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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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:
Students planning to focus their careers on international markets can learn about the specialized tools and conditions of international finance and economics.
Courses in asset management, portfolio management, options markets and applied equity can teach you the finer points of investment strategy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Applicant must be a current or potential member of NABA of ethnic minority, be enrolled full-time in an United States college or university, and meet a minimum GPA. Personal statement, resume, two letters of recommendation and an essay are required to be submitted.
Applicants must be women of any age pursuing a business or business-related program who demonstrate outstanding potential. Applicants must also have an outstanding academic record in their college career, and they must show intent to complete a business program.
Applicant must be a high school senior or college freshman, sophomore, or junior who will graduate or have graduated from high school in Middle Tennessee and will be enrolling in a four-year not-for-profit college or university. Applicant must be a business major or STEM major and be able to demonstrate financial need. Minimum 2.5 GPA required.
Applicant must be a full-time undergraduate or graduate student (enrolled in at least 12 semester hours, or equivalent per term) at an accredited four-year college or university pursing a declared major in either accounting, business and finance, or criminal science. Junior college, community college, and high school students including graduating seniors are not eligible to apply. Application, official transcript, three letters of recommendation (including one from a Certified Fraud Examiner or local Association chapter), original essay explaining why applicant deserves the scholarship, and how fraud awareness will affect his or her professional career development, are required to be submitted.
Applicants must be current FFA members and high school seniors or college students planning to enroll or currently enrolled full-time. Students must be pursuing a four-year degree in one of the following agricultural fields: business management, economics, sales and marketing or finance. They must be residents of California, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota or Texas. Applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA. Students only need to complete the online application one time to be considered for all FFA-administered scholarships. The application requires information about the student's activities and a 1,000-word essay. Awards may be used for books, supplies, tuition, fees and room and board.
Applicant must rank in the top 15% of class and demonstrate leadership skills.
Applicant must be enrolled at the University of Missouri at Columbia.
Applicant must be an undergraduate or college student or researcher who demonstrates an interest in the money transfer and remittance industry and who conducts/participates in studies in fields directly related to the international transfer of funds in any country in the world.
Applicants must be high school seniors enrolled in a Washington State public or private high school, or are home-schooled and reside in Washington State. Students must plan to use their scholarship within the 12 months following the award by enrolling in any public or private school, vocational institution, community college or four-year college or university.
Applicant must be attending Washington State University who has the intent of going to or is currently in the business school. Preference will be given to finance and marketing majors.
Applicant must be a current student working toward a bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree in: accounting, actuarial sciences, banking, economics, finance, financial management, insurance, risk management, or related majors. Minimum 3.0 GPA and good standing in program required. Applicant must click the blue Apply button on the AfterCollege application page and complete their AfterCollege profile which will be the criteria (with specific emphasis on the personal statement) used to determine the recipient of the award.
Applicants must be matriculated students attending an accredited college or university located in Connecticut; matriculated students attending a non-Connecticut school who are also the spouse or child of an HFMA Connecticut Chapter member; matriculated students who are Connecticut residents and who commute to an accredited school that is located in an HFMA Region 1 state or matriculated students who are permanent healthcare industry employees working in the state of Connecticut. They must be studying or planning to study financial management or a healthcare subject. Selection is based on the strength of the applicant's essay.
Applicants must be working toward a degree in one of the following fields: animal science, animal nutrition, dairy science, poultry science, equine/equestrian science, agriculture, agricultural science, agricultural business management, economics, finance or marketing and sales. Applicants must attend college in and be residents of one of the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia or West Virginia. Selection is based on the overall strength of the application.
Applicant must be a MBA graduate student. Preference will be given to applicants of notable academic achievement and demonstrating an interest in finance and/or entrepreneurship.
Applicants must be current FFA members and high school seniors or college students planning to enroll or currently enrolled full-time. They must be majoring in one of the following areas: animal nutrition, animal or dairy science, agricultural business management, finance, sales and marketing or agricultural engineering. Students must have at least a 3.0 GPA. Preference will be given to applicants who show strong leadership skills and an interest in pursuing a dairy-related career. Students only need to complete the online application one time to be considered for all FFA-administered scholarships. The application requires information about the student's activities and a 1,000-word essay. Awards may be used for books, supplies, tuition, fees and room and board.
Applicant must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and be working in a college-sponsored work-study program. Applicant must have a major within the School of Business.
Applicant must be a college student majoring in business, entrepreneurship, finance, food service, franchising, hospitality, or marketing. Essay and two reference letters required.
Applicants must be U.S. residents and current college students or graduating high school seniors enrolling in college. Students must be majoring in a field related to personal finance such as business, accounting, finance, mathematics or management and hold a minimum GPA of 3.5.
Applicants must be pursuing a major in one of the following fields: agronomy, plant breeding and genetics, economics, finance, pulp and paper technology, transportation, crop science, plant science or agricultural business management. A minimum 3.0 GPA is required. Applicants must live in Iowa and plan to attend a college in Iowa or Illinois. Preference is given to applicants with a specific interest in transportation. Selection is based on the overall strength of the application.
Applicant must be an active member of Tau Kappa Epsilon who is a full-time undergraduate student pursing a degree in accounting, finance or economics. Minimum 2.75 GPA required. Preference given to members of the Nu Chapter.
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.