What Can You Do With a Finance Degree?

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Updated March 25, 2024

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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.

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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.

Careers Paths in Finance

What can you do with a finance degree? After earning a finance degree, graduates can pursue careers in banking, financial services, and business. These professionals advise clients on investment strategies, analyze budgets to identify inefficiencies, and manage financial decision-making for organizations.

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 2022-2032. BLS data also indicates above-average growth projections for managers, analysts, and advisors.

Financial Clerks

Median Annual Salary: $45,570

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): -4%

Financial clerks carry out financial transactions for businesses. They assist customers, maintain financial records, and check financial records for accuracy. Most employers require financial clerks to have at least a high school diploma, while bachelor's degree-holders have an advantage in the job market.

Insurance Sales Agents

Median Annual Salary: $57,860

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 8%

These sales agents sell insurance policies to customers, which includes explaining policies to clients and signing up new customers. They may specialize in a particular type of insurance, like life insurance, health insurance, or accident coverage.

Credit Counselors

Median Annual Salary: $51,650

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 3.3%

Credit counselors help clients manage debt by advising them on taking out loans, repaying debt, and restructuring their debt. Credit counselors may also create custom debt management plans for their clients.

Budget Analysts

Median Annual Salary (2020): $87,680

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 1%

Budget analysts evaluate organizations' budget estimates and spending to recommend ways to increase efficiency. They also assess finances for accuracy and ensure that budgets follow regulations. Budget analysts typically hold bachelor's degrees.

Loan Officers

Mean Salary: $84,160

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 1.4%

Loan officers analyze loans to recommend whether or not to approve borrowers. They may also advise borrowers on the requirements of the loan or repayment options. Some specialize in mortgages.

Financial Examiners

Mean Salary: $95,610

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 1.2%

Financial examiners monitor organizations to ensure that they follow government laws and regulations. For example, they verify that financial institutions comply with securities laws. They also examine financial records to uncover illegal actions.

Financial and Investment Analysts

Mean Salary: $108,790

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 1.6%

Financial and investment analysts evaluate their clients' financial positions and the performance of their investments. They can work for corporations or individual clients. Some specialize in risk management or portfolio management.

Personal Financial Advisors

Mean Salary: $137,740

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 1.3%

Personal financial advisors recommend investment strategies for their clients. They educate clients on retirement savings, insurance, and tax policies to help clients save for long term goals and improve their financial health. Some also manage investment portfolios.


Mean Salary: $127,580

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 4.3%

Actuaries analyze data related to mortality, accidents, and other unforeseen events to determine risk. Most actuaries work for insurance companies, determining insurance rates, coverage policies, and future benefits.

Financial Managers

Mean Salary: $166,050

Projected Job Growth (2022-2032): 1.2%

Financial managers oversee financial activities in organizations, overseeing other financial professionals. They create long-term plans and short-term goals for their departments while also setting policies. Some specialize in risk management or credit management.

In addition to the careers listed above, graduates can work as accountants, credit analysts, investment bankers, and compliance analysts.

Frequently Asked Questions About Finance Degrees

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.

Do Finance Majors Make a Lot of Money?

Many careers in finance offer above-average salaries. For example, financial examiners, personal financial advisors, and financial managers all earned median annual wages exceeding $80,000 as of 2019.

What Is a Finance Major Like?

Finance majors study economics, business, and management, taking classes in financial analysis, asset management, and financial management. A finance major is best suited to analytical students with a mind for mathematics.

Is Finance a Lot of Math?

Finance requires some mathematical abilities. For example, finance professionals often use statistical methods to analyze financial data. They may also need to take statistics, algebra, or calculus classes in college.

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