Accounting vs. Finance Degree – Which One Is Right For Me?

Two business coworkers holding charts
Depending on whom you talk to or what university curriculum you look at, the definition for each discipline will vary slightly.

If you are planning on going to college/university, you want to make sure you select a degree that interests you but also will ensure you end up with a fulfilling and lucrative career. If you would like to enter the financial/business/economic field, you have probably asked yourself, “Accounting vs. Finance Degree—which one is right for me?”

Depending on whom you talk to or what university curriculum you look at, the definition for each discipline will vary slightly.

Business and Management Professor from the Devry University Keller Graduate School of Management, Tim Stephan, makes this distinction: “…Ultimately an accounting degree sets you up well to sit for the CPA exam. Accountants will be the primary ones to put together income statements, balance sheets, statements of cash flow…Finance people do a lot of the same work, but instead of putting all those reports together, they’ll find themselves…trying to decide when a company should borrow money or not, whether they should issue stocks or bonds and that kind of thing…”

In other words, one possible differentiation between the two is that accounting involves organizing, recording and reporting financial data, whereas finance deals with analyzing that data and making beneficial decisions based on that analysis. Again, this is just one of several interpretations. Perhaps taking a closer look at each degree will provide you with more insight.

Note: Some universities offer integrated programs or joint accounting-finance degree programs.

Accounting Degree

Skills and Courses

Subjects that you may study during the course of an accounting degree include accounting fundamentals, intermediate/advanced accounting, auditing, income taxation, accounting information systems, governmental, managerial and/or financial accounting, assurance services, business law, mathematics, communications, management as well as a possible internship.

Some Possible Careers with an Accounting Degree

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Auditor or Auditor-in-Charge
  • Comptroller
  • Payroll Auditor
  • Bookkeeper
  • Accounts Receivable/Payable Clerk
  • Actuary
  • Insurance Collector
  • FBI Agent
  • Billing Clerk
  • IRS Investigator
  • Estate Planner
  • Mortgage Accounting Clerk
  • Collections Representative

Skills and Courses

During the course of a finance degree, you may acquire skills in and cover topics, such as economics, capital markets, financial institutions and banking, global finances, accounting, security trading, portfolio management, entrepreneurship, financial statement analysis, real estate, risk management, leadership, tax analysis, corporate finance, financial reporting, investments, law, capital management, mathematics, communications, sustainability, as well as a possible internship.

Some Possible Careers with a Finance Degree

  • Financial Analyst or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
  • Stockbroker
  • Investment Banker
  • Personal Financial Advisor
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
  • Corporate Finance Officer
  • Financial Consultant
  • Business Banker
  • Portfolio Manager
  • Fundraiser
  • Credit Analyst
  • Investment Adviser
  • Credit Analyst
  • Money Manager
  • Financial Manager
  • Loan Officer
  • Advertising Account Executive

No Career Path is Alike

If you are still asking yourself “Accounting vs. Finance Degree—which one is right for me?” know that no career path is alike and rarely does any career path have a direct route.

For example, Michael Brownstein (VP, Quantitative Operations Manager – Global Client Services at Bank of America) shared on a LinkedIn discussion board this example of how he started in accounting and moved into finance: “I was an Accounting major and as my career has progressed, I chose a finance path. My first couple of positions out of college were accounting based and that provided me with a great base knowledge of how financials work and has proved to be very valuable as my career has progressed.”

As you complete either degree, and start working in the real-world, your true niche will become clearer and clearer. Through continuous learning (whether it be individual courses, a certificate program, higher education or a training program towards sitting for a credential examination) and through continuous professional experience, you can strive to reach your professional goals.