Accounting Vs. Finance Degree: Difference & Requirements

Jun 21, 2018

There are a number of key differences between accounting and finance bachelor's degree programs. This article will highlight some of these by focusing on coursework and potential career opportunities. You can also find out about the typical entrance requirements.

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Difference Between Accounting and Finance Degrees

Individuals who enjoy working with numbers, analyzing financial figures, and keeping records may be interested in pursuing a degree in accounting or finance. Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in both areas that equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the workforce. While there are some similarities between accounting and finance degrees, there are some key differences between the programs. We will look at the differences in greater detail below.

Accounting and Finance Degree Program Coursework

Differences between accounting and finance degree programs are most evident when looking at upper division courses, as it is in these classes that students gain more specialized knowledge that is more pertinent to either accounting or finance. We will look at some courses that are unique to either accounting or finance programs in the following:

Accounting Information Systems

A student pursuing an accounting degree will generally be required to take a course that focuses on information systems used in accounting. In this course, students will learn about the important role played by technology in the accounting field. The class will cover how information is recorded using an information system, how to set up an information system for accounting purposes, and how to analyze data.


Students who are enrolled in a finance program will be required to take a course in investments typically when they are an upperclassman. This course will focus on topics like portfolio management and performance, risk management, and stock valuation. Students will also learn about various theories of markets and investment.

Corporate Finance

Another advanced course often required in finance degree programs is corporate finance. This class will cover decision-making in financial firms, financial planning, investment options, and the development of financial policies. Students will also learn about the role that computers and technology plays in making these decisions.

Income and Federal Taxation

Upperclassmen in an accounting program can expect to take a course that covers federal taxation laws, especially in relation to income tax. Students will learn about how income is taxed in the United States, how to properly record income, and how various transactions are taxed. This class may also cover taxation of corporations, trusts, and partnerships.

How to Choose between an Accounting and Finance Degree Program

Prospective students of accounting and finance programs may want to take a close look at the course requirements for each of these programs in order to see what looks most interesting to them and is pertinent to their career interests.

Students who are interested in obtaining their Certified Professional Accountant (CPA) credential will likely want to consider what is required in order to achieve this certification. In addition to passing examinations, most states require that CPAs complete 150 credit hours during their education. Bachelor's degrees typically require only around 120 credit hours, though students can enroll in more credit hours if they wish. However, another option for students who want to become accountants would be to enroll in a BBA to Master's in Accounting program, which is becoming a commonly offered option due to this requirement.

It is also important for students to consider what kind of career they want after graduating. While a degree in either of these fields would meet the qualifications for many of the same careers, careers in finance are generally more focused on guiding the financial planning and financial transactions of businesses and corporations, while a career in accounting is typically more focused on keeping records of these business decisions and financial transactions. This distinction may help students decide what degree program is right for them.

Admission Requirements for Accounting and Finance Degrees

In general, students who are applying to accounting or finance degree programs as freshmen will need to go through a similar admission process and submit the same materials in their application. These materials generally include official SAT or ACT scores, letters of recommendation, a personal statement or essay, high school transcripts, and a resume.

Some programs may have students complete a secondary admission process after they have been accepted to the university and taken some freshman courses to officially declare as an accounting or finance major. This admission decision will be based on how a student performed in the introductory level courses.

Career Options with a Degree in Accounting or Finance

There are a variety of careers available to graduates with degrees in accounting. Perhaps one of the most common choices for an accounting graduate who has earned their CPA credential is a career as an accountant. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants in 2017 made a median salary of $69,350, and the field is expected to grow by 10% between 2016 and 2026. Graduates could also pursue careers as internal auditors or external auditors, both of which also typically require an accounting degree and the CPA credential. Another option for individuals with accounting degrees is a career as a tax examiner, which involves making sure that individuals and businesses have properly filed their taxes by reviewing the appropriate documents and ensuring that any problems are addressed and resolved.

Graduates of finance degree programs may choose to pursue a career as a financial analyst. These professionals made a median salary of $84,300 in 2017 and the field is expected to grow by 11% between 2016 and 2026. Individuals who gain experience working as a financial analyst might want to work toward a career as a financial manager, which involves overseeing and coordinating all of the financial and investment activities of an organization. Another option for graduates of finance degree programs is a position as a credit analyst, which involves analyzing the credit worthiness of individuals and companies who are seeking a line of credit.

A few other career options for accounting or finance graduates are mentioned below:

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