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Accounting vs. finance degree: What's the difference?

Female financial accountant analyzing data at a desk

By Cooper Nelson

At a glance

If you are interested in a math-driven field, then a degree in accounting or finance may be the right choice for you. Accounting and finance degrees both focus on using math to help businesses succeed. For students with accounting majors, this means using their skills to handle budgets, taxes and audits. For finance majors, this means using their skills in more big-picture ways, including in-depth studies in economics and business principles.

Though accounting and finance may seem similar on the surface, each degree provides different opportunities. With deeper research into what these degrees offer, you can find the choice that can open doors to your dream career. 

What you'll learn with an accounting degree

The money that goes into and out of a business has to be tracked and analyzed to ensure the business is financially sound. Accounting professionals work with businesses every day to balance budgets and identify areas of fiscal concern.

When students earn an accounting degree, they generally learn skills in accounting, auditing, financial statements and accepted bookkeeping principles. Quality accounting programs will provide you with the resources to learn skills that businesses in the current marketplace are probably looking for in new hires. This can help prepare students to pursue the necessary education for further certification, such as becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) after they have earned an accounting degree and completed the required additional course hours and exam.

What you'll learn with a finance degree

While an accounting degree teaches students to help businesses and individuals with their concrete, day-to-day financial needs, a finance degree often has a bigger-picture focus. Finance majors, when hired, help businesses make solid financial decisions that can help lead to growth.

When students take finance classes, they generally learn skills to be financial analysts. These skills include investing, financial planning, ethics and risk management. A quality finance program gives students the resources to learn about the areas of finance that interest them most, such as real estate investment or corporate finance. 

What can you do with an accounting degree?

An accounting degree teaches students advanced math skills and greatly improves their ability to solve problems with critical thinking. These skills are valuable to businesses, and what students learn while pursuing their accounting degree can be transferred into several career paths. 

Accountant

An accountant works with businesses to analyze budgets, prepare financial statements and perform accounting audits. They work with management to recommend changes in accounting activities based on asset use and audit results, and they prepare detailed reports. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants typically need a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field.

After earning their degree in accounting, accountants may choose to become a CPA to enhance their job outlook or have the ability to file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Becoming a CPA requires earning 30 additional hours of college coursework than a bachelor’s degree, passing a national CPA exam and meeting other requirements in their state.

The annual salary range for accountants and auditors is between $47,970 and $128,970, according to May 2021 data from BLS.  The job outlook for accountants has projected growth of 6% between 2021 and 2031.

The salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Tax examiner

When the government collects taxes, it turns to tax examiners to determine what businesses and individuals owe. They are often tasked with performing accounting audits and checking tax returns so that taxpayers don’t overpay or underpay. They may be tasked with managing the related data and records to ensure consistent tax information. Tax examiners typically need a bachelor’s degree in accounting, according to BLS.

The annual salary range for tax examiners is between $35,260 and $102,840, according to May 2021 data from BLS. BLS reports the job outlook is projected to decline by 7% between 2021 to 2031. BLS notes that government budgetary restraints are a factor in that expected decline, as future employment will depend on those budgets. 

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What can you do with a finance degree?

A finance degree can help students develop business skills needed to succeed in the modern marketplace. Finance majors can work in fields such as banking, investing and insurance, helping businesses make strong financial decisions based on their knowledge of math, economics, business and finance.

Students who earn a degree in finance can specialize in a variety of areas of business based on their interests and skills. 

Financial manager

Financial managers are often tasked with handling corporate, governmental and institutional loans and accounts, which often involve very large amounts of money. They must act as financial analysts, providing sound financial advice for organizations. This knowledge can allow these businesses to receive loans, develop budgets and conduct other functions in a financially sound manner. BLS reports that financial managers typically need a bachelor’s degree in accounting or business and may require five years of professional experience.  

Professionals in this field earn between $77,040 and $208,000 a year, according to May 2021 data from BLS.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that job opportunities for financial managers are projected to grow by 17% between 2021 and 2031. 

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts are responsible for assessing the performance of investments, such as stocks and bonds, to help people or organizations make financial decisions that generate profit. There are many types of financial analysts, including portfolio managers, financial risk specialists, investment analysts and fund managers. According to BLS, financial analysts typically need a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field. Some employers require candidates to have a master’s degree.

In general, investment analysts earned an annual salary between $57,900 and $166,560 in May 2021. The job outlook for financial analysts is projected to increase by 9% between 2021 to 2031, according to BLS. 

How do you choose which degree to pursue?

Choosing which degree to pursue is an important decision. If you are trying to choose between an accounting or finance degree, then consider what your long-term goals are and what kinds of skills you want to develop throughout your degree program.

If you are considering earning a degree online, college advisors can help you understand the benefits of different degrees and which option fits your professional aspirations. In the end, it all comes down to what your goals are and what you are passionate about studying and working toward every day. 

Pursue accounting and financial programs at University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix (UOPX) offers a variety of programs in accounting and finance. Students may choose to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree or a Bachelor of Science in Business degree with a Financial Planning Certificate.

For professionals who already have some education and are looking to obtain a certificate or sharpen their skills with single courses, UOPX also offers a stand-alone Undergraduate Financial Planning Certificate, a Graduate Accounting Certificate and a Graduate Finance Certificate. Professionals who want to sit for the CPA exam will require additional accounting courses. Additionally, the University offers accounting classes and finance classes that can be taken online.

No matter where professionals are in their career journey, there are options to help them gain skills and education to pursue their goals. Explore what UOPX has to offer at phoenix.edu/accounting