Few people have the opportunity to study finance subjects at high school, so university is usually the first time they are exposed to finance. Therefore, it can include quite a large amount of experimentation. Having done finance for a while now, I am going to attempt to write a guide on how to go about studying finance subjects.
Equipment and Software
The first thing to talk about is, of course, what you actually need. The obvious ones are; a notebook for each subject, a series of different coloured pens (I recommend the Uniball Eye Micro in red, blue and black), and a file to put work away in.
- Calculator – in finance, you will use a calculator a lot. You will also very often use functions that involves several fractions, brackets and indices. Therefore, it is very useful to have a calculator that can handle this kind of work. The one I use is the Casio fx-82AU PLUS II. It has a very good visual representation of what you are inputting.
- Laptop – Although not absolutely required, a laptop can be very, very useful in today’s world. The argument can be made that maybe a tablet like the iPad Pro could do the job, but the reality is that there really is no replacement for the laptop. I use the HP Spectre x360 i5. While a more expensive option, the convertibility of it into a tablet is useful when reading long PDFs and lecture notes. The stylus is also useful for jotting down notes, however it is nowhere near as good as paper. A discussion on Windows vs Mac OS will be included below. I recommend getting a thin, light laptop with an SSD so that you can pull it out and start using it whenever you need to.
- Financial Calculator – this is useful, however not absolutely necessary.
- The Mac vs Windows debate rages in all areas of computing. Having used both for finance, I can recommend windows. In financial analysis, the built in window snap features are invaluable, and the alt-tab feature for switching between programs saves a lot of time. The Microsoft suite is infinitely better on windows, and it is a requirement for studying Finance.
- The Microsoft Office Suite – Most universities will provide a subscription to Microsoft Office 365, so using the suite is a no brainer. While there are other options out there – notably Google’s suite of office apps, none really stand up to Microsoft Office. Google Docs can slow down significantly when you begin typing documents that are very long. Google Sheets is okay for basic spreadsheet work, but lacks the more advanced features the Excel has. You also can’t get a macro toolkit for Sheets, which is almost essential for financial modelling.
- Excel Macro Add-In – When doing financial modelling, a Macro tool is invaluable. The one I use is Boost, which is specifically designed for modelling. This is not essential until you start doing a lot of modelling.
- Microsoft OneNote – This is very useful for taking notes. However, a notebook is probably best for your more maths heavy subjects.
Strategy for Studying
Studying Finance is all about exposing yourself to information several times, and practicing techniques in order to fully understand them. If you want a total understanding of concepts, you will need to devote a lot of time to your studies. So that brings me to my first point.
You need to be committed to do well in Finance. You will need to spend time reading and re reading textbook passages, working through the examples given, and reading articles online. It is no accident that Financial professionals have very long hours. This content takes a lot of time to digest, think about, and apply. It can often involve very menial, tedious tasks such as putting in formulas many times and changing values very slightly. Do this – commit the time, and you will see the results.
Practicing the maths is also very, very important. While the maths, for the most part, is quite basic, it is important to practice it in the context it is given in Finance. Exposing yourself to as many different kinds of questions as possible will give you a massive advantage in exams. Try practicing the calculations all through the Semester. The more exposure you give yourself to the content, the better you will get at it.
Reading the Financial Press can be very helpful in cementing some of the topics in your courses. Why has Company X issued stock and why did Company Y announce a stock split. What effect will the tax cuts have on the valuation of businesses? Often, some answers can be found in the Financial Press. Luckily, many universities provide access to the Financial Press through online digital archives. If in doubt about this, find out from your university library.
The last thing you need to do is have fun. Without fun, there is no point to studying these topics. Invest some money in the stock market, play on stock simulators, practice modelling, go and talk to the other Finance students about the topics, and news stories you have read.