Whether your dream is to become an accountant, financial planner, or investment analyst or banker, you will need to get an education in order to make that dream a reality. How much education you’ll need and where to get it will depend on which financial career you choose. The good news is that you should be able to find an educational program to fit your needs and lifestyle whichever career path you take. Whether you are fresh out of high school or a working adult, you can receive the education you need to achieve your career goals.
Technical and Vocational Schools
If you’ve decided to work in a bank or in an accounting position within a company, you may only need to acquire a certificate or associate’s degree to get the job. In this case, look at a technical or vocational school to get your certificate or degree. A vocational school usually offers classes for high school students, while a technical school offers certificates or associate’s degrees for students who have earned their high school diplomas or GEDs. Students of technical or vocational schools can get accounting certificates or associate’s degrees. These programs cost much less than attending other schools and take less time.
Colleges and Universities
For most financial careers, you’ll want to consider attending a college or university and earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, business, economics, or a related field. You’ll need to have a high school diploma or GED and take an entrance exam, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Most careers require bachelor’s degrees. Today, more colleges and universities are offering online degree programs, so you can look at many different colleges and not have to relocate. If you go to school full time, you can get your degree within three to four years. This education can be costly, but there may be financial aid, grants, and scholarships available.
After earning bachelor’s degrees, many financial professionals choose to complete master’s degrees. A master’s degree provides these professionals with additional advancement prospects, higher salaries, and greater flexibility in job choices. To get a master’s degree, you’ll need to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and receive a good score. Like the bachelor’s degree, many graduate schools offer online master’s programs for adults who want to take classes while working full time. You may be able to get your master’s degree from one of the top business schools in the country and not have to relocate. It can take between two and four years to earn a master’s degree, depending on whether you attend classes full time or part time. Graduate school is also expensive, unless your employer offers partial reimbursement or you can get financial aid, grants, or scholarships.
Choosing a School
One of the important decisions you’ll need to make is which school to go to. There are many factors that you need to consider when making this decision. Here are some of the most important factors, but do your research and think about your situation. There may be additional factors that are just as important to you.
What Kind of Degree Do You Need?
If you’re looking for a certificate or associate’s degree, then you don’t need to look at four-year colleges. Instead, you’ll need to look at technical or vocational schools. If you’re still in high school, look at accounting or financial programs at a local vocational school. If you’re going for an associate’s degree, then consider a technical school. For a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to attend a college or university, and for a master’s degree, you’ll need to attend graduate school. Not all colleges offer graduate programs, so you may need to look at schools outside your own city or region.
Location, Cost, and Reputation
The next three factors to consider are the school’s location, the cost to attend, and its reputation in the financial industry. Keep in mind, however, that online classes and degree programs are more widely offered than ever, so location only needs to play a role if you can’t obtain your education through online coursework. If that’s the case, you’ll need to choose a location that will work for your lifestyle. If you’re working, it will need to be close to your job and where you live. If you’re willing to relocate, then make sure the cost of living is affordable and you’ll be able to get a job if you need to.
Cost is also a very important factor in the decision. Technical schools and community colleges are more affordable than other schools, and getting an associate’s degree takes less time, which will also save money. On the other hand, your career potential will not be as great as it would if you get a bachelor’s or master’s degree. These schools are more expensive, but you may be able to reduce their cost through financial aid, grants, and scholarships. You can also get low interest rate college loans , but these will need to be repaid when you graduate.
Make sure you find out which schools have good reputations in the financial community. USA Today publishes its list of top schools in most fields, but it’s also good to talk with current financial professionals and ask for their input. If you have three or four schools in mind, ask these professionals if any of them would be a better choice than the others. Also, check to see if the school is accredited through the American Academy of Financial Management or other accrediting organization.
You should also plan to visit the school during the week when classes are in session, speak with faculty and students, and find out what the student–teacher ratios are. Sit in on a class, if you can, to see what it’s like, and get information on all of the financial coursework offered. Make sure the classes will meet your needs.
Applying to a School
Financial professionals must possess keen attention to detail, and the applications process for college will be good practice for that. When you apply to several schools, you will soon learn one important fact: Each school has a distinct procedure for application, and the process can also vary within each school depending on the degree sought. Each school has written admissions information, and it is important to follow their instructions for applying to the letter.
One of the most important pieces of information you’ll need to obtain for each school is its application deadline. No matter how strong of an applicant you are, if you miss the deadline, you won’t be considered. So, make sure you know when each school’s deadline is, and make sure you turn in your application well before.
Most colleges will ask you to fill out an application, take an entrance examination such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) for undergraduate degrees and usually the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Exam (GRE) for graduate degrees, and most likely write an essay or personal statement that explains why you want to attend that college. Some colleges also require you to interview with an admissions counselor as part of the application process. It’s also likely you’ll need to get written recommendations from previous teachers.
Make sure you complete each item required as completely as possible. If you’re applying for graduate school, you’ll also need to get transcripts of your undergraduate education. You will need to have earned a specific GPA during your college career and a minimum score on the entrance exam. Most entrance exams will forward your scores to a number of colleges at your request. However, this number is limited, and if you want scores to go to more colleges than the test includes, you may need to pay an extra fee per school.
It’s also important to remember that applying to a school does cost money. Each school charges a different application fee, then there’s the cost for taking the entrance exam. If you plan to visit the school in person, you may have travel expenses. Some students choose to apply to fewer schools because of the costs involved.
There is no magic formula that ensures you’ll be accepted into the school of your choice. Top schools have many applicants vying for a limited number of openings. You will have the best chance of acceptance if you follow instructions, have very strong exam scores, a high GPA, and good recommendations from previous teachers or instructors.
Distance Learning Versus Onsite Classes
Today, you have more options than ever before when it comes to getting a degree or education when pursuing a career in finance. For students wishing to get the full experience of the classroom, living on campus, and college life, attending a college full time is the way to go. However, there are many students who don’t have the money, time, or other resources available to attend college full time. Examples include high school graduates who don’t have the money to live away from home, a parent that provides full-time care to a young child or children, and working adults who need to support their families. For these situations, or for students who want the convenience of online courses, there are many colleges and universities that offer complete online degree programs. A financial degree lends itself well to this kind of program because there is no laboratory or hands-on work involved. There are pros and cons to each type of learning—distance and on-site classes—that you need to consider before making a decision. Here are some to think about.
- You learn in a more interactive setting with the ability to ask the instructor questions.
- You interact with other students and can form study groups or have resources to get notes if you miss class.
- You have few distractions when in the classroom.
- Being on campus means you’re close to other facilities you may need, like the library.
- Going to school full time means you can complete your degree faster.
- It can be much more expensive to attend class on campus and live on or near campus.
- The social aspects of being on campus can become a problem if you don’t stay focused on your classes.
- You have to attend classes when they’re scheduled.
- You can also lose some flexibility in your schedule.
- It’s harder to find a job that will work with your class schedule.
- You can “attend” class when it’s convenient for you, and you can “go to class” in your pajamas.
- You can work a full-time job.
- You have a much more flexible schedule.
- Classes are less expensive.
- You can go to a very good school without having to relocate.
- You save money by not having to drive to campus.
- You can “attend” class anywhere there is an Internet connection.
- Usually, unless you are videoconferencing with your instructor, you can’t ask the instructor a question and get an immediate answer.
- You can’t interact with other students in person, making it more difficult to form a study group.
- If you need additional material from the library, you need to find the library or another source of information.
- If you aren’t disciplined, you won’t “attend” classes regularly or do your work.
- It can take longer to get your degree.
- If you’re at home, you can get easily distracted or interrupted.
- If a major storm causes a power or cable outage, you can get behind in your schoolwork.
Finance School Accreditation
When you’re deciding which school to attend, it’s important to look for a school, college, or university that is accredited. If a school is accredited, it means a specific accrediting agency or organization has thoroughly examined its programs and found that they meet its standards.
Schools are usually accredited in several areas. The college itself can be accredited, and each department can also have its own accreditation. Schools must pay a fee for accreditation and then make sure they meet all of the agency’s standards, which can include teacher-to-student ratios, the number of courses offered, the material that’s covered in the classes, and other factors. Accrediting agencies seek to make sure that students receive a high-quality education.
In the United States, there are many organizations that offer accreditation to schools. Some organizations offer national accreditation, while others offer regional accreditation. Then, there are program-related accrediting agencies as well. When it comes to finance schools, potential students should look to see that the school is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or the American Academy of Financial Management. These agencies examine applicant schools to make sure they meet their standards and that they are keeping up with the latest changes in the industry. If you’re thinking of obtaining your degree through an online college, make sure they are accredited through the Distance Education and Training Council, Accrediting Commission.
It is especially important to look for accreditation when attending school online. Unfortunately, there are many Web-related scams, and fraudulent online degree programs do occur. If you’re checking out potential colleges online, make sure to confirm that the college is accredited. If it is, then you can rest assured it’s not a scam. Another way to tell if a school is legitimate is that it should provide a listing of classes, faculty members, and similar details and information. You should also be able to phone the school and speak with an admissions counselor to get admissions information.
While a few good schools aren’t accredited, you’ll improve your chances of getting a job if you attend one that is. If you can’t discover whether a school is accredited on its web site, then phone the school’s admissions department and ask.
Once you’re on the job, it’s time to think about becoming certified in your chosen career. For some jobs in finance, certification is not a requirement. There are many financial careers, however, which will require you to hold a license or certification. Even if certification is not required, it can help you get a job or advance in your chosen career path.
Each sector of the financial services industry offers its own certification organization. Usually, these organizations are associations of professionals in that field, and offering certification is a way of maintaining high standards and practice methods in the industry. Certification programs are based on up-to-date methods, regulations, policies, technologies, and techniques. That’s why continuing education can be necessary, as new methods, policies, and technologies are introduced.
Keep in mind that obtaining and keeping your certification can be an expensive process. There is usually a fee involved, and continuing education classes also cost money. Some employers will reimburse their employees for continuing education classes and certification fees if they relate specifically to their jobs. However, even if you can’t get reimbursed, being certified can lead to better-paying jobs or more clients, so the expense is worthwhile.
Another fact to keep in mind is that certifications are not the same as licenses. In some financial positions, such as those that buy or sell stocks and bonds or those that file reports with the federal government, licensing is mandatory, not an option. You will not be able to perform your work without being licensed. Licenses are obtained through a government licensing board rather than a certification agency or industry association.
What Is Certification?
Employees and professionals in many industries have the opportunity to become certified in their industries or in a specific facet of their industries, and a financial professional is no exception. When a person earns his or her certification, it means that person has fulfilled all of an organization’s requirements to earn the certification. Certification is usually offered through a specific organization that serves as an authority in the industry. For example, many professional associations also provide certifications for employees in their industries. The financial industry is no exception. Various certifications can be obtained through different organizations. Each one may have slightly different requirements for getting and maintaining certification.
Receiving certification is a way of proving to potential clients and employers that you have the skills and knowledge needed to do your job. Not all potential clients look to see if a financial professional is certified, but many will. In most cases, to receive certification, you’ll need to possess an education (usually a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or related field), work in the industry for a specified period of time, and then take and pass an examination. Once you’ve obtained your certification, the learning process isn’t over. In most cases, to maintain your certification, you’ll also need to take continuing education classes. Sometimes, you’ll also be required to retake the exam every two to three years or more.
There are dozens of certifications that financial professionals can obtain. Which ones you’ll need will depend on which facet of the industry you choose to pursue. The sector of the industry that offers the highest number of certifications is the financial planning industry. This may be due to the fact that financial planners’ clients depend on them to achieve their financial goals. In fact, it’s hard for people to retire if they don’t have sufficient savings. Financial planners can also help their clients save for their children’s college educations, travel and vacations, weddings, estate planning, and other big expenses. Therefore, there are several certifications that relate to these kinds of tasks. Here is a list of some of the certifications that financial professionals can obtain:
- Certified Financial Planner
- Chartered Financial Analyst
- Certified Fund Specialist
- Board Certified in Estate Planning
- Chartered Financial Consultant
- Chartered Investment Counselor
- Certified Investment Management Analyst
- Chartered Market Technician
- Certified Public Accountant
- Personal Financial Specialist
- Certified College Planning Specialist
- Accredited Investment Fiduciary
When Will I Need to Be Certified?
This is a good question that will have different answers depending on your chosen career path. Some certifications require you to work in the field for one to two years before you apply to take the exam. However, with most elective certifications, you can plan to apply for certification whenever you feel you’re ready and you meet all of the requirements. For example, some certifications require you to take certain courses or have a specific degree or experience. As long as the requirements are met, you can apply for certification.
How Do I Become Certified?
In most instances, certification is obtained after you take and pass an examination. Remember that, before you’re able to take the exam, you need to fulfill other certification requirements. For example, to obtain the Certified Investment Management Analyst designation, you need to have a minimum of three years of experience in the field. To become a Chartered Financial Analyst, you must complete three difficult exams and gain at least three years of qualifying work experience, among other requirements. Many of these certifications also include mastery of specific knowledge and evidence of ethical business practices.
Choosing a Specialty
With dozens of financial career certifications to choose from, it can get confusing which certification is important for your career. You may actually want to obtain more than one certification, depending on your chosen career path. Here are some descriptions of the most commonly obtained certifications and how to get them.
Certified Public Accountant: The CPA designation is one that is most often chosen and recognized in the accounting field. Most accountants manage a company’s finances, helping them properly monitor and record all income and expenses and file tax returns. If the company is publicly owned, the accountant may be required to submit special reports to the Federal Trade Commission. The typical requirements to earn a CPA include taking an additional 150 semester hours of classes after earning a bachelor’s degree and passing the CPA exam. The exam is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. After receiving your designation, you’ll need to take more than 40 hours of continuing professional education each year.
Certified Management Accountant: The CMA certification is for accounting professionals who work primarily in the areas of financial analysis, organizational performance measurement, budgeting, strategic assessment, and ongoing stewardship of a company. Before you can receive this certification, you must have a bachelor’s degree, two years of professional experience in management accounting, and take and pass the CMA exam. The exam is administered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). Then, you’ll need to complete at least 30 hours of continuing education each year.
Financial Planning Certifications
Certified Financial Planner: This certification is often chosen by professional financial planners. The program is administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. To earn certification, you’ll need to pass an exam and complete qualifying work experience. The Board of Standards also requires candidates to adhere to their code of ethics and professional responsibility and financial planning standards.
Chartered Financial Consultant: The American College offers this designation for financial planners. Candidates must complete coursework and have a minimum of three years’ experience in a financial industry position.
Accredited Investment Fiduciary: This designation indicates that the financial professional has knowledge and competency in the area of fiduciary responsibility. To get this certification, professionals must complete a specialized program on investment fiduciary standards and pass an examination.
Chartered Financial Analyst: The CFA designation is one that is highly respected in the financial industry. Candidates must successfully complete the CFA program, which is considered a graduate-level, self-study program that can take up to 250 hours. Then, candidates must pass three rigorous, six-hour exams over at least three years and abide by the CFA Institute’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct.