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Finance Degree Information For 2021

Finance Degree Programs is a comprehensive guide to finance schools and degrees, designed for those who are interested in beginning or advancing their careers in this field. Our site provides up-to-date information that will help you learn about finance degrees, from entry-level certificates to master’s degrees, as well as guides to finance schools by state. We also feature career and salary outlooks, a jobs board, and more to help you develop your career in this competitive field.

Table of Contents
What Is Finance?
Why Should I Get a Finance Degree?
Finding Accredited Finance Programs
Educational Prerequisites and Concentrations
Finance Degree Levels
Online Finance Degree Programs
Finance Schools and Careers by State
Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Finance?

Finance is a broad field that encompasses managing and optimizing the flows of money, capital structure, and investments for corporations, individuals, and the public sector. Careers range from entry-level payables clerks to CFOs of small businesses to multi-billion dollar corporations. While the field is broad, professionals typically specialize in a particular area of finance. Be sure to visit our careers page for a detailed overview of finance careers and specializations.

Why Should I Get a Finance Degree?

Because finance deals with the management of money, those who wish to work in this field should be grounded in the fundamentals of financial theory and decision making. As such, most careers in finance require at least some formal education. To meet this demand for qualified professionals, nearly 1,000 not-for-profit colleges and universities in the US offer certificate and degree programs in finance.1 According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), higher-level degrees also tend to result in higher-level earnings, based on data from those graduating in 2020:

Degree Level2Typical Credit Hours to EarnAverage Starting Salary2
Associate’s60$48,750
Bachelor’s120$58,472
Master’sBachelor’s + 30$77,317

The job outlook for finance professionals is also positive. The outlook for financial analysts, which can be used as a proxy for the field as a whole, shows 6.2% job growth through 2028, slightly faster than the national average for all occupations (4% during the same time period).3 Other finance careers that are expected to see growth over the same time period include financial examiners (7.1% growth); financial managers (16% growth); financial specialists (6.2% growth); and personal financial advisors (7% growth).3

Is a Finance Degree Right for You?

People who work in finance typically have strong skills in math as well as analytics. Computer savvy is also a must, as day-to-day work in finance often involves using financial modeling applications and complex databases. While a background in computer coding or scripting is not required for all finance careers, it can be helpful, especially in careers that involve advanced quantitative analysis. Interpersonal skills, including the ability to communicate advanced financial information to people who might not have a finance background, are integral. Other skills and attributes that support a career in finance include attention to detail, a high level of organization, and an aptitude for solving complex problems.

Finding Accredited Finance Programs

One of the first steps in evaluating a finance program is ensuring that the college or university in which it is housed holds regional accreditation from one of the seven regional accreditors recognized by the US Department of Education. Regional accreditation is a marker of quality and indicates that a program follows accepted academic standards. It can also be a requirement for certain types of financial aid, as well as a prerequisite for admission to other graduate programs.

In addition to regional accreditation at the college/university level, finance programs may have national accreditation. This can include accreditation from one of the three major business school accreditors: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). A school may also have accreditation or recognition from organizations specific to finance. One of the best-known and most widely-recognized such programs is the CFA Institute University Affiliation Program. Universities that embed specific coursework to prepare students for the CFA exam may be recognized as affiliated universities.

Educational Prerequisites and Concentrations

The prerequisites for a finance program will vary according to the level of the program, the school, and other factors. However, prospective students will typically need to meet prerequisites in math. For an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in finance, this may include cut-off scores on admissions tests such as the ACT or SAT; for a master’s degree, prospective students should typically expect to take the GRE or GMAT. Another common requirement for admission to a finance master’s program is an undergraduate degree in finance, math, or a related field.

Some programs allow students to focus on an area of concentration or build an informal specialization through the selection of electives. Common specializations for finance programs include:

  • Banking
  • Capital Markets
  • Corporate Finance
  • Economics/Quantitative Economics
  • Energy Finance
  • Financial Engineering
  • Financial Management/Wealth Management
  • International Finance
  • Insurance
  • Managerial Finance/Economics
  • Real Estate
  • Risk Management

Finance Degree Levels

Finance degrees are available at all levels, from postsecondary certificates for those without a college degree to master’s and even doctoral degree programs with specialties in finance. The degree that is right for you will depend on your educational background as well as your desired career area. While some finance careers, such as payroll, may be accessible with a certificate, it is more common for employers to seek candidates who have a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Certificate in Finance

A certificate in finance can be a foundational postsecondary certificate for those with only a high school education or a specialized graduate certificate for those with a bachelor’s degree. Some schools also offer bachelor’s level certificates that are meant to build specializations within finance during the bachelor’s program. If you do not have a degree, a foundational certificate can help you determine if further study in finance is right for you while providing you with an entry-level qualification. Certificate programs can typically be completed in two semesters or less and commonly offer online study options.

Associate’s Degree in Finance

An associate’s degree in finance is the entry-level degree for pursuing a career in finance. Associate degree programs typically require 60 credit hours, which commonly takes two years to complete with full-time study. This course of study will provide a foundational background in finance as well as the opportunity to build career-supporting skills in subjects like math, statistics, and communication. The credits earned in an accredited associate degree program also typically transfer towards a bachelor’s degree, making this degree a potential stepping-stone for those who anticipate furthering their studies.

Bachelor’s Degree in Finance

A bachelor’s in finance prepares students for many careers as well as for graduate study. A bachelor’s degree typically requires 120 credit hours, which commonly represents four years of full-time study. Bachelor’s degrees in finance often offer opportunities for formal specializations that will be recognized on the degree conferred, such as Commercial Banking, Insurance, Investments, or Real Estate, among many others. This is a particular consideration for students who are interested in advanced finance degrees, which are likely to require prerequisites in a topical area. Select schools offer online bachelor’s in finance programs and there are a growing number of hybrid finance programs as well as many on-campus options.

Master’s Degrees in Finance

A master’s in finance is typically considered to be the terminal degree in this field for professionals outside of academia. The most common degrees encountered are variations of the Master of Science (MS) in Finance and the Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance. Either type of master’s degree can typically be earned in two to three years of full-time study, and many schools offer online master’s in finance programs designed for working professionals.

Master of Science in Finance

A Master of Science (MS) in Finance, sometimes shortened to Master of Finance (MFin), will usually focus on math and finance courses, though some courses in general business topics are also commonly included in the curriculum. A greater emphasis on advanced math; statistics and analytics; and financial theory can be expected in this type of program compared to other master’s programs that include finance coursework. Because the coursework is more focused, an MS in Finance may also offer more specific career preparation compared to other program options.

Master of Business Administration in Finance

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) program will usually focus more on business courses compared to a “pure” master’s in finance, but will still include substantial coursework in finance in order for students to earn the emphasis or major as part of their degree program. MBA in Finance programs may also offer broader opportunities to take coursework in complementing fields, such as real estate, accounting, and entrepreneurship, compared to an MS in Finance. Another difference between MBAs and other finance master’s programs is the admission requirements; one to five years of work experience is a common requirement for entry to an MBA, especially for highly competitive, top-ranked programs.

PhD in Finance

A few schools offer Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in Finance. A PhD in Finance is typically highly math-intensive; people who are pursuing advanced quantitative finance roles may pursue this degree. A PhD in Finance is also considered the basic qualification for full professors of finance who wish to teach at the college level or to work in more of a research role in higher education or the private sector. PhDs in Finance commonly take five to seven years to complete and are usually limited to on-campus study.

Online Finance Degree Programs

There are options for online finance programs from the certificate through to the master’s level, although it is most common to find fully-online programs for certificates and master’s degrees. An online program can offer greater flexibility compared to an on-campus program as many courses are offered asynchronously (though at least some synchronous class attendance may be required). If you are interested in studying at a school in another state, some online programs offer in-state tuition to online students and/or specific online tuition rates. An online finance degree typically requires a high degree of self-discipline, organization skills, and a drive to engage with the materials in one’s own time, which might not be a fit for all students.

Finance Schools and Careers by State

To help you find programs that are a fit for your background and educational goals, we have researched finance programs by state. On the following pages, you will find tables of in-state finance schools, the programs offered, program rankings, and state-level career outlooks for finance professionals along with additional information designed to help you evaluate your options.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can you do with a finance degree?

What you can do with a finance degree varies depending on the level of your degree, your degree specialties, and other qualifications. With a certificate or associate’s degree, you may qualify for jobs in bookkeeping, payroll, or entry-level financial advising. With a bachelor’s degree, you may find opportunities in banking, real estate, and commercial finance. A master’s degree can open up financial management opportunities in these and other fields.

Is a finance degree worth it?

A degree in finance represents a significant investment of time and money. Ultimately, the only one who can decide whether a degree is worth it is you. However, if you want to work in finance, earning your degree in this field may be a prerequisite for your desired career.

Is a finance degree hard?

Most programs of study in finance require intermediate to advanced mathematical skills. For those who are not math-oriented, this may be challenging. However, most programs are structured so that students can gradually learn the required material and work their way up to advanced financial reasoning. Many programs also offer opportunities for tutoring, group work, and other scaffolding designed to help students acquire the material. So, while a finance degree may be challenging, programs are ultimately designed to help students succeed.

Is finance a good career path?

If you have the aptitude for mathematical reasoning and an interest in the subject, finance is a career path you may consider. What makes a career path “good” for one person, however, might make it unsuitable for another. If you are finding it a challenge to determine whether finance is for you, taking advantage of job shadowing or internship opportunities is a commonly recommended way to assess this career path.

What do finance jobs pay?

Salaries in the world of finance vary widely based on factors including specialization, industry, employer, geographic area, and educational attainment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of 2019, the average salary for financial analysts was $81,590 per year.4 In the same year, personal financial advisors earned an average of $87,850, while securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents earned an average of $62,270.5,6 Financial managers earned a much higher average salary, at $129,890.7

References:
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. National Association of Colleges and Employers 2020 Salary Survey: https://www.wpi.edu/sites/default/files/inline-image/Offices/Career-Development-Center/2020-nace-salary-survey-winter.pdf
3. Projections Central Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Financial Analysts: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/financial-analysts.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Personal Financial Advisors: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/personal-financial-advisors.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/securities-commodities-and-financial-services-sales-agents.htm
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Financial Managers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/financial-managers.htm