What Can You Do with a Finance Degree?

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The world of finance is broad, spanning careers from banking to sales and even to Wall Street. Depending on the type of finance degree you pursue, you could work as a credit analyst, a financial advisor, an investment banker, or even as a researcher developing new financial models. You can do a lot with a finance degree; it all depends on your interests and how many years of education you wish to invest.

A finance degree gives you a grounding in accounting, statistics, economics, and business law courses. A finance degree is similar to a business administration degree, but the latter tends to focus more on interpersonal skills than a finance degree program. As a student in a finance degree program, you will learn about investments and the workings of financial institutions. You’ll also learn 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, and how we can navigate an ever more complex economic maze.

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.

What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?

Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.

For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?

What is Regional Accreditation?
Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies

To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What Is National Accreditation?
National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
 
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.

To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.

For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.

What is Programmatic Accreditation?
Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
 
For instance, those interested in finance degrees should also look 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 concentration. Although these two accreditation services focus on providing legitimacy for schools focused on the accounting or 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 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 Types 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 finance degree program for your needs.

Associate Degree in Finance

An associate degree in finance will introduce you to foundational coursework in finance. You probably won’t land a fancy Wall Street job after finishing the 60 credits required for this program, but you will get a foundational education in a respected two–year degree program. This program is ideal if you’re ultimately looking to eventually transfer into a bachelor’s degree program. Just be sure before applying that your associate degree program credits are recognized by most private and public four–year schools.

What Courses Will You Take in a Finance Associate Program?

  • Financial Accounting
  • Investments
  • Introduction to Microeconomics
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Money, Banking, and Financial Markets
  • Principles of Finance

Bachelor’s Degree in Finance

A bachelor’s degree in finance typically takes at least four years to complete, and will require a minimum of 120 credits of coursework. Students who complete a finance degree at the bachelor’s level will learn key banking, investing, and trading concepts, and gain a substantive overview of market theory and various competing economic philosophies. In addition, students at the bachelor’s level will have their first opportunity to engage in specialized coursework and independent research. For those interested in pursuing opportunities for finance management, leadership, or research, the bachelor’s degree in finance is typically the lowest threshold for entry.

What Finance Courses Will You Take in a Finance Bachelor’s Program?

  • Bank Management
  • Business Finance
  • Contemporary Issues in Finance Practice
  • Financial Analysis
  • Financial Management
  • International Finance
  • Introduction to Financial Management
  • Investments
  • Management and Organization Theory
  • Money and Banking
  • Principles of Accounting I
  • Principles of Accounting II
  • Risk Management
  • Security Analysis and Valuation

Master’s Degree in Finance

Those who wish to study finance in depth and pursue their own research will often choose a master’s degree. A master’s degree in finance does not exclude you from professional positions, but unlike the MBA, it is geared towards a wider range of studies than specifically business–themed material. Some master’s degrees in finance also include an independent research component, where you’ll work closely with an advising professor to producing meaningful, original research.

What Finance Courses Will I Take in a Finance Master’s Program?

  • Audit Institutions and Processes
  • Corporate Financial Management
  • Corporate Valuation
  • Cost Accounting
  • Financial Modeling
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis
  • Global Corporate Finance
  • Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management
  • Managerial Economics
  • Money and Capital Markets
  • Quantitative Analysis for Decision Making
  • Risk Management
  • Short Term Financial Management

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

The master of business administration degree (MBA) is similar to the master of finance, but is more focused on the practical knowledge required of those working in business. The MBA is the standard degree for those pursuing careers in business leadership and may focus on subjects such as managing a company’s funds, making long–term economic forecasts, and understanding the constantly shifting legal landscape facing businesses.

Doctoral Degree in Finance

A doctorate in finance 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 of finance level. There, 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 often take if seven years to complete. Those interested in developing new financial models that help businesses, hedge funds, and central banks understand and improve financial models and practices should consider pursuing a doctorate in finance.

What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do You 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 certifications. The credentials you require will largely depend on the occupation you hope to pursue. Below are just a few of the types of licenses you might need:

Credit Analyst
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 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 or loan officers have a bachelor’s degree in finance 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 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 further career opportunities.
Financial Advisor
In one sense, anyone can give financial advice. However, if you want anyone to listen to it, 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 in finance and three years of relevant experience. You’ll also need to sit for the comprehensive CFP certification examination and pass the CFP Board’s Fitness Standards for Candidates and Professionals Eligible for Reinstatement.
 
To get your certification, check out The 20 Best Online Certified Financial Planning (CFP) Programs.
Financial Analyst
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, most licenses relevant to this field require sponsorship by your employer. Thus, most people will get their feet wet in the industry before thinking about becoming an analyst.
Investment Banker
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.

What Can You Do with a Finance Degree?

If you are asking yourself, “What can I do with a finance degree?” there are plenty of options. Finance is a field in which you can help others achieve their life goals while potentially earning a substantial paycheck yourself. A finance degree can act as a doorway to a wide spectrum of lucrative positions that offer substantial career advancement opportunities. Some possible business and finance careers include:

While this list is not exhaustive, it provides a launching pad for your exploration of the jobs you can obtain with a finance degree.

What Kind of Salary Can You 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, with a look at median annual salaries as of 2018:

Career Median Salary
Tax Preparers $38,730
Financial Clerks $39,570
Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks $40,240
Credit Counselors $44,710
Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents $54,440
Loan Officers $63,040
Insurance Underwriters $69,380
Accountants and Auditors $70,500
Credit Analysts $71,920
Budget Analysts $76,220
Financial Examiners $80,180
Financial Analysts $85,660
Personal Financial Advisors $88,890
Actuaries $102,880
Financial Managers $127,990

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Are There Professional Finance Associations or Societies You 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:

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