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Schools typically offer many types of general and specialized business degrees. These options may reflect strong student interest and potential careers after graduation.

The finance specialization focuses on sourcing and managing money for both the public and private sectors. Finance programs emphasize the theory and practice of lending and borrowing, investing, and financial forecasting. They also teach students how to create budgets and allocate monetary resources for complex organizational activities.

Continue reading to explore finance degree programs and their objectives at undergraduate and graduate levels.

What Is Finance?

Scholars trace the origins of finance as a specialized academic discipline to the mid-20th century. It evolved from the groundbreaking work of a group of economics experts who pioneered advanced approaches to enterprise risk analysis.

Modern approaches to finance typically deal with three key areas:

  • Borrowing and lending standards and procedures at the organizational or enterprise level
  • Financial modeling, forecasting, and budgeting
  • Assigning or distributing capital in support of strategic objectives

A finance program's focus differs from general accounting or business degree programs. Accounting involves tracking transactions rather than sourcing and allocating capital. General business degrees touch on finance, but also cover other topics related to enterprise management.

Schools offer finance degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Generally, these programs help prepare students for careers involving managing money on behalf of employers and organizations.

What Skills Do Finance Programs Teach?

Finance programs equip students with valuable knowledge and skills so they can pursue roles in enterprise and organizational management. Examples of specific knowledge and skills include:

  • Organizational finance and financial management best practices
  • Financial modeling to guide monetary decision-making
  • Data and quantitative analysis techniques and strategies
  • Foundational knowledge of accounting principles and procedures
  • international financial markets trends and opportunities

The top degrees in finance also teach key soft skills. Examples include interpersonal communication, collaboration, team building, and relationship management.

What Are the Types of Finance Degrees?

Institutions offer finance programs at all four degree levels including associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate. Some schools host non-degree programs that award diplomas or certificates. Non-degree programs generally supplement existing business or accounting education, or serve as a general introduction to the field.

Certificate in Finance

Pre-degree certificate programs introduce core and essential finance topics. They build familiarity and expertise with the subject matter and may lead to entry-level professional roles.

Coursework usually focuses on basic theories and practical principles of finance. Some rigorous certificate programs also include electives that allow students to build knowledge in areas of interest. By contrast, pre-degree accounting certificates usually cover methods of tracking financial transactions.

Certificate programs vary in their credit requirements, but most take less than one year to complete. Students may complete shorter programs in three months.

Associate in Finance

Associate degrees in finance usually require two academic years of full-time study. Most institutions structure these programs to mirror the first two years of a four-year bachelor's degree.

Coursework may introduce accounting basics but usually focuses on the applied theory of organizational finance management. For instance, associate finance degrees typically cover topics like the time-value of money and financial forecasting in greater detail.

Career options also differ. An associate degree in accounting prepares graduates for entry-level and junior roles in accounting departments. An associate in finance may open doors to a broader set of careers. Examples include finance analyst, personal banking, loan specialist, and customer service positions.

Degree options for an associate in finance include:

  • Associate of arts
  • Associate of science
  • Associate of applied science

Bachelor's in Finance

Bachelor's degrees in finance usually require four years of full-time study. They build on foundational business concepts before covering advanced topics in finance.

Four-year finance degrees may include accounting coursework but within the broader context of applied finance theory. Other common study topics and subjects include financial analysis, risk analysis and management, corporate valuations, and banking.

Students may complete a general bachelor's in accounting to prepare for licensure as a certified public accountant or another accounting specialization. A bachelor's in finance may lead to a more diverse career options, including financial analysts, risk analysts, and account executives.

Institutions may offer a BS or BA in finance. However, some bestow other degrees, such as a bachelor of applied arts or a bachelor of business administration.

Master's in Finance

At the master's level, students have various options for studying finance. The main options include a dedicated master's degree in finance or an MBA with a finance concentration. Both usually demand about 2-3 academic years of full-time study.

Dedicated master's degrees usually culminate in a master of science designation. However, some institutions may confer a:

  • Master of arts
  • Master of applied arts
  • Master of applied science
  • Master of accounting (in finance or financial management)

Coursework typically covers topics comparable to a bachelor's in finance, but more rigorous and in-depth. Some master's programs also introduce advanced economics and finance theories that bachelor's degrees may not cover in detail.

A master's finance degree covers broader topics than a master's in accounting. A master's in finance may lead to high-profile organizational and corporate roles with significant levels of responsibility.

Doctorate in Finance

Students aspiring to careers in organizational and enterprise management do not typically earn doctorates in finance. Most doctoral finance degrees focus on theory and analytics rather than operational or management principles. These degrees may appeal to learners planning careers in academia, advanced research, or finance theory development.

Doctorates in finance have intensive and demanding study schedules, taking a minimum of three years to complete. Students at this level usually have greater control over what they study through self-directed research.

The majority of doctoral finance programs award a Ph.D. However, some lead to a doctor of business administration.

Is Finance Better As an Undergrad or Graduate Degree?

Finance is a dynamic field. The top degrees in finance build theoretical and practical knowledge. However, most finance professionals advance to higher-level positions through a combination of schooling and experience.

Most employers view bachelor's degrees in finance as the minimum education level for entry-level positions. A master's may qualify professionals for advanced roles, but some finance students prefer to launch their careers with an undergraduate degree.

Those with an advanced finance degree can pursue higher salaries or a faster, more direct route to management and executive roles. In this respect, MBA degrees with a finance specialization may appeal to those interested in career advancement.

Aspiring professionals may also consider getting both a bachelor's and a graduate finance degree. This may enhance your credibility to employers and give you the option to build deep knowledge in an area of interest.

In deciding your educational path, consider your end goal and career aspirations. Then, determine which degree is most likely to get you there most efficiently.

Consider Careers With a Degree in Finance

Common Questions About Degrees in Finance


What do you study finance for?

Studying finance at the undergraduate or graduate level provides a strong and diverse knowledge base in various areas. These include borrowing and lending, capital allocation, risk analysis, strategic planning, and financial forecasting.

Which degree is best for finance?

Students seeking specialized careers in finance roles can enroll in dedicated finance programs at all degree levels. Alternatively, you can also pursue a general business or accounting degree and use your electives to earn a finance minor.

Is a degree in finance hard?

It depends on your interests and skill set. Students who succeed in finance programs generally have genuine interests in business and economics, and are comfortable with mathematics and analytics.

Is a degree in finance worth it?

Finance degrees lead to a broad set of career options in both the public and private sectors. Finance professionals generally benefit from stable demand among employers, and many earn relatively high pay. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported median salaries of $81,410 per year for financial analysts, which is greater than the median salary of all other workers.

Reviewed by: R.J. Weiss

R.J. Weiss is a certified financial planner and current CEO of the financial education company The Ways To Wealth. Weiss has worked with clients across a variety of fields, including insurance planning, investment planning, income tax planning, and retirement planning. The Ways To Wealth teaches the fundamentals of financial planning to hundreds of thousands of monthly readers.
R.J. Weiss is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.
Page last reviewed July 5, 2022


Featured Image: MoMo Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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