Financial Planning Degrees: MBA, PhD & Online Course Info

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Graduate degrees in financial planning may lead to careers as a personal financial advisor, economist or even chief financial officer. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options of financial planners who have graduate degrees.
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Studying Financial Planning at a Glance

If you're good with personal finances, enjoy giving financial advice and already have a bachelor's degree, you may want to consider a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a doctoral degree in financial planning. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in financial planning were expected to grow 32% from 2010-2020 ( This increase is attributed to a decline in private pensions and a growing demand by individuals, especially baby boomers, for assistance managing retirement funds.

Financial planners with a MBA may work as financial managers, stockbrokers or financial analysts. Those with substantial work experience may also work as a chief financial officer. If you obtain a Ph.D., you may also work as finance professor or economist.

Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in teaching at the junior college level or seeking additional credentials for job advancement Individuals seeking academic work as researchers, instructors and professors, government or private industry experts
Common Career Paths (approximate mean annual salary) - Personal Financial Advisor ($91,000)*
- Financial Analyst ($88,000)*
- Securities, Commodities Sales Agent ($99,000)*
- Chief Executives ($177,000)*
- Financial Manager ($120,000)*
- Post-secondary teacher ($74,000)*
- Economists ($100,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full-time 2-5 years full time, depending on pace and progress
Common Graduation Requirements - 6-8 graduate-level courses
- Complete teaching and seminar requirements
- Master's research paper
Most (or all of the master's degree requirements), plus:
- Proposal and Defense of Dissertation
- Student teaching
- Professional seminars
-Research publications
- 8-16 additional courses
Prerequisites -A bachelor's degree
- business experience
-A bachelor's or master's degree
- Economics, statistics and calculus courses
Online Availability Yes Yes, but rare

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2010 figures)

Master of Business Administration in Financial Planning

A master's degree program in financial planning provides you with a deeper understanding of financial strategies and theories. Core courses in these programs include accounting, business strategy, marketing theory, finance, leadership and business information systems. You also complete teaching and seminar requirements as well as research and projects. Many times, you can specialize in areas such as investments, personal finances, corporate finance, economics or statistics. Upon graduation, you may be eligible to sit for the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification examination, an industry-standard credential.

Pros and Cons


  • Strong job growth projected in the field due to rising demand (32% between 2010 and 2020)*
  • Good average pay for financial planners ($65,000 a year in 2010)*
  • Ability to specialize in a subfield such as investments or retirement planning
  • A master's degree may attract more clients and allow advancement into managerial positions


  • Strong competition among job applicants may make it difficult to find employment
  • It may take working professionals longer to complete MBA programs
  • Various licenses needed to sell stocks, bonds and insurance policies which may not be provided through a degree program

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

In a master's degree program in financial planning, you complete courses in financial planning, economics, statistics and broader business practices. This multi-disciplinary approach provides students with the training needed to evaluate and recommend financial strategies for individuals and organizations. In most programs, you complete a capstone or research project. Examples of courses you might take at the master's level include:

  • Retirement and estate planning
  • Insurance
  • Financial accounting
  • Capital markets
  • Investment analysis
  • Risk management
  • Tax management

Online Degree Options

Online Master of Business Administration degree programs are available. Online programs allow you to work at your own pace and may take from 16 months to five years to complete, depending on your pace. These programs allow you to obtain and submit homework, contact your professors, participate in online discussions and retrieve assignments online.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

To stand out with your degree, consider working on the experience requirements to obtain professional credentials such as the CFP offered by The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. The CFP is an industry-standard credential for financial planners and requires three years of relevant work experience. You may gain this experience through internships or part-time employment within the industry. This experience may allow you to earn you credentials faster after graduation.

Also consider becoming comfortable using software programs. such as spreadsheets and money management programs. A course on information systems for managers can provide you with this knowledge. These programs may make it easier for you to manage your client's finances. This skill may make you more attractive to employers.

Doctorate In Financial Planning

If you're interested in academic research related to financial planning, you may want to pursue a doctorate degree in this field. These programs require anywhere from 72 to 90 credit hours of study, and may take as long as five years to complete. Your first two years are generally focused on courses and examinations, while the latter years are dedicated to planning, researching and defending a dissertation. Doctoral students concentrate on a subfield of interest, and work closely with a faculty advisor or advisory committee on their pre-determined focus of study.

Doctoral candidates study theoretical knowledge and understanding in a specific field, such as consumer economics, financial planning, retirement planning, risk management, insurance or tax planning. They also need to study statistics, which may include learning computer software programs that track the U.S. and global stock markets. They may additionally be required to teach undergraduate classes as a resident assistant and publish research.

Pros and Cons


  • Advanced degrees allows for top-level jobs as chief financial officer, economist or professor*
  • Strong job growth for financial planners projected (32% between 2010-2020)*
  • Small cohort training guided by experienced faculty provides individualized instruction


  • May take up to five years of study to earn degree
  • Admission may be based on past education record and potential
  • Strong job competition, especially for tenured college jobs and for government jobs expected*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Courses in a doctoral program include major courses in financial planning and core courses in business. Most courses focus on degree requirements, while the rest are related to your dissertation research. Examples of courses you might take include:

  • Microeconomic theory
  • Leadership principles
  • Managerial finance
  • Marketing concepts
  • Statistical research methods

Depending on the program, you may need to participate in professional seminars and publish a minimum number of research papers. You may need to complete a residency requirement, which typically requires working as a research assistant or teaching your advisor's undergraduate classes alongside.

Online Degree Options

Online Ph.D. programs in financial planning are rare. When available, these programs are designed for working professionals and may include a summer residency requirement. This residency allows you to network in-person with peers and faculty and to perform group research activities for capstone or thesis projects. Although you may complete courses online, you may also be required to attend professional seminars, teach and publish your research.

Stand Out With This Degree

Because of expected strong job competition for financial planners, you can stand out by becoming an expert in optimization models or advanced econometrics. Possessing these advanced mathematical skills may make your resume stand out against your competition.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Walden University

    Program Options

      • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Finance
      • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Accounting
      • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Energy Management
      • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Homeland Security
      • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Information Systems Management
      • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Self-Designed
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

      • PhD in Business Admin - Financial Management
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Financial Management
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Advanced Accounting
      • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management
  • Campus and Online Programs
    3. Baker College

    Program Options

      • Business Administration - DBA
  • Durham, NC

    Duke University

  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

  • Online Programs Available
    7. Trident University

    Program Options

      • Business Administration (Ph.D.)
      • Doctor of Business Administration
  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

  • Notre Dame, IN

    University of Notre Dame

Featured Schools

Walden University

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  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Energy Management

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Northcentral University

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  • Doctor of Business Admin - Advanced Accounting

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Baker College

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Trident University

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  • Doctor of Business Administration

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