If you’re considering business school, both accounting and finance may seem like good degree options. After all, both of these “math-focused business majors” tend to have higher salaries and lower unemployment rates than more general business administration or marketing degrees, according to The Washington Post. Choosing between accounting and finance can be challenging, in part because these two types of business degrees seem so similar. While both majors include the study of financial information, there are significant differences in the perspective and purpose of each set of skills. Generally, accountants are more concerned with the formal reporting of this information, while finance professionals focus more on using financial information to help make decisions about managing money and other resources.
Accounting and Finance Curriculum
At the undergraduate level, both accounting and finance degree programs will include at least some introductory coursework in a variety of business subjects. Students in either degree program will take foundational courses in the other subject as well as in economics, business administration or management, human resources and marketing. By studying a breadth of business topics, at least at the basic levels, students of accounting and finance can better understand the big picture of business operations and how their role as an accounting or finance professional fits into the business world.
Beyond the core business classes, both accounting and finance students take plenty of coursework in their respective major. One of the differences between finance and accounting is that the field of finance is generally broader than that of accounting. Finance degree programs include studies in financial planning, corporate finance, financial markets, banking, investments, venture capital and private equity. An accounting degree program is more likely to study the principles and practices of different types of accounting, such as management accounting, financial accounting, tax accounting and forensic accounting.
Regardless of whether you choose to major in finance or in accounting, you need to be good enough at math to develop and use the skills to interpret mathematical data. Many programs in both accounting and finance require students to take courses in risk management and quantitative analysis.
Graduate students, too, need to think about curricula differences when choosing between MBA in finance and MBA in accounting programs or if considering more specialized master’s degrees in finance or accounting.
Jobs for Graduates of Accounting and Finance Degree Programs
Many of the career opportunities for accounting and finance majors are similar. In fact, either an accounting or a finance degree could prepare you for a variety of financial specialist occupations, including roles such as financial manager, financial analyst, personal financial advisor and financial examiner, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Despite the overlap in potential job opportunities, students should still think carefully about their major. Having a more desirable educational background can improve your chances of getting the job you want.
There are considerable differences in the top job titles for accounting and finance degree holders. Finance majors are more likely to go on to hold analytical roles, such as business analyst, credit analyst or financial analyst. At senior levels, they may become controllers or directors of finance. In the field of accounting, more general job titles such as accountant or staff accountant are common. Some accounting majors end up becoming financial analysts, but the career path is less common than for those who study finance specifically. Accounting manager and tax manager are among the leadership roles an accounting student might eventually obtain.
It isn’t just job titles, but overall career focus, that distinguishes careers in accounting and finance. Financial reporting is itself the focus of accounting roles, though accountants may also use their knowledge to weigh in on an organization’s financial operations and investment decisions. Finance professionals don’t replace accountants. Instead, they draw on the financial reports accountants create as well as their understanding of financial market fluctuations and economics to make decisions about managing money and resources.
Accountants need to know the details of accounting techniques and regulations. On the other hand, finance professionals must have the skills to understand and interpret statistical data so that they can make sound financial predictions. Both individuals and organizations rely on these predictions making, rather than losing, money, so basing investment advice on mere hunches is not enough.
Financial specialist careers are some of the highest paying business careers, according to the BLS.