Earning A Finance Degree: Everything You Need To Know Before You Enroll

The finance sector is a crucial part of the global economy since money is central to every business transaction. Most positions in the finance industry require traditional college degrees and great math and analytical skills. If you match this description, a finance career might suit you.

Read on to discover the various types of finance degrees, certifications and career opportunities in this field.

What Are the Different Types of Finance Degrees?

Multiple degree levels are available to aspiring finance students. Education level plays a large role in finance career opportunities, so learners should consider their career goals when deciding which degree to pursue.

Associate in Finance

An associate degree is the minimum academic requirement for venturing into finance. You can earn an associate after completing a two-year program at an accredited college or university.

To be admitted into an associate program, you typically need to be at least 18 years old and hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. Most applicants must meet a minimum GPA standard as well, though GPA thresholds vary among schools.

An associate program in finance focuses on the fundamentals of finance, including:

  • Principles of banking and finance
  • Risk management
  • Financial accounting
  • Cash management
  • Financial analysis

Most associate programs require learners to complete 60 credits. Average tuition fees cost around $3,500 per academic year at public colleges and $15,400 at private institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

With an associate degree in finance, you can work as a bookkeeper, financial clerk, credit analyst, mortgage broker or loan officer.

Bachelor’s in Finance

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum academic requirement for most finance careers. This program typically involves four years of full-time study and 120 credits.

Finance majors learn all aspects of finance that apply to real-world jobs, including statistics, accounting principles, stock market fundamentals, risk management, corporate finance and financial services.

According to the NCES, the average annual tuition for a bachelor’s degree at a public university is about $9,400, or $37,600 at a private, nonprofit institution.

Master’s in Finance

These two-year degree programs often lead to either a master of finance (MFin) or an MS in finance, depending on the institution.

A master’s degree in finance prepares graduate students for advanced positions in the financial sector. The curriculum covers managerial accounting, quantitative methods, investment analysis, financial modeling and managerial economics.

A master’s degree in finance builds a deeper understanding of financial markets and models, but it doesn’t cover other aspects of business. Students who want a more comprehensive business education might consider an MBA program with a concentration in finance.

It takes 30 to 60 credits to obtain a master’s degree at most universities. The NCES reports that average graduate tuition and fees cost around $12,400 per year at public institutions and $26,600 per year at private schools.

Doctorate in Finance

A doctorate is the highest academic qualification attainable by a finance professional. At the doctoral students can pursue either a doctor of business administration (DBA) with a concentration in finance or a Ph.D. in finance.

Finance doctoral programs cover asset pricing, advanced statistics, econometrics, advanced accounting theory, financial management and strategy. DBA programs emphasize applied research over theoretical research, meaning students focus on applying theory rather than developing or expanding theory. Ph.D. programs, on the other hand, hone in on the development and extension of finance theory. Ph.D. degrees serve learners aiming to work in academia.

At the end of a doctoral program, each degree candidate defends an original academic dissertation. Doctoral programs entail about 60 to 120 credits, which may take four to seven years to complete.

Careers in Finance

Finance degrees may qualify graduates for a variety of positions in the finance field.

Accountant or Auditor

Median Annual Salary: $77,250
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): +6{21df340e03e388cc75c411746d1a214f72c176b221768b7ada42b4d751988996}
Education Needed: Bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance, a certified public accountant (CPA) license can be a necessary or helpful certification for some positions
Job Description: Accountants and auditors prepare and analyze financial documents. They also file tax returns. Another crucial part of their job is helping clients identify and mitigate potential risks by recommending better ways to channel revenue.

Budget Analyst

Median Annual Salary: $79,940
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): +3{21df340e03e388cc75c411746d1a214f72c176b221768b7ada42b4d751988996}
Education Needed: Business administration bachelor’s or a degree in finance, accounting or a related field; certified government financial manager (CGFM) credential required to work in some sectors
Job Description: Budget analysts help private and public institutions plan their finances. They review funding requests and conduct cost-benefit analyses to evaluate program tradeoffs and explore alternative funding methods. These professionals collaborate with project managers to develop balanced budgets and monitor organizational spending.

Financial Analyst

Median Annual Salary: $95,570
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): +9{21df340e03e388cc75c411746d1a214f72c176b221768b7ada42b4d751988996}
Education Needed: Bachelor’s degree in finance, economics or accounting; chartered financial analyst (CFA) certification; MBA often preferred
Job Description: Financial analysts study financial data and economic trends to identify investment opportunities and predict business outcomes. These professionals work closely with accounting teams to ensure accurate financial reporting. Check out our guide on how to become a financial analyst.

Financial Examiner

Median Annual Salary: $81,410
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): +21{21df340e03e388cc75c411746d1a214f72c176b221768b7ada42b4d751988996}
Education Needed: Bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting or another business-related field
Job Description: These professionals monitor financial institutions to ensure legal compliance. They review and authenticate financial records, evaluate the risk level of loans and monitor lending activity to ensure fair treatment of borrowers.

Market Research Analyst

Median Annual Salary: $63,920
Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): +19{21df340e03e388cc75c411746d1a214f72c176b221768b7ada42b4d751988996}
Education Needed: Bachelor’s degree in statistics, marketing, economics or finance
Job Description: Market research analysts help companies understand what products/services people want and at what price. They arrive at precise conclusions after gathering data on consumers and competitors, monitoring market trends and analyzing data using statistical software.

Certifications for Finance Professionals

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

This designation is administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board). The CFP credential demonstrates your expertise in all areas of financial management, including retirement, investing, taxes, education and insurance planning.

To obtain this certification, you must:

  • Possess a bachelor’s degree (or higher).
  • Complete a list of courses stipulated by the issuing body.
  • Pass the CFP certification exam.
  • Have at least three years of professional experience.
  • Adhere to the CFP Board of Standards’ code of conduct.

Popular careers for CFPs include budget analyst, financial advisor, financial analyst and accountant.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Most finance professionals qualify for CFA designation after earning a bachelor’s degree, gaining three years of work experience and completing an exam administered by the CFA Institute. The exam covers ethical and professional standards, tools, portfolio management and analysis and assets.

CFA charter holders can work as chief investment officers, auditors, credit analysts, portfolio managers, investment bankers and financial analysts.

Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®)

The ChFC designation, administered by The American College of Financial Services, validates your understanding of more than 10 key areas of financial knowledge, including estate, tax, insurance, asset protection and employee benefits planning. Eligible candidates must have a high school diploma and three years of business experience.

This certification enables candidates to work as financial planners, financial consultants and tax advisors.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

The CPA license is issued by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants to qualified accountants according to standards set by each U.S. state’s board of accountancy. CPA requirements vary among states but in most cases include a bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting, 150 semester hours of education, professional experience requirements and the Uniform CPA Examination®.

CPAs must also adhere to a professional code of conduct.

Financial Risk Manager (FRM)®

The FRM is globally recognized as the leading designation for financial risk professionals. It is offered by the Global Association of Risk Professionals.

The FRM credential certifies the holder’s expertise in quantitative analysis, risk management and financial markets. To qualify for this designation, candidates must have two years of full-time work experience in financial risk management and pass a two-part exam. An FRM can work as a risk/compliance officer, derivatives trader, quantitative business analyst, actuary or financial manager.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Finance Degrees

What are the different degrees in finance?

Aspiring finance professionals can pursue finance degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.

What are five careers that fall under finance?

Accountants, budget analysts, financial analysts, financial examiners and market research analysts all work in finance.

Do finance degrees pay well?

Yes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the annual mean wage for financial occupations as $82,610, which is significantly higher than the national average salary of $58,260 per year.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Minnie Arwood

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