What is the Difference Between a Degree in Finance Versus One in Accounting?

Understanding the different elements of completing a degree in finance versus accounting is the start for each individual to define a future career path best suited for their goals and interests. While some of the coursework and developed skills are similar, the area specific knowledge gained from the curriculum is essential in the path to either a professional accounting or finance position.

Accounting Undergraduate Degree Overview

Undergraduate students in accounting programs, like other degrees, with completion of general education courses and general business classes. Upper level coursework includes study of accounting information systems, auditing concepts, income tax accounting, cost accounting, and several courses in intermediate and advanced accounting practices. Additionally, accounting majors can opt to specialize in a specific area. These specializations include internal auditing, cost accounting, government accounting, public accounting, forensic accounting, and tax accounting.

Finance Undergraduate Degree Overview

After completing general education coursework, undergraduate finance majors will also finish general business courses required of accounting majors. Examples include business communications, business law, and ethics of business. The additional upper level courses completed in finance specific areas will prepare students for the world of finance. Courses include advanced macroeconomics, advanced microeconomics, statistics, corporate finance, managerial accounting, eBusiness, strategic business decision-making, and fundamentals of international business.

Concentrations in finance are also often available. Common areas that students might choose to specialize in include international finance, corporate finance, risk management, and investment management. In some programs, students are also able to specialize in a field such as financial accounting, which includes courses such as corporate accounting and auditing.

Additional Certifications and Professional Development

Many accounting professionals will be required to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Completion of an undergraduate and graduate credit hours in accounting is a requirement in order to register for the CPA examination, so if an individual is planning on entering this field, choosing a degree in accounting is the first step to qualify. The American Institute of CPAs has additional information on CPA requirements, as well as for other professional certifications and training that accounting professionals might choose for career development and advancement.

Like the accounting field, professionals in areas of finance benefit from certifications that offer further training and skill in a specific niche. For example, after completing a degree in finance, graduates might choose to pursue a position as a financial analyst. The Certified Treasury Professional (CTP) designation is a resume-building training to help candidates stand out. More information on certifications for finance careers can be found at the Association for Finance Professionals.

Careers in Accounting and Finance

Graduates with a degree in finance versus accounting will typically pursue different career options. Positions in finance include general manager, operations manager, budget analyst, and controller. Common positions in accounting include tax accountant, IRS investigator, cost accountant, and actuary.

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Choosing to complete a degree in finance versus accounting, or accounting rather than finance, is an important decision. Some classes and course outcomes are similar, but the focused emphasis on different areas of each field are essential to be successful in an accounting or a finance profession.