According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for business and financial occupations approached $68,000 in 2017, roughly $30,000 more than the median annual wage for all jobs. In addition, the BLS projects that employment for these roles will grow by 10% through 2026, which is faster than the economy as a whole.
Earning an online finance degree can help qualify you for these lucrative positions, though you should think carefully about which program best suits your needs. This page offers an overview of the best online finance degree programs, including information on admissions requirements, curricula, and potential career paths after graduation.
Overview of Finance Degrees
Finance involves the management of money, particularly by companies and governments. A bachelor's degree in finance helps you develop foundational knowledge and skills in this area, often covering subjects such as personal financial planning, the operations of financial markets, and the fundamentals of financial investments. Students hoping to earn a finance degree online can usually complete all of their coursework at a distance and on their own schedule, making these programs ideal for working professionals.
If you possess strong math and analytical skills, or if you hope to find a high-paying job after graduation, you should consider a career in finance. According to the BLS, financial analysts earned a median of $84,300 in 2017, more than twice the median salary for all occupations. Financial managers, or financial professionals in more advanced and supervisory roles, earned a median salary of just over $125,000 in that same year.
On top of excellent compensation, finance students should enjoy above-average job prospects as well. For example, the BLS projects that employment for personal financial advisers will grow 15% through 2026, while employment for financial managers is projected to grow a staggering 19% during that same period.
Before earning an online finance bachelor's degree, you must first hold a high school diploma or GED. Some programs may require you to maintain a certain GPA during high school, usually a 2.5 or higher. Other schools may ask that you submit results from either the SAT or ACT, though they typically do not set a minimum score for these exams. While you usually do not need to take any specific coursework in high school to prepare for a bachelor's program in finance, you can improve your chances of admission by taking classes in math and economics.
In addition to your high school or GED transcripts, expect to submit up to three letters of recommendation as part of your application package. Ask former teachers, employers, or community leaders for a recommendation, but avoid asking family members or friends. You should give your recommenders at least two months to write and submit a letter on your behalf. Many programs also require applicants to write a brief personal essay. The personal essay is around 1,000 words in length and should outline your academic and professional goals.
After submitting your application, an admissions officer may ask to schedule an interview, though online programs often skip this step in the process. If your school does request an interview, think of it as an opportunity to highlight your strengths and provide additional context to any weaknesses in your application.
What Will I Learn?
Most online finance degree programs consist of 120 credits. Students in these programs must earn about 40-50 general education credits and take courses in areas like English, mathematics, and humanities. For their major, students must earn another 40-50 credits in subjects such as wealth management, financial regulations and ethics, and corporate finance. Students can then choose elective classes to earn the last of their 20-30 required credits. Some students use their elective classes as a way to study a more specialized area of finance, while others select courses that allow them to pursue a completely unrelated personal interest.
Most full-time students earn their bachelor's degree in four years, while part-time students may need anywhere from six to eight years to meet all of a program's graduation requirements. If you hold an associate degree or follow an accelerated course of study, you can potentially earn your bachelor's in less than four years. Below, we provide six courses commonly found in online finance programs.
Financial Statements and Reporting Analysis
This course teaches students how to assess the overall effectiveness and efficiency of an organization through an examination of financial statements and records. Students learn to read, create, and interpret balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements, and statements of retained earnings. The course also emphasizes the role of financial analysis in strategic decision-making.
Fundamentals of Investments
Investment involves the distribution of money with the expectation of future benefit and plays a key role in many financial professions. In this course, students develop a fundamental understanding of some of the most common investment vehicles, including stocks, bonds, commodities, and mutual funds. Students also examine various methods for evaluating investment opportunities.
Building on introductory coursework in finance, this class puts students in a modern corporate manager role as they make decisions to improve the financial health of their firm. Topics covered include capital budgeting, capital structure, firm valuation, and quantitative risk assessment. This course offers students an opportunity to hone both their writing and financial analysis skills.
In an increasingly globalized world, financial professionals must possess an understanding of how international markets operate. This course provides additional context to the principles students learned in their microeconomics and macroeconomics coursework, such as risk management and demand. It also introduces students to the regulatory authorities that govern financial markets.
Financial Regulations and Ethics
Regardless of the career in finance you choose, you must know how to navigate a complex environment of regulation and reporting. In addition to introducing students to their legal and fiduciary responsibilities, this course also aims to provide them with an ethical and socially responsible framework for making business decisions.
Ideal for students who hope to work as personal financial advisers after graduation, this course covers topics such as career planning, budgeting, real-estate management, personal finance, and tax management. The course also features case studies in both individual and organizational wealth management contexts, making its lessons applicable across several other career paths.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Finance?
The best online finance degree programs can open up a variety of career paths. For example, you may work as an accountant for a multinational corporation, helping your firm track profits and adhere to international financial regulations. You may serve as a financial manager, supervising the work of a team of professionals and holding primary responsibility for making strategic decisions. Or you may work more independently, acting as a personal financial adviser to members of your local community.
Among many other other skills, students pursuing an online finance degree receive in-depth training in three core areas: quantitative analysis, decision-making, and communication.
Quantitative analytical skills help financial professionals interpret data and achieve their goals. An accountant, for instance, needs to analyze profit and loss statements to help their clients minimize their tax liability. A budget analyst, similarly, may use quantitative analysis to evaluate the potential costs and benefits of a new program.
Once financial professionals receive this information, they must then act on it. Actuaries, for example, use their understanding of risk and probability to make decisions about issuing insurance policies. Financial managers must often make even more consequential decisions, such as whether a business should enter a new market or seek to reduce costs in anticipation of shrinking profits.
All careers in finance require exceptional communication skills. Individuals with a deep understanding of numbers often need to explain their findings to colleagues with less expertise in this area. Financial advisers, in particular, need to know how to share their recommendations with clients who do not possess a background in finance or wealth management.
Potential Careers and Salaries
The majority of students who earn an online finance degree go on to serve in the for-profit sector, whether working in a specialized role for a multinational corporation or providing more comprehensive financial support to a smaller company. Some financial professionals, such as accountants and auditors, may work for a firm that provides tax preparation or bookkeeping services to many clients, while others may choose to provide similar services as an independent consultant.
Graduates can also find work in the nonprofit and public sectors. For example, you may seek out a role as a budget analyst for a state agency, helping to improve the efficiency of government programs. As nonprofits and governments usually track their revenues and expenses in a different way than corporations, you should make sure to take courses in fund accounting and similar areas if you hope to pursue a career in public service.
Annual Median Salary: $84,300
Financial analysts offer guidance to both business and individuals as they consider investment decisions. They may track the performance of certain stocks or evaluate the risk of a new opportunity. You typically need at least a bachelor's degree in a field like finance To become a financial analyst.
Annual Median Salary: $90,640
Financial advisers also offer guidance to their clients, though usually across a broader range of issues than financial analysts. A personal financial adviser may give counsel on minimizing your tax liability, preparing for major life changes, or saving for college and retirement.
Annual Median Salary: $125,080
Financial managers maintain the financial health of their organizations, usually working with other senior leaders to set and implement a company's overall strategy. At larger firms, financial managers often supervise the work of other professionals. Some of these positions may require an advanced degree.
Annual Median Salary: $69,350
Accountants examine financial records, both to ensure that they comply with applicable laws and regulations and to provide recommendations on how to reduce costs and enhance revenues. An accountant may work for a single organization or for a company that provides specialized accounting services to many different clients.
Annual Median Salary: $75,240
Budget analysts help companies organize their finances. They often consult on the development of new programs and projects, approving expenditures and projecting future earnings. Many budget analysts also monitor spending and revenues on existing projects. Nearly all of these positions require at least a bachelor's degree.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Finance?
You typically do not need a graduate degree to begin a career in finance. You can qualify for most entry-level and mid-level roles in the field with just a bachelor's degree.
However, for some specialized and supervisory roles, employers may prefer to hire a candidate with a graduate degree, such as a master's in business administration, finance, or accounting. These programs can help you develop more advanced analytical skills and introduce you to leadership and management theories.
Rather than pursuing another degree after your finish your undergraduate studies, you may instead elect to earn a professional certification to advance in your career. Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), for example, can greatly improve your job prospects or help you negotiate a higher salary at your current organization. You must complete some additional college-level coursework beyond earning your bachelor's to sit for the CPA exam, but a master's degree is not required.
Accreditation for Finance Bachelor's Programs
When deciding between online finance degrees, you should select an accredited college or university. The accreditation process ensures that schools meet certain academic standards and adequately prepare their students for careers after graduation. If you attend an unaccredited institution, future employers may not recognize your degree, and other schools may not accept your transfer credits. You may also not qualify for certain financial aid opportunities.
Three kinds of accreditation exist: regional, national, and programmatic. Most nonprofit colleges and universities hold regional accreditation, while for-profit and vocational institutions typically seek out national accreditation. Programmatic accreditors work within a particular discipline, such as law or nursing. In the field of finance, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) serves as the primary programmatic accreditor.
To confirm that your school holds either regional, national, or programmatic accreditation, check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation online directory.
Finance Professional Organizations
After earning your online degree in finance, you should consider joining a professional organization to help take the next step in your career. These groups often host regional and national events, giving you the chance to network with other financial professionals and share best practices. They may also provide continuing education or certification opportunities, including opportunities required to serve in certain financial roles. In addition, many professional organizations maintain online job listings that allow you to stay informed of new opportunities in your field.
Association for Financial Professionals
AFP offers a host of resources to its members, including a networking conference that brings together more than 6,500 corporate finance professionals each year. The association also administers two certification programs and provides career guidance to young professionals.
American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
AICPA oversees the Uniform CPA Examination, a certification requirement for any accountant who files reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In addition, the institute offers a variety of professional development resources, such as webcasts, scholarly journals, and self-study programs.
The CFA Institute primarily serves to administer the chartered financial analyst certification, a credential held by more than 150,000 financial professionals around the world. It also organizes events, curates research, and maintains a code of ethics for professionals working in financial analysis.