Finance Degrees: Courses Structure, Specializations & Career | Top Universities

Finance degrees are often offered in conjunction with a related subject, such as accounting, business or economics. Indeed, finance is part of the interconnected FAME group of subjects (finance, accounting, management and economics), which are some of the most popular courses at both undergraduate and graduate level.

Essentially, finance is concerned with the management of money – obviously a subject of significant importance for all areas of society and business! As a result, if you study finance you will be prepared for a broad range of finance careers, within many types of organizations.

What do finance degrees cover?

Finance degrees usually cover a combination of technical and theoretical knowledge, including the basic finance skills you will need to enter finance careers. You will learn how wealth is measured and also how finance influences and shapes the way companies behave. Economics and statistics are also covered, since they are crucial to the understanding of finance. Other important finance topics which will probably be taught include accounting, mathematical methods, macro and microeconomics and information technology.

During the later stages of the program, optional modules will be available. Students will be able to choose a specific direction they want to pursue and take classes in fields such as taxation, audit, business strategy, business and employment law, management accounting, advanced accounting theory and risk management.

Since finance courses offer such wide range of subjects, they prepare students for a similarly wide range of finance careers. These include roles in areas such as commercial banking, financial planning, investment banking, money managing, insurance and real estate.

Entry requirements for finance degrees

Entry requirements for finance degrees vary from institution to institution. Although many good universities don’t require students with specific qualifications, you will need a strong academic record (especially in mathematics) and an aptitude in subjects such as English, communications, mathematics and accounting in order to study finance.

Course structure and assessment methods

Usually bachelor’s degrees in finance last for three or four years, while a Masters in Finance will last for one or two. In the UK, undergraduate finance courses are mostly three years, except for in Scotland where they are four, and postgraduates study for one year (in Scotland, two). In the US, finance is mostly taught for four years at undergraduate level, and two at master’s level.

Unlike accounting, which is a somewhat narrower field, finance courses cover a wide range of subjects, which are designed to give students a wide-reaching understanding of the business world today. Teaching typically includes both lectures and practical seminars. Assessment methods are a mixture of individual module assignments, group project work and written examinations.

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Finance topics

Finance degrees offer lots of variety, with different universities covering different aspects of the subject. Here are some of the main finance topics you could opt to specialize in:

Corporate finance

The field of corporate finance focuses on financial management and processes within corporations. Finance topics covered here may include: evaluating the cost of capital, setting benchmarks for financial returns, assessing the market value of corporations, risk mitigation strategies, and mergers and acquisitions.

International finance

Specializing in international finance is a chance to study key financial topics as they apply at international level. This could include international taxation, international financial reporting, international trade policies, foreign direct investment, international monetary systems and international financial markets. You could also choose to study finance in developing economies, or specific financial systems, such as Islamic finance.

Behavioral finance

An increasingly popular finance topic, behavioral finance aims to explain why people within financial industries make ‘bad’ decisions, leading to inefficiencies and in extreme cases to market bubbles or crashes. This means using a combination of psychological, social and economic models to understand why individuals and groups behave in certain ways.

Financial mathematics

Courses focusing on financial mathematics aim to provide students with highly developed mathematical and computational skills needed for specialized finance careers. Finance topics covered are likely to include: key computational methods in finance, advanced analytical models, valuation of derivative securities and interest rate modelling.

Financial economics

Studying financial economics will give you a strong understanding of the theory and logic of microeconomics. It discusses the standard models of how consumers and producers behave and the implications of these models for resource allocation and market efficiency. The specialization covers subjects such as optimization, comparative statics and equilibrium.

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Careers in finance

Studying finance often leads to a wide range of potentially well-paid career options. Graduates may choose to work for an accountancy firm or put their knowledge and skills into management consultancy, risk management and audit, wider business and management, banking or local and national government. Some of the most common finance careers include:

Financial management careers

Careers in financial management can vary considerably depending on the type and size of the organization involved. Tasks may include monitoring cash flow, contributing to long-term business planning and strategy, managing budgets, providing financial reports, ensuring financial regulations are met, and assessing opportunities to reduce costs and increase profits.

Financial trading careers

Careers in financial trading involve buying and selling financial instruments including stocks, shares, bonds and assets. Typically, financial traders are employed by large investment management companies, and buy and sell on behalf of their firm. A particularly high-pressure career, financial trading requires an ability to stay calm under pressure, make quick decisions and multi-task.

Insurance careers

Many graduates of finance degrees also go on to insurance careers. Roles in this sector include assessing the financial risk involved in insuring different things, providing advice to customers, processing insurance claims, and identifying new opportunities for insurance companies. Similar roles are available in the pensions sector.

Financial consulting careers

Careers in financial consulting involve providing advice to help businesses and individuals improve their financial processes and performance. This could mean offering guidance on budgeting, debts, investment, wills and estates, mortgages, and the development of business plans and strategies. Financial consultants may work within a consulting firm, or may be self-employed.

Commercial banking careers

If you opt to pursue a career in commercial banking, you will find yourself involved in all sorts of financial services for commercial banks – from large companies to local institutions. You can work as a bank teller, loan officer, marketing and branch manager and others. Talented professionals can advance from a local branch job to a position in corporate headquarters. Such a promotion would expose you to a number of other areas, such as international finance.

Hedge fund careers

Jobs in the hedge fund sector are considered by many to be somewhat glamorous. Hedge funds are largely unregulated investment funds, whose managers buy or sell a wide array of assets and financial products. Finance careers in this field include roles as a financial analyst, trader, regulatory compliance officer, quantitative officer, marketing manager and portfolio manager.

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Key Skills

Common skills gained during a finance degree include:

  • Ability to understand and manipulate numerical and statistical data
  • Ability to analyze different types of information
  • Ability to communicate findings clearly
  • Understanding of range of current business practices
  • Understanding of stock markets, trade and investment
  • Understanding of different types of financial instruments
  • Understanding of different types of financial products and services
  • Knowledge of relevant national and international regulations
  • Time management, organization and professional communication
  • Intermediate level IT skills
  • Ability to plan and make wise investments
  • Ability to control costs and to raise funds