There’s a reason that the number of universities offering degrees in financial planning has surged over the past decade. As many financial planners hit the retirement age, vacancies in the field are predicted to skyrocket. While the coming shortage of experienced fiscal-planning experts may sound like a bleak prospect from the client end, it could be a boon for college students or career changers interested in finance.
There are hundreds of certified financial planner programs, and a great place to start investigating them is to visit the website of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., which provides a tool to research CFP programs as well as other information. The CFP Board is a non-profit organization that fosters professional standards in personal financial planning and enforcing the requirements for a CFP certification.
- The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. offers in-depth information on all aspects of financial planning.
- Many universities and colleges offer some financial planning coursework, and some offer degrees specifically in this area of personal finance.
- There is a national financial planning exam that you must pass to be certified.
The Best Schools for Financial Planning
Understand Your Degree
Before you wade through the statistics and expert advice on the best schools for financial planning, it’s helpful to know what a degree in financial planning is – and, more importantly, what it is not.
Degrees in finance-related subjects have evolved dramatically over the last 25 years. A growing number of universities offer curriculum outside of the traditional theoretically based courses of study that a typical economics or finance degree offers.
Economic Degrees vs. Finance Degrees
It helps to remember that while economics degrees may be heavily quantitative in nature—requiring advanced mathematics levels—that economics is ultimately a social science that focuses on human behavior. Unlike sociology and psychology, however, economics attempts to analyze strictly quantifiable aspects of human behavior.
A degree in economics will teach you to understand markets and the relationships of market forces on individuals, society, and governments. Economics provides a strong background in how taxation and government regulations, and spending affect the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services and individuals' behavior in the marketplace.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you enroll in a specific program:
- Do you want to study in a business school environment?
- Is it important for you to receive hands-on experience in the community?
- Do faculty members have professional backgrounds in the type of financial planning position you ultimately seek to obtain?
Conversely, finance degrees, which focus more on economics practical applications, have a professional rather than a theoretical bent that prepares students to work in real estate, investment firms, or corporate finance. Such programs focus more on financial issues about individuals and corporations rather than governments.
Financial planning degrees and certificates are similar to finance programs, yet with a narrowed focus on the individual: investments, tax, estate, and retirement planning, risk management, insurance, and other financial planning subjects as related to individual investors.
5 Schools with Financial Planning Programs to Consider
As financial planning degree programs grow each year, it’s becoming trickier to sort out the best from the simply adequate. Below are four highly ranked schools for finance and accounting in the U.S. offering financial planning programs, according to 2021 research done by Niche based on data from the U.S. Department of Education and Wealth Management at Informa publishing group.
These five schools are only a handful of excellent institutions offering diverse course offerings, faculty with CFP experience, and opportunities for hands-on learning outside of the classroom either via internship opportunities or on-campus clinics.
The University of Georgia
Since this highly ranked public university in Athens, Ga., added an undergraduate major in financial planning nearly a decade ago, enrollment in the program has surged. That may be due to the program's unique aspects that offer unparalleled hands-on experience for future financial planners.
At the university’s own financial planning clinic, called Aspire, students have the opportunity to work under the supervision of faculty in providing financial advice to clients from the community. Required community service hours—where students can practice their tax knowledge while preparing returns for low-income families—provide the kind of practical experience that financial institutions ultimately seek in new hires.
Founded more than 25 years ago, this highly respected financial planning program is housed within the university’s Center for Professional Education in Boston. The top-notch faculty, who brings an impressively rich level of professional experience to the classroom, is an asset. Strengths in financial planning, wealth management, business development, law, investment, retirement planning, financial advisory services, and insurance rank among faculty backgrounds.
Texas Tech University
This public institution deep in the heart of Texas features 9 CFP Board-registered programs, from undergraduate to doctoral level. The program benefits from a nearly $2-million grant for graduate education in financial planning given to them. It also offers a robust faculty whose deep practical experience prepares students to work in the field.
University of Wisconsin, Madison
This university offers a bachelor's degree in financial planning, with eight specific courses. Over half the faculty has a CFP degree themselves. According to its website, the coursework is "interdisciplinary with an emphasis on financial management and the economic well-being of individuals and families." This program is described as a "more traditional finance program," and its graduates are prepared to take the Certified Financial Planner® exam, which gives them a CPA credential.
College and business school graduates who decide to want to earn a CPA program from a prestigious university may want to check out this program. The Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies in Houston, Tex., offers a straight-forward, traditional path to successful financial planning education.
The program consists of seven courses: financial plan development, estate planning, income taxation planning, general studies, insurance, and risk management, investment planning, and retirement and employee benefits planning. This program's core curriculum provides the educational requirements to pass your CFP certification exam. Students are also required to complete a financial plan development (capstone) course registered with the CFP Board, as well.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve decided that a degree in the growing field of financial planning might suit your interests and skills, you’ll want to do careful research on the best programs currently available. While every program will prepare you to work as a certified financial planner, the courses of study vary enough that you’ll want to investigate what kind of curriculum best suits your goals, whether you are seeking a hands-on experience or a hefty roster of experienced CFP professors.