Most careers in finance involve finding effective ways to manage an organization's money to create wealth and increase the organization's value. Finance majors prepare for this career by studying topics about planning, raising funds, making wise investments, and controlling costs. This knowledge sets them up for a wide array of career paths in all areas of financial services, including corporate finance and investing.
Increasingly, however, finance students who also are skilled in select non-finance areas have the upper hand when it comes to job opportunities.
What Companies Want to See in Finance Curricula
Executives in search of well-rounded finance students look for certain skills. Surveys have found that these executives want schools to place more emphasis on qualitative, strategic, critical decision-making, and communication skills, which are sometimes developed better in non-finance classes.
If you want to get the best possible preparation for the finance world from your undergraduate education, think about classes that may fall outside of the finance curriculum.
Business leaders at Booz Allen Hamilton discussed potential areas of change at graduate business schools. They suggested that more courses are needed to teach graduates to effectively manage individuals and team-driven organizations, provide tools for problem-solving, and provide a better grounding in theory. They also recommend that business schools need more courses outside of the traditional curriculum.
7 Courses Finance Students Should Take
Recommended Non-Finance Courses for Finance Majors
The business consultants at Booz Allen Hamilton made their case for curriculum reform at business schools and suggest courses in the following areas—some of which clearly would be new to financial services curricula.
Financial and managerial accounting courses teach finance students how to understand, record and report financial transactions, monitor the company's budgets and performance, and examine the costs of the organization's products and services.
2. Advanced Mathematics
Courses in college algebra and calculus will help students learn how to solve equations in complex financial markets. Statistics courses can help learn to make decisions based on the likelihood of various outcomes. They would teach finance students to reach conclusions about general differences between groups and large batches of information. Courses in statistics would also help to explain the movements of a company's stock.
A communications course, such as public speaking, helps finance students present financial reports and explain the meaning behind equations and numbers to colleagues in group settings.
Good communication also can help when managing people and organizations, such as delegating responsibilities to employees within a finance department. Business students also need courses in corporate communications, crisis communications, and public relations strategies.
Communication is a critical skill in all areas of business, including finance. If you expect to advance in your career, manage a staff, or serve in an upper-management role, being able to communicate effectively will give you a competitive edge.
Economics looks at how scarce resources are allocated to achieve needs and wants. A course in macroeconomics would teach finance students to understand the impact of financial market activities on the overall economy. Microeconomics would help them to learn about the behaviors that occur within individual firms and among consumers, as well as how various financial decisions can affect a firm's success.
The incidence of corporate scandals has encouraged some business schools, such as the University of San Francisco and Loyola University Chicago, to add ethics courses to their finance curricula. These courses focus on moral development in an attempt to stem future misconduct in business environments.
Classes in ethics are becoming increasingly important in financial curricula, especially as financial services firms commit to full disclosure.
Financial professionals need to understand the behaviors and thought processes that help drive movements in financial markets. Behavioral psychology can show finance majors how to examine the observable and cognitive aspects of human behavior, within a financial environment.
Psychology courses are not just for shrinks. By examining the emotions and thoughts behind investors' actions, finance professionals can learn to pinpoint where investors make mistakes and how to correct them.
Finance curricula miss the boat by not including basic courses in writing and grammar, including technical writing. More often than not, students graduate with a master of business administration (MBA) degree but are not able to form their thoughts cogently in writing. Writing courses teach students how to craft strong, clear, and organized ideas for memos, reports, and letters.
To be a good financial analyst, it's not enough to know how to crunch numbers. You need to have excellent writing skills, as a large part of the job is authoring research reports on companies, sectors, markets, and asset classes.
The Bottom Line
Students studying finance will be tasked with big responsibilities in their careers, like managing the flow of money at their companies and identifying financial risks and returns to make effective business decisions.
Those finance majors who want to have an edge over their competition, both during the initial post-graduate job search and throughout their careers, will take advanced mathematics, accounting, economics, psychology, communications, and writing courses to gain deeper insight into their jobs and a better ability to work effectively with people.