Best Courses for Finance Majors

How to choose the right courses?
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Best Courses for Finance Majors: If you are pursuing a degree in finance, either at the undergraduate or graduate level, you should give due consideration to valuable courses in other academic departments that can bolster your skills. Indeed, while pursuing an MBA degree in finance at traditionally one of the top MBA programs in finance (The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania), this writer found that the level of teaching excellence was even higher in certain other departments (most notably, operations research and legal studies).

In his subsequent career in finance, he found that his coursework in these fields, as well as in accounting and marketing, proved to offer even more long-lasting value and utility than his financial courses themselves.

Operations Research: This field (which may have different names at different educational institutions) applies advanced mathematical techniques to the solution of complex business problems. I took two courses in which linear programming algorithms were applied to problems in which you had to optimize across multiple variables. Taking these courses before the advent of the personal computer, computations had to be worked out by hand on paper. While I never had cause to use these precise methods ever again, these courses were invaluable as means to develop general skills in formulating business problems as mathematical models.

A third operations research course took a unique approach to risk measurement that explored the limitations of conventional probability theory.

In particular, this course explored the tendency of decision makers to place extra weight on the worst possible outcome in making business decisions under uncertainty.

Legal Studies: A course in the fundamentals of contract and commercial law, as well as another in the principles of federal income taxation, also proved to be extremely valuable in my subsequent career.

 The former course helped me to better understand the legal underpinnings of relationships between companies, their customers and their employees. The latter course was highly useful in the phase of my career in which I was developing financial forecasting models, and was as invaluable in managing my own personal finances. The tax course, by the way, was taught by one of the premier tax attorneys in Philadelphia at the time, himself a graduate of Wharton.

Accounting: Here my key courses were in the analysis of financial statements and in management accounting. The latter was invaluable in my later career in management reporting and transfer pricing, where I designed and implemented new cutting-edge approaches at Merrill Lynch. The former was of prime significance early in my career, when I developed a series of financial forecasting models for AT&T. Becoming an informed, self-directed investor also owed much to this course, as well as someone adept at auditing potential or current employers.

Marketing: A course in the fundamentals of marketing, which was taught via the case method, proved to be an excellent exposure to real-world business decision making. Based on the facts presented in the cases, the students had to make recommendations for action and justify them.

Another worthwhile marketing course explored various quantitative methods that are used to analyze market research data and draw conclusions from them.

Note to Undergraduates: If you are an undergraduate in a liberal arts institution, please also see our closely-related general discussion of the best majors for financial careers.