What Is a Finance Degree?

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A finance degree offers students a thorough understanding of banking, trading, and economics.

Finance is the study, acquisition, and management of money and investments. The field includes banking, credit, debt, and capital markets activities, which are all driven by economic principles and practices.

A finance degree opens doors to careers across economic sectors. Finance professionals can work with individuals, companies, or governments, assisting with things like budgeting and analysis. For example, financial advisors, planners, and managers inform clients on retirement, stocks and bonds, money lending and borrowing, and insurance.

What Kinds of Finance Degrees Are There?

There are several levels of available education for aspiring finance professionals, and each level qualifies graduates for different careers. For example, an associate degree suits entry-level roles, like bank tellers and financial clerks, while graduate programs lead to executive roles, academic positions, and consulting careers.

Associate Degree in Finance

Finance degrees at the associate level may be offered as associate of arts, associate of science, or associate of applied science programs. Full-time students complete finance associate degrees in two years, while part-time learners may take 3-4 years to earn their degrees.

Associate degree enrollees acquire fundamental knowledge of business, financial institutions and markets, and financial statement analysis. Coursework typically covers accounting, management, and economics, as well as general education topics.

During an associate in finance program, learners develop communication and technology skills applicable to entry-level positions in banks and investment firms. Graduates can also find employment as loan processors, sales assistants, or financial clerks.

Bachelor's Degree in Finance

A bachelor's in finance integrates foundational coursework in economics, business, and management with more advanced financial principles and practices. Students learn about financial terminology, models, and assessment methods. Upper-level courses cover investments, applications of managerial finance, and bank management. Programs often include internships as well, helping students gain practical experience.

Full-time students typically complete a bachelor's in finance in four years, with part-time learners commonly earning their degrees in 5-6 years. This degree prepares learners for roles as financial analysts, budget specialists, and financial services sales agents.

Master's Degree in Finance

Students typically earn master's degrees in finance in 1-2 years of full-time study. Curricula vary, but core coursework commonly emphasizes advanced concepts related to investments and financial accounting, exploring qualitative methods of financial analysis. Students can further personalize the degree through concentrations like international finance, wealth management, or corporate finance.

A master's degree in finance may also include practicum or internship requirements, which students can use to gain professional experience. Graduates often advance to roles as financial managers, compliance officers, and commercial bankers.

What's the Difference Between a Master's Degree in Finance and an MBA in Finance?

A master's degree in finance emphasizes financial principles and practice, offering only generalized coursework in business and management. This prepares students to work in finance-specific roles, like investment manager, financial advisor, or risk management professional. It also qualifies graduates to seek Ph.D.s or careers in academia.

Meanwhile, an MBA in finance is fundamentally a business degree, including classes in management, entrepreneurship, and economics, with a focus on finance. An MBA allows for advancement to managerial positions within corporations and organizations, including roles as financial directors and chief financial officers.

Doctoral Degree in Finance

A Ph.D. in finance focuses on theoretical frameworks and empirical methods used to assess the economic sector. Learners explore asset pricing, banking and financial institutions, and investment valuation. They also choose focus areas, like corporate finance, portfolio management, or accounting, where they propose and prepare dissertations.

Doctorates in finance vary in curriculum and length, but usually have a heavy research component. Students typically graduate in 3-4 years. Doctoral degrees in finance prepare learners for careers as chief executives, financial auditors, and personal financial advisors. Degree-holders can also teach at colleges and universities, work in research, or consult on economic policy within government agencies.

Accreditation for Finance Programs

When considering finance degrees, it's important to research accreditation status for each institution and program. Colleges and universities in the United States can hold with regional or national accreditation, and individual programs can also receive discipline-specific accreditation. For finance degrees, regional accreditation is required.

The major accrediting body for finance-related programs is AACSB International, which accredits business schools around the world. Accreditation through AACSB International indicates that a finance program meets the organization's rigorous academic, admission, and research standards. MBA programs may be accredited buy a business accrediting agency.

Finance Certifications and Licensure

Finance professionals can earn certifications to enhance their credentials and expand their practical knowledge. Certifications are usually offered through professional organizations. For example, individuals interested in honing their skills as personal or corporate financial planners can pursue certification through the CFP Board, while the American College of Financial Services offers a certification for financial consultants.

Some finance roles require professionals to have licenses, though the rules vary by state and local jurisdiction. Licenses may require a particular degree or certification as a prerequisite.

Certified Financial Planner™

Finance professionals with four-year degrees and requisite experience can earn financial planning credentials from the CFP Board in as little as 18 months. The certification process includes coursework, an exam, and a background check. To maintain the certification, candidates must complete continuing education requirements every two years, submit an application, and reassert their adherence to the CFP Board's code of ethics and standards.

Chartered Financial Analyst®

The CFA Institute's chartered financial analyst® (CFA®) program offers credentials for investment managers. Professionals with backgrounds in finance, economics, accounting, or business can become CFAs® by completing a three-part exam. The exam covers the fundamentals of investment tools, valuation, portfolio management, and wealth planning. Members of the CFA Institute must renew their credentials annually.

Certified Public Accountant

To become a CPA, candidates typically must complete 150 hours of coursework, although the actual required accounting credits vary by state. Most states also require test-takers to have 1-2 years of experience working under CPA supervision. Students who meet these qualifications can take the Uniform CPA Exam.

The exam consists of four sections: auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation. Candidates who complete the exam and additional state requirements can then obtain CPA licenses.

A CPA must complete 40 continuing education credits annually to maintain and renew their licenses.

Chartered Financial Consultant®

The American College of Financial Services offers an advanced financial consultant certification for practicing financial planners. The chartered financial consultant® (ChFC®) certification program includes eight classes on topics including income taxation, personal financial planning, and fundamentals of estate planning. Enrollees also participate in project-based activities and self-study courses before completing a final exam.

Applicants need at least three years of professional experience to enter the program. For recertification, ChFCs® must complete continuing education requirements every two years.

Chartered Investment Counselor

Awarded through the Investment Advisor Association, the chartered investment counselor (CIC) designation recognizes excellence and experience in the field of financial investment. Developed with the CFA Institute, the CIC requires demonstrated competencies in investment tools, asset valuation, and wealth planning, with additional understanding of investment counseling and portfolio management.

Candidates must submit a CV and letters of recommendation demonstrating five years of experience in an applicable position, specifically identifying research and analytical aspects related to investment counseling. CIC-holders must renew their credentials annually.

Chartered Life Underwriter®

Designed for financial professionals working in the insurance industry, the chartered life underwriter® designation indicates advanced expertise in issuing insurance underwriting agreements. Candidates need at least three years of professional experience to participate.

Required courses include fundamentals of insurance and estate planning, individual life insurance, life insurance law, and planning for business owners and professionals. Learners choose an additional three classes from electives in topics like investments, disability and lifetime planning, or income taxation.

Risk Management Associations Credit Risk Certification

The credit risk certification (CRC) is the sole professional designation for credit and lending professionals. To earn a CRC, candidates need at least three years of professional experience and must demonstrate expertise in seven areas of credit risk through a comprehensive exam. CRC credentials remain valid for three years, during which candidates must complete 45 credits of continuing education coursework.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Finance?

With a college degree in finance, learners primarily find employment opportunities in business, banking, accounting, and insurance roles, like loan officer, financial advisor, or insurance underwriter. However, finance students can also pursue roles outside of these industries.

Because a finance curriculum incorporates fundamental knowledge of money and economics as well as administrative skills, a finance degree can also lead to careers in healthcare, information technology, and education.

Banking

Finance degree-holders can pursue roles like loan officer or financial manager. Loan officers assess and recommend loan approvals for individuals and businesses, which requires strong analytical and communication skills to make sound financial decisions. Finance coursework in financial theory, risk assessment, and accounting all prepare loan officers to review financial documents and determine whether or not to approve loans.

Financial managers create and assess financial reports to direct investment activities, recommending ways to cut costs and maximize profits. They may work for individuals or organizations, making financial decisions based on market trends. Loan officers and financial managers typically have bachelor's degrees in finance.

Personal Finance

Personal finance professionals, such as financial analysts and financial advisors, typically hold undergraduate degrees in finance. Financial analysts examine financial statements, offer advice to companies and clients about investment portfolios, and assess strategies to optimize profits.

Financial advisors carry out comparable duties for individuals, managing expenses and income to help plan for their financial future. Personal financial advisors work closely with their clients to identify upcoming expenses and accommodate any changes in financial circumstances.

Insurance

Insurance jobs include sales agents, underwriters, and actuaries. Insurance sales agents meet with customers to determine their coverage needs, handle policies, and maintain insurance records. They may work with individuals on life insurance, health insurance, or property damage claims.

An associate degree provides the information needed to work as an insurance sales clerk, but underwriters and actuaries need bachelor's degrees for employment. Insurance underwriters and actuaries work together to assess risk and uncertainty and determine the amount of coverage available for insurance policies.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Finance Degree?

Different finance degrees lead to different careers. Associate degree-holders can find work as financial clerks, while a bachelor's degree leads to positions like credit counselor or loan officer.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these roles have strong growth projections from 2019-2029. BLS data also indicates above-average growth projections for managers, analysts, and advisors.

Career Mean Annual Wage (2019) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)
Financial Managers $147,530 15%
Actuaries $120,970 18%
Personal Financial Advisors $119,290 4%
Financial and Investment Analysts $94,160 5%
Financial Examiners $92,330 7%
Budget Analysts $80,300 3%
Loan Officers $76,200 3%
Credit Counselors $50,230 8%
Financial Clerks $42,420 9%
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations

Professional organizations for finance students and professionals facilitate networking and continued education. Membership in a professional organization allows access to webinars, conferences, and certification programs alongside advocacy opportunities, industry news updates, and career resources.

  • Financial Management Association International Established in 1970, FMA unites financial decision-makers from around the world, bridging the gap between academics and practitioners. Members have access to research and networking opportunities, publication materials, and teaching and professional development resources. FMA also has over 175 student chapters that prepare undergraduate and graduate students for careers in finance.
  • Beta Alpha Psi Beta Alpha Psi is an honor organization for financial information students and professionals, promoting academic excellence and responsible practice. Beta Alpha Psi engages in advocacy initiatives to help shape the field of financial and business information. Beta Alpha Psi maintains over 300 chapters, and members have access to mentors, career guidance, and community and campus service opportunities.
  • International Finance Student Association Based in the Netherlands, IFSA is committed to building international networks of financial students to ensure excellence in the field. IFSA provides practical and theoretical knowledge to learners, enabling them to network with one another and grow their career opportunities. Members can access IFSA workshops, presentations, and events, including competitions and ambassador activities that help shape future finance leaders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Hard to Get a Job With a Finance Degree?

Finance degree-holders have plenty of options when it comes to careers. Degrees at the undergraduate level allow for entry into business, banking, and insurance careers, while graduate degrees in finance help individuals advance into roles as financial managers, accountants, and personal financial advisors.

What Are the Best Careers in Finance?

Most finance careers have strong salary rates and job growth projections, according to the BLS. For example, financial clerks and creditor counselors are projected to see above-average growth from 2019-2029, as are financial management and actuary roles.

Is Finance a Dying Field?

No, finance is not dying. Financial roles change with the times, but financial professionals continue to serve vital functions in the economy and the workforce.

How Do I Start a Career in Finance?

To begin a career in finance, it's best to start by earning an associate or bachelor's degree in finance, economics, accounting, or another related field. Gaining experience in an entry-level role at a financial institution or bank, like teller or bookkeeper, can also open the door to more career opportunities.

Which Finance Job Is Right for Me?

What makes the best finance job depends on individual skills and interests. Students who excel in mathematics typically thrive as accountants and financial analysts, while business-minded finance students prefer consultant positions, advising corporations on investment opportunities. Many finance careers require strong communication skills, so professionals who prefer calculation over conversation may flourish best in roles as actuaries or underwriters.

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