A bachelor’s degree in finance – one of the top degrees for the highest-paying business careers – is at once broad and specific, depending on how you look at it. Students who want to tailor their education to focus on a specific area of finance that most appeals to them can look for specialized degree programs or concentration and specialization tracks within a degree. Some of the specializations you might find include financial planning, investments, corporate finance and real estate. However, there’s no harm in pursuing a versatile degree in general finance, which already narrows your focus down from the broad arena of business administration to a single business function.
Financial Planning and Wealth Management Concentrations
Financial planning is one of the most lucrative career paths in the field of business and finance. The median, or midpoint, salary for personal financial advisors is $87,850, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. A specialization in financial planning and wealth management isn’t required to break into this field, but it can help you develop more specialized skills than candidates with only a general finance degree.
In addition to the robust core coursework students take as part of their general finance curriculum, students pursuing a specialized track in financial planning or wealth management will take specialized classes that expose them to different aspects of financial advising. For example, you may start out with a course in financial planning principles and progress to more advanced coursework in financial plan development. Students often take classes in retirement planning, estate planning, insurance planning, investments and taxation. To help students get a taste of what the workforce will be like, programs in financial planning may include a senior project or capstone experience in which you create complete financial plans for real or simulated clients with guidance from an experienced financial advisor.
Some undergraduate financial planning programs align their curriculum to the Certified Financial Planning (CFP) Board, which helps to prepare students for taking the CFP professional certification exam.
Investments and Portfolio Management Tracks
Investment and portfolio management are narrower fields of practice than financial planning. If you choose to focus your bachelor’s in finance studies on investment and portfolio management, you will learn about different kinds of financial assets and markets and how they work. Knowledge of financial market trends, combined with strong analytical skills, allows investment and portfolio managers to forecast how different investments are likely to perform so that they can choose investments that are expected to provide a strong financial return.
Some of the specialized classes you might take include financial institutions and markets, advanced investment management, international investments, introduction to financial technology, computer applications in finance, derivatives and financial engineering. In an investment practicum or capstone experience, you will have the opportunity to manage an investment fund subject to the same changing market conditions that exist in the real financial world. In fact, while some students practice investment management through trading simulation programs, other portfolio practicum experiences have students working with real investment funds that may be worth millions of dollars.
Have you ever wondered what the differences are between stocks and bonds, or between stock markets and money markets? Students specializing in investments dig into the details of different financial market structures and types of financial securities.
IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain
For businesses, the focus on finance often has less to do with the stock market directly and more to do with the organization’s own financial structure and health. Specializing in corporate finance may be right for you if you hope to work in a role like corporate treasurer, financial consulting, financial analysis, banking or corporate asset management.
A corporate finance concentration will often include required courses in intermediate corporate finance, advanced corporate finance, international finance and security analysis. Students may also take classes in financial statement analysis, financial modeling, financial markets and institutions for business, financial institution management, cashflow performance, derivatives, fixed income modeling and analysis and financial risk management.
Corporate finance is often closely related to accounting, so students in this program may also need to meet a minimum number of accounting course requirements to graduate.
Real Estate Finance Specializations
One of the more colorful specialization options in finance is real estate. From a business and finance perspective, real estate is a popular and potentially lucrative investment. However, the stakes are high, and poor investment decisions involving real estate can be financially disastrous. For finance students interested in real estate, a more specialized degree program may be a better choice, because it offers in-depth knowledge of real estate investment practices that a general undergraduate finance curriculum is unlikely to cover.
In addition to your general finance coursework, a real estate finance concentration will likely require students to take a sequence of specialized real estate courses offered through the school’s finance department. Classes in the principles of real estate and the foundations of real estate law lay the groundwork for studies of real estate appraisal and of investment and taxation in real estate.
With this background, you may start out as a real estate financial analyst and ultimately work your way up to a role like corporate controller of a real estate firm.
Finance as a Specialization Within Business
The degree of generality or specialization of a college program is often a matter of perspective. Although a bachelor’s in finance may seem general, this kind of program is considerably more specialized – even without pursuing a separate concentration – than a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Finance is just one business function, but students whose degree is in business administration complete a broad business curriculum that encompasses studies in finance, accounting, management, marketing and more.
Some Bachelor of Business Administration programs allow students to declare a concentration. A bachelor’s in finance degree includes more extensive finance coursework than a finance concentration that is taken as part of a business administration degree.