Businesses in every sector of the economy, from education and tech to marketing and international commerce, have a need for well-trained finance professionals. Whether you're hoping to join a prestigious Wall Street firm, work on organizational finances in-house or go into independent consulting, a finance degree is the first step to establishing your career.

But what is finance, exactly? In general terms, finance is the study of money and assets and the different ways in which they're managed. There are several specializations within the finance discipline that can help you focus your degree on a specific branch of the profession, as well, and some of our best colleges for finance offer students the chance to specialize.

Students hoping to go into the purely fiscal side of business often debate on finance vs accounting as their major, and the two degrees do tend to lead in different directions after graduation. One simple explanation of the difference between finance and accounting degrees is that accountants focus on accurate reporting of revenue and losses, while finance pros concentrate their attention on interpreting those records and using them to make recommendations and predictions.

Read on below to for a list of the best undergraduate finance schools, some info about entry-level careers in the field and suggestions to help get your career off the ground after graduation.

Frequently Asked Questions

While programs at some of the best colleges for finance may only be available on campus, many institutions offer all their core finance classes online, allowing you to earn your degree entirely in the virtual classroom. Programs that mix in-person and online finance courses may also be available.

Some college and university programs are required to publish gainful employment information, which can give you an idea of how successful past graduates have been. A full range of online finance courses and virtual versions of student services like career counseling and the university library collection are also good signs.
When a program has earned accreditation, it's been reviewed and found to provide an education that meets a nationally accepted standard of quality. The two largest accreditors of business and finance programs in the U.S. are the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).


Finance Program Overview

You can take a substantial amount of business and finance classes on the way to your degree, as well as some general education courses in subjects like communications, psychology and history to give your studies some academic perspective. You can also be able to learn and train such high-value skills of the finance profession as these, taken from lists provided by the Occupational Information Network (O*NET):

  • Critical thinking
  • Reading comprehension
  • Applied mathematics
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Systems evaluation
  • Complex problem solving

Bachelor of finance programs may lead to either a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree, depending on the type of general education courses included in your schedule.

Earning an Bachelor of Finance Degree Online

How long does a bachelor of finance degree program online take?

On average, a first-time college student takes around four years to complete a bachelor's degree. Accelerated schedules may be available, assigning a larger number of credits per semester and thus requiring fewer terms to graduate, and degree completion programs for students with valid transfer credit can sometimes be completed in two years or less.

What are the requirements to start a bachelor's finance degree program online?

Students hoping to get into the best undergraduate finance schools typically need to provide an official copy of their high school diploma or equivalency degree (GED, TASC, etc.), as well as any required standardized test scores and, often, an application essay or personal statement. International students may also have to submit documentation of a passing score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Why earn a bachelor's finance degree online?

Studying online can help alleviate some of the stresses of earning your degree, namely the need to travel to campus multiple times a week. Some online finance courses are offered in a synchronous format, requiring that students log in at an appointed time, while others are offered asynchronously and allow you to view lecture materials at any convenient time.

Degree Timeline

Lower division (years one and two)

The first two years of your program typically consist of introductory business and finance courses and a healthy portion of the general education core that all university students must complete. If you're thinking about declaring a minor to go with your finance major, lower division electives are a great place to test out potential areas of study.

Upper division (years three and four)

The third and fourth year of your finance program features a few opportunities for general education electives but mostly concentrates on furthering your understanding of business and finance concepts. If your school allows it, you may be able to get special permission to take some graduate-level finance classes during your upper division work.

Common Courses

  • 1.Common Courses
    • Managerial finance
    • Money and banking
    • Investments
    • Financial modeling
    • International finance
    • Asset management
  • 2. Common Careers:
    • Financial analyst
    • Financial examiner
    • Budget analyst
    • Personal financial advisor
    • Management analyst

Finance Concentrations and Specialties

Finance degrees are often offered as concentrations within a general business administration program, but many of the best undergraduate finance schools feature specialized instruction in specific branches of the finance profession:

Global finance

Students planning to focus their careers on international markets can learn about the specialized tools and conditions of international finance and economics.

Investment management

Courses in asset management, portfolio management, options markets and applied equity can teach you the finer points of investment strategy.

Corporate finance

All companies, particularly large ones that handle billions of dollars in trade, need skilled corporate finance teams to help them stay above water and forging ahead.

Career Outlook

What does a finance degree mean for your career prospects?

There are a lot of answers to that question, but it's definitely the case that your chances of landing an entry-level finance job are much higher with a degree than without. Most employers would rather hire an applicant who's graduated from one of the best colleges for finance than take a chance on an untrained beginner.

Jobs for finance professionals are on the rise, as well, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment in most careers for finance graduates is projected to grow 6 to 7 percent by 2028.

Financial analyst

What do financial analysts do?

Most financial analysts work with individuals, businesses and public-sector organizations to help them make smart decisions when investing their money. Here are just a few of the things that a financial analyst might do on an ordinary workday:

How to become a financial analyst

An overwhelming majority of financial analysts hold at least a bachelor's degree — O*NET reports that 61 percent of working financial analysts in 2020 had an undergraduate college education, while more than a third held a master's or other advanced degree. Certain finance certifications can also help demonstrate to employers that you have the right skillset.

Depending on the type of position you pursue, you may also need to obtain a securities license from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). These licenses typically require employer sponsorship, so you may not be required to hold such a license during the hiring process.

Personal financial advisor

What does a personal financial advisor do?

In contrast to financial analysts, personal financial advisors work specifically with individuals and provide guidance on more than just investment decisions. A personal financial advisor may be able to help clients with investments, mortgages, estate planning, insurance, retirement, tax accounting and more.

Here's a short list of duties that a personal financial advisor might perform:

How to become a personal financial advisor?

Whether you're seeking a position at an established firm or hoping to go into business for yourself, it's a good idea to get a bachelor's degree before applying for personal financial advisor jobs. According to numbers published by O*NET, at least 82 percent of personal financial advisors working in 2020 had earned a bachelor's degree, with 35 percent also holding a graduate certificate.

Apart from the education, aspiring personal financial advisors can earn finance certifications to help them sharpen their skills. A license may be required for those who provide specific types of investment advice.

Financial examiner

What does a financial examiner do?

Banks are businesses too, and financial examiners are the professionals who work to ensure that they're complying with consumer protection regulations and operating in a financially sound manner. Here's a short list of the type of activities that are common in a financial examiner's day-to-day job:

How to become a financial examiner?

If you're thinking about entering this segment of the business world, it's a good idea to add some accounting classes to your finance degree plan. Courses in economics and the federal regulatory structure can also add value to your degree.

Most financial examiner jobs at the entry level are supervised positions, putting new hires under the oversight of senior examiners as they learn the ropes. Candidates who have accounting experience as well as a finance education, particularly those who have worked as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), may have an advantage in the hiring process.

Finance Certifications

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Investing and investment analysis are competitive fields, and this credential from the CFA Institute can show employers that you have the expertise it takes to make the right call.

Requirements: Applicants for this certification must have earned a bachelor's degree, be a student in the final year of their bachelor's program or have at least four combined years of work and college experience.

Exam Format: Candidates must pass three exams of increasing difficulty and complexity, offered either in person or online. Online tests have fewer questions and shorter time limits.

How long does the certification last?: The CFA charter does not expire.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

The rigorous educational and ethical standards of the CFP Board ensure that financial planners who earn this certification can move up the ladder of their profession with confidence.

Requirements: A bachelor of finance degree from an accredited college or university and completion of coursework through a CFP Board Registered Program.

Exam Format: 170 multiple-choice questions with a 3-hour time limit.

How long does the certification last?: Credential holders must recertify every year, with a continuing education requirement and a renewal application due every two years.

Financial Risk Manager (FRM)

Offered by the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP), this credential serves to demonstrate that you're an expert in skills like valuation, quantitative analysis, value-at-risk analysis and other essentials of the field.

Requirements: Two years of work experience in a full-time risk management position as well as passing scores on two FRM exams.

Exam Format: Two tests; 100 multiple-choice questions on the first test and 80 on the second one, each with a 2.5-hour time limit.

How long does the certification last?: There are no renewal requirements, but continued education is encouraged.

Financial Aid for Finance Students

It doesn't take a formal finance education to know that college can be expensive. Fortunately, there are several programs in place to help you pay for school. Check out the list below, and click over to our guide to scholarships for more info.

Source: Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of CollegeXpress, a division of Carnegie Dartlet. Copyright © 2020 by CollegeXpress.

Professional Organizations

Joining an organization of like-minded professionals can bring several benefits to your career. Here's some info on a few such organizations that may be available to you as a student or a graduate.

Membership in AFP offers professional development webinars, virtual roundtable discussions and mini-courses designed to keep your knowledge and skills on the leading edge of finance.
This academic organization focuses its efforts on fostering the free exchange of financial ideas and encouraging continued development of the study of finance at the college and university level.
Finance graduates looking to make their career in personal advising services can join this organization to receive access to its member community and a range of discounts on products and services.
The FPA offers multiple membership levels, including those designed for established professionals as well as early-career financial planners, academics, existing students, members of support professions and more.

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