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What Can You Do with a Finance Degree?Career Paths & Salaries for Students & Graduates

One of the most appealing features of earning a degree in finance is its flexibility and usefulness in the competitive job market. When you think of finance-related careers and successful professionals in the field, the cliche "they must be good with numbers" comes to mind. While that is true, finance professionals also have other valuable skills that translate to a number of career options. From budget analysts and insurance underwriters to entrepreneurs and real estate agents, the skills you obtain from a finance degree are useful and in-demand across many industries.

If you’re considering a career in finance, this guide can help you navigate prospective career paths. It also includes advice from Professor Alexander Lowry, a modern educator and professional in the finance field, on career moves, first steps into the field, standing out in the job market, and getting the most out of your finance degree.

Meet the Expert

Alexander Lowry Professor, Gordon College Executive Director, M.S. in Financial Analysis Program

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How to Use Your Finance Degree

The skills you acquire in a finance degree program are transferable across many fields and careers. While certain aspects of your coursework will focus specifically on the essential financial knowledge for a career in that area, colleges and universities know that a well-rounded, technology- and communication-focused curriculum will help students succeed post-graduation, in virtually any field. Aside from some of the more obvious topics you will study, such as statistical analysis and working with Microsoft Excel, here is a list of some widely applicable skills students acquire in a finance program.

Project Management

Many degree programs offer courses designed to teach students time management, project planning and leadership skills through a series of case studies and hands-on assignments. In some cases, degree seekers assist real companies with their day-to-day operations and work directly with team managers to develop project management skills that can be used in real world scenarios.

Financial Management

By using financial management software such as RightCapital, eMoney Advisor and MoneyGuidePro, students in finance programs learn how to manage and utilize historical data and trends for investment purposes, retirement plans, project funding and portfolio management.

Written and Verbal Communication

Professionals working in finance fields must accurately and clearly communicate information with their clients, employers or employees. Finance students obtain the necessary written and verbal communication skills, including public speaking and presentation skills, to deliver their message with clarity and confidence.

Networking

Networking has always been an essential component in the business and finance world. Today's finance professionals must take advantage of social media and other networking tools to stay connected and up-to-date with other professionals in the fields. In most curricula, students can absorb networking and related skills through courses on leadership, management, and marketing. Additionally, working closely with colleagues and attending social functions and conferences is also important "training" in networking.

Problem-Solving

Finance majors develop problem-solving skills to handle stressful situations. From complex client relationships to handling others' sensitive financial information, every business interaction presents a new challenge. You will develop ways to complete tasks to the fullest of your abilities and negotiate tough situations even while under pressure.

Career Paths & Salary Potential

As mentioned, a finance degree can prepare you for a wide range of careers, directly in the finance industry as well as elsewhere. You can find the right job in a variety of ways. In addition to using your school's job search resources, attending job fairs and checking with trusted individuals in your network for tips on open positions, conduct some online research of your own. Websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale can help you track down careers that fit your background, qualifications, and personal interests. The list below can be a starting point for graduates with a finance degree and explores both traditional and non-traditional career paths.

Traditional Careers

Budget Analyst

These professionals provide assistance, guidance, and information for clients during the budget-development process. In addition to creating budgets for clients and businesses, analysts develop projections for financial trends and maintain expense and audit records. They must have a strong understanding of foundational financial principles, quantitative analysis, and financial planning.

Annual Median Salary: $75,240 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree

Auditor

Auditors analyze business, municipal, and personal financial records to determine accuracy. They can be self-employed, work for a company, or the government. They must be good problem-solvers, have excellent financial skills and the patience and endurance to work on long projects.

Annual Median Salary: $69,350 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree

Financial Examiner

These professionals ensure that financial transactions, such as tax records, expense accounts, and loans, are in compliance with the rules and regulations set forth by governing financial institutions. Financial examiners are often employed by federal and state governments, insurance companies, healthcare providers and banks. In addition to a finance-related degree, financial examiners usually have some training in accounting.

Annual Median Salary: $81,690 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree

Personal Financial Advisor

Financial advisors help individuals reach specific goals regarding financial planning, savings and retirement, investments, insurance and educational objectives. These professionals must be strong communicators and have an advanced understanding of risk management, taxes, budgets and estate management. Personal financial advisors also must be easy to work with, friendly, and able to maintain professional relationships with their clients.

Annual Median Salary: $90,640 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree

Loan Officer

Loan officers are typically employed by a lending or financial institution. They can work directly with clients or individual companies to help them prepare and process lending applications. While there is a heavy financial component to this position, there are also elements of customer service, sales, and marketing involved. Loan officers often have to meet sales goals for their company and may also work, in part, on commission.

Annual Median Salary: $64,660 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree

Securities, Commodities and Financial Services Sales Agent

Professionals in this area of the field include brokers, investment bankers, sales agents and floor brokers. They often work directly with clients to discuss stocks, mergers, company finances and commodities such as oil and gold. These are usually stressful positions because they deal with large amounts of money under strict time constraints. Careers like these are for those who can perform under pressure, meet or beat deadlines, and work well with others.

Annual Median Salary: $63,780 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree

Non-Traditional Careers

Real Estate Agent

Real estate agents work directly with clients to buy and sell property. They usually handle communications and negotiations between buyer and seller as well as all pertinent legal documents. Despite having to pass a real estate licensing exam, this position will require some learning-on-the-job for finance grads. Professionals with a background in finance who have excellent customer service and people skills can develop very successful careers in this field.

Annual Median Salary: $47,880 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree; Real estate courses and licensing exam

Teacher

Many graduates with finance or finance-related degrees choose to teach in their specialty area. Upon earning a state-issued certification or license and a degree in finance, you may be eligible to teach introductory high school courses in business, finance or mathematics. Earning a master's degree in finance or doctoral degree could also help you secure a teaching position at a college or university.

Annual Median Salary: $59,170 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree and state-issued certification or license.

Data Analyst

These professionals collect and analyze data sets for virtually any type of quantitative project. Students with an undergraduate degree in finance develop essential skills in Microsoft Office, Microsoft Excel, database management, and reporting to handle these positions. Analysts typically need strong presentation, math, and critical thinking and public speaking skills and must be able to work well with others.

Annual Median Salary: $58,488 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree

Business Development Manager

Business development managers are responsible for the day-to-day tasks of growing a business. This often includes sales and client-relationship management, staff training and development, budget and resource management, and evaluating a company's growth and progress over time. A degree in financial management can prepare students for this role, especially in terms of working within budget and time constraints, leadership, and delivering under pressure.

Annual Median Salary: $70,855 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree

Vendor Manager

These managers negotiate the relationship between their businesses and their suppliers. Those with a background in finance can conduct the necessary financial analyses to generate price proposals, financial reports, and supply data for pricing agreements. Vendor managers typically work in the manufacturing and whole trade fields and have strong interpersonal skills.

Annual Median Salary: $74,442 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree

Entrepreneur

As shown in the list above, a degree in finance prepares you for a diverse range of careers, both inside and outside the finance industry. For those ambitious leaders who want to start business and investment endeavors on their own, a finance degree can be a solid foundation for aspiring entrepreneurs. Professionals in this role need a deep understanding of business and budget plans, managing resources, networking, financial risk, marketing, employee management and training.

Annual Median Salary: $60,000 Minimum Required Degree: Bachelor's Degree

Professional Resources for Finance Majors

  • American Finance Association

    This is an academically-driven association that helps support and disseminate scholarly writing about financial economics. Students and graduates in finance can take advantage of the journal publication and annual conferences.

  • Association for Financial Professionals

    This professional community offers online publications, access to research and data reports, job searches, and career training tools. Professionals can join AFP for full access to these resources and take advantage of networking opportunities at annual conferences and roundtables.

  • Kaplan Financial

    Kaplan offers a helpful website with job exploration tools and entry-level advice for incoming and new professionals. The site also includes professional development resources and interview training.

  • OneWire

    This site provides a space for finance professionals to interact, search, and apply for jobs as well as stay up to date on industry news. Members can interact directly through the site for real-time collaborations and community building.

  • Wall Street Oasis

    This online financial community supplies a useful collection of articles, finance discussion forms, job and internship search tools, and professional development resources. Professionals will find this finance career-centered site to be a refreshing and entertaining career preparedness and information bureau.

Interview with a Finance Graduate

Alexander Lowry

Professor, Gordon College

Executive Director, M.S. in Financial Analysis Program

Why did you decide to earn a finance degree?

I had a desire to work on Wall Street. Ever since I saw the 1987 Charlie Sheen movie with that name, I thought it would be an exciting place to work.

How did you get your current job?

Gordon College needed someone with a Wall Street pedigree to run their Master's in Financial Analysis program. My J.P. Morgan track record, combined with my Wharton MBA in Finance, was a perfect match.

How does your finance degree help you in your current job? What about in past jobs?

I know the lingo and customs of Wall Street. That's essential to attract students to the master's program as well as build relationships with finance firms to recruit our students. In previous jobs, it was my Wharton MBA in finance that opened the door for me to work at J.P. Morgan.

Aside from a finance degree, what does one need to excel in the finance industry?

Networking is essential! It's not just what you know, but also whom you know. In addition to face-to-face networking over the years, I actively use LinkedIn today to stay in touch and let people know what I'm working on.

Who is the ideal person for a finance degree and career?

The ideal person must have quantitative ability and a strong EQ, or emotional quotient, to be able to interact with clients and colleagues. In other words, professionals in finance must have an understanding of human emotions, conflicts, empathy and communication.

Famous People Who Studied Finance

Christine A. Poon

Former Vice Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, Former Ohio State Dean

MBA in Finance, Boston University

Ellen Alemany

Former CEO/Chairman of RBS Citizens Financial Group

MBA in Finance, Fordham University

Kevin Costner

Actor

BA in Marketing and Finance, California State University

Mark Shuttleworth

CEO of Canonical Ltd.

Bachelor of Business Science in Finance and Information Systems, University of Cape Town

Catherine A. Lesjak

CFO of HP Inc.

MBA in Finance, University of California-Berkeley