Earning an Online Ph.D. in Finance

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for financial managers will increase by 19% through 2026, nearly triple the rate of growth for the rest of the economy. In addition, financial managers earned a median salary of $127,990 in 2018, roughly $90,000 more than the median pay for all other occupations.

While you can qualify for most of these jobs with just a master's degree, a doctorate may give you a competitive edge over other candidates and open up additional professional opportunities in teaching and research. This page provides an overview of online Ph.D. in finance programs, including information on admission requirements, common coursework, and possible careers.

Why Get a Doctorate in Finance?

Pursuing Specialization

Earning a Ph.D. in finance online allows you to take advantage of more specialized opportunities. To begin, a doctorate is required for the majority of college and university faculty positions. A Ph.D. with a concentration in international finance may also help qualify you for leadership roles at nongovernmental organizations like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, while research and coursework in an area like domestic monetary policy may position you for senior-level jobs in the United States Federal Reserve.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Earning an online Ph.D. in finance can also help you take the next step in your career. While you may find work as a postsecondary lecturer or instructor with just a master's degree, a tenured faculty role always requires a doctorate. In the private sector, an advanced degree often leads to higher wages. According to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, finance professionals with just a bachelor's degree earn a median salary of roughly $73,000, while those with a graduate degree earn a median salary of approximately $101,000.

Online Learning Technology

Finally, pursuing a doctorate online gives you the chance to become acquainted with technologies and techniques that you can use throughout your career. For example, if you become a college professor, you will benefit from a firsthand understanding of the instructional methods that best serve distance learners. If you instead become a financial manager for a multinational corporation, you will use online communication and collaboration tools to lead the work of colleagues around the world.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a DBA in Finance?

Broadly, a Ph.D. in finance can prepare students for more research-oriented roles, while a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in finance prepares students for more practice-oriented positions.

While both feature coursework in research methods and data analysis, some DBA programs do not require students to write a dissertation. Instead, students may complete a field-based doctoral project, usually partnering with a corporation or government agency to address real-world financial issues. The dissertation process, by contrast, requires students to conduct original research and contribute new knowledge to the field.

As researching, writing, and defending a dissertation requires a substantial investment of time, students in Ph.D. programs may need anywhere from 4-7 years to earn their degree. A student pursuing a DBA in finance, however, may only need 3-4 years to meet all of their program's graduation requirements.

College and university faculty positions, especially those that lead to tenure, usually require a Ph.D. in finance.

Prerequisites for Online Doctorate in Finance Programs

Admission requirements for online doctoral programs in finance can vary depending on several factors. For example, more prestigious programs may require an applicant to maintain a higher GPA while earning their master's, and some schools may not require prospective students to take entrance exams. Still, you can read more about common prerequisites for these programs below.

    • Work Experience: DBA programs, given their focus on the application of research and theory to professional financial practice, may require applicants to possess several years of relevant work experience. Ph.D. programs, however, often admit students who have recently earned their master's degree. As a result, they usually do not set minimum work experience requirements.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Most graduate schools of business require prospective students to share results from either the GMAT or the GRE from the last five years. Some programs waive this requirement for applicants who hold a master's degree and maintain a certain GPA during their graduate studies.
    • Coursework: Generally, you must hold either a bachelor's or master's degree in finance, accounting, economics, or a closely related field to earn your doctorate in finance online. Some programs may admit students on the condition that they complete prerequisite coursework in these areas before enrolling in more advanced classes.
    • Recommendations: Plan to submit up to three letters of recommendation with your application. Most schools ask to see at least one letter from a professor or instructor who can speak to your academic readiness and one letter from a supervisor who can attest to your professional qualifications. Give your recommenders at least two months to write the letters.
    • Essays: While exact requirements may vary, most programs ask students to submit writing samples. This may be a personal statement outlining your rationale for pursuing a doctorate and a guiding question for your dissertation research. Some schools instead permit applicants to share a master's thesis or research paper.
    • Interviews: Doctoral programs interview candidates to inform their admissions decisions and pair future students with faculty advisors that share their scholarly interests. An interview also allows you another opportunity to highlight your strengths and provide context to weak points in your application, such as a low GMAT score.
    • International Students: All international students must meet the same admission requirements as domestic students. In addition, you may need to demonstrate your English language proficiency through an exam or supplementary writing sample. You should also contact your future school's registrar to confirm they recognize the accreditation of your degree.

How Much Can I Make with a Doctorate in Finance?

After earning your online Ph.D. in finance, your future salary depends greatly on your chosen industry. For example, the BLS projects that postsecondary business teachers earned a median salary of $83,960 in 2018. By comparison, financial managers earned a median salary of $127,990 in 2018. The top 10% of financial managers, typically those with at least one advanced degree and many years of professional experience, brought in a median salary of more than $208,000 that year.

Traditional Careers

Career Stats Description
Financial Manager

Median Pay: $127,990

Job Growth: 19%

Financial managers hold broad responsibility for the overall health of their organizations. They may prepare financial statements, ensure legal and regulatory compliance, analyze market trends to inform strategy, and supervise financial and accounting staff. Many employers now seek candidates with graduate degrees in finance or related fields.

Top Executive

Median Pay: $104,980

Job Growth: 8%

Top executives manage entire organizations or specific departments within organizations. A chief financial officer, for example, works closely with other executives to set and implement a financial strategy. They may also supervise the work of one or more financial managers. Many chief executives hold advanced degrees.

Postsecondary Business Teacher

Median Pay: $83,960

Job Growth: 18%

Postsecondary business teachers instruct students at colleges, universities, and professional schools. They may also advise graduate students, conduct and publish research, and perform certain administrative functions, such as interviewing candidates for open faculty roles. The vast majority of postsecondary teaching positions require a doctorate in one's area of expertise.

Personal Financial Advisor

Median Pay: $88,890

Job Growth: 15%

Personal financial advisors offer guidance on matters related to money and financial planning. For example, an advisor may counsel their clients on how to invest for retirement, how to create college savings accounts, or how to reduce their overall tax burden through charitable donations. Although not required, a Ph.D. in finance may help consulting advisors signal expertise and attract new clients.

Mathematician or Statistician

Median Pay: $88,190

Job Growth: 33%

Mathematicians and statisticians analyze to solve problems across a variety of disciplines. For instance, in government service, mathematicians and statisticians may use a research-based understanding of wages and inflation to shape monetary policy or tax law. Many of these jobs, particularly at the highest levels, require master's or doctoral degrees.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for a Doctorate in Finance Online

The cost of pursuing an online Ph.D. in accounting and finance depends on the school you choose. For example, programs at public colleges and universities often cost less than those offered at private institutions, especially if you qualify for in-state tuition.

You may also reduce the overall cost of your education by applying for grants, fellowships, and work-study opportunities. As a first step, make sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Scholarships for Online Finance Students

Some private organizations offer scholarships to students pursuing degrees or planning to embark on careers in finance. Others provide aid to students of color, female doctoral candidates, or individuals with demonstrated financial need. Below, you can read about five scholarship opportunities available to online finance students.

What to Expect from an Online Finance Program

The nature of your educational experience depends on the online finance program you choose. For instance, a DBA program may require each student to complete an internship and a doctoral project instead of a research-based dissertation. Self-paced programs may allow students to graduate significantly faster than programs that rely on cohort models. Finally, some programs require each student to pass a comprehensive examination. When deciding where to earn a Ph.D. in finance online, pick a program that matches your academic interests and professional goals.

Major Milestones

  1. Enrollment

    Once admitted to a program, contact your faculty advisor to choose your courses and begin discussing your research question or doctoral project. You may also contact your school's financial aid office to learn about institutional fellowships and grants.

  2. Completing Coursework

    Most finance doctoral students take classes covering subjects such as asset pricing, corporate finance, and behavioral finance. You may also study quantitative methods and academic writing to prepare for your dissertation.

  3. Passing Comprehensive Examination

    Comprehensive examinations assess your mastery of all competencies covered during your doctoral coursework. Students typically cannot begin their dissertations before passing this exam. Learners who fail to pass the exam on the second attempt may be dismissed from their program.

  4. Submitting a Dissertation Proposal

    A dissertation proposal provides an overview of your central research question, your hypothesis, and your planned research methodology. While preparing their proposal, students often recruit faculty members for their dissertation committee.

  5. Conducting Research/Writing Dissertation

    Most Ph.D. programs require doctoral candidates to conduct original research or draw new findings from existing sets of data. Students then work closely with their faculty advisors to lay out their conclusions in a written document.

  6. Defending Dissertation

    A dissertation defense typically involves a doctoral student giving a lecture on their research and answering questions from faculty committee members. If they successfully defend their work, students formally earn their doctorate.

Coursework

While your curriculum will vary depending on the electives and area of concentration you select, five courses commonly offered in doctoral finance programs are detailed below.

Corporate Finance

In this course, students explore some of the most foundational elements of understanding the financial health of a corporation. Topics include financial statement analysis, yield curves, and the term structure of interest rates.

Investment Portfolio Analysis

This class serves as an overview of advanced subjects in investment portfolio management, including risks and returns, swaps, valuation, futures, and risk portfolio performance. The course emphasizes the importance of investment in securing new funding for business expansion.

Managing Financial Institutions

Students in this course can examine the role of the United States Federal Reserve and other governing financial institutions, preparing them to shape monetary policy or adhere to regulations as managers and compliance officers.

Advanced Financial Statement Analysis

In this class, students learn how to interpret various financial ratios, review common size statements, and effectively use financial leverage.

Quantitative Research Design and Methodology

As preparation for their dissertations, doctoral students take a series of courses related to research and analysis. This class specifically equips students with the skills necessary to collect and interpret numerical data such as bank transactions.

Degree Timelines

Most students complete their doctoral coursework in four years. If your program requires a dissertation, you may need an additional 1-4 years to collect research and prepare your findings.

Part-time

Time to Complete: 7-10 years

Part-time students often take only one or two classes each semester, meaning they may require up to four years to complete all of the program's required coursework. Many graduate schools limit the total amount of a time a student can spend pursuing a doctorate, usually setting a cap of 10 years.

Full-time

Time to Complete: 4-7 years

Full-time students usually take 2-4 courses each semester, completing their coursework in 2-3 years. Each enrollee must then pass a comprehensive examination and work independently on a dissertation. In programs without a dissertation component, full-time students may graduate in as little as three years.

Accelerated

Time to Complete: 3-4 years

Accelerated programs allow students to advance through coursework at their own pace, taking exams or submitting portfolios of work to demonstrate their mastery of core concepts and skills. While self-paced learning often appeals to working professionals, it requires exceptional self-discipline and does not offer the same kind of structure and support as cohort-based programs.

Licenses and Certifications

Most financial professionals do not need a license to practice, except accountants who file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Teaching at the postsecondary level also does not require a license.

Certification programs, however, allow financial leaders to demonstrate their expertise in particular areas of practice. These optional credentials may help finance professionals qualify for open positions and promotions, along with attracting new clients and growing their businesses.

    • Certified Public Accountant: All accountants or finance professionals who file reports with the SEC must hold a certified public accountant (CPA) license. Nearly all states require prospective CPAs to complete 150 hours of college coursework and pass the four-part uniform CPA examination. This exam usually costs between $50 and $200.
    • Chartered Financial Analyst: Offered by the CFA Institute, this credential signals a strong understanding of portfolio management and investment analysis. To qualify, candidates must pass three levels of exams and possess at least four years of professional experience in the investment decision-making process.
    • Certified Treasury Professional: The Association of Financial Professionals boasts that this certification is the premier symbol of excellence for treasury professionals. Candidates with a doctoral degree in finance need only one year of professional experience to sit for the exam, which costs $1,370.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations can help you grow your network, stay updated on new developments in the field of finance, and continue your education. Many of these associations organize regional and national events, ideal venues to meet new colleagues and learn about new professional opportunities. They may also offer online or in-person training and certification programs, helping you develop new skills or prepare for specialized roles. Some groups even provide scholarship funding and pair recent graduates with experienced mentors.

  • American Finance Association: The AFA works to advance the study of financial economics. Though primarily known as the publisher of the Journal of Finance, the association also organizes an annual conference and maintains an online job board.
  • Association for Financial Professionals: AFP represents financial executives around the world. The association administers two leading credential programs, convenes industry roundtable and research symposia, and hosts a variety of online tools, such as a bank scorecard.
  • Financial Planning Association: FPA seeks to elevate the profession of financial planning by providing resources and setting high standards of professional competence and ethics. To help its members collaborate, the association moderates online communities organized by career level, demographics, and professional interest.
  • American Economic Association: While the AEA does not specifically represent financial professionals, it does provide open access to a wealth of scholarly resources, including a peer-reviewed journal, research summaries, and policy briefs.
  • National Association for Business Economics: Founded in 1959, NABE offers scholarships, continuing education opportunities, and a news digest that draws from hundreds of blogs, newspapers, and working papers. The association also organizes affinity groups and both local and international events.
  • Federal Student Aid: The U.S. Department of Education provides grants, work-study opportunities, and low-interest student loans. Doctoral students who plan to work in government finance may even qualify for public service loan forgiveness.
  • The Ph.D. Project: The Ph.D. Project strives to increase the diversity of business school faculty. This organization also offers guidance on identifying private sources of funding, choosing a doctoral program, and finding work after graduation.
  • Harvard Business School Working Knowledge: Working Knowledge collects and disseminates research from HBS faculty, making it an excellent source for current finance doctoral students. Topics include equity, financial markets, initial public offerings, and price bubbles.
  • The Wall Street Journal: With a daily circulation of nearly 2.5 million, the Wall Street Journal is the premier source of news for business students and professionals alike. The WSJ has won Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of major business events like the RJR Nabisco buyout and the fall of Enron.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: Purdue OWL offers writing advice for students, scholars, and financial practitioners. The site features guidance on properly citing academic sources, shaping arguments, and creating effective cover letters and resumes.