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Finance Degree Guide
Finance includes a number of careers, and the right degree option often depends on which career most interests you.
Factors to consider when you're comparing degrees include your budget and how much time you're able to devote to your education. Financial degrees are available from the associate to doctoral level, so you'll have several paths to choose from.
Bachelor-level degrees are the most common education route in many financial careers. However, master's degrees are becoming more standard for some financial jobs. For instance, if you're interested in working as a financial analyst for high-wealth clients, or if your career goals include managing the finances at a large company, a master's degree might be your best bet.
"Right now, the Master in Business Administration (MBA) is becoming the new gold standard," says Stanford Nix, MBA, a venture capitalist and managing partner of The Nix Organization. "I think that in 20 years, it will be the norm, and having a PhD will be the huge differentiator."
What Finance Degrees are Available?
Aspiring financial professionals have multiple degree options to choose from. You may be able to get started by jumping into a two-year associate degree program and then taking on an entry-level role, or you can set your sights on earning an advanced degree such as an MBA before you enter the financial workforce. No matter which path you choose, your financial education may cover core topics such as economics, accounting, and investment management and should prepare you for a financial career.
"A two or four-year finance degree will put you on equal footing with others when you get started," explains Cliff Auerswald, president of All Reverse Mortgage, Inc. "With those degrees, you'll be well versed in topics such as basic economics, business accounting, financial analysis, and current real estate legislation. An advanced degree in finance will put you ahead."
What About Certification?
There are some certifications available for financial professionals. None of these certifications are state-mandated; however, they're still very important to some employers. Often, employers will only hire candidates who have achieved certification. Additionally, earning certification can boost your salary and help advance your career.
Financial professions where certification is encouraged include:
Greg Wilson, a Chartered Financial Analyst with more than two decades of experience in the financial industry, has both a CFA and a CFP and says that benefits go beyond the salary boost he received after earning them.
"These designations not only are nice letters to have, but I found that studying for them legitimately increases your knowledge base and shortens your learning curve," he says. "I am a big advocate of both."
Do I Need a License to Work in Finance?
Most financial jobs don't have any licensure requirements. However, you will need a license if you're interested in selling real estate or insurance. The requirements for licensure in these professions is set by each state. You'll need to meet your state's requirements and apply for licensure with the appropriate state agency. You'll need to keep your license current to continue selling real estate or insurance policies in your state.
Are Finance Degree Programs Offered Online?
It's very common for financial degrees to be offered as online programs. Many of these programs can be completed 100% online and allow you to work at your own pace. You'll be able to complete your courses in the evenings, weekends, or whenever works best for you. Some programs do have capstone or internship requirements that will need to be completed in person. This isn't always the case, and it's more common in MBA, DBA, and PhD programs than in other degree paths.
Programs and Schools: What to Look For
The right degree program for you should fit your specific goals, learning style, budget, and lifestyle.
It's important to make sure any schools and programs that you're considering are accredited. Accreditation is an important measure of quality and offers assurance that you can count on your education to serve as a strong foundation for your financial career.
There are two additional benefits to accreditation you should know about. The first is that credits from an accredited school can be transferred to other colleges and universities. This can save you time and money if you decide to transfer schools or advance your education down the road. The second benefit is that attending an accredited school will allow you to use federal student aid such as loans and grants to help pay for education.
Finance Industry Salary and Job Outlook
Your salary as a financial professional may depend on location, certification, and exact job title. Your education level can also make a big difference in your salary. Going from an associate or bachelor's degree to a master's degree may help you earn more.
Financial professionals have a promising job outlook says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with financial managers anticipating a 17% job growth through 2030. This may be due to the need for experts who can manage money and help companies and individuals develop strong financial plans. Plus, as new technology and developments in the financial field evolve, different types of roles may be included in the profession to help support financial officers and analysts.