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The Online MBA in Finance Explained

MBA Finance Coursework

Finance is the stalwart of MBA programs. While it lost a bit of its shine when Lehman Bros. collapsed and the Great Recession set in, it is still among the most popular majors for aspiring MBAs.

In the last decade, finance has seen some major changes. For one, the security legislation known as the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act was enacted after the tech bubble burst and fraud scandals (think Enron and WorldCom) motivated the U.S. government to take action. And now there's post-recession reform to prevent lenders from making the same mistakes with home mortgages that popped the housing bubble. All these changes require employees who understand the current state of finance and know how to abide by the law.

Some professionals in the industry are turning to online MBA programs with concentrations in finance to enhance their skills and get acquainted with the new realities they face. One such professional, Kevin Krushenski, looked for a finance program that would allow him to progress in his work in municipal lending. A student in the Indiana University Kelley School of Business' online master of science in finance program, which offers similar coursework to an MBA, Krushenski says he is already applying knowledge about time value of money and procedures for bond accounting to his full-time, real-world job.

Ultimately, finance is mostly about number crunching and analysis of data. But solid MBA programs provide students with an education in the soft skills - leadership, ethics, and team-building. And online options allow those who are already in the field to acquire new skills in a more convenient way, without even having to leave their office.

What is an online MBA in finance?

An online MBA in finance is pretty much the same as a general management MBA but includes electives that are specific to the industry. For example, Capella University has students pick four courses, such as financial markets and institutions, international financial management, and corporate finance and analysis decisions. "We want to provide opportunities to focus on finance in a way that works for each student," says Cheryl Bann, chair of MBA Programs at Capella. "We want them to be able to customize the education to their area of interest."

Capella students participate in a two-course capstone that is the highlight of the program, says Bann. During this time, they participate in a business simulation and work on a final project that could have them doing a variety of things like working with a business to solve a problem or writing a comprehensive case study. The point is to bring together what they have learned throughout the program, adds Bann.

Much like traditional MBA programs, the online MS that IU's Kelley School offers aims to teach students how to "use the lens of finance to propel an organization forward," says Sreenivas Kamma, chairperson of the finance department at the Kelley School. The same professors who teach the on-campus Kelley courses teach the online ones. And online students have to meet up face-to-face, on-campus for a one-week orientation at the start of the program. The purpose of this intensive in-residence week is to help the co-horts bond and to show finance in the context of strategy and critical thinking, which helps students develop a finance decision-making mindset from the start, says Kamma.

"We want online students to be intimately connected to the faculty and school and to enjoy the heritage of the Kelley School," he says. "They will be, after all, alums, and we want them to contribute to the community after they finish."

Both Capella and Kelley, like most online programs, employ learning management systems to deliver coursework. In general, you'll find videos, interactive discussions, readings and case studies, conferencing for group projects, and more.

Online MBA Student

What are the admissions requirements?

Admissions requirements vary from program to program, but there are some basic prerequisites. Pretty much all online MBA programs require you to have already earned a bachelor's degree from an undergraduate institution, and you will need to send a transcript. Some have minimum GPA requirements. For example, Capella wants to see a GPA of at least 2.3 on a 4.0 scale. You'll probably have to pay an application fee as well.

Some programs ask applicants to answer questions in the form of brief essays. Often, these cover your reasons for wanting to enroll in such a program now. Many want proof of your work experience - in this case in the finance field. The Kelley program, for instance, has applicants share letters of recommendation from supervisors. While Capella and most online MBA programs do not require any standardized tests, the Kelley School has applicants provide GMAT scores.

Who is the right fit for this degree?

Usually, online MBA students already have work experience in the field they are studying. In fact, Kamma says the Kelley program is not for career changers. "This is for people who are already established in positions of responsibility but need more skills for a career path that they've already chalked out," he says. "It's aimed at decision makers who are intimately connected to a firm's finances."

Anyone who is looking to help a firm utilize its financial data as a way of creating strategy and vision for the future of the organization could be a good fit. Prime candidates are number crunchers and analysts with the potential for great leadership. Simply put, they are people who want more, says Bann. "They are interested in changing orientation," she adds, "from having a job to having a career."

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