Finance Degree Guide: Requirements, Cost, Jobs

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Finance programs prepare graduates to help individuals and organizations make smart short-term and long-term money decisions. A finance degree is more specialized than a general business degree, but it still incorporates business principles and skills. The finance field may appeal to students who are interested in business and personal money management.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% job growth rate for business and financial occupations from 2020-2030 — much faster than the projected growth rate for all occupations nationwide. This quick growth is due to globalization, increasing use of data to make business decisions, complex tax codes, and expanding economies.

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Why Finance? | Degrees | Jobs | FAQs

What Is the Field of Finance?

The finance field includes activities and ideas related to banking, investments, money management, and financial systems. Professionals may find work in personal finance, corporate finance, or public/governmental finance. Typical employers include insurance companies, government agencies, banks, and investment firms.

Potential finance degree jobs include financial analyst, financial manager, and budget analyst. Other roles include personal financial advisor and cost estimator. Finance attracts workers with analytical, math, computer, and decision-making skills.

The finance field offers high salaries and excellent benefits, the potential for long-term career growth, and a fast-paced work environment that changes with the global economy.

Why Pursue a Finance Major?

  • Growing Field: Earning a finance degree prepares students for jobs in an in-demand field. The BLS projects a 17% job growth rate (much faster than average) for financial managers from 2020-2030.
  • High Salaries: According to a report from Georgetown University, finance bachelor’s degree-holders earned a median annual salary of $73,000 as of 2015.
  • Potential for Career Growth: Finance degree jobs typically offer room to grow. Some banks and other finance-related employers offer training and professional development programs to help employees gain new skills and qualify for more opportunities.
  • Versatile Degree: Because nearly every industry benefits from professional financial help, students with finance degrees can qualify for careers in many industries.
  • Gain Hard and Soft Skills: Finance majors develop math, computer, communication, and analytical skills. They learn to make financial decisions, prepare financial reports, and analyze market trends.

Comparing Finance and General Business Degrees

Business and finance degrees overlap in many ways. Both fields cover basic business principles and skills, but general business programs take a broader outlook than finance.

Finance degrees are more specialized, focusing on financial plans and decision-making, stock market analysis, investments, and financial oversight.

Business majors learn about marketing, management, human resources, and accounting. Finance degrees are more specialized, focusing on financial plans and decision-making, stock market analysis, investments, and financial oversight.

Students who want to work in finance should consider degrees in the field. Individuals who want more varied career opportunities may benefit from general business programs.

Finance Degree Business Degree
Focus Specialized financial analysis, math, investing, financial institutions, and markets General business principles, management, human resources, customer service
Types of Classes Intermediate accounting, statistics, business law, economics, advanced math Management strategies, business law, introduction to accounting, economics, organizational behavior, basic math
Careers Financial analyst, financial manager, personal financial advisor, budget analyst, management analyst Human resources specialist, top executive, entrepreneur, management analyst
Skills Financial analysis, accounting, math, attention to detail, decision-making Interpersonal, leadership, organizational, problem-solving, critical thinking, decision-making
Cost Varies by degree level, program length, institution, and residency status Varies by degree level, program length, institution, and residency status

Types of Finance Degrees

Prospective finance majors can pursue different levels and types of finance degrees. Potential options include a bachelor’s degree in finance, master’s degree in finance, or master of business administration (MBA) in finance. These programs all prepare graduates for finance careers.

A master’s or MBA program applicant usually needs a bachelor’s degree, minimum GPA, and letters of recommendation. Some schools offer online finance degrees for added flexibility and convenience.

Below, we explain what to expect from bachelor’s, master’s, and MBA degrees in finance.

Bachelor’s Degree in Finance

A bachelor’s degree in finance usually takes about four years and requires around 120 credits. Schools offer finance bachelor’s programs on campus and online. Distance education programs may feature accelerated finance degrees, allowing students to graduate more quickly.

Admission requirements typically include a high school diploma or equivalent, a minimum GPA, minimum SAT or ACT scores, and letters of recommendation. Tuition varies significantly by type of school, level of prestige, program format, and residency status. Finance majors can usually earn their degrees for less by attending public universities that charge in-state tuition.

Popular finance courses include corporate finance, investments, business financing decisions, and international finance. Students gain problem-solving, analytical, software, and financial reporting skills. They also develop accounting and communication abilities.

Graduates with bachelor’s degrees in finance may qualify for work as financial planners, financial analysts, cost estimators, and budget analysts.

Explore our lists of top finance bachelor’s degrees:

Best Finance Bachelor's Degrees Best Online Finance Bachelor's Degrees Most Affordable Online Finance Bachelor's Degrees

Master’s Degree in Finance

A master’s in finance degree offers a specialized education in subjects like financial engineering and econometrics. Programs typically require each applicant to hold a bachelor’s degree, meet a minimum GPA, and submit letters of recommendation. Most master’s in finance programs do not require professional experience.

Tuition costs vary depending on program length, public vs. private status, and each student’s location. A master’s degree in finance usually takes 1-2 years to complete and requires about 60 credits. Graduate finance programs offer high-level courses that build off of basic finance knowledge from undergraduate education.

Common classes include advanced corporate finance, financial analysis and valuation, advanced fixed income analysis and portfolio management, and econometrics for finance.

Earning a master’s degree in finance can lead to work as a financial manager or director, investment banker, private banker, and accountant. Other career opportunities may include personal financial advisor, stockbroker, portfolio manager, and credit analyst.

Explore our lists of top finance master’s degrees:

Best Finance Master's Degrees Best Online Finance Master's Degrees Most Affordable Online Finance Master's Degrees

MBA in Finance

An MBA in finance usually offers a broader education than a master’s degree in finance. The amount of time dedicated to finance in these MBA programs varies by school. Choose an MBA program if you want the traditional business school experience with a focus on finance.

An MBA in finance degree usually takes about two years to complete and requires around 45 credits. Admission requirements typically include an undergraduate degree in any discipline, a minimum GPA, and letters of recommendation. Some programs require GRE scores and professional experience.

Choose an MBA program if you want the traditional business school experience with a focus on finance.

Professional experience and finance-related MBA coursework can improve your job opportunities. You may qualify for the same types of positions as someone with a master’s degree in finance, including financial planner, financial manager, financial analyst, and investment banker. Other opportunities with a more general business focus include chief financial officer, risk manager, and management consultant.

Explore our lists of top finance MBA degrees:

Best Finance MBAs Best Online Finance MBAs

Finance Degree Jobs

Finance degree-holders can work as financial analysts, financial managers, and budget analysts. Other options include personal financial advisor and cost estimator. Below, we explain what to expect from these finance degree jobs, including career outlooks and salary expectations.

  • Financial Analysts: Financial analysts help organizations make smart financial decisions. They study economic trends, write financial reports, analyze financial data, and make recommendations about investments. The BLS projects faster-than-average growth for this occupation from 2020-30. These analysts work as financial risk specialists, portfolio managers, investment analysts, and fund managers.
    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree | Job Outlook (2020-30): +5% | Median Annual Salary: $83,660
  • Financial Managers: The BLS projects much-faster-than-average job growth for financial managers from 2020-30. A financial manager usually needs a bachelor’s degree and five years of professional experience in another occupation, like accounting. Typical job duties include preparing financial reports, finding ways to reduce costs, and ensuring that organizations meet legal requirements.
    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree | Job Outlook (2020-30): +17% | Median Annual Salary: $134,180
  • Budget Analysts: Budget analysts evaluate organizations’ budgets and track spending. They find ways for groups and individuals to save money. Major employers include federal, state, and local governments; schools; and professional and technical services. A budget analyst needs a bachelor’s degree at minimum. Earning a professional certification can improve career prospects.
    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree | Job Outlook (2020-30): +5% | Median Annual Salary: $78,970
  • Personal Financial Advisors: Personal financial advisors help people plan for their financial futures. Most maintain self-employment or work in insurance or finance fields. These professionals typically need bachelor’s degrees and long-term training on the job. Depending on their area of expertise and specific duties, personal financial advisors may need to become registered or earn certification.
    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree | Job Outlook (2020-30): +5% | Median Annual Salary: $89,330
  • Cost Estimators: Cost estimators need bachelor’s degrees at minimum and some on-the-job training. Typical duties include preparing estimates, finding ways to cut costs, and keeping accurate records of costs and estimates. They may specialize in construction cost estimating or manufacturing cost estimating. These professionals need strong analytical, math, and time management skills.
    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree | Job Outlook (2020-30): +1% | Median Annual Salary: $66,610

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long are finance programs?

    Program length varies among finance degrees. A typical bachelor’s degree in finance takes four years to complete. Full-time students can usually finish their master’s degrees in finance in two years. Some online finance degrees offer a faster route to completion than on-campus programs.

  • Is finance a good major?

    Yes, but it depends on your interests and career goals. Earning finance degrees can prepare graduates for in-demand, high-paying careers as financial managers. The BLS projects a 17% job growth rate from 2020-30 and a median annual salary of $134,180 for this occupation.

  • Is a degree in finance hard?

    Like most other college programs, earning a finance degree takes significant time and work. Finance requires more advanced math classes than many other fields, which some students may find challenging.

  • What can you do with a finance degree?

    Completing a bachelor’s degree in finance helps graduates qualify for many entry-level financial jobs, including financial analyst, budget analyst, and cost estimator. Organizations may prefer applicants with master’s degrees in finance for higher-level and management positions.

  • How much can I make with a degree in finance?

    The amount you can make with a finance degree varies by level of education, experience, and occupation. Bachelor’s in finance graduates make a median annual wage of $73,000.


Featured Image: Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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