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What is Finance?

Finance degree programs are a relatively popular choice among college students in the United States. They are a particularly good option for individuals who are interested in money management, banking, and/or economics and all those who wish to make a good income. The field is also often closely related to business, making these programs useful to those who want to obtain general knowledge in these subjects as well. In most cases, students gain a wide variety of technical skills that can be applied in almost any industry. As a result, graduates tend to be well-prepared to join the workforce and may qualify for employment in many different professions.

Generally, finance professionals help individuals, companies, and/or organizations develop financial plans, strategies, and/or forecasts. Most are capable of working with both personal and/or corporate finances, although some prefer to concentrate their efforts in one or the other. Ultimately, however, daily tasks and responsibilities will depend largely upon the occupation sought.

Many finance graduates pursue careers as accountants and auditors. These professionals prepare and examine financial records, identify potential areas of opportunity/risk, and provide solutions for the individuals and businesses they work for. They are also often responsible for ensuring taxes are paid properly, as well as helping financial operations run efficiently. Additional duties may include examining financial statements, computing taxes owed, inspecting account books for efficiency, making best-practice recommendations to management, and suggesting ways to reduce costs while improving profits.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for business and financial occupations is expected to increase by 7% from 2021 to 2031. This is about as fast as the average for all occupations in the nation and will result in approximately 980,200 job openings each year. Prospects vary by profession, however. Projected growth for accountants and auditors is 6%, with an estimated 136,400 job openings each year for the next decade. Market research analysts, on the other hand, are expected to see a 19% increase in employment, which is much faster than average.

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Online Finance Education in California

Finance and insurance is the seventh largest industry in California, accounting for $155.6 billion in revenue each year. Professionals in this field are likely to find employment opportunities in many of the state’s top sectors, however, as finance is an integral part of most businesses. Knowledge and skills in this subject may also lead to jobs in manufacturing, real estate, business services, healthcare, retail, and wholesale.

Based on data provided by the BLS, 1,131,460 business and financial operations professionals were employed in California as of May 2021. This is more than any other state in the nation. The annual mean wage in the state is also very competitive for these occupations. It was $90,090, which is the fifth highest nationally. Additionally, it’s important to realize that this is well above California’s annual mean wage of $68,510 for all occupations in the state.

Most colleges and universities in California and throughout the nation offer degree programs in finance. While some prospective students may be interested in online learning options provided by academic institutions in other states, those who plan to seek employment in California should give preference to nearby schools. This is because colleges and universities in the state will be most familiar with regional employer requirements and expectations for finance. These institutions will also have a better understanding of various state certification prerequisites. In fact, some may even incorporate these requirements into their curriculums to ensure graduates are as prepared for success as possible. Additionally, many academic institutions have established relationships with local companies and organizations, which can facilitate internships opportunities and professional employment.

It’s important to realize that a degree in finance can actually lead to a wide variety of professional employment opportunities. This is an expansive field, with many different occupations available at every level. Graduates may take advantage of the fact that most industries require workers with financial expertise. There is also often great opportunity for career progression as professionals obtains more experience, as well as many options to specialize in particular areas of interest.

Many colleges and universities in California offer finance degrees. As a result, prospective students can choose from programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Some academic institutions also have undergraduate and/or graduate certificate programs available, which are often helpful when transitioning to finance from other fields.

While it may be possible to find limited employment opportunities with self-taught knowledge, on-the-job training, and professional experience, most finance professionals in California have completed some amount of higher education. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the education standard for most business and finance occupations is a bachelor’s degree. Those with the best prospects in the field often have completed programs in finance, business, or a related field.

Prospective students should also be aware that earning higher-level degrees often leads to more prestigious employment opportunities. Advanced degree graduates are generally given preference for the best and most lucrative finance occupations. Those interested in supervisory roles, in particular, will be expected to earn master’s degrees.

Online Associate Degree in Finance (AS)

Associate degrees in marketing generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two years to complete. These are undergraduate programs, which typically incorporate both general liberal arts education and major-specific classes. In addition to core communication, mathematics, and social science subjects, curriculums are likely to incorporate basic concepts in finance, accounting, and bookkeeping. Students can also expect to receive introductory instruction in business, payroll, software, and banking. Outcomes vary, but graduates tend to possess simple skills in financial spreadsheet management, budgeting, tax preparation, and financial data analysis.

This type of degree is ideal for those who plan to seek entry-level employment in finance but do not want to spend the time or money pursuing more advanced degrees. Often offered by community colleges, associate degrees typically cost less and allow graduates to enter the workforce sooner. Common professions available after graduation include accounting clerk, billing specialist, and bookkeeper.

Graduates will also be better prepared to pursue bachelor’s degrees. In fact, many choose to transfer undergraduate credit already earned to traditional four-year institutions and enroll in more advanced programs. Most colleges and universities accept up to 60 or 90 semester hours in transfer credit, which generally equates to two academic years of education. As a result, many who possess associate degrees require only two additional years of instruction before earning bachelor’s degrees.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Finance (BS or BFin)

Bachelor’s degrees in finance often consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately four years to complete. These are undergraduate programs as well and, as such, also incorporate general liberal arts education and major-specific classes into the curriculum. In addition to core communication, mathematics, and social science subjects, students can expect to learn about financial planning, forecasting, and investing. Instruction is also likely to cover how to evaluate financial statements, cash flows, and security markets. Other topics commonly included are accounting principles, financial institutions and markets, investments, and risk management.

Many colleges and universities also allow students at this level to select concentrations or specializations. Specializations allow students to direct their learning toward specific finance career goals.

Some examples of possible concentrations include:

  • Investment Management
  • Banking and Financial Services
  • Corporate Finance
  • Risk Management and Insurance
  • Real Estate

This type of degree is generally considered the education standard for professionals in the field. It’s also the minimum requirement to qualify for many related credentials in California, such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA). While graduates often qualify for careers in financial planning, accounting, and financial analysis, some still choose to pursue further education by enrolling in master’s degree programs.

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Online Master's Degree in Finance (MS or MFin)

Master’s degrees in finance generally range from 30 to 36 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two years to complete. Notably, accelerated programs do exist. These may require as little as 18 months to finish. Curriculums at this level exclude general liberal arts education and focus solely on major-related subjects instead. Students can typically expect to take courses related to business communications, financial accounting, derivatives and risk management, financial modeling and firm valuation, and international financial management.

It's also fairly common for graduate finance programs to offer opportunities for those enrolled to select concentrations.

Some examples of possible specializations at this level include:

  • Real Estate Finance
  • Computational Finance and Trading Systems
  • Derivatives and Risk Management
  • Finance and Economics

While this type of degree is not required for most entry-level finance professions, it’s often standard for some of the most in-demand and high-paying positions available. Employers also tend to give master’s degree graduates preference during the hiring process. Some common employment opportunities available after graduation include financial analysts, financial examiner, financial managers, and personal finance advisors.

Getting your Master’s degree in finance or an MBA is an excellent way to differentiate yourself in the finance field and also command more money overall. You can do quite a few things with a master’s degree in finance, including becoming a financial manager. You can also find a position working with budget analysis and other types of jobs in the financial sector.

Many people wind up getting their master’s degree after they start working in the financial field. They realize that they can earn more money and be promoted quickly with this extra step in their schooling. Since these programs typically only take two years to complete, they are a great option.

Online PhD Degree in Finance (PhD)

A PhD or doctorate in finance generally consists of between 60 and 120 credit hours that take full-time students four to seven years to complete. These programs are much more intensive than previous levels, but many colleges and universities allow students to customize experiences to suit their specific career goals. It’s often possible to tailor coursework by strategically selecting elective classes and/or concentrations.

Some common tracks include:

  • Forensic Accounting
  • Accounting Information Systems
  • Audit Accounting
  • Public Accounting
  • Managerial Accounting

In addition to classroom instruction in accounting research, advanced statistics, microeconomic theory, and corporate governance, those enrolled can expect to perform independent study and research. Additionally, most doctoral degrees culminate with prospective graduates defending dissertations before a board of finance professors.

It’s important to realize that this type of degree is rarely required for employment in the field. These programs are best-suited for individuals who plan to pursue work in academia and/or research. Some lucrative career opportunities may also be available in corporate management.

Become a Financial Analyst in California

The first step to becoming a financial professional in California is determining your ultimate career goals. As previously mentioned, there are many different professions to consider within this field. Taking some time to identify your interests and preferences can be immensely helpful as you research potential colleges and universities. Knowing which finance-related occupation you plan to pursue will help you find the most appropriate academic program. It will also help ensure you obtain all the knowledge, skills, training, and experience needed to be successful.

Once you complete the education requirements, it may be beneficial to seek one or more finance certifications. These are typically used to demonstrate expertise, as well as high ethical and professional standards. It is common for employers and clients to give preference to individuals who possess additional credentials, although few explicitly require them.

Some of the most popular certifications available in the field include:

  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
  • Certified Fund Specialist (CFS)
  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
  • Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC)
  • Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA)
  • Chartered Market Technician (CMT)
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Personal Finance Specialist (PFS)
  • Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)
  • Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM)
  • Certified Healthcare Financial Professional (CHFP)
  • Certified International Investment Analyst (CIIA)
  • Certified Merger and Acquisition Advisor (CM&AA)
  • Chartered Economic Analyst (ChEA)
  • Financial Risk Manager (FRM)

Many finance professionals choose to pursue the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential. The California Board of Accountancy (CBA) oversees this credentialing process.

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Notably, all CPAs in the state must pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, which is prepared and graded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. To be eligible for this exam, applicants must be United States citizens who are 19 years of age or older. They must also have completed a total of 120 semester hours of postsecondary education at a college or university accredited by a regional accreditation board, and at least 24 of the completed credit hours must be in accounting at the upper division undergraduate and/or graduate levels. Another 24 semester hours are also required key business-related subjects.

In addition to meeting the CPA exam requirements, certification candidates also need to complete 10 semester unites in accounting ethics or accountants’ professional responsibilities, as well as six semester units of accounting subjects and 14 semester units of business-related subjects. Further, 12 months are experience obtained through employment in public or non-public accounting is necessary. This must be obtained under the supervision of an individual already holding an active CPA license. It must also be completed in accordance with the applicable professional standards.

Those seeking licensure with the ability to sign reports on attest engagements will require additional hours of supervision. These individuals must also demonstrate completion of a minimum of 500 hours in attest experience.

Additional Careers for Finance Graduates

  • Accountant
    Accountants provide financial calculations that are used by companies and organizations. They often work in various fields and are responsible for a wide variety of tasks including creating cash flow reports, administering payroll, maintaining balance sheets, carrying out billing activities, managing budget, and keeping inventory records. These professionals may also file taxes and perform internal audits. According to PayScale, accountants make an average base salary of $52,800 per year.
  • Budget Analyst
    Budget analysts help companies and organizations to develop functional budgets. Using past performance data, they work to ensure financial plans are as effective and efficient as possible. These professionals are also typically responsible for presenting their findings and recommendations to management, executives, and other team members. According to PayScale, budget analysts make an average base salary of $63,050 per year.
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
    Certified public accountants (CPAs) handle most general accounting, tax, reporting, and audit services for individuals, companies, and organizations. They may be asked to complete a wide variety of tasks including reviewing financial information, preparing documentation, and ensuring familiarity with changing government regulations. These professionals may also make suggestions to improve bookkeeping and recordkeeping processes. According to PayScale, certified public accountants make an average base salary of $71,000 per year.
  • Financial Advisor
    Financial advisors assess the financial needs of individuals and/or institutional clients, helping them to set and achieve various fiscal goals. They are often responsible for helping clients choose the most appropriate investments, while also ensuring all relevant tax laws are followed. These professionals may help clients plan for short-term or long-term financial needs. According to PayScale, financial advisors make an average base salary of $63,150 per year.
  • Fundraising Manager
    Fundraising managers help secure finances for non-profit organizations. They often develop and oversee various initiatives meant to bring in additional funding, interacting with numerous individuals and corporate entities in order to solicit assistance. These professionals may also spend time planning events, generating marketing campaigns, and orchestrating volunteer involvement. According to PayScale, fundraising managers make an average base salary of $56,700 per year.
  • Insurance Agent
    Insurance agents work for agencies, brokerage firms, or individual insurance companies selling prepaid policies that provide financial benefit in case of calamity. They are often responsible for explaining the various policies available and helping clients pick the most appropriate options. These professionals may be expected to generate sales for multiple products at a time. According to PayScale, insurance agents make an average base salary of $40,850 per year.
  • Investment Banker
    Investment bankers have access to the most sensitive financial information and recommend strategies to improve gains accordingly. This often requires assessing overall financial health, capital needs, and goals. They then coordinate with companies, organizations, and government entities to facilitate potential investing opportunities. These professionals may also suggest when to sell bonds, buy/sell stocks, and take out loans. According to PayScale, investment bankers make an average base salary of $101,850 per year.
  • Tax Preparer
    Tax preparers help individuals, companies, and organizations create accurate income tax returns. They ensure all forms are prepared correctly and often try to find ways to keep the amount of tax funds paid as low as possible. These professionals also verify that all deductions, exemptions, and claims adhere to the most current state and national tax laws. According to PayScale, tax preparers make an average base salary of $48,500 per year.

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