Accounting is just one of several disciplines found within the field of business. Another business subject that shares some similarities with accounting is economics. Both degree paths can be valuable fields of study for aspiring business professionals, but they equip graduates with somewhat different skills and prepare them for slightly different career paths. While both fields of study have their advantages, the benefits of choosing accounting over economics include a more specialized curriculum, a more straightforward career path and clearer opportunities for advancement.
A More Specialized Curriculum
Though economics courses are often offered within business schools, the field of economics itself is typically considered a social science. Economics deals with resources such as money, land, labor, raw materials and consumable goods and how individuals and societies make decisions to cope with the scarcity of these resources. There are two primary specialties within the field of economics, macroeconomics and microeconomics, but there are also numerous subspecialties within economics. Macroeconomics is concerned with the workings of national or global economies, while microeconomics focuses on the decision-making of individuals, families, businesses and organizations.
As a broader field of study that emphasizes human behavior, economics is generally a less specialized and more theoretical field of study than accounting. While accounting students are learning the principles and practices of financial reporting, taxation and auditing, economics students complete coursework in public policy, the labor market, trade and monetary theory and game theory. Economics majors cultivate a well-rounded perspective or framework they can use when thinking about any number of topics, from finance to politics and even the arts. However, they develop less of the technical skills, such as practice applying accounting principles to create balance sheets and tax forms, than their peers in an accounting program do.
Some colleges offer special dual degree programs of study that allow you to double major in accounting and economics, while others prohibit students from pursuing both majors.
A More Straightforward Career Path
It’s obvious that many graduates of an accounting degree program typically go on to become accountants, though some instead find work in related areas of business, such as auditing or finance. The career path for economics students is less clear. While economist is a job title, this occupation is small, consisting of just 21,300 workers across America, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Nearly one-third of all economists in the U.S. work for the government at either the federal or state level. To land one of these somewhat scarce jobs, you typically need at least a master’s degree, if not a Ph.D.
That isn’t to say that students of economics don’t go on to find jobs, but rather, the opportunities they do find can take more searching. Many of the most in-demand jobs for economics majors are, in fact, in the field of accounting. However, having an economics degree doesn’t give you preference in a job search for an accounting role. Many employers of accountants are seeking candidates with the specialized technical skills and knowledge that distinguishes accounting degree programs from economics degree programs. If you don’t have an accounting background, you may find it difficult to compete with candidates who do.
Other jobs for graduates of an economics degree program include financial manager, financial analyst, personal financial advisor or, with a specialized graduate education, urban or regional planner. The median salaries for these occupations range from slightly higher to considerably higher than that of an accountant. However, there can also be competition for these roles from candidates with backgrounds more directly related to the field, such as finance.
Despite the focus on the social science of decision-making, economics programs require students to develop quantitative as well as qualitative skills. At minimum, economics students will typically have to complete coursework in calculus and statistics.
Accounting Advancement Opportunities
In the field of accounting, the options for career advancement are often clear-cut. Earning a master’s degree, attaining a professional certification such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license and just gaining enough work experience to qualify as a senior-level accountant can all enhance your salary, marketability and complexity of your job duties.
Because the career path for an economics major is less straightforward, it can be difficult for these students to develop a plan for eventual career advancement. Throughout much of their undergraduate studies, they might not yet know what their career will be. They have to make difficult decisions, such as whether to go to graduate school and what subject to study if they do.
Accounting students often participate in internships with accounting firms. Internships can be valuable for economics majors, too, and can include research or business opportunities at banks, think tanks, academic institutions and government entities.