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Emphasis in Finance

Program Overview

Any graduate program needs three things: students who want to learn a discipline, faculty members who want to help them learn, and the resources necessary to accomplish that task. At any good school you will find all three, so what makes the Penn State Smeal College of Business so special? First, the program is small; there are only about a dozen students in residence at any one time. That gives you a chance to get to know your fellow students as well as faculty members. Indeed, one of our strengths is the close student-faculty interaction. Our faculty is supportive of our students and works closely with them; most students can expect to work on a joint research project with one or more of their professors. Thus, students are quickly immersed in doing substantial research. Second, your assignment as a research assistant or teaching assistant will vary, allowing exposure to different areas in the field and the opportunity to teach different courses. That maximizes your opportunity to learn and allows you to decide what interests you the most. Finally, students need access to computer hardware, software, and financial data. Smeal is well supplied in all three.

A question that concerns many prospective students is whether there will be faculty members with expertise and interest in what the student wants to do. Faculty members here are exploring a wide range of issues, including corporate finance, investments, derivatives, market microstructure, financial institutions, corporate risk management, real estate, and insurance. What's more important, however, than having a faculty member whose interests exactly match your own is having an atmosphere in which students and faculty members cooperate in exploring a topic both find interesting. That is one of our strengths.

Course Work

Students can expect to spend roughly two years in formal course work, taking courses in finance, economics, and statistics. All Ph.D. programs in the Smeal College require a set of courses in the major field, another set in a supporting field, and a final set of courses in research methods. For the finance Ph.D., the major field is, of course, finance, and economics has typically been the supporting field. The sequence in research methods is generally satisfied by taking a combination of econometrics and statistics courses. Students who enter without an M.B.A. degree can also expect to spend at least one semester satisfying breadth requirements, which stipulate that the student must have graduate level credits outside of the major, supporting, and research methods fields.

Several exams are required during the program. The candidacy exam is administered during the first 18 months. The second exam, which is the comprehensive exam, is administered after completion of all required Ph.D.-level finance classes.

A typical student program might look like this:

Example of a Finance Students Course Work

Year Fall Semester Spring Semester
First year Finance 597A (Asset Pricing)
AEREC 597E (Microeconomics)
AEREC 510 (Econometrics)
Electives as suggested
FIN 597B (Corporate Finance I)
BA 597D (Advanced Microeconomics)
AEREC 511 (Econometrics)
Summer: Research Paper
Second year

Finance 597E (Corporate Finance II)
Economics 510 (Econometrics II)
Statistics 510 (Time Series)
Present Summer Research Paper

Finance 597C (Research Methods)
Economics 511 (Econometrics III)
Game Theory Course or Doctorial Level Accounting Course
BA 591 (Professional Development)
Summer: Research Paper
Third year *Finance 597 (Topics in Finance)
Present Summer Research Paper
Thesis Research
Fourth year Finance 597 (Topics in Finance)
Present Initial Thesis Research
Thesis Research

*Tentative. Not required, but recommended.


Students can begin work on their thesis at any time. Most students, however, find that course work keeps them busy until the end of their second year. The summer research papers at the end of the first and second years are designed to encourage students to begin thinking about their own research, and to undertake a project with a supervising faculty member. In either case, the aim is to produce a publishable piece of work. Some students find that their summer research project can develop into a thesis. If so, the student will be well on the way towards clearing the final hurdle. If not, the third year is spent discovering and refining an idea or ideas that can qualify as a thesis. Students spend their last year analyzing their chosen topic and writing up the results. Placement activities also occupy this year, with various academic meetings in the fall semester at which students interview, followed by campus visits at the beginning of the spring semester.

Research Assistantships

In addition to interacting with faculty on research and other matters during the course work stage of the program, you will have numerous opportunities to serve as a research assistant for faculty members. Service as a research assistant contributes significantly to the development of your research skills, and enables you to develop your own research portfolio. To enhance your research productivity, you will have access to numerous databases of financial statement and capital markets information provided by the Center for Research in Security Prices (CRSP), COMPUSTAT, Datastream, I/B/E/S International, and Lexis/Nexis. Tax research data are available through the Ernst & Young/ University of Michigan Tax Panel Database. Penn State's Pattee Library also offers several sources of financial statement and capital markets information such as COMPACT DISCLOSURE, a series of financial statements, and other information on CD-ROM.

The Finance Department supports all the students it accepts through an assistantship. Each student receives a tuition waiver, which makes attending Penn State free. Students also receive a monthly stipend. In return for the stipend, students are expected to be research or teaching assistants. The former assist professors in undertaking research; these efforts can result in a jointly authored paper with the student. Teaching assistants teach in one of the undergraduate classes offered each semester, either the introductory course required of all Smeal undergraduates or in one of the more advanced courses required of finance majors. Supplemental funds are available to outstanding doctoral candidates. In addition, students are offered summer support to serve as a teaching or research assistant.

In addition to assistantships, the Smeal College offers a wide range of fellowships, scholarships, and grants to supplement your education. Please refer to information on financial aid at Smeal for further details.


Recent Graduate Dissertation Topics and Placement Record

Miller, Tom: "How Stick are Dividends? Analysis Under Cash Shortfalls", 2013; West Chester University

Mkrtchyan, Anahit: "Essays in Corporate Finance", 2013; Northeastern University

Zhang, Jianing: "Essays on Mutual Funds and Bond Markets", 2013; Shanghai University of Finance and Economics

Bick, Patty: "The Effects of Mutual Funds on M & A Compensation", 2012; University of Tulsa

Goldie, Brad: "Essays on Hedge Fund Investment", 2012; University of Kansas

Wang, Yuan: "Debt Covenants and Cross-Sectional Equity Returns", 2012; Concordia University

Jones, Colin: "Venture Capital, Boards of Directors, and the Market for Corporate Control", 2011; William & Mary

Petrasek, Lubomir: “Institutional Investors and Liquidity Risk”, 2011; Federal Reserve Board

Rossi, Marco: “Realized Volatility, Liquidity, and Corporate Yield Spreads”, 2010; University of Notre Dame

Zhong, Zhaodong (Ken): "Why Does Hedge Fund Alpha Decrease Over Time? Evidence from Individual Hedge Funds", 2008; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Wang, Ying: "Essays on Mutual Funds", 2008; University at Albany, State University of New York

Huang, Zhijian (James): "Essays in Financial Economics", 2008; University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

Fricke, Eric: "Essays in Corporate Finance", 2008; California State, East Bay

Zhao, Jing: "CEO Employment Contacts, Managerial Myopia and Corporate Acquisition Decisions", 2007; North Carolina State University

Sokolyk, Tatyana: "The Effects of Goverance Provisions on Takeover Vulnerability and Managerial Entrenchment", 2007; University of Wyoming

Qian, Hong: "Essays on Equity Issuance", 2006; Oakland University

Miles, Linda: "Essays in Corporate Finance: The Impact of Corporate Governance During Economic Stress and Tracking Stock in the United States", 2005; Illinois State University.

Wollan, Patricia: "Managing Knowledge Assets in Organizations: Role of Incentives and Information Systems,", 2005; Rochester Institute of Technology.

Glidewell, Edward: "Three Essays in Finance", 2004; Massey University.

Kong, Weipeng: "Essays on the Empirical Analysis of Aggregate Corporate Bond Credit Spreads", 2004; Bear Sterns.

Wang, Xiaoxin: "On a Pure Limit-Order-Book Market", 2003; Southern Illinois University.

Atanasov, Vladimir: "Equity Investments with Private Benefits of Control", 2002; William and Mary.

Boone, Audra: "Essays on the Causes and Effects of Corporate Restructuring", 2002; University of Kansas.

Juergens, Jennifer: "Essays on Investment Analysts", 2001; Arizona State University. Walsh, Lori: "The Impact of Dividend Initiations on Information Environment, Liquidity and Firm Value", 2001; Securities and Exchange Commission.

Chernov, Mikhail: "Essays in Financial Econometrics", 2000; Columbia University.

Becher, David A.: "The Valuation Effects of Bank Mergers," 1999; Drexel University.

Campbell, Terry L.: "How Firms Manage the Succession Process: Policies and Consequences", 1998; University of Delaware.

Mahar, James: "Identification and Investigation of High-Cash Firms", 1998; Saint Bonaventure University.

Piwowar, Michael: "Intermarket Order Flow and Liquidity: An Empirical Study of Cross-Listed Securities on U.S. Stock Exchanges and the Paris Bourse", 1998; Securities and Exchange Commission.

Swisher, Judith: "Fixed Price Self-Tender Offers: An Analysis of Investor Response and Management Motivation", 1997; Western Michigan University.

Ahn, Hee-Joon: "Share Repurchase Tender Offers and Bid-Ask Spreads", 1996; City University of Hong Kong.

O'Neill (LaPlante), Michele: "Trading Mechanisms and Block Transactions: An Empirical Study of Listing Firms", 1996; University of Idaho.

Peterson, Mark: "Analysis of Closed-End Fund Rights Offerings", 1996; Southern Illinois University.

Torbey, Violet: "The Pricing of Seasoned Stock Issues: Differences Between Industrials and Utilities," 1996; Bond University, Australia.

Hulburt, Heather: "Equity Carve-Outs and Their Parent Firms: How Do They Perform?", 1995; Appalachian State University.

Ciccotello, Conrad: "Operational Performance and the Choice of Organizational Form: A Study of Master Limited Partnership Agreements", 1993; Georgia State University.


Doctoral Faculty

Charles Cao, Smeal Chair Professor in Finance, William Elliott Faculty Fellow, Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1993. Research interests: Derivative Securities, Market Microstructure, Hedge Funds, Mutual Funds, and Credit Risk.

Laura Casares Field, Associate Professor of Finance, Moore Faculty Fellow in Finance, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, 1997. Research interests: Initial Public Offerings and Corporate Governance.

Matthew Gustafson, Assistant Professor of Finance, Ph.D., University of Rochester, 2013. Research interests: Corporate Interactions with Financial Intermediaries, and Capital Markets.

David Haushalter, Associate Professor of Finance, Academic Director Smeal Trading Room, Ph.D., 1996, Purdue University. Research interests: Empirical Corporate Finance, Corporate Risk Management, and Derivative Securities.

Jingzhi Huang, Associate Professor of Finance, David H. McKinley Professor of Business, Ph.D., New York University, 1997. Research interests: Derivative Markets, Credit Risk, Fixed-income Markets, Mutual Funds, and Hedge Funds.

Peter Iliev, Assistant Professor of Finance, Ph.D., Brown University, 2008. Research interests: Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, and Financial Regulation and Disclosure.

William A. Kracaw, Department Chair and David Sykes Professor of Finance, Ph.D., University of Utah, 1980. Research interests: Financial Markets, Derivatives and Financial Risk Management.

Yelena Larkin, Assistant Professor of Finance, Ph.D., Cornell University, 2012. Research interests: Empirical Corporate Finance, Capital Structure and Payout Policy.

James A. Miles, Professor of Finance, Bradley Fellow of Finance, Ph.D., The Pennsylvania State University, 1980. Research interests: Personal Financial Planning and Asset Allocation, Divestitures, When-issued Trading, and Warrant Pricing.

Chris J. Muscarella, Professor of Finance, Clark Teaching Fellow, Ph.D., Purdue University, 1983. Research interests: Valuation of Corporate Patents and the Impact of Management Compensation Plans on Corporate Spending Decisions.

Dennis P. Sheehan, Benzak Professor of Finance, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1981. Research interests: Security Issuance and Underwriting, Corporate Governance and Control, Financial Distress, and Economics of Organization.

Timothy T. Simin, Associate Professor of Finance, Smeal Research Fellow in Finance, Ph.D., University of Washington, 2002. Research interests: Empirical Issues in Asset Pricing, Robust Economic Methods, and International Finance.

Fenghua Song, Associate Professor of Finance, Ph.D., Washington University, 2007. Research interests: Corporate Finance, Financial Intermediation, Financial Crisis, Executive Compensation and Corporate Governance.

Joel Vanden, Associate Professor of Finance, Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley, 1999. Research interests: Asset Pricing, Derivatives, Debt Markets, and Mutual Funds.

Jared Williams, Assistant Professor of Finance, Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2009. Research interests: Behavioral Finance, Analysts' Forecasts, and Information Aggregation.

J. Randall Woolridge, Professor of Finance, The Goldman Sachs and Co. and Smeal Endowed University Fellow, President, Nittany Lion Fund, LLC, Ph.D., University of Iowa, 1979. Research interests: Valuation Consequences of Corporate Strategic Investment and Financial Decisions, and Analysts Stock Recommendations and Earning Forecasts.

Current Students: Click here to access our current doctoral students.


Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. What qualifications do I need to be accepted?

    Applicants who gain admission typically have a GPA of at least a 3.5 and a GMAT score of 700 or above. Most of those admitted have MBA, M.A. or M.S. degrees, but not all do. In some disciplines, other criteria are more important than having an MBA (e.g., a strong economic or math background). The faculty committee that reviews applications looks especially for evidence of the candidate's interest in learning to do research (e.g., previous publications) or teaching (e.g., previous teaching experience at any level).

  2. Is the doctoral program full-time only, or is there a part-time option available?

    The program is full-time and no part-time program is available. This is because our goal is to train graduates to excel in research and teaching, and this focus requires full-time commitment from students. In recent years, all of our graduates have found jobs upon graduation, 80 percent of them as faculty at colleges and universities. The remaining graduates have found positions in consulting, with research institutes or with government agencies (e.g., the Securities and Exchange Commission).

  3. How many years are required to complete the program?

    Most students require five years to complete the program, including final defense of the dissertation. However, students vary a great deal in time to finish the degree. Usually students take courses during their first two years in the program, take qualifying exams, and then start their dissertations. If they make rapid progress in developing a dissertation proposal and completing the dissertation, it is possible that they could complete the program in three or four years, although this rarely occurs.

For instructions on how to apply, visit the Admissions Process and Applications page.

For more information contact:

Professor Laura Field
Finance Department
Smeal College of Business
The Pennsylvania State University
311 Business Building
University Park, PA 16802-3603

Phone: 814-865-1483

If you would like application materials, please contact:

Phone: 814-865-7669