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Finance Degrees and Programs: What You'll Study


A bachelor's degree in finance or a related area of study could prepare you for working in this high-powered field. You'll be rewarded with skills that can translate directly into entry-level positions in career tracks like banking, accounting, and tax preparation. Graduates with a bachelor's degree in finance may qualify for a wide range of opportunities in private, public, and nonprofit organizations. Earning a Master in Business Administration (MBA) with a focus on finance, or a master's degree in finance may give you a competitive edge in the industry. Earning a PhD in finance is an option for those who would like to pursue research and teaching. Read on to learn all about the different types of finance degrees.

What finance degrees are available?

Bachelor's Degree Programs in Finance

A four-year undergraduate degree with a focus on finance can pave the way for a career in areas such as commercial banking, financial planning, investment banking, money managing, insurance, and real estate. One great aspect of finance is that each sub-field is connected, making your skills apply to a broad range of potential positions. You have the option of focusing on a specific area right away, such as accounting or finance. Or, you can choose a bachelor's degree program that can impart a base of general knowledge before you decide on a focus.

While a bachelor's degree finance program is often a stepping-stone to graduate degree programs, it may qualify you for many entry-level jobs. The outlook for moving up in the finance world is good for motivated workers. With a solid knowledge base and business savvy, you'll be positioned to potentially move up the ladder within just a few years' time.

To illustrate some typical finance courses at the bachelor's level, we'll look at the 180-credit program at Colorado Technical University. CTU* offers this Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) with a concentration in Finance in both on-campus and online formats.

Students can choose concentrations in Financial Accounting, Investments, International Finance, Money and Capital Markets, Risk Management, and Corporate Finance. The core courses listed here are required for each.

Examples of Core Courses

  • Accounting I
  • Macroeconomics
  • Microeconomics
  • Introductory Human Resource Management
  • Principles of Business
  • Introduction to Business Law
  • Management Fundamentals
  • Fundamentals of Marketing
  • Introduction to Project Management
  • Personal Finance Concepts

Examples of Upper Level Courses 

  • Managerial Accounting Practices
  • Introduction to Corporate Finance
  • Managing Human Resources
  • Organizational Change
  • E-Business
  • International Business Communications
  • Statistics: Data-Driven Decision Making
  • Organizational Behavioral Principles
  • International Business Practices
  • The Legal and Ethical Environment of Business
  • Business Strategy
  • Marketing and the Virtual Marketplace
  • Ethics: The hallmark of Leaders at All Levels

This course load is designed to supplement fundamental business knowledge with a focus in financial accounting, capital and money markets, investments, and risk assessments. This particular school uses a project-based model which gives the student the role of collaborative problem-solver and project initiator, "helping you acquire marketable skills as you study and learn."

CTU's BSBA in Finance prepares students for careers as:

  • Chief executives
  • General and operations managers
  • Financial managers
  • Budget analysts
  • Credit analysts
  • Financial analysts
  • Personal financial advisors
  • Loan officers
  • Financial specialists, all other
  • Business teachers, postsecondary

Master's Degree Programs in Finance

Course work at the master's level can prepare you for management and administrative roles in finance. Popular options are master's degree in finance or a Master of Business Administration with a focus in finance, which may have broader applications in the field. In addition, there are many more MBAs with finance specialties than there are finance-only master's programs. To show courses you'll take in the latter, we'll look at the program offerings at Marymount College in Arlington, Virginia.

MBA with a Focus in Finance

Examples of Core Courses

  • Accounting for Managers: Examines the accounting cycle and the preparation, analysis and use of financial statements for managerial decision-making.
  • Business Communication: Develop skills that managers use to communicate effectively at work, including clear writing, engaging presentation preparation, and technology. Focus on teamwork and understanding of vertical and horizontal communication patterns.
  • Quantitative Methods for Management: Concepts and applications of quantitative methods and models to support managerial decision-making processes throughout the organization.
  • Organizational Behavior: Addresses contemporary management and organizational theories and their roots. These principles can be applied to manage human resources, enhance individual and group performance and increase organizational effectiveness.
  • Managerial Economics: Microeconomic analysis and its applications. Techniques to demand forecasting, price determination and resource planning.
  • Macroeconomics: Treats the scope of national income accounting, Keynesian and post-Keynesian models, consumption, savings, the multiplier, investment and public sector spending, money and interest and the general equilibrium model.
  • Marketing Concepts and Practice: Inquiry into interacting market systems and activities that deliver goods and services and create value for existing and new customers. Considers product, price, place and promotion in a global environment.
  • Corporate Finance: Study the role of finance in organizations, principles of financial analysis and control, capital budgeting techniques, investment decisions under uncertainty, financial structure and cost of capital, sources of long- and short-term financing, working capital management and the multinational aspect of financial management.
  • Strategic Management Seminar: This is the capstone course in the MBA program. Using the perspective of top management of an enterprise, the course considers operational situations, policy issues, and policy and strategy response. Employs case methods to provide the student with the opportunity to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty.

MBA Finance Track Options

  • Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management
  • Financial Markets and Institutions
  • Advanced Financial Management
  • Finance Seminar

What certification do I need to work in finance?

Several types of certification exist for financial workers, depending on their area of study and expertise. For example, becoming a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) is possible through the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. They uphold a standard of excellence in personal financial planning. You can also become recognized as a Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) through the CFA Institute.

Various certifications exist for stock brokers and securities traders, through organizations including the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA).

What will I learn in my courses?

FINRA's core values are: Excellence, Fairness, Integrity, Leadership, Respect and Teamwork. If you plan to work in finance, those things should be important to you as well. Ideally, your education will reflect these principles as you move through the curriculum.

The non-profit College Board, which promotes equity in education, outlines these major objectives for studying finance:

  • Planning
  • Raising funds
  • Making wise investments
  • Controlling costs

John Graham, a finance professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and John O'Brien, finance professor at Berkley's Haas School of Business, recommend these additional areas of study beyond basic business courses:

  • Mathematics
  • Accounting
  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Writing

Courses in communications and ethics will also greatly aid your understanding of the overarching concepts of business and finance.

How long will it take?

Depending upon your level of dedication, a degree in finance can take the following amount of time to complete:

  • Bachelor's degree programs, which provide entry-level opportunity, usually require four years of study
  • Master's degree programs and MBAs generally require one to two years to complete

Are there prerequisites?

Undergraduate: A strong college preparatory high school education is a good start for your business degree program. Courses in English, speech, communications, math and accounting are important. If your school offers computer technology classes make sure you enroll, as these skills will be integral through college and into your career. Make sure you develop your leadership skills, as college admissions officers look for applicants who display such qualities. Join school clubs to help cultivate this skill or volunteer in a community program.

Graduate: A completed, four-year bachelor's degree in business or finance can prepare you for graduate school.

What accreditation is there for my program?

Accreditation shows that an institution or program meets standards of quality set forth by an accrediting agency and that it is committed not only to meet those standards but to continuously seek ways in which to improve the quality of education and training provided. There are two types of educational accreditation: institutional and specialized.

The three main specialized accreditors for business and finance degree programs include:

Institutional accreditation is provided by regional and national associations of schools and colleges, such as The Higher Learning Commission. Institutional accreditation is provided by regional and national associations of schools and colleges. There are six regional associations, each named after the region in which it operates (Middle States, New England, North Central, Northwest, Southern, Western).

Attending an accredited school may allow you to apply for financial aid, whether the school you select is a traditional classroom or online program. Learn more about accreditation.