PhD in Finance

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Finance prepares graduates for research careers and to teach at the postsecondary level. Since most finance careers and certifications require a bachelor’s in finance or, more often, a master’s degree in finance, students pursuing a PhD in Finance often have their sights set on academic or research careers. Finance programs at the PhD level cover a variety of financial topics that including the behavior of financial markets, pricing and valuation of assets, and problem-solving in financial intermediaries and firms. Study is often focused on a combination of finance theory and practice, which involves the testing of models using various methods in order to investigate issues in finance and conduct research. PhD students also choose to focus on a particular area of finance (sometimes called concentrations or specializations as well as research topics or tracks, depending on the school). Common research areas are often influenced by current faculty research topics and include capital markets, financial intermediaries, international finance, and corporate finance.

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Program Options

PhD in Finance degrees usually take between four and six years to complete, and most require full-time, on-campus attendance. In addition to a certain number of credit hours through traditional coursework, PhD programs also typically require comprehensive exams, research papers, a dissertation proposal, and a completed dissertation. These components often have deadlines, and each student is responsible for ensuring that all deadlines are met throughout the program. Some programs grant PhD in Finance or Financial Economics degrees, while others grant a PhD in Business Administration or Business Economics with a Concentration in Finance. As mentioned above, PhD programs in Finance often offer further areas of specialized study, both through formal concentration areas and through active research topics of current faculty that align with students’ goals. Common concentration and research areas include:

  • Asset Pricing Theory
  • Banking
  • Behavioral Finance
  • Capital Markets
  • Corporate Finance
  • Corporate Governance
  • Development Economics
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Equity Markets
  • Financial Crises
  • Financial Econometrics
  • Financial Intermediaries
  • Fund Management
  • Household Finance
  • International Finance
  • Investments
  • Macro-finance
  • Market Microstructure
  • Real Estate
  • Regulation
  • Strategy and Decision-Making
  • Tax Effects in Security Markets

Online Degree Formats

Since PhD programs involve intense study and are highly collaborative in nature, most schools do not offer online options for students. At most, PhD Finance programs may offer some online coursework during the program. However, the traditional coursework in a PhD program is usually completed in the first two to three years of study, with the remaining years devoted to the writing of the dissertation and teaching assistantships. As a result, much of the work in the latter half of PhD programs may be able to be completed remotely as long as program deadlines continue to be met.

Admission Requirements

Common admission requirements for Finance PhD programs include a resume, Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and often an interview. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Finance is sometimes required–or at least preferred–for admission, but not always. Some prospective students have backgrounds in other areas, including mathematics, economics, engineering, or statistics. Check with your school or schools of interest to inquire about their requirements for admission.

Core Concepts and Coursework

Coursework in Finance PhD programs will vary by school and program, but possible courses may include:

  • Asset Pricing Theory
  • Corporate Finance
  • Econometrics
  • Empirical Asset Pricing
  • Finance Research Seminar
  • Fund Management
  • Information and Trading in Financial Markets
  • Market Microstructure
  • Statistical Theory
  • Valuation

Top PhD in Finance Programs

The following are recent rankings of the best Finance PhD programs in the nation. Schools in bold appear on both lists.

US News & World Report’s Best Business Schools with PhD-Finance Programs 2022

US News & World Report annually ranks the top business schools for finance based on factors like recruiter rating, average starting salary, employment rate, and student selectivity.1 The below business schools with PhDs in Finance top the list:

  • University of Pennsylvania (#1; Wharton)
  • University of Chicago (#2; Booth)
  • New York University (#3; Stern)
  • Columbia University (#4; Columbia)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (#5; Sloan)
  • Stanford University (#6; Stanford)
  • University of California-Berkeley (#7; Haas)
  • Harvard University (#8; Harvard)
  • University of California-Los Angeles (#9; Anderson)
  • University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (#10; Ross)
  • Duke University (#11 tie; Fuqua)
  • Northwestern University (#11 tie; Kellogg)
  • Boston College (#13; Carroll)
  • Fordham University (#14 tie; Gabelli)
  • University of Texas-Austin (#14 tie; McCombs)

Arizona State University Top Schools for Finance Rankings 1990-2020

Arizona State University’s (ASU) W.P. Carey School of Business ranks colleges and universities based on the number of annual articles published in the top four finance journals each year. The following schools topped the rankings from 1990 to 2020:2

  • New York University (#1; Stern)
  • University of Chicago (#2; Booth)
  • Harvard University (#3 tie; Harvard)
  • University of Pennsylvania (#3 tie; Wharton)
  • University of California-Los Angeles (#5; Anderson)
  • Columbia University (#6; Columbia)
  • Duke University (#7; Fuqua)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (#8; Sloan)
  • University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (#9; Ross)
  • Ohio State University (#10; Fisher)
  • Stanford University (#11; Stanford)
  • Northwestern University (#12; Northwestern)
  • Cornell University (#13; Johnson)
  • University of Texas-Austin (#14; McCombs)
  • University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (#15; Kenan–Flagler)

Select PhD in Finance Programs

Traditional Programs

Duke University

At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, students can earn a technically-focused Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Business Administration with a Concentration in Finance that will prepare them to become faculty at the nation’s top research universities. Two main subfields are offered, Asset Pricing Theory and Corporate Finance; a third, Behavioral Finance, is emerging. Students can typically complete the PhD in four to six years and they collaborate with faculty to determine a concentrated course of study that aligns with their career goals. A comprehensive exam in the content area is required as well as a dissertation. Duke’s Fuqua School of Business provides PhD students with stipends as well as tuition, registration, and health fees for up to 10 semesters. Courses include Microeconomics I and II; Empirical Corporate Finance; Theoretical Asset Pricing; a finance seminar; and Theoretical Corporate Finance. GMAT or GRE scores are required for admission and cannot be waived for any reason. An MBA or master’s degree is not required for admission, nor is previous work experience.

Northwestern University

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University offers a full-time doctoral program in finance that leads to a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and draws on economics, mathematics, and statistics in its exploration of finance. Applicants should have a strong education or work background in mathematics, statistics, and economics, and while a master’s degree is not required, about half of PhD students at Northwestern have one. Students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0. Original research papers, as well as a proposal and dissertation, are required for graduation. In addition, PhD students serve as research and teaching assistants during the second, third, and fourth years of the program. Coursework includes three levels of asset pricing and corporate finance. Most students can complete the degree in about five and a half years, with the first two years usually spent on coursework and the final three years spent on research and writing the dissertation.

Ohio State University

Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business offers a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Finance program that prepares students to become researchers and postsecondary instructors in finance. The program is designed to be taken full time, with courses offered in the daytime. At least 10 credit hours per quarter are required, in addition to other responsibilities. Coursework in Ohio State’s program includes the subjects of microeconomics, macroeconomics, and research tools, as well as courses like Empirical Asset Pricing, Advanced Corporate Finance, and a Finance Research Seminar taken in the third year. A written and oral Candidacy Examination is taken between the second and third year of the program. All students must also choose a second field of study based on their interests. Microeconomics is highly recommended for finance students, but other fields may be chosen with advisor approval. GRE or GMAT scores are required for admission, along with three recommendation letters, a statement of intent, and a resume or CV. A master’s in finance is preferred for admission; without one, students may have to take additional coursework.

University of Pennsylvania

The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) offers a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in Finance that combines the theoretical and empirical study of finance with the related discipline of economics. Students in Penn’s PhD program are prepared for research careers and teaching positions at top academic institutions. With a student-to-faculty ratio greater than one-to-one, Penn’s faculty research has contributed to the modern understanding of economic systems and how they can affect financial fragility and crises. Study focuses on areas like corporate finance; asset pricing and portfolio management; international finance; financial institutions; and macroeconomics. A total of 18 courses are required for the PhD, including economics core classes, econometrics/statistics courses, finance core classes, and electives in finance. No more than six courses can be transferred from other schools. The program consists of two phases: Pre-Candidacy and Candidacy. Students must maintain a “B” average in order to graduate. Four teaching fellowships are required, as well as various papers, presentations, and a dissertation. A master’s degree in finance is included in the PhD program for eligible students.

University of Texas at Austin

At the Texas McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, students can earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Finance to prepare them for research and teaching careers. Specializations are offered in Corporate Finance, Investments, Financial Intermediaries, International Finance, and Real Estate. In addition to the area of specialty, students are required to choose two minor fields. Popular fields are economics, statistics, or mathematics. The student-to-faculty ratio is one-to-one; as a result, students participate in multidisciplinary research through close collaboration with faculty and benefit from one-on-one mentoring. Applicants must have a four-year bachelor’s degree in any subject, but a reasonable background in math, statistics, and economics is expected, as well as adequate computer programming skills.

Jobs with a PhD in Finance

Most graduates of PhD programs in Finance begin academic careers in teaching or research, though they may also work for corporations in various finance and analyst roles. A PhD may also prepare graduates to become certified in an area of finance. More information on licensure and certification options can be found on our finance careers page. Possible job titles for PhD-Finance grads include:

Frequently Asked Questions

How much is a PhD in Finance salary?

Most graduates with PhDs in Finance work as professors and researchers at academic research institutions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary business teachers earned a median of $88,010 per year and postsecondary economics teachers earned a median of $107,260 per year as of May 2020.3 By comparison, financial managers earned a median annual salary of $134,180 per year, and top executives earned a median of $107,680 per year.4,5

Why should I get a PhD in Finance?

If you are interested in a career in academia–either in teaching at the postsecondary level or in conducting financial research to solve industry problems–a PhD in Finance might be right for you. Typically, other positions in finance, such as financial manager or chief financial officer (CFO) require a MFin or a MBA-Finance. Therefore, a PhD in Finance, given its time commitment, is best for those who aspire to be college or university professors and researchers.

What is the job outlook for PhDs in Finance?

According to the BLS, postsecondary teaching positions in business are expected to grow 12% through 2029, while postsecondary teaching positions in economics are expected to grow 5% over the same time period.3 Employment of postsecondary teachers as a whole is projected to grow 9% through 2029.3

How long does it take to get a Finance PhD?

The length of time it takes to get a PhD in Finance varies by program as well as the speed at which you complete your dissertation. That said, if you are considering pursuing this degree, you should expect to devote between four and six years of full-time study to finish it.

What are the admission requirements for PhD-Finance programs?

PhD programs vary widely in their admission requirements. Some may require a master’s degree or an MBA, while others may only require a bachelor’s degree. At this level, most schools look for students who have either studied finance in previous educational programs or who have a strong work background in the field. They may also require GRE or GMAT scores, a minimum GPA in previous finance study, as well as a strong application, letters of recommendation, and a successful interview. PhD programs, especially those that offer tuition assistance, are often highly competitive, so students with high GPAs, backgrounds, and test scores usually have the best chance of admission.

1. US News & World Report Best Finance MBA Programs 2022: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/finance-rankings
2. Arizona State University Top Schools for Finance Rankings 1990-2020: https://apps.wpcarey.asu.edu/fin-rankings/rankings/index.cfm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Postsecondary Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Financial Managers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/financial-managers.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Top Executives: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/top-executives.htm