A person’s career goals and interests largely determine the value of an accounting degree vs. a finance degree. Rewarding career opportunities await many graduates from accounting and finance degree programs. However, the job functions, responsibilities and associated skills are slightly different for accountants and finance professionals. Prospective business students who understand the types of careers that they want to pursue find it useful to do a comparison of the two degree programs as well as the employment options available to graduates of those programs.
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Differing Degree Course Topics
One of the clearest ways of understanding the differences between accounting and finance degree programs is a close examination of the typical undergraduate degree course work for each program. While accounting and finance degree programs have many course topics in common, they both have courses that are unique. For example, most accounting degree programs include course topics in auditing, corporate taxation, individual and estate taxation, government and non profit accounting, financial information systems and accounting research. Many of these courses emphasize the accountant’s role in preparing financial statements and tax documents for a variety of customers in accordance with national and state laws. Accountants who fill specialized roles also perform reviews of corporate financial reports and internal controls to ensure compliance with industry standards and legal regulations. Future finance professionals take course topics like investment and portfolio analysis, international finance, financial management, supply chain management, business forecasting techniques, money and banking and managerial economics. These course topics depict a discipline that offers graduates job opportunities that feature broader business responsibilities. For instance, finance students learn the foundational principles of financial management, and they learn how those principles apply to strategic planning and business operations across all industries. Finance students also learn how to apply financial concepts to the needs of individuals as well as corporations.
Jobs Open to Accounting and Finance Professionals
Some jobs that accounting majors are particularly prepared to enter are auditors, tax preparers and accounting information systems managers. Auditors use industry standards to plan, conduct and document audits of a company’s internal accounting processes, controls and reports. Job opportunities to prepare taxes for individuals or businesses abound, and a great deal of accounting degree electives are devoted to exposing students to the policies, laws and common issues that are related to taxation. Accounting information systems managers use knowledge of auditing, accounting and information management to set up and maintain the computer systems used to generate and process a company’s accounting information. The methods, concepts and procedures used to do these jobs are generally only taught to graduates with accounting majors and minors. Finance majors obtain employment as loan officers, financial advisors and financial risk managers. These positions require the application of statistical analysis and quantitative problem solving to business investment issues, and finance degree programs prepare people for these types of careers better than accounting programs.
Both accounting and finance program graduates consider obtaining professional licenses and certifications to open up the best employment opportunities. However, new graduates obtain entry level jobs in their field to gain valuable experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those holding entry level positions in finance have a slight advantage over those who hold entry level accounting jobs when salary and job growth are considered. For example, accountants and auditors were paid a median annual salary of $63,550 in 2012; the projected growth rate for new hire accountants and auditors is 13 percent. Financial analysts in the same year were paid a median annual salary of $76,950; the projected job growth rate was 16 percent.
The amount of effort required to obtain careers in accounting and finance are nearly comparable, and there are only slight salary differences between most entry level accounting and finance jobs. However, the job responsibilities and functions of accountants and finance professionals help to differentiate the value of an accounting degree vs. a finance degree.