For those who know they want to work with budgets and investments, either for individual clients or within a larger company, the choice between an accounting and finance degree can be a tough one. What exactly is a finance major, and why major in finance rather than other similar degrees like accounting?
Majoring in finance may be the right decision if you enjoy problem solving, have a strict attention to detail, or find that you enjoy watching the stock market and making predictions about investments. Like accounting, finance majors will need to have strong math skills and be able to work with complex data sets, but finance roles may offer more opportunities to work with a variety of clients and investors as opposed to accountant roles that can involve more solitary, personal work.
Below is an overview of the types of finance degrees you may choose to pursue, as well as some of the most common careers and certifications available for finance majors.
Types of Finance Degrees
A finance major is typically offered as a bachelor or Master of Arts degree or as a specialization within a business administration program. This differs from an accounting degree, which is usually a bachelor or Master of Science degree (though is sometimes also offered as a specialization for a business administration degree). Finance majors take classes that help them prepare to monitor and analyze trends in financial markets, assess and plan for a company or individual's long-term financial health, and advise on investment decisions.
Associate Degree in Finance or Business Administration with a Specialization in Finance
Associate degrees can be a great introduction to the fundamental skills and knowledge required for entry-level jobs in the field. While not all institutions offer an associate degree specifically in finance, often an associate of business administration program will include several introductory financial management courses, as well as Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, and Principles of Accounting.
Bachelor of Finance or Business Administration with a Specialization in Finance
Pursuing a bachelor of finance degree is likely to be the best option for those who know they want a career in the financial sector and want to prepare themselves for a number of entry-level finance jobs immediately following graduation. A bachelor's degree builds on the foundational skills and courses covered by an associate's program, and is designed to further develop students' knowledge of financial management tools, analysis and investment practices, and the complex financial systems through which today's businesses operate.
Common courses in a finance specialization may include:
- Capital Planning
- Funds Acquisition
- Asset and Debt Management
- International Financial Management
- Financial Analysis
Master of Finance or Business Administration with a Specialization in Finance
Certain upper-level finance positions may require an advanced degree (see below), which often prompts working professionals to complete a Master of Finance or MBA - Finance with the hope of moving up in their current role. A master's degree program is designed to help students fine-tune their financial analysis and management skills, often with an increased emphasis on global financial management and corporate strategy. Especially for those looking to build on years of real-world professional experience, an MBA with a finance specialization can help students prepare for the advanced challenges of upper-level management.
Common courses for a finance specialization within an MBA may include:
- Global Financial Management
- Economics for the Global Manager
- Financial Statement Analysis
- Theory of Corporate Finance
Common Jobs for Finance Majors
Individual investors as well as companies of all sizes need help making important financial decisions, which means finance degrees tend to be fairly versatile. Below are descriptions for some of the most common entry-level jobs for finance majors, each of which deals with financial analysis and investments in distinctly different ways.
Financial managers monitor a company's financial health and activity in order to minimize risk and maximize profit. They are responsible for generating financial statements and providing advice to upper management on how to direct the company's wealth and financial planning. Common job titles for financial managers include credit managers, cash managers or insurance mangers.
- Degree Required: Bachelor's (many businesses may require a Master’s)
- Certifications Available: Both the Association for Financial Professionals' Certified Treasury Professional (CTP) designation and the CFA Institute's Chartered Financial Analyst designation can be helpful when moving into higher-level positions.
- Projected Job Growth: 7% through 2024
Financial examiners work to make sure that banks and other financial institutions are compliant with all federal finance laws and regulations. Some are responsible for reviewing lending institutions' balance sheets and expense accounts to ensure they are financially stable, while other positions involve protecting borrowers from predatory lending and other unfair loan practices. Most of an examiner's time is therefore spent reviewing financial records to prevent any errors or wrongdoing from destabilizing the overall health of a financial institution.
- Degree Required: Bachelor's (typically with at least several accounting courses)
- Certifications: None required, though certain senior examiner positions may require candidates to get their Certified Public Accountant designation.
- Projected Job Growth: 10% through 2024
When companies or individuals need help making investment decisions, they go to financial analysts. Analysts may work at investment firms or within a particular company. Responsibilities may include keeping track of investment portfolios, evaluating the performance of various stocks and bonds over time, and advising clients and management on when to buy and sell.
- Degree Required: Bachelor's (Though some advanced positions often require a master's degree)
- Certifications: The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification is recommended, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority often requires certain licenses to be obtained while working as a financial analyst.
- Projected Job Growth: 12% through 2024
Personal Financial Advisors4
Similar to financial analysts, financial advisors help their clients with long-term financial planning and investments. Personal financial advisors, however, work one-on-one with individuals and families rather than larger businesses. Their responsibilities may involve more than just investment portfolios, often extending to various types of savings and retirement accounts as well as helping clients plan for major life events like buying a home, paying for children's college, and retirement.
- Degree Required: Bachelor's
- Certifications: Several licenses may be required for those who directly buy or sell stocks, bonds, or insurance policies, or who provide specific investment advice. Advisors who work for larger companies must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation is also available and may help with enhancing reputation to take on new clients.
- Projected Job Growth: 30% through 2024
Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents5
Often working as brokers or investment bankers, sales agents arrange the actual buying and selling of securities (like stocks and bonds) and commodities. They work with financial planners and analysts to complete trades in financial markets, often offering advice on what to buy and sell. Brokers and sales agents typically cultivate their own client portfolios rather than working exclusively within a single company.
- Degree Required: Bachelor's (Though some advanced positions require a MBA)
- Certifications: Brokers and investment bankers must register as representatives of their firm with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Depending on the products and services a broker is trading in, many other licenses are available. Continuing Education classes may also be required to keep their license current.
- Projected Job Growth: 10% through 2024
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