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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Non-Finance Courses Should Finance Majors Take?

Since school just started here at Unknown University, that means undergraduates with questions about majors, classes, internships, and so on. This is the first time I advise students her at my current school (I got a pass for the first year). Our program is such that they don't have a lot of options for the finance part of their curriculum, but I get a lot of questions about what other classes (besides finance) to take. So, I though y'all might also benefit from my take on things (or at least get a good laugh):
  • Financial Accounting: The typical undergraduate finance major takes one or two introductory level accounting classes. Then, when they get their first entry-level job, they often find themselves doing tasks that use a lot of financial statement information. Accounting can be hard and (to many finance majors) a bit dry, but taking more accounting classes definitely sets you apart from other new graduates. Back a few years, I used to place a number of students with the credit analysis unit of Bank of America. They didn't even look at most students unless they had three or (preferably) four accounting classes. There's not that much advantage to taking Tax or Auditing for a finance major, but there is to taking Financial - I'd recommend at least Intermediate Accounting I (and if you can manage it, Intermediate II).
  • Macro Economics - Although the undergraduate business curriculum typically requires an introductory class in macro, most students come out of it with only the barest hint of what's going on. A second class in this area will help you to get a much better understanding of the larger economic forces that effect equity (and to an even greater extent, fixed income) markets.
  • Money and Banking (from the Econ department)- Similar to the above, it's also good to see the money and banking material twice. Although you often get a money and banking class in the finance department, it's good to see the same topic taught from a different perspective.
  • Statistics and Econometrics - The undergrad finance curriculum usually has an introductory statistics class. Almost everyone can benefit from more exposure to this material. But most importantly, make sure the class is "hands on". There's no substitute for analyzing real data.
  • More math - You might not use linear algebra or higher-level calculus, but taking extra math (and getting getting good grades in those classes) serves as a pretty good signal that you're either smart or hard working (or both). Today's finance world is math and stat -driven. So, the more you take of these topics, the better.
  • A programming class - like math, programming is also hard. Having a little more background in a commonly used language always helps.
Of course, this is only my opinion, and a lot of it has been shaped by what I hear from employers (or see on the CFA exam). If you have other thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

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