Finance Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Course Info

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Associate and bachelor's programs in finance can lead to careers as clerks or certified financial professionals. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Study Finance: Degrees at a Glance

An undergraduate degree in finance can prepare you for a variety of careers, including financial clerk, personal financial advisor and financial manager. Associate degree programs prepare you to work as a clerk, performing administrative work in banks and other financial institutions. Bachelor's programs prepare you to work as a financial professional, reviewing finances and giving advice to clients. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that financial professionals who carry out certain duties must be registered with their state.

The BLS projected that employment opportunities for financial clerks were expected to increase 11% from 2010-2020. This figure may vary slightly with some of the concentrations in this field. At the same time, employment opportunities for personal financial advisors were expected to increase 32%. The aging U.S. population and decreased pensions could influence growth. The BLS also indicated that employment opportunities for financial managers will increase nine percent from 2010-2020.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking positions as clerks Individuals seeking careers as financial professionals
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - New accounts clerks ($31,000)*
- Bill and account collectors ($32,000)*
- Loan clerks ($35,000)*
- Budget analysts ($69,000)*
- Financial analysts ($76,000)*
- Personal financial advisors ($67,000)*
- Financial managers ($107,000 - position typically requires experience in addition to a degree)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Approximately 60 semester credits Approximately 120 semester credits
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent - High school diploma or equivalent
- SAT or ACT scores
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)

Associate Degree Programs

Associate programs in finance teach you about financial regulations and the different departments that make up financial institutions. You can study commercial credit concepts and learn about stocks, bonds, insurance and basic personal finance. These programs prepare you for entry-level employment in a bank or other office through training on basic spreadsheet applications and financial analysis methods. Some of the skills you may acquire include developing cash management strategies and evaluating investment performance.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Coursework can usually transfer to a bachelor's degree program
  • Online programs are available
  • Programs are geared toward developing professional skills needed for entry-level employment
  • Can set you apart from individuals with just a high school diploma

Cons

  • Not sufficient for many professional certifications
  • A bachelor's degree is needed for many professional finance positions*
  • Not all schools offer internship opportunities

Coursework and Requirements

These curricula include basic requirements in math and English composition. Often, you will need to complete a sequence in macroeconomics separately from the core curriculum. Courses in psychology or sociology are often included. In some programs, a capstone course or practicum may be required. Some of the finance-related courses you may take include:

  • Financial accounting
  • Principles of finance
  • Financial management
  • Investment principles
  • Personal finance
  • Banking
  • Statistics
  • Business law

Online Programs

Associate degree programs in finance that may be completed entirely online are available. These programs offer similar curricula as on-campus programs through eBooks, videos and other online course materials, as well as online academic support. Some programs may include hybrid options, which require students to take lab courses on-campus.

How to Get Ahead with This Degree

Many employers of financial clerks want applicants with skills in Oracle software or Microsoft Office applications, such as Word and Excel. To set yourself apart, you may want to take courses in these applications while pursuing your degree. You can also pursue internship opportunities with banks and other financial organizations to have a better understanding of the work required for a finance position. These internships may be used for college credit and can provide opportunities for future employment.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

At the bachelor's level, finance programs are often offered as a major or concentration within a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree program. These 4-year programs develop advanced financial techniques, such as financial modeling and risk management. In addition to U.S. financial policy, these programs may include topics related to international finance. You may consider programs that are approved by AACSB International (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). Graduating from an AACSB-accredited school may have benefits, depending on the employer.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Bachelor's degrees are often the minimum requirement for professional certification
  • Schools often have internship and study-abroad opportunities that can provide hands-on learning or experience in international finance
  • Online programs are available
  • Specialized electives are available covering specific areas of finance, including corporate finance, banking or investments

Cons

  • Some employers may prefer graduates from a program accredited by AACSB International
  • Extensive experience is required in addition to a degree for financial management positions*
  • Employers of financial managers may prefer applicants with master's degrees*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Coursework and Requirements

BBA programs typically include general education courses and a core business curriculum. Business core courses include business applications, marketing principles and statistics. Some programs also require students to take a pre-business core. These programs include financial courses within the core curriculum and your concentration area. Some of the finance courses you may take include:

  • Investment banking
  • Financial statement analysis
  • Financial management, application and strategy
  • Portfolio theory
  • Valuation
  • Principles of investment
  • International finance
  • Finance and real estate

Online Programs

Online bachelor's programs in finance are available, some of which are AACSB-accredited. These programs may offer reduced tuition rates for non-residents. Some professors may require students to take exams at a testing center. Students learn from professors who have extensive experience teaching online courses and usually are required to participate in online discussions.

How to Get Ahead with This Degree

To stand out with this degree, you may consider participating in internship opportunities with a financial organization. Additionally, you can pursue professional certifications, such as the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) credential. The BLS indicates that a bachelor's degree is one of the steps required in earning the CFP credential, along with acquiring three years experience, passing an exam and following a code of ethics. You may also want to develop your technical expertise in common computer programs like Excel and PowerPoint and financial software like Great Plains and Cognos.

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