What Is a Finance Degree?
Whether it's a graduate or undergraduate program, a finance degree gives you the tools you'll need to navigate the complex world of economics, financial management, banking, and global financial markets. You can find programs that focus specifically on finance, but if you're looking for a bit of a more well-rounded education, there are also programs that concentrate on finance topics within a core curriculum of multidisciplinary business concepts. Whether you go for a major or a concentration, having strong math, problem-solving, organization, and analysis skills will serve you well as you complete your program.
Types of Finance Degrees
Many schools in the U.S. offer finance degrees at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, master'At every level, you can choose from traditional on-campus programs, online programs, or a mix of the two that are available either full-time or part-time.
Associate Degree in Finance
An associate degree in finance introduces you to foundational financial concepts and practices. You can usually earn an associate degree in two years with full-time study. After graduating, you can either qualify for entry-level finance jobs, or you can transfer credit to pursue a bachelor's degree.
Bachelor's Degree in Finance
Bachelor's degree programs can be offered as strictly a finance major, but some schools also combine finance coursework with economics, accounting, general business, or a bachelors in business administration in finance. A four-year bachelor's degree covers the following topics:
- Financial reporting
- Market analysis
- Securities and investments
- Financial planning
A finance bachelor's degree is usually the minimum academic requirement for industry certifications, such as the Chartered Financial Analyst and the Certified Financial Planner credentials.
Master's Degree in Finance
Master's degree programs in finance come in many flavors--as a targeted Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.), Master of Management, or Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a finance concentration. MBA finance programs integrate finance topics into a very business-centric curriculum. Some schools also offer dual bachelor's-master's programs that let you earn both degrees faster. You could also add a focused graduate certificate program to your master's program to target your studies in a certain area, such as taxation.
Master's degrees are often available online, and most schools offer a part-time option to lighten the course load for working students. Additionally, as a graduate student, you'll usually receive additional support through networking functions, seminars, student clubs, and professional organization alliances. If you're interested in pursuing professional credentials such as the Certified Financial Planner or Chartered Financial Analyst, you can find master's programs specifically designed to prepare you for certification exams.
Ph.D. in Finance
Ph.D. programs in finance allow you to specialize in a related field such as economics, corporate finance, business management, or international finance. Regardless of your chosen path, you'll probably integrate one or more of these specializations into your Ph.D. work. With a Ph.D. in finance, you can either work in the finance industry or pursue a career as a professor.
Online Finance Degree
Online degree programs allow you the flexibility of studying when and where you want. They can also give you the ability to accelerate or extend your program depending on your course load. While some schools offer reduced tuition rates for online learners, others either have no financial difference between online and traditional programs or tack on additional technology fees, so it's a good idea to check school costs before determining if an online finance degree is right for you.
Finance Degree Requirements
Depending on your interests and career goals, the type of degree you pursue will have its own set of requirements. To enroll in an associate or bachelor's degree program, you usually only need a high school diploma or equivalent. At the graduate level, your academic requirements could include a bachelor's degree in a major related to finance (or a master's degree if you're going for a doctorate) as well as coursework in certain math or business subjects. You might also need to submit graduate admissions test scores and have some work experience to gain entry to a master's or doctoral program.
Is a Finance Degree Worth It?
Before deciding to pursue a finance degree, there are a few questions you should ask yourself to help determine your success in the program. Whether you're pursuing a finance degree for a salary increase, a career transition, or something else, the following information offers a guide to get you thinking about whether a finance degree is right for you.
Is a Finance Degree Hard?
The difficulty of a finance degree program depends on your natural tendencies with mathematical and economic concepts. However, here are a few other considerations you might want to think about:
- Associate degrees in finance aren't nearly as common as accounting associate degrees, and the curriculum at this level could be limited to one facet of finance, like financial planning, which might also limit your career options.
- A bachelor's degree in finance makes you more marketable than only having an associate degree, and it qualifies you for professional certifications, which can increase your salary potential.
- Graduate-level education is expensive, and you should consider how the long-term benefits (i.e., salary, job growth, career trajectory, etc.) weigh against the time and money spent on schooling. However, master's degree programs can offer many flexible benefits, typically offering part-time, online, accelerated, and dual-degree options.
- Doctoral programs in finance require more independent research than the other programs, but if your passion is finance, looking into ways to improve the field might be the main draw for you. Earning a Ph.D. makes you eligible to teach at the university level as well.
What Can You Do with a Finance Degree?
Once you graduate with a finance degree, your career options in finance aren't limited to banking or investment management. Your degree makes you marketable for positions in human resources, logistics and distribution, insurance, marketing, and commerce. More traditional entry-level jobs include financial clerks and claims adjusters, while more experience or education is required for financial analyst and personal finance advisor roles. With significant experience, you can qualify for advanced jobs in financial management.
Finance Degree vs. Accounting Degree
There is some overlap between finance and accounting curricula, and a degree program usually covers both at the outset. However, the main difference is that accounting programs deal more with current money management, while finance develops strategies for future financial growth. For example, finance degree coursework typically delves into banking, investing, planning, and projections.
Is a Master's Degree in Finance Worth It?
Just having a master's degree in finance doesn't mean you're a shoe-in for a finance job. According to the Financial Times in August 2017, the degree was less important to employers than the mastery of certain soft skills--specifically time management, problem-solving, networking, teamwork, and technology skills. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, master's degree holders' salaries were almost 90% more than those with a bachelor's degree in the finance and financial services fields.