Ask a Scholar: The Path to a Finance MBA

Jason Fertig

Dear Ask a Scholar,

In pursuit of an MBA in Finance, is it better to start with an Associates Degree in Business Administration or an Associates Degree in Finance?

- Chris Johnson, Rhodes State College

Answered by Jason Fertig, assistant professor of management at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana.  Dr. Fertig holds a bachelor’s of science degree from Rutgers University, a master’s of business administration from Temple University, and a Ph.D. from Temple University. He has taught at Temple University, Rider University, St. Joseph’s University (Pa.), and Franklin and Marshall College. He also has industry experience as a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers and as a software analyst with Johnson & Johnson.

His main intellectual interests include credentialing, online education, and management history. He has published commentaries for the National Association of Scholars and the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, in addition to scholarly work in journals such as Human Resource Development Review and the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies.

At face value, there is a simple answer to this question – either is fine. As long as you have a good academic record and some work experience, you will be admitted to an MBA program.

My advice is to start broad and become more specialized as you go further along in your studies. Your situation implies that you are seeking an Associate’s, a Bachelor’s, and a Master’s degree. There is nothing to gain by jumping right into Finance at the Associate’s level because as you progress through your studies, you will find a lot of redundancy if you study Finance at all three levels.

With that in mind, my answer to your question is to study Business Administration first because that will give you the broader coverage and allow you to specialize later.

But there is another option – one that I would like you to strongly consider. Avoid Business altogether until you reach graduate school. Fill your undergraduate resume with Economics, History, and/or Mathematics. Those courses are the foundations of Finance in academia and they will train your mind in different types of analytical thinking.

Many students choose business for their undergraduate degree because “it is safe” and because “it will help them get a job.”  These students do not realize that this mindset trades real education for pseudo-unemployment insurance. Such careerism can narrow students’ intellectual capabilities if they have not already learned what they need to know.  Therefore, if you immerse yourself in classical disciplines, you’ll be a stronger graduate student because your focus will be on education, not training.

If you are really averse to the subjects that I mentioned, study Accounting for your undergraduate work. Many accounting programs do a fine job of marrying theory and practice to help the student prepare for life after college. Accounting also pairs well with Finance, thus eliminating some redundancy.

Remember your goal is to have each degree build on the previous one. But, don’t forget about work experience. MBAs have little educational value to students who cannot make connections to the world outside the classroom.

Finally, allow me to suggest bulking up your outside reading because there are good books that a Finance student should read but likely won’t. Here is a partial reading list:

  • Adam Smith – The Wealth of Nations
  • John Maynard Keynes – The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money
  • Burton Malkiel – A Random Walk Down Wall Street
  • Benjamin Graham – The Intelligent Investor
  • Philip Fisher – Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits

Good luck with your educational pursuits. Keep in mind that there is no perfect degree program and that learning does not stop once the degree is earned.

* * *

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