Financial Planning Graduate Programs

Graduate Financial Planning Programs teach the fundamentals of handling the financial goals of clients. Beyond technical classes in things like risk management and estate planning, many programs have a practical side. Participants often study to gain useful interpersonal skills to help build and maintain client networks.

written by Rana Waxman

Graduate Financial Planning Programs: Basics

As focused finance-based degrees, Graduate Financial Planning Programs may be available at the masters, PhD and certificate levels. Financial planning degrees and certificates are similar to finance programs, yet with a narrowed focus on the individual.

This is why you could find courses in wealth management, tax, estate and retirement planning and other subjects that relate to personal investors. In tandem with the specifics of legal restrictions, financial laws and tax planning, students could learn to problem solve and think critically about money matters.

Furthermore, a financial planning graduate program might provide room in the curriculum to tailor studies to align with a participant’s client preferences. One may choose, for instance to emphasize Personal Financial Planning, Family Financial Planning, or Wealth Management for high earners.

What Is the CFP Certification?

A Certified Financial Planner (CFP) label is a professional certification mark for financial planners. It is conferred by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board) in the United States, and by 25 other organizations affiliated with Financial Planning Standards Board (FPSB).

As a first step to CFP® certification, students may need to complete CFP Board education requirements in the major personal financial planning areas. As per the CFP Board, there are eight key topics, and also, a financial plan development capstone course. i

  1. Professional Conduct and Regulation
  2. General Principles of Financial Planning
  3. Education Planning
  4. Risk Management and Insurance Planning
  5. Investment Planning
  6. Tax Planning
  7. Retirement Savings and Income Planning
  8. Estate Planning

Accredited schools that offer CFP registered Graduate Financial Planning Programs generally follow coursework guidelines and professional standards (e.g. ethical conduct). Candidate need to complete the education, exam, experience and ethics requirements to apply for the CFP certification.i

65% of Portfolio Managers report they have a Masters degree, 13% a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate.ii

Masters in Financial Planning

Compare the range of Masters Degrees in Financial Planning against your own objectives. Do you want to enhance business acumen? Are you interested in a broad finance program? Is your aim to learn the ins and outs of the financial planning industry?

In general, Masters in Financial Planning programs often have students take a series of main core classes with some surrounding electives. These compulsory topics are the backbone of the program and tend to cover theory and concepts. That said, course lists – especially for that central core, could provide key insight into the types of skills you might build.

Apart from these functional courses, participants in Financial Planning Masters programs may need to complete an internship experience. A final project generally asks students to build financial plans for hypothetical clients, or work to solve a specific finance-related problem.

Master of Science in Financial Planning

A Master of Science in Financial Planning usually provides a highly focused course plan. MSFP programs that are registered with the CFP board may help students prepare to sit for the CFP exam.

At the center of most MSFP programs lie the core courses in financial planning itself. Below is a sample of what you might find compulsory work. Students might also make use of their university’s information technology resources to get hands-on practice in trading, financial accounting software and teamwork.

Professional Financial Planning Practice

A course that could discuss the intricate issues involved in financial plans. This could include strategy, research and methods of analysis as well as ethics. Common topics: cash flow analysis, risk management, insurance concepts and other quantitative methods.

Investments and Capital Accumulation

A course that might explore the tools and techniques central to personal investment planning. Students might study to develop the skills that guide financial planners as they monitor client portfolios and investment plans. Common topics: financial markets, valuation, taxation, and trading of various domestic and offshore investment alternatives.

Benefits, Compensation and Retirement

A course that might take in current trends in the state of compensation, benefits and retirement planning. To do this, students might look at the history of various plans and the laws that govern them. Common topics: impact of these programs on both the employer and the employee.

Trusts, Gifts and Estates

A course that might focus on the planning, administration and taxation of trusts, gifts and estates for various client populations. Students might examine the principles of simple and complex trusts, irrevocable and charitable trusts, life insurance, annuities, and powers of appointment. Common courses: gifting strategies and methods, marital deduction planning, probate avoidance, wills, tax minimization and asset protection.

Financial Planning Cases

A course that might help students learn how to prepare and present

financial plans to individual clients and client families. Students may be expected to synthesize knowledge into personal financial case and other mini-case studies. Common topics: cash flow, income tax, insurance, investment, and estate planning, as well as quantitative skills and techniques.

Federal Taxation of Income

A course that could discuss federal tax law as it applies to individuals. It may emphasize issues such as how gross income, deductions and credits are determined. Common courses: applicable tax statutes, regulations, rulings and leading court cases and Internal Revenue Code provisions.

From there, students often select electives – again in financial planning topics – to study niche areas in line with career pursuits. Electives vary, so make sure to check individual financial planning schools after you have looked at the generalized list given below.

  • Investment Vehicles
  • Portfolio Management
  • Elder-Planning Techniques
  • Marriage, Separation, Divorce
  • Psychology in Financial Planning
  • Wealth Preservation Techniques

MBA in Financial Planning

An MBA is a general management degree and may appeal to business professionals who also want to prepare to sit for the CFP exam. MBA CFP programs typically include the key coursework to help students fulfill the education requirement for the exam.

Inside an MBA program, students usually start out with core studies in functional business and operations. This part of their curriculum may help participants learn to make strategic and ethical business decisions about their organization. While the names of courses vary, below is a sample of what could make up the heart of a Masters in Business Administration program.

  • Applied Management Theory
  • Managerial Accounting and Finance
  • Business Economics
  • Marketing Management

Once the essential courses are under their belt, MBA students may move onto the financial planning emphasis and final project.

Master of Science in Finance – Financial Planning

A Master of Science (MS) in Finance program discusses financial topics and in-depth studies of financial planning. MSF – CFP programs could plan out their curriculum to help students prepare to sit for the CFP exam.

At the core of a MSF degree program, students may be exposed to the greater impact that finance has on an organization. Participants could gain a deeper grasp of financial decision processes that are used to maximize shareholder wealth, financial statements analysis, and financial institutions.

In contrast to the business core of an MBA, an MSF could include a holistic series of finance courses to which students add on their chosen focal area. See below for some sample topics, then refer to individual finance schools for their course list.

  • International Finance
  • Corporate Finance
  • Financial Institutions, Money & Markets
  • Risk Management
  • Investment Theory

From there, students may be able to choose some electives in order to fulfill course requirements for a concentration in financial planning or a related area. For example, a focus in investment management might ask all enrolled students to take a class in investing and security analysis. Then add on courses that line up with their interests – treasury options, future markets, and so on.

CFP vs MBA – Which one to Choose?

For students with portfolio management on their mind, a personal financial planning degree might provide a holistic set of analytical, technical and financial tools. By contrast, an MBA could harness interests in business, management and leadership. Read course lists wisely and think of what you hope to accomplish with your degree.

Financial Planning Graduate Certificate

A Graduate Certificate in Financial Planning provides masters-level coursework without the commitment of a full degree. Most certificates cover a singular aspect of financial planning, and as such, provide add-on skills and credentials.

One such program, a Financial Therapy Graduate Certificate is offered at Kansas State University, a partner school. This four-course program is built to help students integrate relational, behavioral, cognitive and emotional elements with personal finance.

Financial Planning PhD Programs

A PhD in Financial Planning is the highest research degree that students could strive for. Every program has a unique format but is likely to include several main elements.

Research courses usually provide a framework of statistical and research methods that could later be used in one’s independent dissertation work. Professional courses may be used to explore readings and advanced professional issues such as family resource management.

Supportive courses could cover multiple facets of financial planning to enable students to build up their body of knowledge and expertise. Take a look at a generalized sample of courses below, and make sure to refer to individual programs for more details.

  • Retirement Planning
  • Investing for the Family’s Future
  • Estate Planning for Families
  • Insurance Planning for Families
  • Personal Income Taxation
  • Financial Planning Case Studies

To these, electives may be selected to make the program more personal and customized. In fact, sometimes students may agree with their committee on courses that are outside their program but make sense to their research.

Application Information

Applicants are likely to find distinct application information for each program, so it is wise to check with financial planning schools to see what their standards are.

For Masters in Financial Planning programs, along with a completed form and fee, candidates usually furnish transcripts and may need to meet minimum GPA requirements. GRE and GMAT scores may either be necessary or waived, though letters of recommendation, a resume and essays are fairly standard.

For PhD in Financial Planning programs, applicants may need an undergraduate and graduate degree. Candidates might also need substantive experience and research interests that fit with faculty. Admission to some doctoral programs is competitive so one may need to write a long essay, commit to an interview and furnish letters and test scores.

Earn a Financial Planning Degree Online or On-Campus

Many of today’s universities recognize that students are busy with life, at-work or too far away. There are therefore both traditional and online financial planning graduate programs to choose from.

Campus programs may offer courses in the evenings or weekends and may even have both part-time and full-time degree options. Here one might network, discuss and collaborate with the added in-person dynamic. Classes are usually given at set times which may provide the structure that keeps students motivated and on-track.

An online graduate financial planning program may provide all the course materials, tests and case studies through a course management system. Some courses might have extra content on things like videos or CDs and may require phone or video conferencing. Students in these programs might interact with one another and faculty by email, phone, or the virtual classroom, but may be able to complete courses in their free time.

Financial Planner vs. Wealth Manager

Both financial planning and wealth management are subdivisions of financial advising. The definition of financial advice is, however, very broad.

Financial advisors could counsel a variety of clients on investments, insurance, mortgages, college savings, estate planning, taxes, and retirement to help them manage their finances.iii

Wealth managers also advise clients. However their client base is either high net worth individuals (HNWIs) and ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs). Some of the things they might need to know: capital gains, private banking and risk management. offers 2 Finance Programs – Degree Programs

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