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Can I Work in Finance without a Finance Related Degree?

The finance industry is pretty huge. And there will certainly be a career path for you to pursue no matter what degree you decide to take on. Or indeed, if you decide not to study a degree at university at all!

How important is a finance related degree?

Admittedly, there are some career paths for which a finance related degree will be an advantage. If you’d like to work in a front or middle office role in an investment bank, or within an asset management firm or fund, a degree like economics or mathematics is likely to give you an edge over applicants from an arts or humanities degree. This is because recruiters assume that applicants from this degree discipline have generally spent time developing more of the skills and attributes that are necessary in these particular fields compared to an applicant from a non-finance background. 

Subjects like economics, mathematics, computer science, business and finance, accountancy and physics are all deemed to be relevant degrees for roles that focus on analysis of the financial markets or work in the financial markets. Here’s a heads up, though: you’ll still have to work hard to get at least a 2:1 result in you degree no matter how relevant the subject is to give you a chance to compete for the widest range of roles possible and top City jobs.

What if I want to study arts and humanities but still have a future finance career?

This isn’t to say that your application for these roles will soar straight into the recycling bin if you do take a non-finance related degree. If you have relevant work experience behind you from an early stage in your university years and you’re proactive in learning about the financial markets, you could still compete for many of the kinds of roles mentioned above.  You will have to prove your aptitude for logical thinking and maths and statistics too regardless of your degree background, so if you don’t have a knack for this then attempting entry into certain areas of finance that require this probably isn’t the best plan.

If you’re interested in accountancy as a potential career option, then you will definitely be able to pursue this option regardless of your degree discipline. Recruiters from professional services firms and other accountancy firms often welcome applicants from other degree disciplines outside of finance related subjects.

Roles in the industry stretch out to much more than just the number-crunching, revenue revving jobs too. All financial organisations need a sharp team of marketers to develop their brand and handle their public relations, and this can be an ideal career area for someone with a relevant non-finance related degree. HR is also an essential component within the finance industry; a firm’s HR department is the glue that keeps everything together, and they’re responsible for finding, honing and keeping hold of the best talent in the business. If you’re a people person and this shines through your degree choice and the activities you get involved in, then this is could be a good fit too!

What if l don't have a degree at all?

Yep, the option’s there. You don’t actually have to do a degree at all to develop a career in certain areas of the finance industry.

If you’d like to get started right away and earn a salary straight out of school or college, there are apprenticeships and school leaver programmes which will allow you to begin a career in banking, accountancy or financial services without having to go through the university process.

These opportunities generally last between three and five years and provide on-the-job training. There will also be chance to study for an industry-recognised professional qualification during this time, which are usually essential badges to obtain if you want to become a chartered professional in the future or aim for more senior positions.

You could do an Intermediate Apprenticeship or Advanced Apprenticeship in retail banking, or perhaps a Higher Apprenticeship or School Leaver Programme with a professional services firm, which could provide the opportunity to develop a career specialising in advisory services (accounting or consultancy), assurance (accounting or consultancy), tax or even some areas of corporate finance.

These career paths are a valid alternative to university, with many school leavers undertaking responsibilities of a first year graduate at that firm too.

So, in short, you can indeed work in finance without a finance related degree! When you’re choosing a subject, have an eye on your career ambitions and look into how that ties into your subject interests and plans for work experience and extra-curricular activities.

By Jos Weale, Editor, AllAboutFinanceCareers.com