Looking for a degree that delivers great earning potential?
A finance degree with the right specialization opens the door to some of the most lucrative job prospects available to business school graduates. It is the major studied by many of the high-flying traders in the global financial centers of London, New York, Hong Kong, and Dubai.
Earning a degree in finance is a common career starting point for billionaire hedge fund managers and the leaders of giant, world-moving banks. More typically, finance graduates lead nice upper-middle class lifestyles working as financial analysts, managers and advisors, banking and insurance professionals, and in various other roles in the fields of business and money management.
Finance is one of the few academic fields closely associated in the public eye with flashy, luxurious lifestyles. This is largely due to the effects of Hollywood productions like The Wolf of Wall Street and the older classic Wall Street. The near-constant stream of lurid reports of scandals, investigations, and criminal charges that emanates from the world of high finance also keeps the field on the public radar.
The reality of work in finance is much different. Instead of being wild partiers, finance degree holders are generally intelligent people adept with numbers and interested in economics and the management of money. They join a business field that includes and blends with banking and accounting.
These are occupations known for stability and an aura of serious-minded sobriety appropriate to those entrusted with other people’s money. In addition, finance graduates tend to have the ethical character required to work in a field where most operations are subject to tight regulation and close oversight.
Finance is a very diverse field, one that is generally recognized as a source of interesting, influential, and lucrative careers. If you are ready to handle the academic challenges of a rigorous business degree program and have solid analytic and numerical skills, finance is a higher education option worth considering.
What is Finance?
Finance centers on the management of money and associated operations. It is typically considered to be part of the overarching field of business administration. Finance is a term broadly used to describe functions and activities related to the creation, study, and oversight of money and economic structures as well as the realms of banking, credit, and investment that comprise financial systems. Finance is often presented as organized around three sub-fields: personal finance, corporate finance and public/government finance.
As an academic major, finance is the study of money management. Finance is one of the interconnected FAME subjects (finance, accounting, management and economics), and finance degrees are often designed around a related specialty study area drawn from one of the other three fields. Finance program curricula usually incorporate aspects of business administration, economics, and accounting. Various forms of money, the creation, movement, and exchange of monetary instruments, banking, credit, and investing are all areas of knowledge that fall within the rubric of finance.
Finance offers a diversity of occupational opportunities. Whether operating in the personal, corporate, or public sector, finance specialists help people and enterprises reach their financial objectives and remain secure from an economic standpoint. Finance degree holders are money management professionals who bring their skills to bear in the work of monitoring economic conditions and developments, tracking, predicting, and designing responses to changes in the economic climate, and ensuring that financial activities and operations produce consistently positive outcomes.
What are the qualities and skills a finance student needs?
Finance is similar to other business majors in terms of skills and qualities students need for success. Finance students must be committed individuals with the drive and passion to see them through years of demanding study. Good time management capabilities and the ability to multi-task while still performing at a high level are absolute necessities in finance degree programs and in the profession.
As in other business fields, communication skills are foundational to success in finance. The ability to perform brilliant analysis and generate useful findings and conclusions is only valuable if that information can be clearly communicated to other stakeholders. Finance professionals must be able to report accurately on work and make dense data understandable to both colleagues and outsiders to the field. Finance majors are often assigned group projects and presentations as a way to develop their communication skills.
Interpersonal skills are important, and most finance programs offer opportunities to hone those skills. Project work, membership in clubs and organizations, participation in volunteer work and internships, and attendance at conferences and meetings are all good ways to build interpersonal skills. After graduation, these skills will be critical as finance professionals often have to deal with clients on a daily basis and should have the ability to build successful customer relationships.
The analytic work involved in finance calls for excellent inductive and deductive reasoning skills. Finance degree candidates should be able to look at data and find patterns, then draw conclusions as to related implications and effective responses. Strong deductive reasoning capabilities are essential to using past experience and outcomes in forming accurate conclusions and planning effective strategies when confronted with new cases and scenarios.
Similarly, a talent for dealing with quantitative data is a prerequisite for entry into a field where numbers are a major focus. Finance students should be strong in math and numerical reasoning skills. They also need the ability to understand data and statistics, and should be comfortable with information presented in the form of graphs and charts. Related to this is a requirement for fluency with Microsoft Excel, as this program is heavily used to analyse data and work with financial models.
Problem-solving skills are constantly tested in finance degree programs. Students are expected to be able to assess a situation then work with a given set of variables to develop strategies that improve performance while minimizing resource use. A good candidate for a finance degree is someone who can think on the fly when complicated situations arise and solutions are needed quickly.
Digital technology skills are increasingly important as finance, like most other business fields, embraces the rapid advancements in computer technology. Finance majors know technology and are prepared to develop advanced knowledge while working through their degree programs. It is very beneficial for students to have specialized skills such as proficiency with Structured Query Language (SQL) and major accounting software programs like SAP and Oracle.
What is the best preparation for studying finance?
Preparation strategies and education requirements for taking a finance major will vary with the degree objective you have in mind and the entry criteria of individual programs. High school students and those seeking a bachelor’s degree should have a solid academic record with high marks in subjects such as English, speech communication, and mathematics. Any work completed in advanced mathematics and specialties such as business, accounting, financial literacy, and computer technology will also be helpful.
An undergraduate degree in finance or a bachelor’s in business administration with a finance specialization are ideal backgrounds for graduate-level study in the field. It is not uncommon for math majors to choose a master’s in finance for their graduate work. Any college coursework completed in accounting, communication, economics, psychology, statistics, and technical writing will be helpful for upper-level work on a finance degree.
Real-world experience is always valuable. Work, whether volunteer or paid, in banking, mortgage lending, insurance, real estate, tax preparation, and any other industry concerned with managing and investing money will offer benefits to a student majoring in finance. Look for internships and be sure to grab any opportunities to join professional organizations in the field.
What coursework is required for a finance degree?
Finance coursework varies by program, degree level, and specialization. Many of the course requirements for a finance degree overlap with those of a business curriculum, with the overall objective being the provision of the theoretical and technical knowledge needed to take on the role of finance professional.
At the basic level, students in a bachelor’s of finance program can expect to encounter introductory courses in accounting, business fundamentals, economics, statistics, marketing, management, business law, and personal finance among other business-related subjects. This is in addition to the core English composition, math, and science course requirements common to 4-year liberal arts programs.
At the graduate level, courses will expand on the fundamentals previously learned and focus on the student’s chosen specialty. Whether a student is studying for a master’s degree in finance or an MBA with a finance specialization, graduate coursework is intended to prepare degree holders to take on administrative and management roles in the field. Example course topics include:
- Business Communication
- Corporate Finance
- Financial Markets and Institutions
- International Finance
- Investment Strategies
- Macro- and Microeconomic Theory
- Marketing Research
- Organizational Behavior
- Portfolio Management Strategies
- Risk Management
- Taxation and Tax Law
The field of finance also offers many possibilities for adding additional certifications and licenses in specialty functions in accounting, banking, insurance, investments, and real estate. Examples include Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Financial Risk Manager (FRM) and more. Courses, examinations, and work experience requirements vary for these financial certifications.
What are the benefits of a finance degree?
An academic background and qualification in finance certainly opens career doors in the FIRE sector (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate), but the knowledge and skillsets imparted by study for a finance degree are in high demand in almost every industry.
Getting a basic finance degree involves the standard investment of time: four years for a bachelor’s degree and two years to complete a master’s. However, many finance students complete additional certifications such as CPA while working toward or immediately after receiving their degrees. Once in the career track, pursuing continuing professional development is also common and often required. Therefore, it might be said that a finance degree demands a larger investment of time and money than some other degrees.
Rewards are commensurate though. Even at the entry level, graduates with a 4-year bachelor’s degree can earn relatively high salaries, and jobs are plentiful. Holding a degree in finance can also offer substantial personal benefits. Degree holders are equipped to skilfully manage their own money. The application of no-cost professional-grade budgeting and investing acumen to the family finances greatly increases chances for security and prosperity.
Finance degree holders are equipped to work in corporate settings, for various government agencies and bodies, or in small business contexts. Finance graduates are well-suited to be owner/operators of their own businesses or franchises. Graduates with certifications such as Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner can open private practices or join partnerships. Typical jobs and roles available in finance include:
- Budget Analyst
- Commercial Credit Analyst
- Chief Financial Officer
- Financial Analyst
- Financial Manager
- Hedge Fund Analyst
- Internal Auditor
- Investment Manager
- Personal Financial Advisor
- Private Equity Analyst
- Quantitative Risk Analyst
- Securities Analyst
- Stock Broker
Prospects for business and financial operations occupations as a whole are good, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasting 10% job growth through 2026. Some specializations within finance are producing jobs at a much higher than average rate; for example, Personal Financial Advisor (15%) and Financial Manager (19%). This emphasizes the importance of a strategic choice of specialty study and earning additional certifications.
Finance is a field where variety in possible degree/certification combinations along with a wide range of occupational roles and specialties puts starting salaries all over the board. The type of finance career chosen has a major impact. For example, a financial analyst may earn $77,000 annually while a real estate appraiser earns about $49,000 even though both have the same degree. One thing that is clear is the fact that careers in finance pay well as a whole. A fresh graduate with a bachelor’s degree can start around $60,000.
The finance field also generates the jaw-dropping compensation packages that have students scrambling from Ivy League business schools directly toward Wall Street jobs, where entry level hedge fund positions can pay $90-$125 thousand per year with the potential for bonuses in the $90-$170k range. Back on Earth, the BLS puts the 2017 median pay level for personal financial advisors at $90,640 per year. The job market is competitive and the work is demanding, but finance offers potential for exceptionally good returns on your higher education investment.
Is a finance degree right for you?
The earning potential alone will probably have most prospective students convinced that finance is absolutely the correct higher education path for them. It is also a field where a graduate can find work that is truly meaningful from a big-picture stance. In the United States at least, there is a serious need for access to better financial education and advisement. A career in finance could position you as a helping professional who can work to address that need.
A lack of financial literacy and poor financial management skills are yielding damaging effects at both household and national levels in America. Many economists believe that excessive household debt was one of the factors that caused the 2008 financial crisis and global recession. Research reveals that 63% of Americans cannot pass a basic financial literacy test, and many lack the ability to make sound financial decisions. If a finance graduate does work that makes financial planning and advisement more familiar as concepts, and more accessible as services, that would qualify as a significant contribution to social well-being.
The field also pays well, affords professional status, holds good potential for upward mobility, and offers chances for those so inclined to go into business for themselves. It is a very accessible higher education opportunity because many finance degree programs are designed for working professionals, and it is easy to find a completely online program offered by a reputable school. If you like the business world, can crunch numbers well, are hard-working and good with people, you might be a fit for a degree in finance.