Online Degrees in Finance

Companies looking to maximize profits and minimize loss must make risk-averse, sound financial decisions on a daily basis. Intelligent, informed choices about expansions, investment opportunities, budgets and purchases can be the difference between an organization flourishing or floundering. Global markets and technology have changed the way money moves, and corporations rely on professionals who can analyze financial options and make insightful recommendations.

Students taking online business degrees in finance usually learn about stock market fluctuations, real estate values, international finance, and insurance. Other common topics include investments, portfolio management, valuation modeling, estate planning, venture capital, and statement analysis. Graduates may qualify to work for employers such as investment firms, commercial banks, insurance providers, real estate companies, government agencies, and universities. Self-employment may be another option.

Choosing the Right Online Finance Degree

Associate Degree in Finance: Associate degrees usually take two years of study to complete, and immerse students in the basics of finance. Topics can include the principles of finance, such as asset structure, risk, income, and cash flows. Students also learn about micro and macroeconomics, marketing, and personal finance. Typically, associate programs cover general education classes like English, math, and science as well. Graduates may pursue careers as real estate brokers, loan officers, insurance sales agents, or assessors, among others, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). For those interested in furthering their education, students may have the option to transfer their credits toward a bachelor's at a later date.

Bachelor's Degree in Finance: Full-time students can typically earn this degree in four years, but program lengths vary. Courses tend to offer a deep understanding of financial concepts, including supply chain management, interest rates, human resource management, and statement analysis. With a bachelor's degree in finance, graduates may qualify to become financial analysts, personal financial advisors, risk managers or investment bankers (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

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Master's Degree in Finance: Depending on the specific program, individuals may be able to complete an online master's degree program in one to two years of full-time study. The Master of Science (M.S.) in Finance and Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in finance are two common degree types offered online. The M.S. degree tends to place more emphasis on building the quantitative skills of students, and usually features a range of finance courses. An online MBA program, on the other hand, typically spends more time on teaching the leadership, management and entrepreneurial skills necessary to run a financial institution. While MBA programs also offer finance courses, they're often less in number than an M.S. program. Master's degree holders may be better prepared for more senior roles in fields such as insurance management, hedge fund management, and accounting reports the BLS (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

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Doctoral Degrees in Finance: Students can choose to earn either a Doctor of Finance (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) with a concentration in finance. Full-time students typically complete these degree programs in three to seven years. The Ph.D. path is geared towards individuals who want to conduct research or become university-level educators, while the DBA is for those interested in becoming practitioners and furthering their professional skill set. Coursework for the Ph.D. often immerses students in multivariate modeling, stochastic calculus, probability and measure theory, and quantitative and qualitative research practices. DBA classes tend to cover ethical leadership practices, management theory, and global finance practices.

In addition to core curriculum, doctoral candidates must complete a dissertation. The dissertation may be a study and analysis of original, collected data, or a new interpretation of existing research. With a doctorate in finance, graduates might pursue careers as postsecondary educators, researchers, or financial consultants.

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Career Opportunities for Graduates of Finance Programs

Stock markets, investments, retirement funds -- these are all areas where financial expertise is important. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ooh, 2012), demand for financial analysts is projected to increase by 23 percent between 2010 and 2020. An online degree in finance can help prepare students to enter this growing field, or a range of other related occupations. To learn more about available programs, or to speak with an admissions counselor, request information from any of the online schools at the bottom of this page.

A degree in finance prepares graduates for roles in public, corporate, or personal financial services. Students who earn this degree may be qualified to help governments properly allocate capital and goods among its citizens. They may decide to enter corporate finance, studying fluctuations in the market and guiding the short-term and long-term investments of a company. Or they can work in personal finance, helping individuals and families build savings, create a budget, and make long-term investments for retirement or insurance. Schools offer this degree as a bachelor's in finance or as a bachelor's in business administration with a concentration in finance.

What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Finance Entail?

A bachelor's degree program typically takes four years of fulltime study to complete. Curriculum covers fundamentals of accounting, management of real and financial assets, and analysis of investment risks. Some examples of courses include:

  • Research for Business: This class teaches students about the theories and practices for data collection, analysis, and presentation. Individuals also learn about qualitative and quantitative research methods, and how to determine which one to use in a given situation. Coursework helps students diagnose potential problems and find possible solutions. For instance, Starbucks may want to acquire a small, local bakery in order to diversify its customer base. Students will be able to study the benefits and detriments of this merger, and whether it makes sense to complete it.
  • Financial Accounting: Students learn about the four basic financial statements: income statements, balance sheets, cash flows, and statements of shareholders' equity. They also learn about the two primary methods of accounting: cash basis and accruals basis. With this information, students will be able to prepare and interpret financial statements. In a professional setting, these courses could help graduates clearly communicate financial data to company stakeholders.
  • Microeconomic Principles: Students learn about the relationship between changes in supply and demand and fluctuations in equilibrium price and quantity. Instruction also details the effect of public policy on economic behavior and how global competition has changed the ability of companies to maximize profits. Students may examine specific concepts, such as the law of diminishing marginal productivity. They can then apply these principles to real-world case studies. For example, students may analyze Walmart's employment practices, finding the breaking point where hiring additional workers might begin to negatively affect productivity.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Finance

Individuals who earn a bachelor's degree in finance may wish to pursue a career as a financial analyst. These individuals are responsible for building and maintaining investment portfolios for clients, as well as projecting a company's future earnings in order to determine its value. Some financial analysts work for media outlets forecasting the stock market and industry trends. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2013) states that employment of financial analysts in the U.S. is expected to grow by 23 percent from 2010 to 2020. Expansion of this occupation is due to new, emerging world markets and complex financial accounting practices.

Students in a master's degree program in finance study financial institutions and world markets, as well as the federal and international policies and regulations that govern financial services. The degree is offered in two different forms: a straightforward Master of Science (MS) in Finance or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in finance. A master's degree may help graduates move into upper management positions or prepare for a Ph.D. path.

What Does a Master's Degree Program in Finance Entail?

Full-time students can earn this degree in one to two years of study. Both the MS and the MBA offers curriculum that covers advanced financial management practices, including market analysis and risk assessment. The MS often entails a deeper study of quantitative topics, such as portfolio management and financial modeling, whereas the MBA typically explores topics that impart knowledge for running corporations and managing employees.

Possible MS in Finance courses include:

  • Real Estate Finance: Introduces students to investment strategies for real estate, including lease analysis, financing alternatives, and proper valuation of property. Students also learn how to use ARGUS software to project cash flow, analyze transactions and value assets. This software is an industry standard, and learning it helps students understand how real estate brokers, investors, and appraisers evaluate property.
  • Portfolio Management: This course gives students an advanced study of financial markets from the perspective of an investor. Fixed-income securities, equity, market efficiency, and tax structures are studied. Students learn to compile and manage portfolios based on past stock performance and patterns in market fluctuations, among other factors.

Some examples of possible MBA courses with a concentration in finance include:

  • Financial Policy for Corporations: This course examines compensation plans, corporate valuation, dividend policy, and risk evaluation. Students assess long-term and short-term decisions, such as financing investments with equity or debt, and when to pay dividends to shareholders. Students combine financial theory with empirical research to materialize various approaches to maximize a company's shareholder value.
  • Management and Analysis of Risk: Students learn about derivative securities, including futures, forwards, swaps, and options. They also learn about the tools and financial instruments used to measure and predict risk, including dividend policy and net present value. Students valuate and assess risk of daily business operations, such as the buying and selling of various assets and commodities.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Master's Degree Programs in Finance

Those who earn an online master's degree in finance may better qualify for financial management positions. These individuals are responsible for preparing financial statements, supervising analysts, and helping with financial decisions. The master's in finance is geared toward functional roles, such as cash managers, risk managers, controllers, or insurance managers. Cash managers, for example, monitor the amount of cash that exits and enters a company. They also have to make decisions on whether to take out a loan, or to make investments, depending on the amount of cash a company is holding at a given time.

Students who earn the online MBA in finance typically pursue administrative and supervisorial roles, such as that of a controller. These financial managers put together forecasts of a company's financial standing. They are also in charge of any reports that the government requests. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) estimates the field of financial management will grow by 9 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2020.

For individuals interested in becoming executives, researchers or educators, an online doctoral program in finance may impart the skills necessary to qualify for these positions. Students in finance doctoral programs typically study advanced topics such as corporate finance, capital budgeting, economic statistics and the capital asset pricing model, which is used to help calculate the required rate of return. At this level, a degree in finance can be earned in one of two forms: a Doctor of Finance (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Business Administration with a concentration in finance (DBA). The choice of degree path depends largely on each student's particular career goals.

What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in Finance Entail?

An online doctorate in finance usually takes three to seven years to complete, depending on whether the candidate is studying full- or part-time, and how long it takes them to finish their dissertation. Before pursing any doctoral program, students should already possess their master's degree in a related field. One can enter a doctoral program in finance with a number of different degrees, including a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Master of Science in Finance or Economics, or a master's in mathematics. Some Ph.D. and DBA courses may overlap, but most are unique to the particular degree option.

Typically, the Ph.D. path helps prepare students to become researchers or university-level educators. Students may study econometrics, which uses mathematics, statistical methods and computer science to discern empirical relationships from economic data. Probability theory is another common topic of focus, where students learn how to predict certain patterns in events that seem entirely random. Mathematics tends to be a major part of any online Ph.D. finance program, with courses in calculus, linear algebra, and matrix theory generally required.

Students interested in analyzing business problems for corporations or government agencies, or advancing into other leadership positions, may want to pursue a DBA with a concentration in finance. Courses in this path often cover advanced business strategies in global operations, social responsibility, corporate leadership, and innovation. While this degree is primarily for those looking to move up in the professional world, curriculum may include research courses as well. These tend to be less in number than those found in the Ph.D. path, and function primarily to help prepare students for their doctoral dissertation, as well as future employment opportunities.

Both degrees require students to submit a doctoral dissertation before completion of the program. The dissertation is based off original research and analysis of an existing problem. In most cases, both a panel of faculty members chosen by the doctoral candidate and the department chair will review the information and conclusions formed through the research. Once the dissertation is accepted for submission, the student must successfully defend it to the panel.

Some online DBA and Ph.D. programs may also ask students to fulfill residency requirements. The length of these residencies vary depending on the program and the institution offering it. To learn more about specific degree requirements, prospective students should contact a representative from their school of interest.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Doctoral Degree Programs in Finance

Career options differ depending on which degree program a student graduates from. Individuals who earn an online Ph.D. may be qualified to become educators in the field of finance, or researchers in academic and nonacademic settings. However, those looking to use their degree to teach must first earn the necessary state license and other possible credentials. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of postsecondary teachers is expected to increase of 17 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2020, thanks to growing at the college level (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

With an online DBA, graduates may be able to expand their responsibilities at their current companies, even become top executives. Others might seek to work in consulting firms, government agencies, or banks. By learning how to analyze fluctuations in financial markets and the economy, graduates can help companies and organizations minimize their risks when investing or expanding operations.

The BLS expects employment of top executives, which incorporates chief financial officers, to grow by 5 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020. While slower than average, the BLS notes that growth varies depending on the field one works in. An advanced degree and strong managerial background are beneficial for those looking to rise to the executive level (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

"Business and Financial Occupations," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/
"Financial Analysts," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics
"Financial Managers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/financial-managers.htm
"Postsecondary Teachers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm
"Sales Occupations," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/home.htm
"Top Executives," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/top-executives.htm

With two children and a full-time job, my schedule is very hectic--WGU was put on this earth for me! I was able to submit work when it was convenient for me and work at a pace that best suited me, not the highest person in my class (as I've experienced with many traditional schools). - Carlisha Moore 
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