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Behind the scenes, markets influence large portions of our lives. From what ingredients come in a new cereal, to the price of repairing your house, financial professionals establish what is possible, profitable, and affordable for many stakeholders.

In one form or another, finance has been going on since the invention of writing. In a more modern form, the issuing of stocks and bonds by an exchange founded in 1602 by the Dutch East India Company was finance. And finally, advances in math and technology in the 20th century has advanced finance to where is today.

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Put most succinctly, finance is concerned with how best to manage large amounts of money for corporations or governments. Though presently aided by many sophisticated tools, financial analysis deals with trying to quantify uncertainty. The techniques of finance deal in the analysis and manipulation of assets and liabilities over time. This skillset enables corporations, governments, and individuals to pursue the best financial outcomes given their circumstances.

If you have an analytical mind, are intrigued by the systems that form our economies, and want a rewarding and challenging career, finance may be a good for you.

Have a specific question about finance and finance degrees? Check out some of DegreeQuery’s FAQ pages below, or proceed down our guide to find overviews of finance, finance degrees, and finance careers.

DegreeQuery’s Finance Degree FAQs

What is Finance?

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As we mentioned above, finance is concerned with managing large amounts of money for corporations, individuals, or governments. And at an overly simplistic level, finance is simply the art of money management on a grand scale.

In actuality, finance is a good bit more sophisticated than this, however. The range of strategies, analytical and planning techniques that individuals and entities can employ to strategically manage their money is astounding. Financial strategies also vary to quite a large extent between individuals, corporations, and governments.

Due to the complexity of contemporary asset management, finance broken down into three main categories:

  • Personal Finance
  • Corporate Finance
  • And Public Finance

Each of these three dimensions of finance house a number of sub-routines and areas of expertise.

According to the Financial Planning Standards Board, personal finance addresses a wide range of concerns, including:

  • Establishing your financial position
  • Adequate protection of financial resources
  • Tax Planning
  • Investment and Accumulation Goals
  • Retirement Planning
  • And Estate Planning

As one might imagine, there are financial experts employed at each of these six levels, with some specializing further. Ensuring personal financial goals are intelligently met is a large task!

Corporate finance is a massive field that informs many corporate decisions at organizations of every size and stripe. Some of the key focus points and specializations within corporate finance include the following:

  • Source of funding of corporations
  • Capitol structure of corporations
  • Analysis of managerial actions as they pertain to value for shareholders
  • Intelligence and tools for allocating financial assets

In a broad sense, corporate finance is concerned with balancing risk and opportunity for corporations as well as maximizing assets, stock value, and cash flow. As one may expect, there are many subspecialties within this process. Subspecialties for financial professionals may include the valuation of corporate entities, mergers and acquisitions, analysis of current spending, corporate restructuring, investment, bankruptcy, and more.

Of note is the fact that there is a closely related and often overlapping field of managerial finance. The key difference between the two is that corporate finance focuses on finance applied to corporations, while managerial finance looks at all types of organizations.

The third major category of finance is focused on public finance. Public finance is concerned with governmental entities. These entities may range from the central government of a sovereign nation, to an agency or organization within one district of a nation. In other words, public finance is employed at every level from the federal government of the United States to individual school districts within cities.

While focal points of public finance vary depending on the location of work, public finance is generally concerned with the following affairs:

  • Defining required expenditure of public entity
  • Identifying the source of revenue of a public entity
  • Budgetting
  • Process of issuing bonds for revenue

What degrees can you get in finance?

Finance degrees are primarily offered at the bachelor’s through doctoral levels. The most common degrees obtained in finance include bachelor’s degrees, master of business administration with finance concentrations, and masters degrees in finance.

Bachelor’s degrees in finance require 120 credit hours. These degrees can both prepare students for a variety of entry-level finance positions or for pursuing a graduate degree in finance or another business discipline.

As with most undergraduate programs, most finance majors begin with a group of general education courses. These courses, not in finance, help to ensure that graduates of the program are exposed to a wide range of academic disciplines at the collegiate level. Courses may include natural sciences, social sciences, math, a foreign language, writing, and the humanities.

Some universities may also offer undergraduate certificates in disciplines such as tax planning, financial planning, or financial counseling. These are often obtained by taking a cluster of several related courses along with or in your course of study for your major.

Common major courses within a finance bachelor’s degree include the following:

  • Financial and Managerial Accounting for Decision Making
  • Financial Statement Analysis
  • Microeconomic Analysis and Policy
  • Corporation Finance
  • Investment and Portfolio Analysis
  • Intermediate Financial Management
  • Finance
  • Basic Management Concepts
  • Strategic Management and Business Policy
  • Introduction to Business Information Systems
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Among others

At the master’s level, students can start to specialize in one area of finance. Two main degree types are pursued for master’s-level finance coursework:

  • Master of Science in Finance
  • Master of Business Administration in Finance

Master of science in finance degrees offer the greatest focus on finance-specific coursework. Though MBAs with finance concentrations provide the additional benefit of a wide-ranging business curriculum.

With a master of science in finance degree, students may focus on a variety of subdisciplines within finance depending on the program they choose to enroll in or the electives they choose. Some of the most common academic specialization areas within a master’s in finance include the following:

  • Corporate finance
  • Corporate treasury
  • Credit analysis
  • Equity research
  • Risk management

Master’s in finance degrees typically require around 30 credit hours of work. Depending on the program enrolled in, this can take from 1.5 to 3 years for completion. Many programs require a thesis or culminating project. Theses are different from dissertations (required for doctoral degrees) in that they provide a 100+ page overview of current research in a field, instead of original research.

Common courses offered in a master’s in finance degree can include the following:

  • Quantitative Methods in Finance
  • Analysis of Financial Markets
  • Financial Accounting Theory and Problems
  • Current Issues in Corporate Finance
  • Multinational Managerial Finance
  • Speculative Markets
  • Financial Decision Processes
  • Portfolio Management
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Security Valuation

Interested in a master’s in finance? Check out DegreeQuery’s ranking of the Top 15 Master’s in Finance Degree Programs today!

Masters in business administration with a finance concentration are a second popular route to a graduate degree in finance. Masters in business administration commonly come in two formats: traditional and executive. Both traditional and executive mbas can offer finance concentrations.

The primary difference between a traditional and an executive MBA is that traditional MBAs are open to those with 1+ year of work experience, while executive MBAs require applicants have 5+ years of managerial experience. Do to the higher “bar” of entry into eMBA programs, these programs are often able to skip all introductory courses. This allows for eMBA programs to go deeper into one specialty area or to require less coursework for graduation.

Both traditional and eMBA programs are commonly built for professionals who are working full time. This means that many of both program types are offered in the evenings, on the weekends, or online.

For traditional MBAs, a broad curriculum of general business knowledge comprises a majority of the program. Common core courses of MBA programs may include:

  • Corporate Finance
  • Financial Accounting
  • Managerial Statistics
  • Managerial Economics
  • Strategy Formulation
  • Marketing
  • Operational Management
  • Business Analytics
  • Global Economic Environment

After completing core courses, students may specialize in finance through the selection of 3-6 electives (depending on the program). Common MBA-level electives in finance may include the following:

  • Investments
  • Corporate Financial Reporting and Analysis
  • International Finance I and II
  • Global Business
  • Managing a Student Fund
  • Among others

Additional degrees that can also be used to prepare for a financial career through graduate-level courses include master’s in business, master’s in finance (M.Fin), master’s in applied finance, master’s in accounting, and technology degrees with a financial technology focus.
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Finally, two major routes can allow students to pursue the study of finance at the doctoral level. The two most common degrees for focusing on finance include a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in finance, or a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in finance.

While either can be structured so that there is a great deal of overlap in their areas of study, there is one large difference between these two degrees. Ph.D.’s in finance are research doctorates, meaning that a primary objective of the course of study is to prepare students to perform original research and (if they so choose) teach at the university level. This is primarily accomplished through the completion of a dissertation. Dissertations are several-hundred-page documents of original research. Upon completion, they are presented to panels of experts and “defended.”

Conversely, doctor of business administration degrees are often professional doctorates. This means they are more applied and do not center around original research to as great of an extent.

Think you may be interested in a degree in finance? Be sure to check out DegreeQuery’s academic program rankings related to finance below:

Can you get a finance degree online?

As with most business degrees, there are now a great number of online degree options available. Finance is no different, particularly at the bachelor’s-level and through master of business administration degrees with finance concentrations.
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There are a number of common pros and cons to pursuing education online. Some of the benefits of studying online are listed below:

  • Ability to log into class anytime (in asynchronous programs)
  • Lower or no fees to support brick and mortar programs
  • 24/7 support and tutoring
  • No commute times or need to move for school
  • Built for working adult learners
  • Same degree as brick and mortar programs
  • Often more affordable than brick and mortar programs
  • Some programs self-paced

With that said, online study isn’t for everyone. There are some definite drawbacks to online education that include the following:

  • Often requires more self motivation
  • Meaningful relationships with professors rarer
  • Program support and services vary
  • Lowered access (if any) to on-campus resources or events

Regardless of whether online learning is the optimal choice for you as a student, online degrees are becoming increasingly popular and do allow for students to attend courses at universities across the nation without needing to move or leave their jobs.

What can you do with a degree in finance?

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Now that we’ve covered many of the options available to those seeking finance degrees, what finance degrees entail, and whether or not they’re available online, let’s move on to what you can do with a degree in finance.

At the bachelor’s level, finance educations are general. They can lead to a number of entry-level positions in finance where workers may then specialize on the job (or return to school).

Entry-level financial positions available to those with a bachelor’s in finance degree include the following:

  • Financial Analyst
  • Investment Banking Analyst
  • Junior Tax Associate
  • Financial Auditor
  • Financial Advisor

Junior financial analyst positions vary greatly with what they entail based on the industry in which the analyst is employed. Common industries that may employ a junior financial analyst include the following:

  • Banking
  • Business services
  • Construction
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Financial Services
  • Biotech or Pharmaceuticals
  • Computing
  • Consumer Goods
  • Electronics
  • or Engineering

Generally speaking, financial analyst roles in all of the above industries fall into two major categories: accounting and auditing, or strategy and counseling. Accounting and auditing analysts may spend more of their time looking at payroll issues and taxation. Strategy and counseling analysts may work in more of a consulting role as well as help to interpret large governmental accounts (as in the case of aerospace, defense, or education jobs).
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Financial analyst roles have a large amount of room for growth. With entry-level salaries starting at $50,000 and rising above $80,000 by mid-career.

A second large cluster of entry-level finance jobs include financial advisor positions. These positions often begin with training and onboarding of recent graduates. In this process, recent graduates are coached through their life and health insurance licenses, as well as the FINRA and securities certifications. These requirements help to ensure a level of expertise is present in financial advisors who are handling the money of clients.

Generally speaking, financial advisor positions focus on the personal finance component of finance. Though some may manage corporate finance as well.

A common job description for a financial advisor includes the following:

  • Knowledge of and ability to talk with clients on financial objectives, expenses, investments, insurance, retirement, small business, estate, tax status, and risk levels.
  • Analysis of financial data and the ability to present recommendations to clients based on this data.
  • Staying up-to-date and establishing a rapport with clients to help manage finances or forward to other professionals that can
  • Act as an educator, confidant, and salesman towards clients in regards to financial products and options.

Financial advisor positions are available through many well-regarded and long-lasting companies. There’s a great deal of room for growth, particularly as financial advisors expand their client base. Common entry-level salaries for financial advisor positions are presently averaged at $52,000 nationally, with mid-career earnings jumping to around $80,000.

Once you’ve endeavored into one of the above entry-level jobs, you will likely specialize further in one of the three major areas of finance that include personal finance, corporate finance, or public finance. What you specialize in will depend on your employer and the specifics of your role. Though many finance firms or finance departments within organizations will offer opportunities in all three sectors of finance.

If you would like to have access to a wider range of jobs, or more control over what area of finance you find a job in, a graduate degree in finance may be a great way to achieve your goals.
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With a graduate degree in finance, students may likely pursue any of the above entry-level positions and join them at a more advanced level. Additionally, the following job title options are common:

  • Finance Manager
  • Budget Analyst
  • Consultant
  • Investment Banking
  • Trader
  • Portfolio Manager

By the numbers, finance managers and budget analysts are two of the most common job titles. Finance managers are commonly found in most corporations above a certain size, while budget analyst positions are common in many governmental agencies.

Finance managers work to bridge the gap between financial analysts, those in payroll services, other data providers, and corporate decision makers. Finance managers direct analysis efforts in an effort to provide timely and poignant financial reports used for decision making at a division or corporate level. At the high-end finance managers may find themselves in the “C-Suite” as chief financial officers.

Earnings for finance managers are good, ranging from a median amount of $125,000 into millions of dollars a year for chief financial officers of major corporations.

Budget and financial analysts work below finance managers and can find employment in a wide variety of settings that value quantitative ability related to finance. Analysts may be in charge of monitoring and reporting on finances for a certain sector of business or governmental organization. For a mid-level seniority position, budget and financial analyst positions have strong earnings ranging from $80,000-$120,000 in most roles.

The second cluster of more senior finance roles centers around investment banking. Similarly to how financiers are portraying in movies, many of the most prestigious finance jobs are in investment banking.
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  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Underwriting
  • Venture Capital
  • And Private Equity

Competition for the best positions in any of the above fields is fierce. And students wanting to work at the epicenters of finance should try to have exemplary past experience and/or educational records.

A quick overview of the three main disciplines of investment banking starts with mergers and acquisitions. Mergers and acquisitions jobs focus on strategic advice given to corporations looking to merge with other entities or buy up smaller competitors. Jobs in this arena include a heavy reliance on modeling different financial outcomes in the event of a merger, as well as the ability to present these potentialities to high-level members of the companies involved.

Underwriting jobs center around the innovative ways in which governments and corporations raise funds. Underwriters help to assess risks, negotiate terms of financial backing, and help to coach organizations through the process of obtaining funding to start or expand and work to provide a good investment to owners.

Private equity jobs are perhaps the most prestigious of finance positions. These jobs are generally within one wing of a larger commercial bank or in private equity firms. These firms focus on the management of money of very wealthy clients or large businesses. Generally workloads are intense, but compensation is commensurate, with some private equity banker principals making $100,000’s a year.

Finally, venture capital jobs are centered around the ways in which emerging or new businesses establish themselves through funding. These jobs focus on techniques used to value emerging corporations, determine which corporations should be backed, and establish risk tolerances. Though often highly speculative, venture capital financiers are also often responsible for finding “the next big thing” in start-ups. When this occurs, financial windfalls of magnificent proportion can ensue.

Need more information on finance degrees and careers? Be sure to check out our job-centered FAQs on finance below: