Steps to Taking a Finance Course

If you love numbers, have an aptitude for mathematics, and enjoy working with people, you have probably given consideration to starting a career in the world of finance. There are several important steps you need to take when deciding which finance course to pursue. One essential step is to decide the career path that interests you the most. Do you want to work in the corporate world of finance as an investment banker or manage finances for a multinational company? Perhaps you are more interested in helping individuals plan their financial futures and meet retirement objectives or helping families to achieve their dreams by processing requests for mortgage loans. Each of these careers has specific training and education requirements, including in many cases, continuing education.

Another important decision you need to make relates to the level of postsecondary education you will be able to attain, at least initially.

Your budget may only allow for a two-year associate’s degree, in which case you will primarily take general courses in finance or accounting. A bachelor’s of science degree takes four years to complete and results in higher educational costs to the student. However, a finance course of study at this level provides the student with greater options in terms of classes and choice of major. Most employers in the field of finance look for a job candidate to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as finance, accounting, economics, or business administration. Students who wish to advance their careers, perhaps into executive-level positions, should take their education to the next level in order to receive master’s degrees in business administration or other related field. At this stage, the individual is probably already employed in a financial job and may be attending classes at night and on the weekends.

Other finance course selections that must be made are those of continuing education to be applied toward a professional certification or licensure. The specific credential determines the courses needed. In addition to classroom study, oftentimes continuing education credits are obtained by attending seminars, conferences, and group study events. Whatever professional and educational path you follow, your choice of curriculum should provide you with the fundamental tools and skills you need at each level and for the specific career choice you have made.

Choose a Specialty

Once you have made the decision to take a finance course, you have a variety of course specialties from which to choose. At the start of a student’s finance education experience, most of the courses are very generalized to provide fundamental knowledge and a foundation on which to build more focused approach. And, while some of the courses may be repeated from one finance specialization to another, there are also be courses tailored to meet the specific education requirements for each area.

Individuals interested in careers in the world of finance need to consider the following degrees:

  1. an associate’s degree in finance,
  2. a bachelor of science degree in finance, accounting, economics, or business administration,
  3. a master’s degree in finance, accounting, or general business administration, and
  4. a doctorate in business or accounting.

At a minimum, those aspiring to careers in finance should possess associate’s degrees. An associate’s degree can lead to a job as a credit or financial analyst, investment advisor, or stockbroker. In these jobs, and others, the individual receives additional training on the job that prepares him or her for advancement into other positions or that can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree. Students working toward their associate’s degrees in finance can expect to take general classes in the principles of finance, money and banking, statistics, personal finance, and commercial credit.

Students who enter bachelor’s degree programs with finance as a major learn the principles and applications of financial management, analysis, and strategy. At this level, students obtain not only a theoretical understanding but also practical skills necessary in order to evaluate information and make appropriate decisions as they relate to directing and allocating the financial resources of individuals, corporations, or financial institutions. They learn skills that will aid them in maximizing the value of the resources they manage while simultaneously minimizing risk to both their clients as well as to their employers (or themselves, if they work independently).

A bachelor’s program in accounting, business administration, or finance concentrates on corporate finance, investing, or real estate. Some of the most typical courses a student in a bachelor’s program in finance takes include business finance and economics—including micro- and macroeconomic theory—statistics, international trade and policy, and corporate finance. A bachelor’s degree in finance can lead to a career as an accountant, personal financial planner, investor, or financial manager.

Steps to Taking a Finance Course

A master’s in finance or business administration program usually takes an additional two years to complete beyond a bachelor’s program. At the master’s level, students increase their knowledge in areas such as investment and portfolio management, bank management, risk management, and international finance. Masters programs are intended to provide the finance professional with the analytical and strategic expertise to be able to effectively interact and partner with executives in the course of making key financial decisions for a business. Individuals interested in a middle- or senior-manager positions at financial institutions are the most likely to pursue their master’s degrees, as will professionals who wish to become certified in accounting. Courses can include: marketing and brand management, corporate finance analysis and decisions, building relationships, and applied managerial statistics.

In addition to college degrees, many finance professionals continue their educations to receive professional certifications or licenses. These additional credentials have requirements in continuing education, the degree earned, and a number of years of relevant job experience. Continuing education course work aligns with the specific requirements of the certification or licensure involved.

Identify Prerequisites to Taking Certain Courses

Students who obtain bachelor’s degrees in finance are prepared to enter a wide variety of careers, such as financial manager, accountant, investor, or personal financial consultant. Students and professionals who pursue master’s degrees in business administration receive training and education to further enhance and refine their career choices in the field of finance, oftentimes also learning the skills needed to lead teams and organizations involved in financial matters.

While some prerequisites for a finance course are certain in all cases, such as an inclination toward mathematics and working with numbers, other areas of specialization require specific training and education.

There are, however, several additional prerequisites anyone interested in a career in finance should have. Computer skills are mandatory, including an ability to work with word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and presentation software. Because many financial professionals must be able to document and also verbally explain reports, investment recommendations, and financial analysis documents both to clients and coworkers, excellent written and verbal communication skills are also mandatory prerequisites. Other non-business courses, such as marketing and organizational behavior and management, may be prerequisites to certain finance courses, for example, those in master’s programs for business administration where they aspire to lead teams or organizations. Marketing may also be a prerequisite to those finance jobs that involve selling or promoting financial services to outside clients.

At the high school level, most students have not yet made decisions about their lifelong careers. If, however, they are interested in business or finance, the mathematics courses they take should include algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. By further rounding out their high school curriculums with English, laboratory science, social studies, and a foreign language, they should be sufficiently prepared when they enter college.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has developed guidelines for college courses that are prerequisites to acquiring a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. To earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting, the student must typically take between 54 and 60 credit hours of core accounting classes to go toward a graduation requirement of 120 credit hours. Examples of undergraduate accounting courses include: introduction to financial accounting, cost and managerial accounting, principles of profit planning and control, accounting information systems, and accounting for not-for-profit entities. At the master’s degree level, the student takes advanced courses to prepare for specialization in auditing, management information systems, or taxation, for example. State boards of accountancy are responsible for the licensing of CPAs who practice in a particular state. Most states now require a CPA candidate to have completed 150 credit hours, the equivalent to a master’s degree, in order to be able to sit for the CPA examination. State licensure also requires the candidate to pass an ethics examination and have some professional accounting experience.

Financial planners who aspire to the designation of Certified Financial Planner (CFP), conferred by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., must also complete specific education requirements covering some 100 topics on financial planning. Prerequisite course work at the bachelor’s degree level includes: general principles of finance and financial planning, estate and gift tax and planning, employee benefits planning, investment planning, and more. The CFP designation also requires a candidate to complete a 10-hour examination, have demonstrable relevant work experience, adhere to the CFP Code of Ethics, and complete ongoing continuing education requirements.

Financial analysts study the financial performance of companies and corporations and advise on the levels of risk and return of investments. To become a financial analyst, a student should complete course work in accounting, math, and economics, as well as courses that will help develop analytical skills. Students should also have a solid understanding of spreadsheet and database computer programs.

To become a credit analyst, a candidate should minimally have a bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting, with courses completed in finance, economics, accounting, statistics, and business. Students should also take courses that teach how to analyze commercial credit, such as risk management. A well-qualified candidate for a credit analyst job will have a master’s degree in business administration.

Investment banking also requires individuals to have at least bachelor’s degrees in accounting, business, or finance, although many employers require job candidates to have master’s degrees in business administration. Required course work for a career in investment banking includes mathematics, business, computer science, and communications. Students learn about accounting, taxation, investing, corporate finance, and statistics, as well how to develop proper professional behavior and compliance with ethical standards.

Regardless of the type of finance career you wish to enter, you will be making a significant time and financial investment to that end as you pay for undergraduate and graduate degrees, qualifying examinations for school, professional licensing, and certification. Those who succeed, however, reap the benefits in the form of very rewarding careers.

Choose the Right Program for You

Before you invest too much time or money in a lengthy and expensive educational pursuit, it is extremely important to ensure you choose a program that is right for you. Not all students have a major in mind when they first enter college, although most have given some thought as to the program of study they are likely to follow, at least initially. It is not uncommon for students to change their majors once they are exposed to the wide variety of courses many schools offer. Is there anything students can do early on in their college years that will put them on the right path toward the best major and career path for them? There are steps prospective students can and should take to ensure they reap the full benefits of any educational program they enter.

Start by deciding if those courses you did well in throughout high school interest you sufficiently to consider any as a potential major.

  • Where do your strengths lie?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Do you have any special skills or abilities?
  • In the case of finance, for example, do you have an aptitude for mathematics, good computer skills, and an attention to detail?

If so, research potential careers in finance and the college degree requirements for the relevant finance course of study that interests you, for example, finance, accounting, or economics. You should also determine if your potential career path requires a graduate degree, such as a master’s in finance or business administration, and decide if you are willing to make the financial and time commitment to complete this level of education.

For those who are uncertain about which educational or career path to follow, you can complete a career assessment to gain some insights into possible careers.

  1. What truly interests you, and what do you enjoy doing?
  2. You should also consider your own personal values as they relate to your future work and career. For example, are you interested in helping others?
  3. Do you prefer to work alone or in a group or team environment? How important is a substantial paycheck to you, if in some cases, it means you will be working 50 or 60 hours a week?

College career centers offer self-tests you can take that will assess all of these areas. These assessments can be very helpful in that not only do they provide information about what interests you or in which areas you are likely to succeed, but they also provide insights into those areas of study or careers you would do well to avoid.

There are many other sources you can turn to for information:

  1. Read through the course catalog of your chosen college to learn about course descriptions and degree requirements.
  2. Talk with professors and academic advisors to obtain insights into specific careers.
  3. Tap classmates and alumni who may have interned in or who may be working in one or more of the careers you are considering.
  4. Refer to generally available resources, specifically your college career center, books, and websites that all provide a wealth of information regarding college majors, careers, and what they require.

As a student progresses through college and enters the workforce, his or her interests may change, as can his or her program of study, major, or even career. By taking the time upfront to perform some self-assessments, to speak with others who can provide valuable insights, and to research all that your potential profession entails, you will be that much closer to being certain you have chosen the right program for you.

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