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What Is the Difference Between an Accounting Degree and a Business Degree?

Accounting, general business and other majors in the field of business are popular subjects of study. Earning one of these degrees can help you attain a prestigious, high-paying career. As you embark on your college education, you might wonder which degree is right for you. There is a good deal of overlap between accounting and business degrees in terms of coursework and career opportunities, but there are also important differences. Accounting degree programs focus more narrowly on somewhat more specialized concepts and skills, while a bachelor’s degree in business is typically a broader field of study.

Subjects of Study in Accounting and Business

The first major difference students encounter between accounting and business degree programs is the curriculum. Most accounting degree programs are part of a college or university’s school of business. As such, undergraduate accounting programs often include at least some core studies in non-accounting business topics like economics, finance, marketing and business management. Likewise, a business administration major will typically take at least one or two foundational accounting courses, such as principles of accounting and managerial accounting.

Curriculum Differences Between an Accounting Degree and a Business Degree

However, the overall curriculum is different for accounting majors than for business administration majors. In fact, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), the organization that accredits both business and accounting degree programs, establishes separate standards for these two types of degree programs.

To attain AACSB International accreditation, the curricular content of accounting programs must meet certain standards, as measured by student outcomes. In an accredited accounting program, student outcomes should include using critical thinking and analytical skills to come to and communicate financial and managerial information, understanding ethics in business and accounting and knowing tax policy and the process of recording and analyzing financial information. To develop these skills, undergraduate accounting students often take introductory through intermediate courses in managerial, financial and cost accounting as well as taxation and auditing.

AACSB-accredited business administration programs must meet standards in general skill areas such as communication and teamwork as well as technology agility and general business knowledge. Areas of general business knowledge needed include financial theory, financial reporting, financial markets, organizational planning and processes, supply chains, marketing and economic and social contexts of organizations. The core curriculum of a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program may include business law, international business, business systems analysis and design, strategic management, operations management, introduction to marketing, principles of finance, human resources and, of course, accounting.

The AACSB also sets accreditation criteria for master’s and doctoral level degree programs in the field of business.

What Is the Difference Between an Accounting Degree and a Business Degree

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Career Opportunities With Accounting and Business Degrees

Perhaps the most significant point when it comes to accounting vs. business degrees is a graduate’s future career prospects. What can you do with an accounting degree that you can’t do with a business degree, and vice versa? The most common job titles in the field of accounting are cost accountant, tax accountant, accounting manager, staff accountant and, simply, accountant. For business management occupations, the top job titles include project manager, marketing manager, store manager, account manager and sales manager.

There are some definite benefits to being the boss, but there can also be a great deal of pressure and responsibility when it comes to working in management. Additionally, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration is only the first step on a longer path for aspiring managers. You need to first build your experience, not to mention your reputation, in an entry-level role. Human resources managers might spend years as human resources specialists before they work their way up into a leadership role, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Sales managers need to first prove themselves as great sales representatives. Store managers often start as entry-level workers in positions stocking shelves or cashiering. You might also need a Master of Business Administration (MBA) for some roles.

On the other hand, once you earn your bachelor’s degree in accounting, you can get started in your first accounting job and begin working your way up to senior – though not necessarily management – roles with greater responsibilities, the BLS reported. That’s not to say that accounting majors can never hold leadership roles. In fact, many experienced accountants choose to seek advancement opportunities and become supervisors, managers, executives or partners in existing firms or open their own accounting firm.

For some accounting jobs, you may need to attain certifications like the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential, which can mean an extra year of school.

Additional Resources

What Is the Difference Between an Accounting Degree and a Finance Degree?

What Is the Difference Between a Master of Business Administration Degree and a Master of Accounting Degree?

What Kind of Job Can You Get With a Degree in Accounting?

Top 10 Highest Paying Business Careers

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