A finance degree can unlock a whole host of opportunities. Those who understand how money works can make a career in banking, management, sales, entrepreneurship, or even on Wall Street. Read on to find out what a finance degree can do for you.
Anyone even remotely connected to modern civilization must utilize money. And most people, aside from maybe a few sages and hippies, want more money. Finance is the study of money. It teaches you how money can be transferred, how one form of money can be exchanged for another, how stocks are traded on Wall Street, how government and corporate bonds are managed, or how mortgages are orchestrated, how wealth ebbs and flows, and how we can navigate an evermore complex economic maze.
Finance can also incorporate related fields like accounting, business, and economics.
If you’re interested in any of the above, or if you’re hoping to gain a better understanding of how money works, how it grows, and how it should be managed, finance might be the educational discipline for you.
A background in finance can prepare you for a wide array of extremely practical occupations. And not surprisingly, those who study finance often earn a very impressive salary themselves.
If you already know what you’re looking for, go ahead and jump to our ranking of The 100 Best Business & Economics Programs in the World Today.
If you need a little more information, continue on.
Covered in this article:
- What do I need to know about accreditation?
- What kinds of Finance Degrees Are There?
- What’s the difference between a Master’s Degree in Finance and an MBA?
- What kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
- What can I do with a finance degree?
- How much can I make with a finance degree?
- What Professional Finance Associations or Societies should I join?
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
The last thing you want to do is waste time and money on a degree that won’t be taken seriously by future employers. That’s why it is absolutely imperative that you make sure your school has the proper accreditation before you proceed.
As with most other higher education disciplines, regional accreditation is of critical importance in determining where to obtain a finance degree. Program accreditation is granted by accrediting agencies that are formally recognized by the Department of Education. Only accredited colleges or universities are eligible for financial aid. Moreover, accreditation typically indicates that an institution is not only maintaining its standards but that it continues to advance and remain current within its field. As you proceed in your search, you’ll find both institutional accreditation and program accreditation. The former refers to school wide accreditation and the latter refers to the accreditation conferred upon your specific discipline and degree program.
Regional Accrediting Agencies
The institutional accrediting sector is divided into regional and national accrediting agencies. Generally, regional accrediting agencies confer greater credibility and merit. When you’re investigating a college or university, you’ll want to look for the “stamp of approval” from one of the following regional accrediting agencies:
- The Higher Learning Commission
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
When it comes to national accrediting agencies, reputations may vary. In some cases, program specific accrediting agencies may hold a great deal of importance. Some professions and places of employment will require that your degree has been conferred by a course of study with program specific national accreditation.
Those interested in finance degrees should also look out for the stamp of approval from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, (AACSB), which was founded in 1916. Schools may be accredited by either the AACSB Accounting Accreditation or the AACSB Business Accreditation, depending on their particular concentration. Although these two accreditation services focus on providing legitimacy for schools focused on the accounting or the business field, respectively, approval from the AACSB will command respect from all areas of the finance sector. Schools acquire such accreditation by applying directly to the AACSB and by demonstrating adequate funding and resources as well as well-rounded and current curriculum.
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also take a look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Kinds of Finance Degrees Are There?
The finance degree that is right for you is largely dependent on your current education level and career aspirations. Are you looking to find employment as quickly as possible? Would you prefer to work in the professional or academic arena? How many years are you willing to spend in school, and how much money are you willing to spend? Answering these questions will enable you to determine the right program for your needs.
Associate’s Degree in Finance
This degree is the next step after high school. This program will introduce you to foundational coursework. You probably will not find a fancy Wall Street job after finishing the 60 credits required for this program, but you will get your feet wet in a respected two year degree program. This program is ideal for you if you’re ultimately looking to eventually transfer into a bachelor’s degree program. Just be sure before applying that your associate’s degree program credits are recognized by most private and public four year schools.
What courses will I take?
- Introduction to Microeconomics
- Managerial Accounting
- Financial Accounting
- Principles of Finance
- Money, Banking, and Financial Markets
Bachelor’s Degree in Finance
A bachelor’s degree is the standard college degree. It typically requires four years to complete 120 credits of coursework. Students who complete this degree possess the minimum education requirement typically assumed necessary by most employers. In many ways, it is an expanded version of the associate’s degree program. Students will acquire a substantial overview of the field as they learn the key concepts that make the banking and investing world run. But in addition to that, students at the bachelor’s level will also have their first opportunity to engage in specialized coursework and independent research. Those interested in pursuing a job in finance beyond entry-level employment should aim for the bachelor’s degree as the lowest threshold for entry.
What courses will I take?
- Management and Organization Theory
- Principles of Accounting I
- Principles of Accounting II
- Business Finance
- Risk Management
- Financial Analysis
- Financial Management
- Security Analysis and Valuation
- International Finance
- Money and Banking
- Contemporary Issues in Finance Practice
- The 30 Best Online Bachelor's in Accounting Degree Programs
- The 20 Best Online Bachelor in Business Management Degree Programs
Those who study finance with more academic leanings will often choose a master’s degree. This degree does not preclude one from professional positions, but unlike the MBA is geared towards a wider range of studies than specifically business-themed material. Depending on the program, some master’s degrees also require a minimum level of coursework and will instead fill a student’s time with independent research, which is particularly useful for those looking to one day write a dissertation.
What courses will I take?
- Financial Reporting and Analysis
- Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management
- Short Term Financial Management
- Cost Accounting
- Quantitative Analysis for Decision Making
- Managerial Economics
- Corporate Financial Management
- Risk Management
- Financial Modeling
- Money and Capital Markets
- Global Corporate Finance
- The 10 Best Online Master in Finance and MBA in Finance Degree Programs
- The 50 Best Online MBA programs
What’s the difference between a Master’s Degree in Finance and an MBA?
The Masters of Business Administration (MBA) is similar to the Masters of Finance, but is more directly focused on the practical knowledge that those working in business need. It is the standard degree for those pursuing careers in the business world. Here, students will focus on the nuts and bolts of managing a company’s funds, making long term economic forecasts, understanding the ever changing world of business law, or any number of other tasks relevant to running some of the largest and most complex companies in the world.
If you’re ready to take the leap, check out The 10 Best Online Master in Finance and MBA in Finance Degree Programs.
If you think a more general MBA is right for you, here are The 50 Best Online MBA programs.
Doctoral Degree in Finance
The Doctoral degree is an advanced research degree specially designed for those who wish to complete a dissertation. The degree begins with two years of graduate coursework similar to the material studied at the master’s level. Then, students embark on writing a dissertation, which typically takes three years. Those interested in developing research material should pursue the doctorate, but this degree is not for the faint of heart. Doctorates can take often take as long as seven years to complete. Those interested in developing new financial models that help businesses, hedge funds, and central banks understand and improve finance practices should consider pursuing a doctorate.
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
The field of finance is uniquely open ended. This course of study can lead to a variety of occupations, each of which has its own particular certifications. Your required credentials will largely depend on the occupation you hope to pursue. Below are just a few of the types of licenses you might need:
As the name implies, a credit analyst determines the approximate financial health of a prospective loan applicant. In the modern economy, the entire system runs on credit, so determining who is in a position to pay their loans back and who is not is essential to keeping the financial world in working order. If you want to become a credit analyst, you need to go through The National Association of Credit Management. This organization offers the Credit Business Associate designation for applicants who finish three college-level financial accounting courses, financial statements, and business credit as well as a certification exam. After five years of business experience, you can also sit to take the test for the Risk Management Associations Credit Risk Certification.
Finance Officer/Loan Officer
Opportunities for finance/loan officers reached a fever pitch during the height of the subprime mortgage bubble. Nevertheless, there is still a substantial need for loan officers, and becoming a loan officer yields an unusually high paying job for a modest amount of education. Typically finance/loan officers have a bachelor’s degree and ample on-the-job training. It takes 20 hours of coursework, as well as passing both an exam and background/credit checks, in order to become certified. Officers must renew their license annually, and sometimes states will establish additional requirements. Also, certain groups, such as the American Bankers Association and the Mortgage Bankers Association, offer additional training. Though this training is not required, it is greatly encouraged and may open up further career opportunities.
In one sense, anyone can give financial advice, but if you want to be taken seriously you will need some credentials. Although financial advisors may need a variety of certifications depending on what products they wish to sell, the most obvious path to respectability runs through the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. They offer the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification. You will need a bachelor’s degree and 3 years of relevant experience. You’ll also need to pass a test, and follow a professional code of conduct.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the same licensing organization that governs securities, requires licenses for many financial analysts. Unlike many of the other sub branches of the financial industry, the majority of licenses relevant to this field require sponsorship by one’s employer. Thus, most people will get their feet wet in the industry before thinking about becoming an analyst.
If you want to be an investment banker, you will need to register as a representative of the bank you work for with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Investment bankers need to pass an examination in order to qualify. They can also acquire voluntary certifications such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) from the CFA Institute.
To see what’s out there check out, The 20 Best Online Certified Financial Planning (CFP) Programs here!
What can I do with a finance degree?
Finance is a field in which you can help others achieve their life goals while potentially earning a substantial paycheck yourself. A degree in this field can act as a doorway to a wide spectrum of lucrative positions that offer substantial career advancement opportunities. Some possible Careers in Finance include:
- Accountants and Auditors
- Appraisers and Assessors of Real Estate
- Budget Analysts
- Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators
- Cost Estimators
- Financial Analysts
- Financial Clerks
- Human Resources Specialists
- Insurance Underwriters
- Loan Officers
- Management Analysts
- Market Research Analysts
- Meeting, Convention and Events Planners
- Operations Research Analysts
- Personal Financial Advisors
- Purchasing Managers, Buyers and Purchasing Agents
- As well as a number of managerial careers
Obviously this list is not exhaustive. Nevertheless, it does provide a launching pad for your exploration of finance. If you find any of these jobs interesting, get started on your way by checking out The 100 Best Business & Economics Programs in the World Today.
What kind of salary can I earn with a finance degree?
Of course, no one can predict how much you stand to make in finance with absolute certainty. However, the data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a useful starting point for some of the leading finance professions:
- Appraisers and assessors of real estate: Median pay per year, 2016 — $68,150
- Budget analysts: Median pay per year, 2016 — $73,840
- Credit analysts: Mean pay per year, 2016 — $81,160
- Credit counselors: Mean pay per year, 2016 — $49,480
- Financial analysts: Median pay per year, 2016 — $81,760
- Financial examiners: Median pay per year, 2016 — $79,280
- Insurance underwriters: Median pay per year, 2016 — $67,680
- Loan officers: Median pay per year, 2016 — $63,650
- Personal financial advisors: Median pay per year, 2016 — $90,530
- Tax examiners and collectors, and revenue agents: Median pay per year, 2016 — $52,060
- Tax preparers: Mean pay per year, 2016 — $45,340
Are There Professional Finance Associations or Societies I should join?
Since finance is such a broad field with so many extremely specific niches, you will have to select the professional organizations that best match your interests. The following list is a good place to begin searching for networking opportunities, but feel free to look for more specialized organizations as your interests mature:
- Association for Financial Professionals
- Society for Financial Service Professionals
- American Association of Finance and Accounting
- American Bankers Association
- The American Finance Association (AFA)
- American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
- American Society of Women Accountants (ASWA)
- The Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business (IMA)
- International Federation of Accountants (IFAC)
- National Association of Black Accountants
- Professional Accounting Society of America (PASA)
Now that you know a bit more about how to earn a business degree, jump to our ranking of The 100 Best Business & Economics Programs in the World Today and find the best school for you!