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The best and worst reasons to do further study in banking and investment

Taking your study to the next level is an increasingly popular choice and the huge array of different postgraduate banking courses on offer means that you can tailor your study as you see fit. But is it right for you?
Show you can thrive outside the library by getting some relevant work experience.

In the current climate, more and more graduates are opting to pursue postgraduate study. Now it’s even more important to make sure that you’re clear about what you want to get out of it and why you think it’s necessary, so that you’re fully prepared to sell your qualification to banking employers and get the recognition you deserve for your extra academic effort.

Really good reasons to do further study

  • To further explore a burning interest in a particular aspect of finance – make sure you research course content thoroughly so you can pursue your passion to its fullest potential.
  • To network and gain new contacts – getting yourself known will no doubt pay dividends, particularly if you’re looking to cross over into the banking sector from an unrelated field or your first degree is in a non-finance subject.
  • To gain specialist skills you’re currently lacking – while these will no doubt be handy in your career later down the line, balance your new found expertise with practical work experience and commercial thinking so you can offer employers the whole package.

Really bad reasons to do further study

  • To make up for poor first degree results – most companies look for consistent academic ability so having a good postgraduate degree won’t erase the fact you only just scraped a 2.2.
  • To delay entering a tough job market – in times of economic uncertainty, further study shouldn’t be a fall-back option if you’re reluctant to grapple with the tricky job market. Be honest with yourself: if you can’t see how further study will benefit your CV, how will you sell it to future employers?
  • To up your employability – in the current job market, a postgraduate degree alone may not give you a competitive edge in the eyes of employers.

Choose your course wisely

If you’ve decided to go ahead with further study, it’s time to make an important choice. The more time and energy you put into choosing the right course and institution, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

There is a huge array of different courses to choose from – some lasting for one year, others for three years – and each requires and develops a different set of skills and abilities in its students.

The key to making the right choice is to think about what you want to get out of the experience: do you want to gain detailed knowledge of a specific area of banking and investment, exempt yourself from professional exams, cross over from another sector, or get a broad understanding of general business issues?

Whatever the reason, the course you choose should enable you to meet those needs.

Postgraduate study checklist

In general, when choosing courses, investigate and compare:

  • the institution’s reputation and facilities
  • its teaching and research ratings
  • the course content (core and supplementary electives) and structure
  • the job destinations and salaries of previous students
  • industry links, work experience and networking opportunities
  • which courses or institutions employers rate most highly, particularly if you already have an ideal employer in mind.

Postgraduate finance courses at a glance

PhD

If you want to know all there is to know about a particular subject you might want to consider a research degree (PhD or MPhil) that will usually last for three years and allow you to work solely in your area of financial interest. You must be confident of your love for the subject and have the ideas and discipline to set out on a solitary path of uncharted, original research.

MBA (master of business administration)

If you’re a non-finance graduate with previous workplace experience who’s looking to gain entry to the banking sector, an MBA may tick all the right boxes. Do be aware, however, that you’ll usually need to have between three and seven years’ work experience under your belt to be considered for an MBA course.

MBA courses – and the more internationally-focused equivalent, MEB (master in European business) – usually last between one and three years part time, or one to two years full time. The MBA covers all aspects of business including finance, marketing, operations, technology, accounting, business strategy, organisational behaviour, economics and entrepreneurship.

MSc (master of science)

Graduate jobs in some banking specialisms (risk management and investment banking, for example) can demand particular industry knowledge and your first degree may have left you inadequately equipped – this is where a taught masters course might be more suitable than a general MBA in filling in the gaps.

Many business schools run specialist MSc or similar masters programmes that allow you to focus on specific subjects, many of which can complement a first degree in a non-finance-related area (but do check with individual course providers). MSc courses usually last one year full time or two to three years part time (or on a distance learning basis) and some programmes also have close links with employers so you can gain valuable work experience while you study.

Does an MSc in Islamic banking and finance pique your interest? Or is investment management and securities more up your alley? Institutions offer a wide range of courses to suit all tastes. For instance, London Business School’s MiF (masters in finance) course introduces students to technical financial topics such as equity and mergers, which means exemption from professional exams is common.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to get into investment banking and earn a CFA charter later down the line, Cass Business School’s MSc in banking and international finance is officially associated with the CFA Institute.

You can also tailor courses to your individual needs and interests through your choice of supplementary electives – so if you’re set on finding out all there is to know about, say, derivatives or the international markets, make sure your course lists this particular option.

Graduate ‘conversion’ diploma

If you’re worried that the jump between your undergraduate non-finance degree and a masters in finance will be too great, never fear. Graduate ‘conversion’ programmes are now a growing trend. Birkbeck, University of London, for example, offers a range of such graduate diplomas that aim to bridge the gap in your finance, economics or statistics knowledge and, if you achieve high marks, guarantee entry onto their MSc in finance.

Be the perfect banking all-rounder

Banking employers want to recruit people who have the right mix of competencies to do the job; they’re not looking for a CV full of academic qualifications at the expense of work experience and interpersonal skills.

Keep in mind that your undergraduate degree is seen as the minimum requirement for your job application to be considered, while any additional experience is the icing on the cake.

Postgraduate study carries no guarantee of a job – you’ll still need to demonstrate all those transferable skills that recruiters are looking for.

How can postgraduate study help your banking graduate job application?

  • Further study can demonstrate your intellectual capacity to employers.
  • The sustained effort of working on a dissertation or thesis is a good example of self-discipline, organisation, independent research and project management – particularly if you managed it while juggling part-time work, work experience and extracurricular activities.
  • Presenting papers, giving talks and working on group assignments will hone your presentation, co-operation and communication skills.
  • Your university’s facilities can help you use your free time wisely – get involved in extracurricular activities, attend any additional training modules and network at conferences.

Finally...

Use the boxed checklist to make sure you’ve done all your research, then speak to course directors and, if possible, prospective employers before accepting a place.

Don’t forget to consider issues such as how you are going to fund your study and where you’re going to live early on – due to the popularity of postgraduate qualifications the loan approval process now takes longer than in previous years, so apply in good time to guarantee secure finance.

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