Master of Science in Finance (MSF) Common Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of the most common questions asked in regards to the Master of Science in Finance (MSF) program.

What areas of finance can I specialize in?

In addition to the core curriculum, you will select courses to customize your degree. For instance, you may choose to follow a specialization track in one of the following areas: Asset Management, Corporate Finance, Data Analytics and Fintech, Quantitative Finance, and Finance Research (PhD Specialization).

What is a concentration and how is it different from a specialization?

According to the University’s academic catalogue, a graduate concentration constitutes a coherent program of study requiring additional breadth or considerable depth of knowledge. A concentration may refer to a subfield within a discipline, or to an interdepartmental and/or interdisciplinary area of knowledge. In other words, a graduate concentration is similar to a minor. Students must take a minimum of 12 credits of the required courses in order to earn a concentration. Your concentration appears on your academic transcript. We currently offer concentrations in Accountancy and Data Analytics in Finance.

A specialization, on the other hand, is more informal. A minimum of 16 credits of courses in any chosen area is needed to be awarded a specialization. Your specialization does not show on your transcript or your certificate of degree. Instead, you will receive an official letter from the program director as an evidence of the specialization.

Will the MSF curriculum prepare me for the CFA examinations?

Gies is a CFA partner school, so our curriculum aligns with the CFA requirements. The MSF curriculum provides very good preparation for CFA Level I, Level II, and Level III examinations.

How many credit hours can I take each semester?

Most MSF students typically enroll in 12-16 credit hours per semester. Students have the option to enroll in more credit hours, up to 20, if approved by the program’s administration. International students are required to uphold full-time status by registering for a minimum of 12 credit hours each semester, unless it is their final semester, or they have obtained permission otherwise.

How many classes can I take in other departments on campus?

To graduate, students must earn a minimum of 40 credit hours, among which 28 credit hours are in Finance, including required courses and preparatory courses (if needed). The remaining 12 credit hours can be taken from a related discipline of your choice, including Accounting, Economics, Math, computer science, etc., or you can take more Finance electives.

When are classes held for the MSF Program?

During the Fall and Spring terms classes are offered Monday through Thursday, typically during the day, but in some cases a class is offered in the evening. A class is typically held two days (twice) a week for an hour and twenty minutes each day.

Throughout the entire year, Friday afternoons are typically reserved for Professional Development activities such as guest lecturers, field trips, and other career development activities.

Are the same finance courses offered every semester?

Gies College of Business has a vast number of finance course offerings. However, all courses are not offered each semester. When developing a study plan, students should note the terms that courses are offered in order to sequence their courses to meet their goals. Professor Martin Widdicks, Director of the MSF program, is available to guide students with their plans.

Will I have an academic advisor during my studies?

Yes! We have a full-time faculty member with extensive experience to guide you as you develop your study plan. You will work closely with Professor Martin Widdicks, Director of the MSF program, to define your study plan. Professor Widdicks provides individualized attention for MSF students so that their study plans accurately reflect their academic goals.

Are there opportunities to practice my finance skills outside the classroom?

Yes. MSF students can participate in the MSF Practicum and the annual Investment Challenge.

Does the program require a thesis?

No. The program is solely based on coursework.

Can I study a PhD in Finance after the MSF?

In some cases graduates of our MSF program decide to pursue an academic career and continue on to a doctoral program in finance. Although this is not a traditional route that most students take, we do offer a specialization track in finance research to help those who are interested in pursuing a career in academia.

The PhD program at Gies is extremely competitive, admitting only 4 or 5 new students a year from several hundred applicants. For more information visit PhD in Finance.

Admissions Questions

Does my educational background meet the minimum education requirements?

You must at least have the equivalent of a 4-year U.S. Bachelor’s degree before we can consider you for admission to the MSF program. To learn more about the minimum requirements for admission, please visit the University of Illinois' Graduate College website.

Am I eligible to apply to the MSF program at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign if I have a 3-year bachelor’s degree from India?

Based on the guidance from the Graduate College, those with 3-year bachelor's degrees from India are generally not considered eligible for admission to any graduate programs at the University of Illinois.

However, if you have passed all three levels of the ICAI certification or have a minimum of 3 years of full-time work experience, the Graduate College may consider you eligible for a "limited status" admission for the MS Finance program with certain 3-year bachelor's degrees.

Do you require an undergraduate degree in finance or business?

No. In fact, some of our best students come from backgrounds such as engineering, math, statistics, physics, and computer science.

Is work experience required?

Professional work experience is recommended, not required. However, all students admitted to the MSF program have some type of work experience. High-quality summer internships and part-time work experience might be enough to compensate for less than two years of full-time work experience if other credentials are sufficiently strong. While the MSF Admissions Committee places a strong emphasis on admitting students with at least 2 years of professional work experience following their undergraduate degree, applicants with less work experience and strong academic credentials are also encouraged to apply.

May I submit unofficial or non-certified copies of my transcripts and degree certificate?

You must scan your transcripts and degree certificates into the on-line application in order to be considered for admission. If admitted, you will then be required to submit original or certified transcripts and degree certificates when you arrive on campus. Please visit the Graduate College website for more information on methods of submitting your final credentials.

What is your minimum GMAT/GRE requirement?

The MSF program seeks students with strong quantitative skills, which can more easily be assessed with a GMAT or GRE score. The average scores for our admitted students are 680 for the GMAT and 320 for the GRE. We do not have a minimum requirement, and both tests are acceptable.

Can I waive the GMAT/GRE requirement?

No. The GMAT/GRE test scores are a strong indication of the quantitative and verbal skills of an applicant. While the committee considers the composite application of each applicant, an official GMAT or GRE score must be included.

Do you recommend preparatory math classes?

MSF students come from a variety of backgrounds, some with stronger math skills than others. The MSF Admissions Committee evaluates quantitative skills as a factor for admission. Coursework in college algebra and calculus are strongly recommended for success in the program.

A sample of the math skills expected by faculty in the program can be found at Math Skills Assessment. Note that these skills would be sufficient for most master’s level courses taught in the Finance Department, but are not needed in every finance class. The courses in the quantitative finance track require more advanced math skills. A strong grasp of multivariate calculus and an understanding of matrix algebra are strongly recommended.

What is the Tuition and Fees schedule for the MSF program?

Tuition and fees are billed each semester with payment due the 28th of the month after the start of each semester. Refer to MSF tuition and fees for details.

What financial aid is available for students?

Visit the Office of Student Financial Aid for more information on ways to pay for your educational expenses.

Are fellowships or assistantships available?

The MSF program is a self-supported program, therefore assistantships and fellowship funding are not available. A small scholarship pool is available. All students are considered for these scholarships which are granted based on merit with an emphasis on maintaining diversity in the program.

I received my admission letter and I am admitted on limited status. What does that mean?

You may be admitted on limited status for a variety of reasons. The admission letter will clearly indicate the admission terms and the steps that need to be completed before full-admission status can be obtained. Some possible reasons for limited-status admission are:

  • Limited status due to a lack of demonstrated English language proficiency
  • Limited status due to low GPA or no comparable bachelor's degree
  • Limited status due to departmental deficiencies
If I am admitted, may I defer enrollment?

Admission to the MSF program is competitive. Each year the Admissions Committee admits the best applicants from the current application pool. If you are given admission to the program, you may defer your enrollment up to one year with payment of the enrollment deposit. You can also defer your application to the next year for admission consideration as part of the next class if you choose not to pay the enrollment deposit. You will not be penalized for deferring your admission nor will you be given any special consideration beyond the strength of your application for admission during the next year.

Do you have a waiting list?

Yes. Seats in the MSF program are limited and it is not uncommon to wait-list an applicant. Since not all applicants that are offered admission enroll in the MSF program, the program wait-lists applicants that have strong credentials but for one reason or another were not offered admission. As the admission cycle continues and we find that some of the admitted applicants defer or decline our offer of admission we are able to extend admission offers to some of the wait-listed applicants.

Can I complete the program in less than 3 semesters?

Admitted students with considerable experience in Finance may elect to complete their studies in two semesters (fall/spring) with the approval of the Program Director. Criteria for approval includes, but is not limited to, academic qualifications, work experience, GMAT/GRE scores, and communications skills. As the MSF program is designed to be completed in three semesters, the two semester option will be offered only after careful consideration by all parties. Admitted applicants who may qualify for this option will be contacted directly by the program upon notification of admission.

Should I pursue an MSF degree or an MBA in Finance degree

The MSF degree is aimed at well qualified, ambitious undergraduates as well as accomplished professionals choosing to return to business school at the master’s level, but who wish to follow a more focused program devoted to learning and excelling in finance.

MBA in Finance degree on the other hand tends to focus more on offering a comprehensive understanding of business and finance.

MBA in Finance’s curriculum is more general and less technical. Typical MBA programs in the US usually require fulltime work experience. MBA graduates with a strong interest in a finance career who feel they lack solid training in finance will find the MSF program very beneficial to their careers. MSF graduates who are interested in advancing their careers to management level positions are also encouraged to pursue an MBA degree.

Can I apply to more than one degree program at the University of Illinois?

Yes, you may apply to multiple programs at the University of Illinois. You must provide separate applications and supporting documents to each program. However, you may only be formally admitted to one University of Illinois program at a time. Therefore, if you currently hold an admission from one program on campus, you must decline that offer before you may receive admission from another.

Take the next step toward earning your MSF.