Virginia Tech’s undergraduate program in financial planning stands out nationally because of its teaching and advising strengths, placement success, and active student group.
The program, which educates financial planners and prepares them for CFP® (Certified Financial Planner) certification, received several national recognitions, including being listed among the top 25 programs in Financial Planning magazine and cited as one of the top two programs in Financial Advisor magazine.
Courses are offered through two colleges: the Pamplin College of Business, where financial planning is one of five specializations in finance, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where it is one of four options.
Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in either finance or applied economic management. They also are eligible to take the exam to earn the CFP® designation, the premier credential for financial advisors.
The program is run as a single initiative by the two participating colleges, with Derek Klock, an assistant professor of practice who earned his MBA from Virginia Tech in 2005, as the Pamplin coordinator and Agricultural and Applied Economics Professor Ruth Lytton as the director. Both teach courses, provide academic and career guidance to students, and lead trips to visit companies, attend conferences, and participate in competitions.
In 2013-14, the program enrolled about 140 students.
“Coming in, I had no idea how broad financial planning is or how many opportunities are available,” said Jesse Lineberry of Radford, Va., a senior majoring in applied economic management. He said the program provides learning opportunities, such as resume improvement, mock job interviews, and networking, and “set strong expectations that have pushed me beyond what I thought that I could achieve.”
“Upon entering college, I did not expect to become part of a program where my needs were at the top of the list,” said Hunter Terpenny, who graduated in 2013 with a degree in finance.
Terpenny said Lytton helped him set up a week-long internship with a well-known firm in Falls Church, Va. “Through this experience, I learned a tremendous amount about the inner workings of the business.” What he learned in his courses “directly mirrored what this firm was putting in front of clients,” he said.
Honeigh Meletis, who earned her degree in finance in 2010 and works a senior associate financial planner with Sullivan Bruyette Speros & Blayney, said she attributes much of her success to the “passion, enthusiasm, and dedication” of her former teachers and advisors. “Without them, I would not be where I am today.”
Meletis said she learned “excellent technical skills” and “essential communication skills” and took advantage of the opportunities Klock and Lytton organized beyond the classroom, such as meal events, speaker presentations, mock interviews, industry conferences, and company visits.
“These experiences were my favorite part about the program, as they provided opportunities to ask questions, practice professionalism, and get real-world feedback that you simply cannot find in a classroom,” she said. The direct communication and interaction with financial planners proved helpful when she joined Sullivan Bruyette Speros & Blayney in January 2011, she said.
The program’s graduates are in demand in the job market, Klock and Lytton both said.
“Placement has always been another strength of our program,” Lytton said. “That trend seems sure to continue, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting a 32 percent growth in the employment of personal financial advisors through 2020, much higher than for most career paths.”
A number of the program’s graduates, such as Meletis, have been hired at leading firms such as Sullivan Bruyette Speros & Blayney and Glassman Wealth Services, “two of the three firms honored by Charles Schwab at its 2012 annual conference as the best in the business,” Klock said.
Meletis said she realized shortly into her career just how much the program had prepared her for her job. “I knew the language and had the strong financial planning knowledge I needed to hit the ground running as a new hire in a successful and highly-esteemed comprehensive wealth advisory practice.”
“I cannot imagine that my money would have been better spent anywhere else,” Terpenny said. “Whether it be the comprehensive curriculum, the hardworking and helpful faculty, or the extracurricular activities in which we are encouraged to participate, the experience has given me the ability to transition myself into a professional more quickly than I could have hoped.”
Virginia Tech’s undergraduate program in financial planning was listed among the top 25 programs in Financial Planning magazine’s November 2012 edition. The magazine did not provide a position ranking of the schools but listed them alphabetically within three categories: degree programs, certificate programs, and degree and certificate programs. Financial planners and academics selected the schools.
Financial Advisor magazine listed Virginia Tech’s program as one of its top two programs in February 2011. “When it comes to college financial planning programs, many advisors see the landscape like this: Texas Tech and Virginia Tech, and everyone else,” the story read. The magazine attributed the schools’ dominance to the resources they had for teaching a large number of students, sending them to trade conferences, and placing them in internships, all of which help to raise the schools’ profile among advisors.
The financial planning program encourages students to learn by competing in national financial planning contests, faculty advisor Derek Klock said.
In 2012 and 2013, at least one Virginia Tech team has competed at the annual Financial Planning Association national conference. The top eight teams in both years were selected to compete in the national challenge based on a comprehensive plan developed for a case client.
In the 2012 Financial Planning Challenge, three of the competing teams were from Virginia Tech, Klock said. One of them won the “How Do You Know?” quiz bowl and placed second overall, winning $5,000 for student scholarships. In 2013, a Virginia Tech team placed second in the oral presentation portion and tied for third overall, winning $1,000.
The Virginia Tech student chapter of the Financial Planning Association, at 70 members, is the largest in the nation, Klock said. The chapter was the first university chapter to host the association’s national president and CEO in April 2012 and has recruited other industry professionals to speak at chapter meetings on campus. Chapter members volunteer with middle and high school financial-literacy programs, such as assisting two Eastern Montgomery Middle School fifth-grade classes with the Stock Market Challenge in 2014.
Virginia Tech’s program in financial planning studies has grown steadily in recent years. But the original program, registered with the Certified Financial Planner Board in 1997, closed in 2005. It was reorganized in 2007 into its current operating structure.
“It is a tribute to the efforts of the faculty that we have gone from almost not having any program to being recognized as one of the heavyweights in educating financial planners,” said James E. Pearman Jr., who graduated in 1970 with a degree in accounting,a founding partner of the Salem, Va., firm Partners in Financial Planning.