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Finance vs. Accounting Degree

Finance vs. Accounting Degree: Which Makes Sense for You?

Having a knack for numbers isn’t just important for students who major in subjects like engineering and computer science. Solid math skills can be just as important for excelling in the business realm. This is particularly true for anyone interested in studying finance or accounting. 

Now that you’re starting to think about college more seriously, you want to settle on a major that can help you achieve your goals. When it comes to choosing a finance versus accounting degree, how do you decide which one is right for you?

In determining how to choose a major, it’s worth considering what you can expect in both the short term and the long term. This means comparing the degrees themselves as well as the resulting career paths. This overview can help you start making some decisions.

Finance vs. accounting degree: Comparing disciplines

Accounting is a very technical field that involves obtaining and tracking financial records, as well as accurately preparing statements. To be successful in this discipline, it’s essential to be detail-oriented and maintain a solid understanding of economics.

While similar, finance is more about managing wealth. It involves data analysis, forecasting and a firm grasp of how markets function. This field is a good fit for students who enjoy solving complex problems.

Finance vs. accounting degree: Differentiating common courses

Given there’s a fair amount of overlap between finance and accounting, you should expect to complete some of the same classes regardless of which major you choose. Some of these courses include introductory accounting, economics, business law, statistics and marketing fundamentals. Additionally, every undergraduate student will complete the same core classes in college if they’re attending a liberal arts school.

As an accounting student, you might complete more specialized courses in auditing, accounting systems, fraud examination and income tax accounting. For finance students, advanced courses often cover banking institutions, financial statement analysis, international finance and risk management.

Finance vs. accounting degree: Evaluating career options

Given how closely intertwined these areas of study are, many hiring managers are happy to consider graduates who have either degree. That said, certain careers have traditionally aligned more closely with one field.

Common job titles for those who go into accounting include these roles:

  • Government accountants are employed by federal, state and local governments to examine financial records to ensure compliance with regulations.
  • Management accountants compile information, prepare budgets and evaluate performance to assist organizations in decision-making.
  • Public accountants, often designated as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), assist clients in preparing documents and reaching various financial goals.
  • External auditors are employed by a third party to evaluate whether an organization is properly using its funds.
  • Internal auditors are employed by the organization they’re evaluating to help identify ways to improve processes and minimize financial risks.

Those who study finance often go the advising or analyst route, which includes the following job titles:

  • Personal financial advisors provide guidance on decisions related to investing, tax laws, retirement savings and more to help clients achieve their financial goals. 
  • Financial analysts guide individuals and organizations regarding investment decisions by evaluating data, studying trends and making recommendations.
  • Portfolio managers are experts who help craft strategies to ensure proper management of their clients’ financial assets. 
  • Fund managers work exclusively with hedge funds or mutual funds to oversee the investment strategy and trading activities.
  • Ratings analysts evaluate an organization’s ability to pay debts and rate the company or government’s risk accordingly.

Finance vs. accounting degree: Choosing a field

When deciding on a finance versus accounting degree, consider whether you’re interested in pursuing additional training beyond a bachelor’s degree. Becoming a CPA is a wise decision for most accountants, but it’s important to know that you must complete 150 college credit hours — 30 hours beyond a typical bachelor’s degree program — to be eligible for the CPA Exam. Financial advisors and financial analysts often add to their qualifications through on-the-job training, though some pursue a graduate degree to qualify for some roles that may require a master’s in finance.

And if earning potential is important to you, it’s good to know that both degrees lead toward career paths that pay well above the average for all occupations. That said, it’s worth acknowledging there are some differences. The median annual salary for accountants and auditors in 2019 was $71,950. Financial advisors and financial analysts earned a median annual salary of $87,850 and $81,590, respectively.

You might also consider where your natural abilities lie. Using real-time job analysis software, we evaluated postings from the last year to identify the top skills employers are looking for in accounting and finance professionals.*

Communication skills, organizational abilities, research skills and being detail-oriented apply to both types of professionals, but here are some additional in-demand competencies for accounting professionals:

  • Problem-solving
  • Computer literacy
  • Critical thinking
  • Troubleshooting

As for finance professionals, some of the most important skills include:

  • Planning
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Problem-solving
  • Relationship-building abilities

Advance in the business world

The choice of finance versus accounting degree is somewhat nuanced, but it’s wise to determine which major is the right fit for you. Pursing the field you’re most passionate about can help ensure you stay motivated during school as well as after graduation. Of course, it also helps to choose a college like the University of St. Thomas (UST) that emphasizes a well-rounded education and offers a robust array of career services.

If you’re interested in learning more about how an accounting education can help you achieve your goals, review UST’s Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting program page. To find out how you can begin progressing toward a career in finance, visit the Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance program page.   

* (analysis of desired skills for 168,153 accounting positions and 324,980 finance positions, February 1, 2020 – January 31, 2021).

About the Author — Staff

AvatarThe University of St. Thomas is the only Catholic, liberal arts university in Houston, Texas. We have 35+ undergraduate majors including STEM, Nursing, Business, Education and Pre-Med. Located in a vibrant urban environment just minutes from downtown and the famed Texas Medical Center, we welcome students of all races and religions to our diverse and collaborative campus.

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