How to Become a Financial Analyst - Education & Certifications

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To the average person, making financial investments is no different than betting on horses. Maybe they have a hot tip or maybe they like the look of a particular pony, but the final calculation is rarely based on much more than that. To financial analysts, however, making investments is more like a meteorologist predicting the weather: a multivariable calculation that takes into consideration various data points and quantifiable trends. And while the outcome may not match the prediction identically, it’s often pretty close.

Financial analysts offer guidance to businesses or individuals who are making investment decisions. They compare historical data, current data, and emerging trends. They evaluate the financial statements of a company to determine its true value. And, bringing it all together, they work with management to determine the best investment opportunities for specific organizational goals.

It’s a tough profession, but a lucrative one: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2020), financial analysts earn a median annual wage of $$83,660, with the top 10 percent making $159,560. But there’s a lot of room for variation within this job title. Financial analysts generally focus on a particular industry, geographical region, or product. They can work for banks, hedge funds, nonprofits, or corporate entities. Even if investing does resemble a horse race sometimes, financial analysts are the ones who consistently have the hot tips.

Check out our step-by-step guide to becoming a financial analyst below.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Financial Analyst

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, aspiring financial analysts need to earn a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor of science in finance is the most direct route, but majors in statistics, accounting, or business can also provide an entry point. Admissions requirements will vary from school to school, but generally include the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT and/or ACT scores; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University offers a bachelor of science in finance program at its Tempe, Arizona campus. Students in this program will be prepared to succeed in private equity, investment management, corporate finance, investment banking, high-tech management, entrepreneurial finance, and more. They will learn from expert faculty members, connect with prominent business community members, and benefit from applied experiences.

In addition to a broad foundational curriculum, students take finance-related classes such as advanced managerial finance; security analysis & portfolio management; mathematics for business analysis; and financial markets and institutions. Hosted through the university’s W.P. Carey School of Business, students will have access to specialized initiatives in the business community and a large professional network. The program consists of 120 credits.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities such as financial analysts, credit analysts, budget analysts, risk management specialists, personal financial advisors, and investment fund managers, among many such roles.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 36 to 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($10,710); non-resident ($28,800); international ($31,200)

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University’s online bachelor of science in finance program is one of the most affordable and most flexible. The program is designed to teach students how to create financial plans, support strategic goals, analyze statements and comply with policies. The program is ideal for professionals who wish to pursue a career in finance and are interested in the management of money.

The program also includes a concentration on financial planning which is ideal for individuals who have an interest in pursuing a career as a personal financial advisor. Graduates of this CFP Board-registered concentration will be ready to sit for the Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) exam.

Classes cover topics such as corporate finance; financial markets; investment portfolio analysis; the fundamentals of investments; financial regulations and ethics; and multinational corporate finance. The program comprises 120 credits.

On successful completion of the program, graduates can take up roles such as financial analysts, personal bankers, account managers, risk analysts, and financial consultants.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $320 per credit

The Pennsylvania State University

An online bachelor of science degree offered by Penn State World Campus prepares students for the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) and CFP (Certified Financial Planner) exams. Students in this program develop a strong foundation in the principles of finance, including portfolio and investment management, capital management, personal finance, and financial institutions.

Made up of 120 credits, the program includes courses such as financial statement analysis; corporation finance; investment and portfolio analysis; international finance; basic management concepts; principles of marketing, and supply chain management.

To be eligible for this program, applicants must be high school graduates or have completed their GED. Additionally, they must submit official college or university transcripts or GED transcripts. International applicants must demonstrate English language proficiency through TOEFL or IELTS test scores.

Graduates of the program will be prepared to pursue or advance their careers in banking, security analysis, financial analysis, personal financial planning, or corporate finance. They can take up roles such as chartered financial analysts (CFA), certified financial planners (CFP), securities analysts, credit counselors, loan officers, and many more such roles.

  • Location: University Park, PA
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $590 to $632 per credit

Step Two: Gain Early Work Experience (Optional, Timeline Varies)

After graduating from high school, it’s possible to find entry-level work as a financial analyst. This early work experience can be critical in forming one’s understanding of the financial landscape and how one fits within it. Do you enjoy trading securities, or would you prefer analyzing global markets? Now’s the time to figure out your preferences, and where to train your focus. At this stage, you’re not only putting your education into practice for the first time, but you’re also building a professional network that can advance your career down the line.

Step Three: Get Licensed (Optional, Timeline Varies)

While it’s not a requirement for all financial analysts, licensure may be necessary for those dealing in regulated services, such as buying and selling securities. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offers a wide assortment of licensure exams that cover everything from futures and options to research analysis. Financial analysts may begin with the introductory Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam before moving on to more specialized qualifications.

Do note that licensure often requires an individual to be sponsored by a FINRA-member firm, which means these qualifications are generally pursued during employment, and not as a prerequisite to it.

Step Four: Earn a Master’s Degree (Optional, One to Two Years)

Not all financial analysts get a master’s degree, but the ones who do often get hired as senior analysts straight out of school. Master of business administration (MBA) programs can provide the managerial training necessary to take on positions of high responsibility, and further specializations allow financial analysts to focus their expertise on a specific niche.

Admissions requirements vary from school to school, but generally include the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); GMAT and/or GRE scores; letter(s) of recommendation; work experience; and a personal statement.

Purdue University Global

Purdue Global offers an online MBA with a concentration in finance that’s taught by real-world practitioners and self-paced through the school’s ExcelTrack program. The finance concentration prepares students to analyze strategies for investment in several markets, explore acquisitions and mergers, and learn about financial management issues in international businesses.

The program consists of between 76 credits. Core courses cover topics such as business analytics; economics for global decision-makers; leadership strategies for a changing world; and designing, improving, and implementing processes. Furthermore, the finance concentration includes courses such as financial institutions and markets; risk analysis and management; corporate finance; and financial statement analysis.

The faculty of the program includes practicing professionals who have extensive real-world experience in business and education. Students will work directly with these faculty members through online discussion boards and faculty office hours.

  • Location: West Lafayette, IN
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $485 per credit

Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business has an online MBA program ranked in the top 15 by The Princeton Review. The core curriculum is designed around the pillars of strategy, technology, and leadership. Students may choose to add a concentration in finance where they can explore topics related to investment banking, corporate finance, risk management, real estate markets, and new venture financing.

The program comprises 52 credits. Core courses include behavior in organizations; marketing management; strategic management; and integration in business operations. Courses in the finance concentration include real estate investing and finance; global capital markets and institutions; valuation and corporate combinations; and investments and portfolio management. In addition to online learning, students attend one immersion experience in Los Angeles and collaborate with one of the school’s corporate partners.

Applicants to the program must have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and submit application materials which include a statement of purpose, a current resume, official transcripts from each postsecondary school attended, and letters of recommendation. GMAT or GRE scores are not required for admission.

Students in this experiential, learner-focused, and relational online MBA program make meaningful connections with distinguished faculty members, classmates, and key companies in California. They work in teams, engage in live discussions, explore case studies, and complete interactive modules to gain real-world business insights.

Graduates will be prepared to take up roles such as financial analysts, financial managers, marketing managers, human resources managers, and business operations managers.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,920 per credit

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School offers an online master of business administration program with a concentration in Finance. The program prepares students for success in finance through hands-on learning opportunities, a rigorous curriculum, personalized leadership and career services, and connections with the Kenan-Flagler alumni network.

Consisting of 62 credits, the curriculum of the program is designed and delivered by Kenan-Flagler’s world-class teaching and research faculty members. Core courses of the program include business communication; business strategy; strategic economics; financial accounting; and analytical tools for decision making. The finance concentration includes courses in financial accounting; corporate financial strategy; taxes and business strategy; mergers and acquisitions; financial statement analysis; and real estate finance and investments.

The major admission requirements for the program include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college with at least two years of professional experience, a completed online MBA application, a current resume, transcripts from all colleges and universities attended, two professional recommendations, two essays, GMAT or GRE scores (waivers available), and TOEFL, IELTS or PTE scores for non-native English speakers.

Graduates of the program will be well-equipped to work as financial managers, budget analysts, payroll directors, accountants, and auditors.

  • Location: Chapel Hill, NC
  • Accreditation: The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International); The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 to 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $125,589.06 for the full program

Villanova University

Villanova University offers an online master of business administration program with a specialization in Finance. The program is designed to provide students with an understanding of the principles of money management and how these principles can be applied to achieve corporate goals.

To be eligible for the program, students must have an undergraduate degree with a satisfactory GPA and submit application materials that include a completed online application, a current resume, two essays, official transcripts from all institutions attended, two letters of recommendation, GMAT or GRE scores, and TOEFL test scores for international applicants.

This online MBA program is taught by the same distinguished faculty members and involves the same high-quality, rigorous curriculum as the campus-based program. Functional core courses of the program include analyzing and leveraging data; corporate finance; strategic marketing management; team leadership and group dynamics; and financial accounting & reporting. Finance specialization courses include corporate governance; international finance; corporate restructuring; and investments.

Graduates will be well prepared to take up roles such as financial managers, chief financial officers, marketing managers, operations managers, and Sr. financial analysts.

  • Location: Villanova, PA
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB); The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,409 per credit

Step Five: Get Certified (Four Years)

Many employers require their financial analysts to be certified as a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) through the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute (CFAI). Certification is a multi-step process that lasts, on average, four years, and candidates will need four years of direct experience with investment decisions either before, during, or after they participate in the CFA program.

In addition to the eligibility requirements, candidates need to pass three CFA exams, each of which requires approximately 300 hours of study. Once all three exams have been passed, and all four years of experience have been collected, candidates need to submit letters of reference regarding ability and character. If all submitted materials are accepted, a financial analyst will have earned their CFA. The standard registration fee and one-time enrollment fee come out to $1,450 in total.

Helpful Resources for Financial Analysts

Financial analysis isn’t easy. Between licensing regulations, best practices, and evolving trends, there’s a lot of information to keep tabs on. Check out some of the resources below to get an idea of what’s top of mind for leading financial analysts.

  • Association of Financial Professionals (AFP)
  • Chartered Financial Analyst Institute (CFAI)
  • Financial Analysts Journal
  • Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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