James Magrane applied to investment banks in London as an undergraduate in autumn 2010, but it quickly became clear that he was acting prematurely: "I realised that I was naive to apply and unaware of the amount of work that's really needed to get in."
These doubts drove his decision to apply for an MSc Finance at Cass Business School. Now halfway through, James has already had offers from Australian bank RBA and BNP Paribas. The MSc Finance is the reason for his success, he claims.
Learning on the job
The financial job market is in an unusual state post-recession. Although some entrance-level demand remains buoyant, competition is up and recruiters no longer prowl campuses for talent on the scale they used to. Fewer jobs and more competition mean hirers now expect you to come to them, and with solid credentials - directly relevant experience or qualifications. For many graduates, the opportunity to gain these is the key appeal of the MSc Finance. They look to the practical orientation many courses have and see the chance to gain both at once.
The way MSc Finance courses are taught is a big part of their appeal. Students are often asked to submit coursework which resembles a task you might be given in a job in finance more than an academic exercise. Rather than setting a class an essay on the theory of financial reporting, a lecturer might ask students to write a financial report using a case study which is then assessed as a piece of professional work. It can be a nerve-wracking test - but the chance to make mistakes in a safe environment first, where the worst that can happen is a bad grade, holds obvious benefits.
The pace of work also gives MSc students a taste of the professional environments that they might enter as Calvin Mhembere, studying for his MSc Finance at the University of Exeter, explains: "The program is very comprehensive, hence the intense schedule. There are hardly any free weekends, days or nights and this trains you to develop the tenacity and self-management necessary to be successful in the financial services industry."
Good in theory
Others study for an MSc Finance to sharpen their knowledge of financial theory. Sebastian Kaufmann had already interned at a few banks before he applied to do his MSc Finance at Warwick Business School. Working at the banks made him see the importance of academic credentials. He now believes it's essential to get to grips with the theory behind their work in order to come across as credible in job interviews: "I'll have practice when I'm working, so I wanted to get into the academic side now," he says. "Employers want a mixture of academic and practical experience; up against a rival job candidate who'd done the same internships but had instead chosen a year's practical experience over the MSc, I'd have the edge." Most MSc Finance courses have a strong theoretical element - training in statistical software like S-Plus, as well as on Bloomberg and Reuters terminals. Module options are likely to include everything from economics to financial reporting and investment management. Some courses even cover up to 70 per cent of the internationally-recognised Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)qualification, increasing your appeal to employers who prefer graduates to hit the ground running.
But regardless of whether they're more interested in hard knowledge or practical skills, the biggest benefits students get from an MSc Finance are the contacts they make and the chance to associate themselves with a respected university. Visits to banks for lectures are common, providing an added bonus of scoping out potential employers. James Magrane says a friend even managed to secure an internship after such a class. And, of course, getting to know lecturers who have years of financial networking is a big help for many young aspirants - not to mention the classmates who'll soon be in high places.
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