Online BS in Accounting or online BS in Finance: Which is right for me?

When enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program, it’s important that you choose the specific degree program that’s right for you, as the course of study you select will affect the skills you will develop and the preparation you’ll gain for your future career.

If you’re considering a career related to financial matters, you may see online bachelor’s degree programs in accounting and online bachelor’s degree programs in finance and wonder what’s the difference between the two – and which is the better choice. The two programs differ from each other in important ways and help support varying careers.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind when determining which program is right for you:

The career you want to have

While there is some overlap between the careers that both accounting and finance online degree programs can lead to, the degrees prepare students for different jobs.

Finance degreeBachelor of Science in Finance degrees frequently prepare students for financial advisory roles. These professionals work with banks, private corporations and investment firms to provide consultation and guidance for major financial decisions, such as where to put investments and which stocks to buy and counsel on the risks inherent in certain moves. They may work with private companies, but can also work with public organizations to advise on financial matters. Or, finance professionals may work at the individual level, helping people organize and develop their financial portfolios, prepare for retirement and manage their assets effectively.

Some specific finance roles are: Financial Advisor, Risk Manager, Financial Analyst, Fund Manager and Portfolio Manager.

As a finance professional, you are regularly asked to weigh the pros and cons of various situations relating to money matters and make judgment calls to decide courses of action for long-term results. The College Board noted that some examples of questions you may be asked to answer are: “Can we afford to give employees a raise?” “Can we spend less on raw materials this year?” and “Is it better to rent or buy office space?”

Another career path for finance graduates is working in the real estate industry. Those with experience in finance can work as portfolio managers and investment analysts, helping people make sound financial decisions when purchasing a new home. Finance graduates can also manage mortgage and loan terms to help buyers get the best terms on their new homes.

Accounting degreeGraduates of a Bachelor of Science in Accounting program can work within organizations and businesses or for individuals. In a business setting they monitor budgets, spending and other financial activities, and crunch numbers to ensure that a company is on track to meet its goals. Accountants can also be hired by organizations or individuals to review their financial documents and ensure that their monetary activity is compliant with federal tax regulations and other laws. Some of these professionals are Certified Public Accountants, a qualification gained through passing the CPA exam.

CPAs can work for a range of sizes and types of organizations, as the American Institute of CPAs noted. They can work for international CPA firms or local practices, or specialize in tax, audit or management consulting. They may also work in sub-areas of accounting at companies, such as financial analysis and treasury/cash management. AICPA added that there are further niches in which CPAs can offer advice and insight, such as business valuation, personal financial planning, IT consulting and financial forensics.

Another qualification accounting professionals can receive is the Certified Management Account, which is also achieved through passing an exam. IMA, the Institute of Management Accountants, represents CMAs. CMAs work within organizations and businesses directly, as opposed to being hired to work for an accounting firm that is then contracted to look at a business’ operations. As the association’s website noted, they play an important role in affecting the financial health of organizations. These professionals may work as controllers, CFOs, treasury or budget analysts, among other roles.

“Most of all, as the majority of the accounting and financial workforce, they help drive an organization’s strategy and value amid an unpredictable market,” IMA’s website explained.

Graduates of an online accounting program can also work as auditors. These professionals are hired to comb through the financial data of an organization or individual to check for compliance or look for errors or, if necessary, evidence of fraud.

Some specific accounting roles are: Accountant, Accounting Manager and Tax Manager.

The differences in courses

Bachelor’s degree programs in accounting and finance will include different courses, though some of them will likely be shared. Here are the some of the courses that may be included:

Finance degreeAn undergraduate online finance program can help prepare you with the knowledge and skills you need to be a professional in the field in today’s markets. With a foundation of traditional knowledge, theories and best practices supported by an exploration of the innovations and advances shaping finance today, students will learn the ins and outs of the industry and its professional applications.

Courses will likely cover core issues in finance as well as related topics. Core classes may look at financial management, research and portfolio management methods, as well as cost accounting and finance skills in an international setting. Additional courses can cover business communications, basic marketing skills, the fundamentals of financial management and management processes as well as a look at the information systems used today to collect, analyze and organize important financial data. Students will look at case studies of financial practice and management and real-world examples to develop their skills and professional perspective.

Accounting degreeAn online accounting bachelor’s degree program can help you hone your analytical skills and develop a well-rounded approach to crunching the data to deal with financial issues. The program centers upon providing you with the knowledge needed to examine financial records and offer valuable financial consultation and tax preparation services, as well as help you prepare for CMA and CPA certification.

The online degree program will explore every facet of accounting, from financial literacy to international business practices. Typical core courses include technical accounting methods, cost accounting and internal auditing, as well as courses that cover income taxation and accounting information systems. Additional classes may look at business management and communication practices as well as fundamentals of financial management and external auditing practices.

Students graduate with developed accounting skills that prepare them to be professionals in a range of settings, from large private enterprises to well-reputed accounting firms.

Varying skill sets

Another important consideration when weighing whether to enroll in an online finance program or an online accounting program are the top skills required in each field. The most rewarding career path is likely to be the one that matches your natural talents with the skills that you are most interested in developing and that you would enjoy doing on a daily basis.

Finance degreeFinance professions pair sharply developed analytical skills with just-as-sharp communication skills. In addition to being able to understand the numbers and identify sound strategies for action, finance professionals should also relay these recommendations in a clear, concise and persuasive way. They need to be able to glean insights from the numbers but recognize the social cues given by the people they advise. This involves social perceptiveness and strong listening skills and communication skills. These professionals also should be ready and willing to solve problems and adopt out-of-the-box thinking, and be able to come up with solutions quickly and intuitively. They should possess good judgment and confidence in their expertise.

Accounting degreeLike finance professionals, accounting professionals also should have a highly developed analytical mind. They should be able to draw insights from massive amounts of data, digging through databases and dense records with skill and finesse. They also should have a strong grasp of business practices to speak its language fluently and understand financial models, in additional to having robust knowledge of accounting concepts. They may need to have an intense respect for the details, and be empowered by, not overwhelmed by, the idea that there is no margin for error in their work. In addition, they also should have the technical skills necessary to navigate today’s databases and records management systems, as well as the effective communication skills needed to communicate their findings to their clients.

Making the best decision for you

These are some of the most important factors you should consider when choosing between enrolling in an online finance program or an online accounting program. Select the degree that aligns most closely with your career goals, skills and interests, and get started on your journey developing a fulfilling career. Be sure to choose a program offered by an accredited institution that will give you the support and knowledge you need to help get your career started, in either field. The online bachelor’s degree programs in finance and the online Bachelor of Science in Accounting offered by the Collat School of Business at the University of Alabama at Birmingham can help you develop the skills and knowledge you need to pursue your career goals.


Recommended Readings:

Is an Accounting Degree Worth It?

The Company Controller: A Multifaceted Role




IMA, About IMA

AICPA, CPA Career Paths

Collegeboard, Major: Finance

Rasmussen, Finance vs. Accounting: Which Degree is Right for You?

Business Administration Information, The Difference Between Finance and Accounting Degrees