College students with a knack for numbers often find themselves faced with a big decision: finance degree or accounting degree? Accounting and finance careers both provide good salaries and job security and they often require similar skills. We put the two head to head to help you decide which degree is right for you.
Round 1: Job Outlook & Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects careers in accounting and finance to grow faster than the average for all occupations. From 2014 – 2024, accounting and auditing jobs are expected to grow at a rate of about 11%. Financial analyst jobs are expected to grow at a rate of about 12%.
The median salary for accountants and auditors is $67,190. Financial analysts have a higher median salary, coming in at $80,310.
Round 1 winner: Finance. Although both degrees offer opportunities for high wages and job growth, finance comes out ahead in both categories.
Round 2: Education Required
It is possible to earn the CPA designation without a Master’s Degree, but most states require 150 college credit hours in order to sit for the exam, greater than the amount needed for a Bachelor’s degree but less than those necessary for a Master’s. Still, many candidates pursue their Master’s Degree since they’re already taking extra hours. If you don’t plan on pursuing the CPA designation, a Bachelor’s Degree is the minimum you’ll need, although most accountants end up pursuing additional certifications.
Most financial major careers require a Bachelor’s degree at a minimum, although a Master’s Degree may give you an advantage over the competition.
Round 2 winner: Draw. Both accounting and finance require a Bachelor’s Degree at a minimum but provide greater opportunity for those with a Master’s Degree.
Round 3: Career Options
Accounting and finance majors have plenty of career options available, although the focus of each may be a little different. Finance jobs typically involve the management and use of money, whereas accounting jobs concentrate on tracking and organizing financial data.The finance industry offers many niche opportunities including corporate finance, commercial banking, investment banking, financial analysis, regulatory compliance, portfolio management, private equity and venture capital, financial planning, and insurance.
The accounting field has a lot of mobility potential, especially for those with more education and certification. The major career sectors for accounting majors are public accounting, management accounting, government accounting, and internal audit. Within those categories are several areas of specialization such as general, budget, cost, property, forensic, and tax.
Round 3 winner: Draw. Both accounting and finance degrees offer a wide variety of specializations and career paths. Many of the top Wall Street executives, investment bankers, traders, and portfolio managers have finance degrees and many Fortune 500 executives and other business leaders have accounting degrees.
Round 4: Work / Life Balance
Work/life balance can be an issue whether you pursue accounting or finance, depending on the career path you choose. Financial analysts do not usually have to deal with the high stress and long hours required of an investment banker or a private equity associate. Many accounting jobs do not require long hours unless you are a tax accountant that spends February through April preparing tax returns or a financial accountant working for a publicly-traded company with heavy workloads during month-, quarter-, or year-end.
Most jobs in accounting and finance offer a 40-50 hour work week, plenty of paid vacation, and rare weekend and evening shifts.
Round 4 winner: Draw. Finance and accounting careers both offer the potential for work/life balance, depending upon the job role.
So which one should you choose? It depends on how you like working with numbers. If you enjoy collecting data to ensure accuracy, an accounting degree may be the right choice for you. If you’d rather use that data, economic trends and market movements to make recommendations, you’ll find more career satisfaction in finance.
Need more guidance to find the accounting and finance career that’s right for you? Take a look at our Guide to Growing Your Financial Career to see how much education you’ll need to reach your career goals.