Virginia Tech financial planning program holds national reputation

Financial planning students with IMPACT sign
Virginia Tech financial planning students have fun at Schwab's Impact conference in Chicago last November.

Virginia Tech's undergraduate program in financial planning stands out nationally, thanks to 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, has 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 financial planning is one of four options — and students receive a bachelor's degree in either finance or applied economic management when they complete their studies.

They also are eligible to take the exam to earn the CFP® designation, the premier credential in the financial advisor profession.

The program is run as a single initiative by the two participating colleges, with Derek Klock (MBA '05), assistant professor of practice, 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 students on trips to visit companies, attend conferences, and participate in competitions.

Students participating in the Financial Planning Challenge.
Student participants in the Financial Planning Challenge, left to right: Brandon Beckner, Mike Muldoon, Caleb Vaughn, Hunter Terpenny, Samantha Pickering, Matt Romeo, Russ Kroeger, Catherine Mulcahy

Individualized attention and industry experience

Currently enrolling about 150 students, the program and its faculty have won kudos from students and alumni alike. “Upon entering college, I did not expect to become part of a program where my needs were at the top of the list,” says finance senior Hunter Terpenny, in expressing his appreciation for all the help he has received from both Klock and Lytton.

Terpenny, of Christiansburg, Va., says, for example, that in critiquing his resumé, Lytton noted that he had yet to participate in an internship, which would enhance his job prospects. “Within weeks, she set up an externship — a week-long internship — with a well-known firm in Falls Church, Va.,” he says. “Through this experience, I learned a tremendous amount about the inner workings of the business.” He also saw that what he learned in his courses “directly mirrored what this firm was putting in front of clients.”

Honeigh Meletis (FIN '10), a senior associate financial planner with Sullivan Bruyette Speros & Blayney (SBSB), 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 says her studies gave her both “excellent technical skills” and “essential communication skills.” But she also made sure that she took advantage of the many opportunities that Klock and Lytton organized for learning beyond the classroom: meal events, speaker presentations, and mock interviews on campus as well as 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,” Meletis recalls. This direct communication and interaction with financial planners, she says, gave her insight into the profession that proved helpful when she joined SBSB in January 2011.

High placement rate

The program's graduates are in demand in the job market, say Klock and Lytton. “Placement has always been another strength of our program,” Lytton says. “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.”

Klock says that a number of the program's graduates, like Meletis, have been hired at leading firms such as SBSB and Glassman Wealth Services — “two of the three firms honored by Charles Schwab at its annual conference last fall as the best in the business.”

Meletis says she realized, shortly into her career, just how much the program had prepared her for her current job duties and responsibilities. “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.”

Says Terpenny, who plans to graduate this May: “I cannot imagine that my money would have been better spent anywhere else. 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 Pamplin College of Business Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Magazine Spring 2013

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