Courses and Curriculum

Basic structure of the program:

  • 1st year: take classes, pass 1st-year qualifying exam
  • 2nd year: take classes, finish 2nd-year paper & comprehensive exam
  • 3rd, 4th, and 5th years: teach at least two classes in the three years, finish dissertation

During the first two-to-three years, students enroll in courses selected to provide the basic theoretical and empirical skills required to undertake research in finance. Course work can be categorized into four areas:

  1. A major field of finance and real estate courses.
  2. A research foundation, which provides a core of research methodology common to financial and real estate studies.
  3. A supporting field (or minor), which allows the student to specialize in a field related to financial research.
  4. Breadth, which assures a broad knowledge of other business disciplines.

The breadth and research foundation courses are set by the Department. The supporting and major field courses are determined by the student in consultation with the Supervisory Committee. Major course work consists of at least sixteen credits chooses from the following courses:

  • Required
    • Financial Theory I
    • Financial Theory II
  • Electives
    • Corporation Finance
    • Investments
    • Derivatives
    • Financial Markets and Institutions
    • Empirical Methods in Finance
    • Financial Research Workshop
    • Individual Work in Finance
    • Advanced Research
    • Individual Work in Insurance and Risk Management

In all cases, course titles are illustrative. Elective courses are intended to be “advanced seminars” in which students are taken to greater depth than was possible in the two required courses. Emphasis will be on developing research skills, and helping students understand how one selects and refines a research topic. Not all elective courses are offered annually. This means that doctoral students will be expected and encouraged to take some classes in their third year. Consequently, students from adjacent classes “mix” in these electives, augmenting the educational process by creating synergies within the doctoral student population.

The Department’s weekly Finance Seminar Series plays a major role in enhancing the student’s knowledge and creating an environment conducive to scholarly activity. In this seminar, departmental faculty and leading scholars from other institutions present working papers on their current research interests. All doctoral students are required to attend these seminar meetings.

At the end of the first year (usually in June), students take a written comprehensive examination. The subject matter is the finance department courses taken during the year, plus a list of additional papers provided in advance.

By the end of the second summer, students must submit a second-year paper, which is a research paper on a topic of the student’s choice. The paper must be a complete research document, such as one reads in academic finance journals. Depending on a student’s past experience, it may be appropriate to view this paper as suitable for submission to a journal. However, an acceptable second-year paper need not be publishable. Neither should it be viewed as the first step in selecting a dissertation topic.

An acceptable second-year paper will exposit an interesting finance question, collect appropriate data to test relevant hypotheses (if the paper is empirical, which most are), undertake careful econometric analysis of the data, and interpret the results. The purpose of this exercise is for the student to learn how to identify a researchable topic and execute it. As such, papers replicating or extending existing work are acceptable. Students must present (defend) their second year papers during the first month of the Fall semester. This presentation constitutes the oral examination required by the Graduate School for admission to candidacy, and hence will be evaluated by the student’s supervisory committee.


A background in business, finance, or statistics is not required for admission to the program because these courses can be acquired during the student’s normal course of study. However, if a student enters the program with an inadequate background in mathematics, the deficiency must be overcome as soon as possible. Minimum math statistics and skills include a full year of calculus and at least some study of matrix or linear algebra.

It is preferable to complete at least the calculus course before your first semester in the Ph.D. program.

Research and Thesis Requirements

In addition to their normal course examinations, Finance and Real Estate doctoral students must pass two major examinations during their tenure in the program. Because the Department admits only well-qualified applicants, attrition from the program is not intended to be very high. Nevertheless, students who fail either examination will probably be asked to leave the program.

During the summer following their first year of course work, students take a written Finance Qualifying Examination, which covers the two Finance Theory courses and a supplementary syllabus of related materials.

In addition, the University requires that every doctoral student pass a written and oral Comprehensive Examination in order to be admitted to candidacy. In the Finance/Real Estate program, this requirement is fulfilled by writing and presenting a “curriculum paper”. During his/her second year in residence, each student will select a research topic in consultation with his/her Supervisory Committee. Then, no later than the first class day of the student’s third Fall semester s/he will submit a substantial, completed paper which is either:

  • An extensive, analytical literature review for some important research area. The paper should identify and evaluate the existing literature (including unpublished working papers), carefully identify the literature’s strengths and weaknesses, and indicate several areas in which further research would likely be fruitful.
  • Or, a completed research paper, which includes a substantial “literature review and analysis” section.

This paper will constitute the written portion of the Comprehensive Examination. The oral portion of the Comprehensive Exam will be satisfied by a public lecture, in which the student presents his research to the Supervisory Committee and interested faculty and students. This lecture, based on a version of the paper that has been approved by the Supervisory Committee, must occur within one month of the final paper’s submission.

Once the comprehensive exams have been passed, the student develops a dissertation proposal and selects a Dissertation Committee consisting of faculty having special knowledge of the topic to be studied. Upon successfully defending the results of this research, the Ph.D. degree is conferred on the student.

Program Requirements

Review the Graduate Student Handbook for details on the requirements of the program.