Finance Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Finance?

While a degree in accounting is meant to cover a diverse range of business functions across many industries, a finance degree takes a narrower approach. Financial accounting is separate from general accounting since it serves the decision makers outside of the organization, such as banks, government agencies, stockholders, and suppliers.

A successful career in finance calls for a unique set of skills ideally suited to those who are outgoing and inquisitive by nature. Using mathematical aptitude and abilities, financial professionals strive to improve the financial growth of their organization or client. Opportunities can be influenced by your GPA and previous professional experience.

Types of Finance Degrees

Finance degree programs can be found at all degree levels and in a multitude of settings. Online programs are particularly well suited to many types of business degrees, including those in finance. Because much of the material is theory-based and requires little or no hands-on requirement, courses in finance tend to translate well to the online learning environment. Additionally, due to the nature of online learning, an online finance major can study at a time that is convenient for them. This is especially helpful for working adults and those with families, many of whom may be attempting to increase their level of formal education in order to advance their careers.

Certificate and Diploma Programs in Finance

Certificate programs in finance are helpful for those looking to boost their business credentials, and are often used as a supplement to an undergraduate business degree. Students pursuing a certificate in finance may also use the program as preparation for further study in the business or finance arena. These programs can take anywhere from a few months to one year to complete. Topics covered may include:

  • Introduction to Accounting
  • Fundamentals of Finance
  • Market Basics
  • Fundamentals of Banking

Associate Degrees in Finance

Associate degrees in finance can be earned at a traditional on-campus college or in an online learning environment. Students generally complete these programs within two years of full-time study. Associate degrees in finance are best suited to those who wish to continue their studies at the bachelor’s degree level. Common courses in these programs include:

  • Introduction to Business
  • Fundamentals of Financial Accounting
  • Basics of Management
  • Introduction to Securities and Investments

Bachelor’s Degrees in Finance

In most cases, entry-level positions in finance require applicants to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Studies at this level help students to learn about the skills and knowledge utilized by careers in the financial sector, while also laying the groundwork for a well-rounded education through general educational requirements. Typical courses found in a bachelor’s in finance program include:

  • Foundations of Corporate Finance
  • Analysis of Fixed Income and Derivative Securities
  • Concepts in Strategic Management
  • Analysis of Financial Accounting
  • Portfolio Management

Master’s Degrees in Finance

While a bachelor’s degree in finance is generally considered the minimum requirement for employment in the field, many positions — including middle and upper management roles — often require a master’s degree for consideration instead. A bachelor’s degree in finance or another business major is typically needed for entrance to these programs. Some schools may require a short, on-campus practicum assignment. Core courses usually include some of the following:

  • Advanced Analysis of Financial Markets
  • Quantitative Methods for Finance
  • Advanced Portfolio Theory
  • Issues in Financial Accounting and Reporting

Ph.D. in Finance

Students seeking a Ph.D. in finance are typically interested in research or teaching careers at institutes of higher learning. Admission to doctoral programs often requires students to have a background in economics, statistics, engineering, or other related fields. Graduation usually depends on the successful completion and defense of a dissertation. Ph.D. candidates may take the following courses while pursuing their degree:

  • Advanced Microeconomic Theory
  • Empirical Methods in Finance
  • Behavioral Finance
  • Finance and Macroeconomics
  • Finance Theory Methods

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Finance?

The opportunities that can come with a finance degree span many areas, including corporate and international financial management, personal financial planning, and investment services. Brokerage firms, commercial and investment banks, insurance companies, and other financial intermediary companies all employ finance graduates. Common jobs for those who have earned a degree in finance include:

Financial Analysts

A financial analyst will research a client’s or organization’s financial status, including their history, risk tolerance, and current expenditures and investments. They make recommendations based on financial goals and business environments.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: A bachelor’s degree is usually the minimum educational requirement for financial analysts. However, advanced positions may require applicants to possess a master’s degree in finance, business, or another related field.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Most financial analysts must be licensed through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Certification, such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification, may be required by some employers.

Financial Managers

These professionals are tasked with managing the financial health of a company and developing its long-term financial goals. As a financial manager, you might direct financial reporting, investment activities, and cash management strategies at any number of professional or government organizations. Financial management calls on your creative thinking and your ability to direct your team to conform with the company’s broader goals.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Generally speaking, a financial manager is required to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, or a related field. Employers may also seek candidates with at least 5 years of experience. Many employers prefer financial manager candidates who have earned a master’s degree.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Most financial manager positions do not require certification, although it may serve as validation of a candidate’s professional abilities. Available certifications include the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) from the CFA Institute and the Certified Treasury Professional from the Association for Financial Professionals.

Personal Financial Advisors

These professionals concentrate on advising individuals and families on financial matters, from retirement savings to insurance protection. This work requires excellent interpersonal skills, as financial advisors spend much of their time meeting with clients and explaining their options. A good financial advisor understands investments, taxes, and estate planning issues. You can practice within a company or as a sole proprietor, if you have strong entrepreneurial skills.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Most entry-level financial advisors must have a bachelor’s degree to obtain employment, although a master’s degree can help with career advancement in some companies. Intensive on-the-job training is also required.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Personal financial advisors are usually required to be licensed through FINRA, although the specific license required may depend on the type of advice given. If they advise on specific investments, financial advisors are also required to be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Loan Officers

As a loan officer, you will evaluate and approve applications for loans from individuals, corporations, or both. Success in this field may also require a certain amount of sales, as many loan officers must find and contact leads. These professionals might work in commercial lending, consumer lending, or mortgage lending. Individuals can also specialize in loan collections or underwriting.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: For all types of loan officer positions, a bachelor’s degree is typically needed. Loan officers must also complete on-the-job training requirements.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Certification is not always required for loan officers, although it may improve the possibilities for advancement. The Mortgage Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association offer certifications for these professionals. Additionally, mortgage loan officers must obtain a Mortgage Loan Originator license (MLO). Certain states may require mortgage loan officers to complete additional training and requirements.

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents

These finance professionals advise clients and businesses on the purchase and sale of specific commodities and financial securities. They might assist their clients by placing trades for them. Advice may also be given to companies regarding potential investors, mergers, or acquisitions. Brokers, investment bankers, and traders fall under this umbrella.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Most entry-level positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree in finance or business could be beneficial for advancement in some positions and companies. On-the-job training is almost always required.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Registration and licensure through FINRA is required for these types of jobs. Specific licenses are determined by specialization. Continuing education requirements also apply.

Finance Salaries and Career Outlook Data

Total Employment
Annual Mean Wage
Personal Financial Advisors210,190$119,290
Financial and Investment Analysts, Financial Risk Specialists, and Financial Specialists, All Other458,510$94,160
Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents437,880$93,090
Loan Officers308,370$76,200
Financial Managers654,790$147,530

Finance Associations and Organizations

A number of associations and organizations exist to serve finance professionals in this highly regulated industry. Some of these organizations supply assistance and support, while others are actually in charge of regulations. Here are a few of the most important:

  • Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) — FINRA is a not-for-profit, independent organization authorized by the federal government to regulate its members and markets. Many positions in finance require registration or licensure with FINRA.
  • CFA Institute — The CFA Institute promotes education, ethics, and excellence in finance. They offer the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification as well as continuing education opportunities for those in the financial industries.
  • American Bankers Association (ABA) — The American Bankers Association acts as a source of training, resources and advocacy for policy on behalf of its members. The ABA also offers a number of professional certifications within the banking industry.

Article Sources


  1. Financial Analysts, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  2. Financial Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  3. Loan Officers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
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