Pursuing a degree in finance can open up a world of possibilities, in private, public, nonprofit, and even personal sectors. Potential job opportunities range from financial planning and capital management to insurance administration, as well as roles such as real estate agents, venture capitalists, and hedge fund managers (Gwynedd Mercy University, 2021).
Gaining a degree in finance can equip students with beneficial skills such as accounting, analytical thinking, evaluating performance, and understanding investing concepts (Doyle, 2020).
Business-related degrees, such as finance are among the popular fields of study in post-secondary institutions in the United States. In the academic year 2017-2018, colleges and universities awarded 386,201 diplomas (NCES, 2020). This guide to finance degree programs can help prospective finance students in deciding what courses to take, where to study for the degree, and how much to prepare for their tuition. After reading this, they should also be able to decide whether they want to pursue a finance degree or an accounting degree.
Between finance vs accounting programs, students of the latter can expect to learn the ins and outs of stock markets, market predictions, and investments. A finance degree also sharpens a learner’s math skills to prepare them in dealing with complex data sets. The degree also entails arming students with knowledge about financial management tools, investment practices and analysis, and financial planning (American Intercontinental University, 2017).
Enrolling in a finance program means that a student is going to learn about financial analysis. They will also encounter asset and debt management, capital planning, and funds acquisition. The curriculum for finance can include matters of international finance as well. A broader finance definition would include personal, corporate, and public or government finance. Similarly, an online finance degree can offer the same courses with a bit more flexibility, especially for professionals with busy schedules.
Again, a finance degree has corporate, government or public, or personal applications. Should you choose the corporate way, you can become a financial analyst or investment manager. Those who want to go into public service can become budget managers or spend analysts. Those who would rather go into personal finance have numerous options for them, too. They can be personal finance planners and manage clients’ estates.
The best universities and colleges to learn finance degree skills can be costly. That is why students and parents must prepare for finance degree tuition as early as possible. Students should note as well that should they choose to study out-of-state or abroad, their tuition would be higher.
While there is no specific separate tuition for a finance degree, students can still get an idea of how much it costs to study. They only need to look at the average tuition fees for associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.
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For a master’s degree in finance, it will cost nearly $30,000 in a public school and almost $40,000 in a private institution (Tretina, 2020). These are figures for annual tuition and fees only. There could be other fees and the tuition could go higher for Ivy League schools. Meanwhile, an online master’s degree in finance may provide relatively more affordable options to professionals looking to expand their knowledge.
Meanwhile, a Ph.D. in finance could cost as little as $1,300 per semester or $2,600 per year (Georgia Tech, 2021) or $30,000 per year (Baluch, 2021). Again, these figures vary widely and would be higher with a private institution.
Getting a degree in finance is a huge commitment. It does, however, have great benefits. The jobs pay well and there is a steady demand for finance professionals. And the minimum requirement for most finance roles is a bachelor’s degree (Erstad, 2017).
Finance degree jobs require highly analytical thinking. This is because their roles need them to look over financial statements and similar accounts. Moreover, some jobs entail awareness of the market and the ability to predict future directions.
According to Malinsky (2020) of investment platform Acorns, financial advisors are in demand. This role has an average salary of $94,170 per year. Additionally, the BLS (2021) relates that the employment outlook for business and financial occupations is set to grow by 5% from 2019 to 2029. Aside from the demand, finance-related roles pay handsomely—finance is one of the highest-paying college majors.
Based on the jobs mentioned above, a finance major can earn as much as $89,330 per year, according to BLS (2021). That is the median pay—in some states or cities, that figure could be higher or lower. For example, personal financial advisors can make $135,770 in the District of Columbia, the highest average salary for the job in the United States. But those working in Oklahoma get the short end of the stick as the median annual pay there for personal financial advisors is $82,750 (Indeed Editorial Team, 2021).
Tax examiners and collectors and revenue agents have a median salary of $55,640. It is one of the lowest among the occupations for finance majors. Similarly, meeting, convention, and event planners have a median pay of $51,560 per year (BLS, 2021).
Fundraisers, training and development specialists, and human resource specialists are in the middle range when it comes to salary. They have median pay of $59,610, $62,700, and $63,490, respectively (BLS, 2021).
Source: Indeed Editorial Team, 2021
There are four finance degree types (as well as a certificate) a student can achieve in finance. These are associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. Not all institutions offer all types of degrees in the field of finance, though. This is why if a student is interested in undertaking further studies, they may have to widen their scope of search.
Average time to complete: 2 years
An associate degree in finance typically takes two years to complete. For example, Wake Technical Community College (2021) requires 68 credits for the completion of the degree program. Students can expect coursework about business law, financial management, and economics.
Depending on the institution, students can choose to take the program wholly online or on campus. There are also colleges and schools that offer hybrid learning formats. Students learn to be versed in finance language as well. And during their course of study, they gain a deeper knowledge of financial operations.
Entry-level jobs: accountant, auditor, financial clerk
Average time to complete: 4 years
While a bachelor’s program in finance usually takes four years to complete, there are colleges and universities that offer an accelerated track. To graduate, students also need to finish double the credit requirement of an associate degree.
While undertaking a bachelor’s degree program in finance, students will gain fundamental business knowledge and practices. Along the way, they will learn to utilize information technology to help them in business analysis and operations, too. Plus, if the academic institution offers concentrations, students will have more in-depth knowledge about banking and financial services, corporate valuation, and investment analysis (Temple University, 2021; University of Nevada, Reno, 2021).
Bachelor’s programs in finance can either be of arts or of science. The difference between these is that in BA in Finance, the student will encounter a well-rounded curriculum. Thus, they will take a wide array of courses that can include language, history, psychology, and communications. On the other hand, BS in Finance will have a mix of general education courses, too, but fewer. Instead, most of their courses will be focused on preparing them for a career in business and finance.
As with an associate degree, a bachelor’s in finance can be taken on-campus, online, or have a mixture of both.
Entry-level jobs: investment banker, mutual fund manager, personal financial advisor
Average time to complete: 1 to 3 years
Achieving a master’s degree in finance can take between one to three years. That is because there are graduate schools that enable students to take the fast track in degree earning (Ohio State University, 2021). And it can take longer because, at this point, there are master’s students who work full-time and in high-level positions, too.
By enrolling in a master’s in finance program, students can broaden their knowledge of organizational finance. They will have advanced discussions of economic theory, mergers and acquisitions, international markets, corporate finance, and risk management. And as they take their master’s degree courses, students will hone their quantitative, analytic, and problem-solving skills further (Harvard Extension School, 2021).
Distance learning is possible for a master’s degree in finance although there are fewer colleges and universities that provide the option.
Entry-level jobs: chief financial officer, internal auditor, international finance analyst
Average time to complete: 3 to 4 years
A doctoral degree in finance is a rigorous program. Institutions like the Stanford Graduate School of Business have 4-year Ph.D. in finance programs. The topics covered include pricing and valuation of assets and the behaviors of financial markets. Students can expect to encounter thorough studies of issues in those areas. They will also be required to develop theoretical models that attempt to explain those issues as well as to test those models empirically.
Hybrid instruction Ph.D. programs are common but most institutions only offer face-to-face instructions.
Entry-level jobs: vice president of finance, director of finance, professor
Average time to complete: 2 to 3 months
To gain a certificate in finance, students take a mix of short courses whose aim is to demystify various aspects of the field. These can assist learners in gaining fundamental knowledge of the language of finance. And within a short span (usually two to three months), they should have a better understanding of financial analysis and management (eCornell, 2021). Other institutions have a curriculum of four required courses and 15 semester units, such as the UC Berkeley Extension.
Certifications nowadays are mostly offered online but students can still enroll in on-campus short courses. Related majors are online certificates in accounting, bookkeeping, and other.
Entry-level jobs: bookkeeping clerk, accounting clerk, auditing clerk
Because of the rigor required in studying finance and related subjects, finance degree prerequisites for admission and retention can be strict.
Universities and colleges require students to show proof that they graduated from high school. Thus, they have to submit official transcripts from all high schools they attended. For current or previous undergraduate students, they should present transcripts from schools they previously attended.
High school students seeking submission to an undergraduate finance program need to have achieved a B average in the above-mentioned subjects.
Certain universities may have high school course requirements. A case in point is the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2021). To be admitted to the program, students must have 4 units of English, Math, and Science. They need to have 2 units of Social Science and Foreign Language as well.
In some schools, SAT/ACT scores are optional But should they be required, a minimum GPA of B or 3.0 is needed.
As a common practice in college admissions, students should prepare a personal essay. It could be on any topic or a subject specified by the institution.
Optional requirements may include letters of recommendation and/or an interview with a counselor.
To be a good finance student and a finance professional in the future, you must have or develop the following finance degree skills:
Finance involves a lot of problem-solving. As such, students are expected to have problem-solving skills. They need to be able to face complex statements and situations and cope with those accordingly.
Students should demonstrate their ability to think logically. In this way, they can tackle problems never encountered before and come up with adequate solutions. They also need to be analytical in looking at data sets for accurate market or business predictions.
Finance professionals often work with each other or with colleagues from other business units. To ensure smooth collaboration, they must have strong interpersonal skills. These are something that students should be able to have or develop during their years in college.
When looking for a finance program to enroll in, there are several things you must consider. One of those is your time commitment. Are you going to focus on your studies completely or do you need to study part-time only? There are academic institutions that are strict with their commitment requirements and you may want to look for a school that allows you to study part-time. Other considerations are the following:
There are finance degree programs that have a general curriculum. And there are those that offer specializations like Corporate Finance, Financial Institutions, Risk Management, and Personal Financial Planning. Others may offer only two specialization tracks that may not include the one a student is looking for. That is why it is prudent to ask or research what specializations a school offers.
There are three organizations known to grant accreditation or recognition to colleges and universities for their finance degree programs. These are the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB), the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE), and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. A school may have three seals of recognition but even one would suffice.
Students can double-check the accreditation status of a school’s program on the respective websites of the accrediting bodies.
A school with a good track of producing top-quality students can be considered to have a good reputation. Additionally, a name that is rooted in history can be a trustworthy institution. But other than a school’s reputation, a student must also look into faculty reputation.
Students want to learn from the best and some of the best are those who have experience in the industry. They can also be researchers who regularly study and analyze markets and other finance issues.
A low student-to-teacher ratio is ideal in any classroom setting. It typically is 15:1 or 10:1 with some variations. In a smaller classroom environment, teaching staff can be more engaged with students. Learners themselves can interact with each other as well as their instructor well. The latter is beneficial since they do not have to undergo difficulties in getting the instructor’s attention whenever they have questions or clarifications. Class dynamics can be productive in such cases (Open Education Database, 2021).
Students who may need financial aid need to check on what scholarships or aids a college or a university offers. Often, academic institutions provide full scholarships or discounts to students who meet their grade requirements. Other than that, students can check whether they are eligible for external scholarships from foundations, government agencies, and companies.
Finance is an attractive degree, especially to those who want to have high-earning entry-level jobs. But the field of finance can be exacting because of the long hours, odd hours, and sometimes, necessity to work on weekends and holidays. Students should be prepared to learn to look at the bigger picture because that is often necessary when analyzing markets and economies.
Of course, they also need to actually enjoy working with finance and with other people. Roles in finance often require professionals to work with a team or with entire departments to come up with solutions. Thus, they need to be able to collaborate smoothly.
If you are committed to taking a finance degree, then this guide should have helped you determine whether you have the right admission requirements and skills. This should have informed you about what you can expect from the coursework and allowed you to decide whether to go for an associate or bachelor’s degree or a certificate.
And if you are thinking of advancing your career but are tight on budget, then you can survey these 100 best value colleges in the US.