Accountants are “number crunchers” by profession. However, there are important distinctions between this math-focused business program of study and a major in mathematics. While the field of accounting certainly requires familiarity with basic math, the focus of these programs of study is very different, as are the courses needed to graduate from these different degree programs. If you are good with numbers, it makes sense to consider both of these majors, but you must also think about what you ultimately want to do with your degree.
Business vs. Mathematics Coursework
One of the biggest differences between accounting and math is where the program is housed within a college or university. Accounting degree programs are generally part of a business school. The major is typically offered alongside programs of study in business administration, finance, economics, marketing, human resources and similar subjects. Mathematics degree programs are more commonly offered through colleges of science, arts and sciences, liberal arts or liberal studies. The school or college these majors call home affects the core curricula their students must complete to graduate.
An accounting student will take foundational coursework in a breadth of business subjects as well as in-depth studies of accounting principles and practices of all kinds. Math majors may take a couple of introductory business classes, either to meet general education requirements or as electives. However, rather than building up their knowledge in topics across the field of business, math majors take advanced courses in many branches of mathematics, such as laboratory and multivariable calculus, linear algebra and applications, geometry, topology, algebraic structures, analysis and statistics.
A student majoring in mathematics might have the opportunity to choose an academic track or concentration, like applied mathematics, probability and statistics, teaching, economics or actuarial science, that allows for a more focused education. Often, math majors will take at least some coursework in physics or computer programming, as well.
Despite the differences between these majors, math skills are among the most important qualities you need to become an accountant or auditor, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Accounting and Math Career Opportunities
The difference between the required courses for accounting and math majors doesn’t only dictate how you will spend your credit hours during your education. It translates to very different sets of skills. The high-level complex math skills you would learn as a math major may have no real practical application in the field of accounting, where the actual math skills needed to succeed as are somewhat basic. On the other hand, much of the focus of an accounting program is on the principles and processes of creating financial statements. These skills prove far more valuable in a business role than they would for a career as a mathematician.
Graduates of an accounting degree program typically go on to become accountants or auditors. Accountants prepare financial reports and documents such as balance sheet statements, tax returns and other records for internal or external use. Auditors, who examine the financial data and documents produced by an accountant, may also perform work for internal purposes or as part of an external evaluation or investigation. Accountants and auditors earn a median salary of $69,350 and can look forward to a faster than average job growth rate of 10 percent over a decade, the BLS reported. With an accounting degree, you could also work in a financial specialist occupation, with a job title such as financial examiner, financial analyst, personal financial advisor or financial manager.
The number of math occupations is relatively small. The BLS recognizes only mathematicians, statisticians, actuaries and operations research analysts as math occupations. In all, about 177,900 Americans work in math occupations. There are definite advantages of pursuing a career in mathematics. For one thing, earning potential is high. The median wage for all math occupations is $84,060, but actuaries – the rarest math occupation – earn six-figure median salaries. Additionally, the BLS predicts a much faster than average growth rate of 28 percent for jobs in math occupations over just a decade.
Before you choose to major in mathematics or in accounting, it’s important for you to think about more than how well you have performed in math classes in the past. You should consider what you want your future career to look like. Do you want to study business and learn the practical skills of financial reporting, or would you rather take courses in complex math theory and techniques and spend your career evaluating data? The answer can help you choose the right major for you.
Mathematician may sound like a strictly academic career path, but in fact, mathematicians apply their extensive math skills to analyze data and solve real problems, the BLS reported.