If you like working with numbers, you might wonder whether accounting or mathematics is a better college major for you to pursue. Both academic paths have their benefits, and both degrees can lead to a lucrative career. However, there are a lot of differences between the two fields of study. Choosing an accounting degree over a math degree can offer you more career opportunities across a greater range of work settings without the need for advanced or graduate-level studies in math concepts and theories.
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More Job Opportunities
Accounting is a great career path for those who value job security. The occupation has historically seen low rates of unemployment, even during tough economic times that result in numerous layoffs and closures in other industries. Having a skilled and reliable accountant is just as important, if not more important, in times of economic turmoil as it is in more profitable times.
Technically, mathematicians are actually seeing a higher rate of growth than accountants. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects jobs for accountants and auditors to increase by 10 percent over a decade. Although this growth rate is faster than average, it’s well below the much faster than average growth rate of 33 percent that the BLS predicted for mathematicians and statisticians. However, accountant is a much larger occupation than mathematician is. There are already 1,397,700 accountants and auditors working across the United States, compared to just 40,300 mathematicians and statisticians. Jobs may be growing three times faster for mathematicians and statisticians than for accountants, but the BLS predicts more than 10 times as many new jobs to open up for accountants as for mathematicians and statisticians.
Other jobs you can do with a math degree include actuaries and operations research analysts, both of which often find employment in the business and financial world.
A Greater Breadth of Industries and Employers
What can you do with a math degree? While the discipline is not nearly as unmarketable as some students may fear, it is true that there is less variety in work settings for students who major in pure mathematics than for accounting and business majors. About 35 percent of mathematicians work for the federal government, while 17 percent work in scientific research and development and 16 percent work for colleges and universities.
Accounting, on the other hand, is a surprisingly broad occupation. Accountants work for public accounting firms, private businesses, consulting companies, government entities and law enforcement organizations and nonprofit organizations. Their roles can include everything from simple bookkeeping to identifying fraud and white-collar crime. While many accountants do prepare tax forms, others advise clients or their own company on ways to save money, improve profits and meet financial goals.
About seven percent of accountants are self-employed, an option which is not typically available to mathematicians and statisticians.
Less Advanced Studies of Mathematical Theory
Math skills are important for aspiring accountants, but you might be surprised at how different the curricula for these two majors can be. A math major might take advanced coursework in complex areas of mathematics such as linear and abstract algebra, calculus and differential equations, supplementing their math studies with computer programming, physics, statistics or computer science classes.
Accounting majors may take a class in applied mathematics, such as business calculus, instead of theoretical coursework. Accounting students’ curricula are more commonly filled with core courses in general business and different disciplines of accounting, including tax accounting, cost accounting, management accounting and auditing. The idea that all accountants must be great at math is a myth, and the BLS even states that “complex math skills are not necessary” for a successful accounting career.
The most important math skills needed for a career in accounting include addition and subtraction with the help of a calculator and familiarity with percentages, decimals and fractions, while mathematicians need to know linear algebra, calculus and statistics.
More You Can Do With a Bachelor’s Degree
If you want to be a mathematician, you typically will need to go to graduate school. While there are some opportunities for candidates with only a bachelor’s degree, most positions require at least a master’s degree, according to the BLS. Doctoral degrees in theoretical or applied mathematics are needed for some mathematician roles, especially those in academia.
For accountants, earning a master’s degree can be one path toward advancing your career, but it isn’t required for attaining a senior accountant role or even getting your Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. With just your undergraduate degree, you can get your first junior accountant role and work your way up to staff accountant and ultimately senior accountant positions based on your experience. You need an additional year of study to become a CPA, but you can opt to complete this extra education at the undergraduate level either before you graduate or by going back to school after joining the workforce. There are certainly benefits to accountants earning a master’s degree, but not having one won’t prevent you from having a successful career in the field.
A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for getting started in other jobs in the field of mathematics, like actuary and operations research analyst, though some employers may still give preference to candidates with a master’s degree.