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Online finance degrees

Professionals in the creation and management of wealth will be in demand as long as big business exists, and earning a campus-based or online finance degree is one of the best ways to carve out a niche for yourself in the world of investment and capital management. Whether you're already savvy in the basics of the field or you haven't even heard the explanation of accounting vs. finance degrees, there are finance schools out there that can help you get started on the path to expertise.

They may not be as popular as more general business degrees like management or business administration, but degree plans at finance schools are far from scarce. Check out this table of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data on just how many campus-based and online finance degrees can be found in each region of the country:

Region No. of schools offering finance degrees No. of schools with at least one online finance degree
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 63 13
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 33 12
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 89 21
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 103 32
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 177 31
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 149 20
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 144 23
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 57 11
Total (all 50 states) 815 163

Entry-level finance degrees

Some students begin their study at finance schools as early as the first set of college classes they take, while others come into it later after having spent a few semesters in another discipline. Here's some information about finance degree plans available at the undergraduate level:

  • Associate degrees - It's important for finance pros to understand at least the basics of balance sheets, so two-year finance schools tend not to be hard-line on the accounting vs. finance degree distinction. Most associate programs in finance contain at least an introduction to accounting, and some programs deliver up to 9 credit hours of accounting coursework. Finance concepts at this level typically include banking, market principles, financial statement analysis and microeconomics.
  • Bachelor's degrees - The bachelor's level is where real deviations begin in finance degree vs accounting degree study plans. The list of finance courses in four-year programs extends to include risk management, organizational theory, business finance, security analysis and valuation, multinational corporate finance, portfolio management, estate planning and more. Students who want to get a jump-start on their finance career may even be able to find accelerated programs that can be completed in as few as 18 months.
  • Non-degree study - If you're just looking to add some understanding of finance to your business skillset and aren't seeking a degree plan, undergraduate certificates in finance are probably the sort of thing you're looking for. Some certificate programs have prerequisites in math, economics, statistics and other related courses while others may just test your key competencies or include the relevant work in their finance curriculum. Most certificate programs require two semesters or less of full time study.

Not every academic discipline translates well to the virtual classroom, but online finance degrees tend to preserve a significant percentage of the typical brick-and-mortar coursework experience. If you've got financial or scheduling responsibilities that prevent you from getting a degree from traditional finance schools, taking a few online courses may be able to help you get on track.

Advanced-degree finance programs

Undergraduate finance degrees are good for a start, but most financiers at the upper echelons of the profession went on to earn some form of graduate education before they got to that level. Here's some of what you can expect from graduate programs in finance:

  • Master's degree programs - A master's degree in finance is typically considered the terminal degree for professional financiers and may be offered as a Master of Science in Finance (MSF) degree or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a concentration in finance. Subjects studied at the master's level tend to have a more intensive focus than those in undergraduate plans and include advanced concepts such as bank management, financial strategies, cost analysis and profit planning, investment theory, advanced financial reporting and the pricing of derivatives and assets.
  • Doctorate programs - Students who hope to use their finance training to make a career in research or teaching at the highest level typically go all the way on to earn a doctoral degree, which may take the form of a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree. Most post-graduate programs include deep and highly detailed explorations of financial concepts and culminate in the proposal, research, composition and defense of an extensive dissertation project.
  • Graduate certificates - Graduate certificates can be a great option for students who already have a bachelor's education in business or a master's education in a field other than finance. Program lengths vary — some entail as few as 9 credit hours while others may require 15 or 18 — but most can be completed in less than a year of full-time study. Some certificate plans allow students to focus on a specialty within the finance field, such as risk analysis and management.

Online finance degrees at the master's level are fairly common, in both the MSF and MBA varieties, and hybrid programs that allow you to split time between the virtual classroom and a traditional one can also be found. Doctorate programs exist online at some finance schools, but they are comparatively rare and may not provide the same experience as those that take place in a traditional setting.

Q&A with an expert

Robert R. Johnson, President and CEO of American College of Financial Services

Robert R. Johnson, President and CEO of American College of Financial ServicesWhy would you encourage someone to pursue a degree in finance?

Because you can both do good and do well. Professionals who help people with their financial security make people's lives better. Kids attend college, people have more secure retirements and charities receive donations because individuals are more financially secure as a result of working with qualified professionals.

What are some advantages that a finance degree can bring to a graduate's skillset but may be overlooked in other business disciplines?

Generally, finance programs stress analytical skills and these skills translate nicely to other disciplines and endeavors. Good finance programs focus less on specific financial products and more on analytical skills that arm the professional with the ability to analyze new products being offered in the marketplace.

Is a master's degree necessary for most finance jobs or can graduates typically get into the field after graduating with their bachelor's? What career moves in finance might require a graduate degree?

Generally, entry level finance jobs can be had with a bachelors degree. However, the field is very competitive and to thrive, both advanced, specialized graduate degrees and professional certifications become necessary for professionals to advance.

What are the most common educational paths for those interested in a finance career? What supplementary courses can add the most value to a finance major's education?

It depends upon which segment of finance students plan on practicing. For people who want to become investment analyst and portfolio managers, financial reporting and accounting courses are must-haves. For those individuals who are working with clients, supplementing finance offerings with psychology and marketing classes are very helpful.

Types of finance careers

Financial security is near the front of the minds of a large percentage of individuals and organizations, and graduates with degrees in finance are among the best equipped to help them sort out the complexities. Check out this table of careers that finance graduates might choose after graduation, along with their employment data and salary averages as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2014)
Projected job growth
(2014-2024)
Total U.S. employment
(2014)
Entry-level education
Personal financial advisor $108,090 30 percent 249,400 Bachelor's degree
Management analyst $90,860 14 percent 758,000 Bachelor's degree
Financial analyst $92,250 12 percent 277,600 Bachelor's degree
Securities, commodities and financial services sales agent $103,260 10 percent 341,500 Bachelor's degree
Financial manager $130,230 7 percent 555,900 Bachelor's degree
Budget analyst $73,940 3 percent 60,800 Bachelor's degree

Common misconceptions about finance degrees

Finance isn't a particularly well-understood field to the uninitiated, and there are probably as many misconceptions about campus-based and online finance degrees as there are about the discipline itself. Here are some of the more common mistaken ideas that pop up in the minds of prospective students:

Misconception: Finance is just a fancy name for accounting.

  • Fact: Finance pros and accountants do both work primarily with numbers, and their calculations are typically concerned with monetary figures in both cases, but the similarities in the finance degree vs accounting degree debate don't go much further than that. It's true that graduates from finance schools may be able to get accounting jobs once they graduate, but finance-centered jobs tend to focus more on analysis and strategy than the recordkeeping and reporting that's often central to accounting careers.

Misconception: Finance is a dry, intellectual field with no real human element.

  • Fact: First of all, ouch. That said, financial strategy is an important part of the operations plan of numerous institutions, whether they're clinics providing nursing and physical therapy services or policymaking organizations focused on early childhood education. It may occasionally happen that financial professionals put aside the human side of a situation in which they're working, but that human element is far from absent unless you choose to ignore it.

Misconception: Everyone who graduates with a finance degree becomes a financial analyst.

  • Fact: Financial analysis careers are common, but they're just one of the fields in which finance training is valuable. Combining finance skills with a degree in marketing can open up some considerable career flexibility, and a study by Rasmussen College in 2015 found that applications software development was among the top 5 fields for graduates with traditional and online finance degrees (so a few computer programming courses couldn't hurt).

How can I enroll in an online finance degree program?

Taking the plunge into a campus-based or online finance degree program is often as simple as reaching out to the school of your choice and asking an admissions representative what steps you need to take. Browse through our listings below, find a few schools that look right to you and get in touch to get started on the path to financial expertise.

Sources:

  1. Finance vs. Accounting: Which Degree is Right for You?, Rasmussen College, Kristan Ericksen, September 21, 2015, accessed February 21, 2016, http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/business/blog/accounting-vs-finance-which-degree-is-right-for-you/
  2. School pages, accessed February 21, 2016: Financial Management - Associate of Science Degree, Franklin University, http://www.franklin.edu/financial-management-associates-degree-curriculum; Associate Degree in Finance Program Curriculum, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/associate-degrees/finance/curriculum/; Online Associate Finance Degree, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/accounting-and-finance/finance-associate-degree; Bachelor of Science in Finance, Penn State World Campus, http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/degrees-and-certificates/finance-bachelors/overview; Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Finance, Colorado Technical University, http://www.coloradotech.edu/degrees/bachelors/business/finance; Online Finance Degree, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/bs-in-accounting-finance; Finance Bachelor's Degree, University of Maryland University College, http://www.umuc.edu/academic-programs/bachelors-degrees/finance-major.cfm; Fast-Track Bachelor of Science in Finance and Accounting Management, Northeastern University, http://www.cps.neu.edu/degree-programs/undergraduate/accelerated-degrees/bachelors-finance-accounting-management.php; Undergraduate Certificate in Finance, Princeton University, https://www.princeton.edu/bcf/undergraduate/; Online Undergraduate Finance Certificate, Colorado State University Global Campus, https://csuglobal.edu/graduate/programs/certificates-completion/finance; Undergraduate Certificate in Finance, Thomas Edison State University, http://www.tesu.edu/business/Finance.cfm; Online Finance Certificate Program, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/undergraduate-certificates/finance/curriculum/; MS in Finance, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/masters/ms-in-finance/investments-and-securities; Online Master's Degree in Finance, Colorado State University Global Campus, https://csuglobal.edu/graduate/programs/masters-degrees/finance; MBA in Finance, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/masters/mba-online/mba-in-finance; Master of Science in Finance (MSF) Degree, New England College of Business, https://www.necb.edu/online-degrees/masters-degrees/master-of-science-in-finance; DBA in Finance, Washington University in St. Louis, http://www.olin.wustl.edu/EN-US/academic-programs/dba-in-finance/Pages/default.aspx; Sample Curriculum, PhD in Finance, New York University, http://www.stern.nyu.edu/experience-stern/about/departments-centers-initiatives/academic-departments/finance/academic-programs/phd-overview/program-requirements; PhD in Finance, Rutgers University, http://www.business.rutgers.edu/phd/programs/finance; DBA in Finance, Capella University, http://www.capella.edu/online-degrees/dba-finance/; Graduate Certificate in Finance, City University of Seattle, http://www.cityu.edu/programs-overview/graduate-certificate-finance/; Curriculum, Online Applied Finance Graduate Certificate, Colorado State University, http://www.online.colostate.edu/certificates/finance/curriculum.dot; Financial Risk Analysis and Management Graduate Certificate, Stanford University, http://scpd.stanford.edu/public/category/courseCategoryCertificateProfile.do?method=load&certificateId=14715900; Online Graduate Certificate in Finance, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/certificates/graduate-finance;
  3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed February 21, 2016: Personal Financial Advisors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/personal-financial-advisors.htm; Management Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Business-and-Financial/Management-analysts.htm; Financial Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/financial-analysts.htm; Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/securities-commodities-and-financial-services-sales-agents.htm; Financial Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/financial-managers.htm; Budget Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/budget-analysts.htm;
  4. May 2014 National Occupational and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed February 21, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
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