Choose an Online Course, Program to Study Finance

Not everyone who wants to study finance online needs a degree in the field.

Doug Kinsey, who owns a financial planning and wealth management firm in Ohio, wanted a quicker way to ensure his professional knowledge of the industry was up to date. In 2016, he turned to Harvard Business School‘s HBX program, which offers the Leading With Finance online, noncredit certificate course.

Costing $1,500 and lasting six weeks, the online class covers everything from financial markets to valuation through a combination of videos, interactive exercises and written assignments.

“I learned maybe the more practical applications of ideas which we hear about every day in this profession and are supposed to know like the back of our hand,” says the 57-year-old, who has completed additional business-related certificates from Harvard. “It lets you continually revisit it and stay sharp.”

[Explore 10 types of credentials you can earn online.]

Online education can be ideal for those who want to learn more about finance either to accelerate their career or gain personal finance skills that are relevant to everyday life. With so many options out there — ranging from free online finance courses to full online degree programs — prospective students should research before enrolling.

Here are four different ways to study finance online.

Free or low-cost options: Companies such as edX and Coursera develop massive open online courses, or MOOCs, in collaboration with universities. They are typically recorded lectures, and anybody can audit them for free. Those who pay about $30 to $150 can receive a certificate of completion if they finish additional coursework.

Coursera and edX — along with other websites such as, Udemy and Alison — offer a number of online classes in the field. EdX has courses ranging from Personal Finance, Part 1: Investing in Yourself with Wellesley College to An Introduction to Credit Risk Management with Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

“Either MOOCs or short-term or noncredit options make sense when there are specific capabilities the student wants to attain, and they have some sense that in the short- to medium-term future, they can apply those skills directly,” says Adam J. Herman, director of admissions and student services for online master’s programs at Indiana University–Bloomington’s Kelley School of Business.

[Learn when to consider MOOCs over an online degree.]

— Industry certification exam prep: Students can also turn to online learning to prepare for industry exams to gain certifications such as to become certified financial planners or certified public accountants.

Northwestern University, for instance, has an online postbaccalaureate CPA exam prep certificate program costing a total of around $22,000. But there are lower-cost options as well for those who already have a relevant finance degree. For-profit Kaplan University has a CFP exam prep online program costing about $1,300.

Noncredit certificates: At Harvard, the Leading With Finance online certificate can be a good option for those who need to understand basic principles of the discipline, says Brian Misamore, content developer at HBX.

“You’re going to get a basic, intuitive knowledge of finance, the idea being that for most people, especially who aren’t working directly in the finance field — they don’t need a deep understanding of formula and Excel spreadsheets and the ability to generate these, but they do often see them or encounter them in their daily lives,” he says.

In addition to Harvard, schools such as Cornell University offer noncredit, online finance-related certificates. In Cornell’s financial management option, these online credentials may also be used for recertification at the Human Resource Certificate Institute and Project Management Institute.

[Explore how to decide between noncredit, for-credit university online courses.]

— For-credit certificates and degrees: For some prospective students, an undergraduate or graduate certificate or degree for credit is the way to go.

Whereas degrees typically cost more, take longer to finish and focus on the field of finance more broadly, for-credit online certificates usually examine the fundamentals of the discipline or a more concrete topic. BU Online at Boston University has an online financial management graduate certificate that lasts nine months.

Those who want an online finance degree may also need to decide between a Master of Science in Finance and an MBA, perhaps with a finance concentration. Experts say the primary difference between the two is that the MBA focuses on many areas of business more generally, with some finance-specific classes. The online Master of Science can be ideal for those who are more certain that finance is their path.

Regardless of which a student chooses, check the reputation of the school along with its accreditation before enrolling, says Greg Filbeck, director of the business school at Pennsylvania State University–Erie, The Behrend College, which offers an online bachelor’s in finance program through Pennsylvania State University–World Campus.

“Out in the workforce with an online degree, if it doesn’t contain that reputation or appropriate accreditation, then employers are going to be suspect,” he says.

Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.

More from U.S. News

Study Business Online: 5 Options Beyond an MBA Program

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Develop Business Skills Through Online Certificate Programs

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