Financial planners and professionals who wish to upgrade their skills in today's market have more options than ever. The number of educational institutions that offer financial planning programs and degrees is mushrooming, and many of them now offer their coursework in several different formats. Those who choose to pursue further education in finance need to consider which format works best for them in their circumstances.

Educational Alternatives
Technology is rapidly changing the face of education, as it is with all other facets of society. The number of downloadable financial planning courses that are available online is growing rapidly, and many of them can provide the same quality of instruction as a real classroom. Virtual classes that allow students to attend remotely and interact with the instructor are also becoming more common; DVD and audio broadcasts are also used for some courses. Those who eschew technology in favor of traditional methods of learning also have many more alternatives.

Of course, the right choice for each student will depend upon his or her learning aptitude, schedule and other personal circumstances. Online and other types of distance learning programs have made it much easier for those who have to juggle their work lives with family time and other obligations to learn from home or another convenient location. There are now dozens, if not hundreds of educational institutions that offer coursework in one or more areas of financial planning, such as asset management, retirement and estate planning, tax planning and insurance. A list of the most well-known providers of financial planning education includes:

The American College
Located in Bryn Mawr, Penn., The American College has provided top-quality financial planning coursework for over 80 years. It is the oldest financial educational institution in the country and is responsible for the creation of the highly sought-after CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter) and ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant) designations. It also provides a comprehensive CFP® curriculum and board exam review course, as well as coursework for several other credentials. The school even offers classes that teach leadership, management and how to be successful in the financial industry; sales training is also included. Coursework is available via webinar, online, in class and through self-study for certifications, undergraduate and graduate level programs.

The College for Financial Planning
Located in Denver, Colo., this school has been educating students on finance for over 40 years and boasts over 135,000 graduates. The school's curriculum has expanded from its original focus on CFP® certification to include asset management, retirement planning and graduate level programs, as well as a list of proprietary lesser designations such as the Chartered Mutual Fund Counselor® and Accredited Asset Management Specialist®.

The college has a scholarship program designed to help provide a thorough education for promising students in the financial industry who have already demonstrated a commitment to their communities and the betterment of the financial planning profession. It also awards an annual scholarship to obtain a Master's degree in financial planning to an active duty member or spouse of the U.S. military.

Ken Zahn
Unlike the previous two institutions listed, Ken Zahn's organization focuses solely on the CFP® curriculum and offers both traditional and online classes. Based in Tampa, Fla., the company also offers comprehensive review courses for the board exam, on a periodic basis, in 17 major cities across the country. The school itself has no classrooms of its own and its traditional classroom courses are offered through affiliated local colleges and universities, such as Tallahassee Community College and the University of Central Florida.

Traditional Colleges and Universities
Financial planning majors are becoming a routine offering among higher-education institutions nationwide. Many major universities now offer financial planning as an undergraduate program, and these programs typically provide their students with a considerably broader introduction to the financial planning profession than the CFP® curriculum.

These programs frequently deal with topics such as the role of family in financial planning, housing and real estate, the relationship between financial planning and the economy and an in-depth analysis of employee benefits. They may also delve into the psychology of finance and financial counseling and explore the planner's emotional and relational role in difficult situations such as divorce, death and legal disputes. Many curriculums also examine the key characteristics and proper use of the mainstream products and services that are now being used in the industry.

Corresponding master's and doctorate degree programs tend to focus on more advanced topics that pertain to very wealthy clients, such as quantitative research and statistics, alternative investments and other sophisticated financial planning concepts are often available as well. The CFP® Board provides a search engine that prospective planners can use to find the nearest local institutions that offer the CFP® curriculum. Users can search by date, type or for distance learning programs.

All of the programs listed also offer continuing education programs, and most of them maintain that those who obtain degrees or certifications with them have substantially increased their business and earn considerably more than their non-credentialed counterparts. As with any other type of education, tuition and fees vary according to the level of education being provided and the method that is used to provide it (i.e., online versus a traditional classroom setting). Many programs also offer a wealth of informational and business-building resources that can help both new and veteran planners stay abreast of the latest industry news and developments.

The Bottom Line
Modern technology has made going back to school more convenient than ever. Financial planners and other industry professionals can give their careers a boost by obtaining additional degrees and certifications that can enable them to pursue new lines of work and new types of clients while enhancing their credibility. If you would like to find a list of local providers of financial education, visit the CFP® Board website or contact the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

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