursework covers CFP education requirements. Upon completion of this business degree program, you could be prepared to sit for the CFP certification exam, which demonstrates your competency and ability to provide your clients with personal financial planning information and support.

It may take 12 to 24 months to complete an MBA in financial planning program, and both online and traditional programs are available. While both types of programs provide the same quality education, pursuing an online MBA in financial planning may be appealing because of the scheduling flexibility and overall convenience this option provides.

MBA in Finance Curriculum

When enrolled in a traditional or online MBA in finance program, you’ll study many topics to help prepare you for the challenges you’ll face in the workplace. Your MBA in finance courses will focus on core business concepts. Common finance coursework topics include supply chains, marketing and sales operations, accounting, human resources and more. Your school’s course catalog might include required courses with titles like business strategy and policy, investment planning, retirement planning and employee benefits, and accounting and finance for managers.

An MBA program’s curriculum is designed to equip you with practical skills and knowledge. Some classes may have prerequisites or recommendations. These prerequisites are courses that provide foundational skills and knowledge for upper-level graduate courses. Prerequisites should be completed before students complete corresponding graduate courses.

CFA Curriculum

The CFA program is structured with a deep focus on investment analysis. All CFA exam questions are based on curriculum topics set by the CFA Institute, such as:

  • Ethics and professional standards.
  • Quantitative methods.
  • Economics.
  • Financial reporting and analysis.
  • Corporate finance.
  • Equity investments.
  • Fixed income.
  • Derivatives.
  • Alternative investments.
  • Portfolio management and wealth planning.

To become a CFA charterholder, plan to spend 900 hours or more studying the CFA topics. The CFA Institute maintains a list of approved CFA prep courses that use the CFA curriculum and learning outcome statements to help you prepare for your exams. When choosing a program, it’s important to make sure the CFA coursework focuses on the topics that will be included in your exam. These supplementary courses are delivered in an online distance learning format.

MBA in Finance or Chartered Financial Analyst: Side by Side Comparison

While the MBA in finance and the CFA program cover similar topics, there are differences, and these education paths will prepare you for different careers. Is a CFA better than an MBA in finance? The answer will depend on what’s most important to your career, but the more you understand about these education paths, the better prepared you’ll be to choose the option that’s right for you. Below we discuss MBA vs. CFA differences in terms of time commitment, cost, exams, requirements, careers and salaries.

MBA vs. CFA: Time Commitment

You may be able to complete an MBA program in two to four years, though it will depend whether you’re studying full time or part time.

Studying to become a CFA typically requires a significant time commitment. How long does it take to study for CFA Level 1? The CFA Institute estimates candidates spend 300 or more hours studying for each level of the exam. With three exam levels, that amounts to more than 900 hours. The CFA program also requires at least 4,000 hours of qualified work experience.

MBA vs. CFA: Cost

It’s also important to consider costs when comparing MBA and CFA programs. MBA tuition can range from $80,000 to $125,000, plus the cost of books and transportation, according to the CFA Institute. In addition to tuition, expenses like books and transportation could also increase your MBA in finance cost. MBA scholarships may cover some of the expenses.

At a glance, the CFA program cost is more affordable, ranging from $2,400 to $4,590 depending on the fee deadline, the CFA Institute reports. If you choose to enroll in CFA preparation courses, expect to pay fees ranging from several hundred to thousands of dollars per course.

When weighing the cost of each education path, it’s also important to consider your return on investment.

MBA vs. CFA: Exams

To earn your MBA in finance, you don’t have to pass a certification exam; once you pass all your classes, you’ve completed your degree. Then you may start applying your MBA education to your business career and seek career opportunities without passing an industry-required certification exam.

Unlike the MBA, you will need to pass three exam levels to become a CFA charterholder through the CFA Institute:

  • Level I: This exam consists of multiple-choice questions and has a 43% pass rate.
  • Level II: The level II exam features vignette-supported multiple-choice questions and has a 45% pass rate.
  • Level III: The Level III exam consists of vignette-supported constructed response questions and vignette-supported multiple-choice questions. It has a 56% pass rate.

All these exams focus on the CFA curriculum materials.

CFA exam costs typically vary and will depend on when you register for your exam. You will need to pay a one-time $450 enrollment fee for the Level I exam and there is a $25 fee for rescheduling your exam. Each exam features an early registration fee of $700 and a standard registration fee of $1,000. Keep in mind that if you don’t pass an exam, you will need to pay to take it over again, but the CFA Institute does offer scholarships that can help you pay for your exams.

MBA vs. CFA: Certification Requirements

An MBA program does not require any certification to get a job. If you pursue a career as a CFA, then you will benefit from earning your CFA certification.

While the makeup of each MBA program may vary, CFA certification serves as a consistent standard employers can use to assess candidates’ education and qualifications. The CFA Institute requires that you pass all three CFA exams to become a CFA charterholder. This professional designation is a valuable credential and may improve your reputation. It demonstrates you have taken the time and put in the work to learn the material to pass three rigorous exams.

With a CFA certification, you may see a salary increase and increased career opportunities. Earning the CFA certification may be particularly important in the finance and investment management industry, where the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes certification is often recommended. This certification may also be beneficial in financial planning, business school education, and buy-side and sell-side professions.

MBA vs. CFA: Careers

The MBA and CFA position you for slightly different careers. An MBA can prepare and qualify you for career opportunities as a financial manager, accounting manager, top executive and more. The CFA may be a valuable investment for research analysts, traders, brokers, portfolio managers, risk managers and chief executives. While you don’t necessarily need to have CFA certification to pursue these careers, it may give you advantages like increased competitiveness within the industry.

Is a CFA useful for an MBA? And is a CFA a good career option? The answers depend on your career goals.

An MBA and CFA can complement each other, so earning both is worth consideration. An MBA program provides a broader education than the CFA program. The CFA focuses more on detailed topics like investment management. Completing both may give you a comprehensive education that could help prepare you for a career in portfolio and corporate management.

MBA vs. CFA: Salary

While data on MBA in finance salaries may not be available, we can instead examine the salaries of some of the careers that professionals with an MBA often pursue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports 2019 median annual salaries for the following careers that professionals with an MBA often pursue:

  • Financial analyst: $81,590,or $39.22 per hour
  • Financial manager: $129,890, or $62.45 per hour
  • Accounting manager: $71,550, or $34.40 per hour
  • Chief financial officer: $104,690, or $50.33 per hour

It’s also important to remember that salaries can vary based on your location and position.

CFA charterholders work in many industries, and salaries may vary depending on location and the type of job you hold. A 2019 CFA Institute charterholder study of self-reported compensation found that the average base portfolio management salary was $178,600, with average total compensation (including bonuses and long-term incentives) of $316,000.

What are the Benefits of Obtaining Both an MBA and a CFA?

Obtaining an MBA degree and CFA certification does have its benefits, but it’s an ambitious goal. Accomplishing both these education milestones could create a complementary education where you not only understand the broader elements of business management but also receive nuanced education in topics like investment management.

Can a CFA and MBA be done together? Both programs are highly demanding, so working on them at the same time isn’t practical. Instead, consider using the broader knowledge you learn through an MBA program to serve as the basis of your education when preparing for the CFA exams.

Is a CFA worth it, or should you pursue an MBA in finance, instead? The answer depends on many factors, including your career goals, the amount of time and money you’re willing to invest in your education, and the skills you want to acquire to prepare for your career.

Online MBA Programs with a Finance Concentration

The Online MBA From Syracuse University

Skip the GMAT and earn a world-class MBA online from Syracuse University’s AACSB-accredited Martin J. Whitman School of Management. The program features a rigorous curriculum with six career-focused specializations.

  • As few as 24 months to complete 
  • No GMAT required to apply 
  • Six concentrations available 
  • AACSB accredited

info SPONSORED

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School – Online MBA

Kenan-Flagler Business School is STEM-designated and prepares professionals to lead in an evolving business landscape. GMAT waivers are available. 

  • Complete in as few as 18 months  
  • GMAT waivers for experienced professionals  
  • 25+ electives available across five concentrations 

info SPONSORED

Earn an MBA Online from American in 15 Months

MBA@American, the online MBA program at American University, prepares business students through engaging course work and in-person immersions. The MBA can be completed in 15 months. No GMAT required.

  • AACSB Accredited  
  • Six focus areas available 
  • Complete in as few as 15 months

info SPONSORED

An MBA Online From University of Denver in 21 Months

MBA@Denver, the University of Denver’s online MBA, allows working professionals to build the skills to advance their careers in as few as 21 months. GMAT Test is optional; bachelor’s required.

  • All applicants are considered for scholarships.
  • The program can be completed in as few as 21 months.
  • GMAT Test is optional

info SPONSORED

The Online MBA from Rice Business

MBA@Rice, the online MBA program from Rice Business, helps aspiring business leaders rethink their approach to finding innovative solutions to modern business challenges.

  • Complete in 24 months
  • Small school, big ideas
  • Join a tight-knit community of bold, entrprenuerial thinkers

info SPONSORED

Earn an MBA Online From UDayton in 12–15 Months

GMAT waivers are available for eligible applicants to the online MBA program from the AACSB-accredited University of Dayton School of Business Administration. Earn your degree in as few as 12-15 months.

  • As few as 12–15 months to complete
  • GMAT Optional
  • Bachelor’s degree required
  • AACSB accredited

info SPONSORED

The Online MBA from the University of California, Davis

The online MBA from UC Davis brings a culture of collaboration and Silicon Valley connections to students worldwide. Earn your MBA in as few as 24 months. 

  • The Graduate School of Management at UC Davis is AACSB accredited
  • Students can complete the program in as few as 24 months
  • Combine business with data in a STEM-designated online MBA

info SPONSORED

Pepperdine Graziadio Business School – Online MBA

In as few as 20 months, students can earn their MBA online from Pepperdine’s AACSB-accredited Graziadio Business School and become part of Graziadio’s engaged network of over 40,000 alumni dedicated to ethical business strategy. Scholarships available.

  • GMAT not required to apply
  • AACSB-accredited
  • Complete in as few as 20 months

info SPONSORED

Last Updated January 2021