Complete Guide to an Online Finance Degree
A degree in finance is a great option for students who are interested in mastering the concepts of financial fundamentals in business. Finance professionals use their knowledge and expertise to help organizations effectively manage their resources and assets, make smart investments and acquisitions, and properly plan for the future. Graduates of online finance degrees may pursue various middle- and senior-level management positions in the financial services industry, both in the public and private sector. Work settings for finance professionals include accounting firms, banks, financial planning, stock brokerage firms and insurance companies.
Students are encouraged to select an online finance program that has been accredited by a reputable accrediting agency. Accreditation may be awarded by national or regional accrediting bodies or by professional associations, such as the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). Read More
Featured List of Colleges & Universities for an Online Finance Degree
Overview of Available Online Finance Degrees
Undergraduate finance degree programs cover the fundamentals of accounting, business management, economics, and finance. The associate degree curriculum introduces students to key areas in the field such as financial institutions, financial statement analysis, global economic trends, and investments. Bachelor’s programs offer students the opportunity to specialize in a specific area that represents their career interests. This may include analysis for financial management, ethics and enterprise, financial markets and institutions, and investments and portfolio management. Bachelor’s programs usually include a capstone course, which requires students to complete a business project.
Master’s programs allow students to expand their undergraduate knowledge base. The core of the finance master's program includes courses in advanced business and finance areas such as financial accounting, econometrics, and financial modeling. Other common courses include international finance, corporate finance, and risk management. The curriculum of doctoral programs integrates theory, research and students’ personal reflection with practice. Doctoral students are also required to take a comprehensive exam, conduct an original research project, and write a dissertation. Those who study at the graduate level can apply their advanced knowledge in finance to professional roles in consultancy, corporate finance, investments, personal finance, research, and teaching.
Professionals in finance help people analyze and improve their economic situation. Many individuals take the first step in continuing their education in this field by pursuing an associate degree at a distance learning school or traditional community or junior college. These programs typically consists of 60 to 64 credits and will only accept candidates with high school diplomas or GED certificates. There are two types of associate degree programs in finance: Associate of Science and Associate of Applied Science. The former is designed to be a stepping stone to getting a bachelor's degree, while the latter focuses on preparing individuals to go straight into the workforce after graduation.
Regardless of the result, all associate degree programs in finance are designed to equip students with decision-making skills, management capabilities, and interpersonal skills. Individuals learn how to devise budget plans, utilize business communication practices, and carry out other varied job responsibilities under the direction of management. Major topics that are discussed include corporate finance, investment principles, credit analysis, microeconomics, business law and ethics, and financial accounting.
Associate-level finance graduates may work in private or corporate settings, manufacturing, retail, government, or technical services. Associate degree holders may find jobs as credit or insurance analysts, loan processors, or financial planners. It's important to know that your chances of getting promoted to supervisory or management positions in these areas are contingent upon your willingness to continue your education and obtain a bachelor's degree.
The bachelor’s degree in finance combines a core of business classes with the financial skills to develop financial reports, analyze financial data, and wisely invest a business or organization’s capital. These four-year programs are often offered through the business school of a traditional college or university and require about 120 credit hours of coursework. As with most bachelor’s programs, applicants will need a high school diploma or the equivalent to apply.
The finance bachelor’s includes a set of general education courses, the business foundation, and the finance specialization. General education courses in topics like humanities, math, and English support critical thinking abilities and general college-level reasoning skills. The business core is an interdisciplinary set of classes that helps students understand a functioning business from many angles. Common courses include marketing, accounting, economics, leadership, and organizational behavior. Finance specialization classes include managerial finance, investing, financial institutions, and risk and insurance.
The broad yet practical skill set of the finance bachelor’s degree is useful for entering a number of professions. Graduates could go on to become financial analysts, budget analysts, or financial managers within a business, helping the organization interpret its financial situation and prepare for the future. Other graduates go on to become stock brokers, insurance underwriters, or personal financial advisors. The quantitative analysis and business skills of the finance program can be applied to a wide variety of careers.
Online Master of Arts degree programs in finance introduce students to advanced theories in financial instruments, investing, and financial markets. Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees in finance provides a core of practical business classes, along with a focus in the skills for interpreting financial systems. To earn a master’s degree in finance, students spend two to three years completing the required coursework; most programs require 10-20 courses. Applicants typically need a bachelor's degree, previous coursework in economics and statistics, and GRE or GMAT scores. Students may also be required to have a year or more of professional business experience before applying to MBA programs.
Different finance master's degrees may have different curriculum focuses. For example, some emphasize quantitative understanding of financial instruments, while others emphasize finance integrated with strategic business principles. Some programs include a set course schedule, while others allow students to choose electives in their professional area. Possible electives include bond markets, negotiation, corporate financial policy, and game theory. Most master's programs require that students complete a thesis, which involves a significant amount of research in a particular area of finance theory or practice.
The core of the online MBA degree covers an array of business topics, which discuss nearly every aspect of running a successful enterprise. Courses in leadership and communication areas, such as decision making, leading people, and organizational behavior, discuss the skills for managing employees and organizations. Quantitative courses like data analysis, economics, and financial decision making discuss the critical thinking and math skills necessary to maintain an organization’s financial integrity. Courses in areas like marketing and international business discuss more specialized aspects of promoting a business and integrating it into a global landscape.
Many online master's programs require that students complete an internship in a finance setting; online schools place students in businesses in their local community. Some online business programs require on-site attendance once or several times during the degree program where students visit campus to listen to seminars and meet their cohort.
With a master’s degree in finance, graduates may qualify for positions as financial analysts, stock brokers, budget analysts, personal financial advisors, risk managers, or financial managers. Financial professionals work for investment companies, banks, accounting agencies, the government, and for individual businesses and corporations. Other possible places of employment include hedge funds, investment banks, corporate finance departments, consulting firms, and economic development settings. Those with many years of professional experience can become independent consultants.
Students in the finance doctoral program take advanced courses in a variety of finance areas while also honing their independent research skills. Finance PhDs require anywhere from three to eight years of coursework. Students complete 10-20 classes (usually one to two per semester), write a dissertation, and teach undergraduate courses, depending on their commitment level and the program they choose. All doctoral applicants must have bachelor's degrees, and most programs require undergraduate classes in statistics, math, and economics. Some programs require that applicants have a relevant master's degree and professional experience, as well.
Most doctoral programs in finance include a strong base of coursework in quantitative methods, statistics, financial modeling, financial institutions, and economics. Other common courses discuss international, government, corporate, personal, and non-profit finance. Graduates understand the banking system and the stock market, along with the techniques for managing budgets and investments. The dissertation project is a main component of the finance PhD and requires students to develop a research project in a particular finance area. Many programs expect students to write and publish papers during the first two years of the degree in order to prepare for the lengthier dissertation project.
Doctorate programs in finance are often designed to prepare graduates for the research and teaching involved in college faculty positions. Graduates can apply for assistant professor and other tenure-track positions at colleges and universities. Others can use the credential to aim for executive roles in financial institutions, such as banks and hedge funds. Others may become corporate administrators and government consultants.
Finance certificate programs typically take 9 to 12 months to complete, require students to fulfill 12 to 18 credit hours, and are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Admission requirements tend to vary by school, but most applicants must have at least a high school diploma or GED to qualify for undergraduate certificate programs, or a bachelor's degree to gain acceptance into graduate certificate programs.
An undergraduate certificate program in finance relays foundational information about concepts and procedures within the industry. Students learn how to manage accounts and portfolios, evaluate clients' needs, and deal with international relations. During the course of their studies, they're able to strengthen their decision-making skills, analytical abilities, and written and verbal communication. Common coursework includes corporate finance, investment analysis, risk management, and financial institutions.
Graduate certificates in finance help students further develop their knowledge in business-related practices. They're usually allowed to specialize in a particular area in the field. Core subjects discussed may include budgeting, quantitative methods, investment theories, managerial accounting, and managing financial institutions.
Certificate holders in finance are prepared to start careers as stockbrokers, financial analysts, banking professionals, and investment advisors. The American Academy of Financial Management and related organizations offer a plethora of professional development opportunities to new workers and seasoned employees.
When researching potential online finance degrees, it's important to choose a program that has been accredited. Accreditation is a designation granted to degree programs and institutions that meet high academic standards with regard to their curricula, faculty members, student resources, and research capabilities. Institutional accreditation means that the entire school has been accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency, and programmatic accreditation means that one particular degree program has been accredited.
Accreditation of either the school or the degree program you choose can help you feel confident that you're going to receive a high-quality education and that your degree will be valued by future employers. Attending an accredited school is also necessary if you plan to apply for federal financial aid or graduate school.
Finance degree programs are often accredited by agencies that specialize in business programs, such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs (ACBSP). Both of these agencies are recognized by the US Department of Education (USDE) as being trustworthy accrediting bodies. It's wise to visit the USDE's accreditation database before submitting an admissions application for any degree program you may be considering. Please visit Guide to Online Schools' accreditation section for more information about the benefits of accreditation.
While completing an undergraduate or graduate a degree in finance will entail intensive business training, many employers also require specific certifications, depending on the field of work. Certifications are designed to help professionals maintain a high level of integrity in specific financial areas. Since the large number of finance certifications can be overwhelming, we've highlighted a few of the most popular ones here.
Actuary Certifications: Actuarial science, the study of risk management, is a major aspect of financial management for businesses. While many finance majors are well trained in calculating risk and expected returns, obtaining an actuarial certification signals to employers one’s proficiency in the field. In the United States, different certifications are required for different careers. For example, a certification from the American Academy of Actuaries is required for anyone to sign official actuarial opinions. Another form of actuarial certification comes from the Casualty Actuarial Society, which certifies its holders to assess property and casualty risk.
Certified Managerial Accountant: The certified managerial accountant (CMA) certification is another certification that financiers may choose. As finance majors, most people are well exposed to accounting methods, such as time value of money or double-entry bookkeeping. The CMA certification stresses a higher level of business administration, which emphasizes accountancy methods with different aspects of business such as financial planning, operations management, and professional ethics in addition to proficiency in accounting methods.
Chartered Financial Analyst: The CFA is a certification for finance and investment professionals. The certification assures that its holders are adept in concepts of portfolio management and financial analysis, along with general training in economics and business ethics. With high standards for passing, this certification is coveted by many employers for upper-level positions in the field of finance.
Finance careers attract many people, due to the challenging, lucrative nature of the work. There are many different roles in business and finance that might interest finance graduates, depending on their skill set and preferred work environment. Administration, money management, employee management, and investment management are just a few of the major career areas within this field.
Most entry-level business and finance positions, such as HR generalist, administrative manager, and financial manager, require a bachelor's degree. Depending on the particular business and finance career you hope to pursue, a major in business administration, finance, economics, mathematics, or information technology could be good preparation. Getting practical training through an internship, co-op work experience, or externship is highly recommended during a business bachelor's program.
Some higher-level positions, such as investment broker, financial analyst, and management executive roles, require a master's degree. The Master of Business Administration, which includes two to three years of practical business training, is great preparation and highly valued in the business world.
- Administrative Services Manager: These managers coordinate the different services and actions necessary to keep a business running on a day-to-day basis. In a small business, these managers may perform many different tasks, from hiring employees, to buying supplies, to keeping financial records. In larger businesses, administrators specialize in a particular management area.
- Facility Manager: Facility managers take care of the buildings and grounds associated with a business. They make sure that utilities are working properly, that the building is secure, and that building standards are up to code.
- Human Resources Manager: HR managers act as liaisons between a business's management and its employees. They recruit, hire, and train new employees, and they administer employees' compensation and benefits packages. In larger organizations, HR managers typically specialize in a particular HR sub-area.
- Information Technology Manager: IT managers oversee information systems and IT workers in an organization. They install and maintain computers and networks, manage IT projects, and train employees in the organization's information systems.
- Medical and Health Services Manager: Healthcare managers work in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, clinics, and other medical settings. They hire and coordinate clinical care workers, manage records, and oversee the maintenance of the facility.
- Purchasing Manager: These managers buy products for a variety of businesses for a variety of purposes. They may purchase goods for wholesale or retail sale, or for repurposing. Purchasing managers compare products and negotiate with vendors in order to obtain the best price possible for their organization.
- Budget Analyst: Budget analysts act as consultants to help businesses, non-profits, and government agencies appropriately use their funds. They help organizations decide which projects deserve funding, and how funding should match up with an organization's goals.
- Financial Analyst: Financial analysts help businesses and individuals decide which investments to make. They work with an organization to determine its time frame, investment goals, and risk tolerance to pick stocks and bonds that will generate appropriate returns.
- Financial Manager: Financial managers make sure that the funds in an organization are managed appropriately. They create financial reports, direct funds to different projects, oversee the flow of cash, and purchase appropriate insurance.
- Personal Financial Advisors: Personal financial advisors work with individuals and families to help them plan for their financial goals. They help their clients budget enough money for retirement and college expenses and help them choose investments or other financial instruments.
- AACSB International. Accessed October 29, 2014. http://www.aacsb.edu.
- ACBSP. Accessed October 29, 2014. http://www.acbsp.org.
- American Academy of Actuaries. Accessed October 28, 2014. http://www.actuary.org.
- Become a CMA. Institute of Management Accountants. http://www.imanet.org/cma_certification/become_a_cma.aspx.
- CFA Program. CFA Institute. Accessed October 28, 2014. http://www.cfainstitute.org/programs/cfaprogram/Pages/index.aspx.
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