Finance vs. Accounting Degree: How to Choose the Right Program for Your Career Goals

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If you have a knack for numbers and an interest in helping an organization manage its money, you might be wondering whether it would be better to pursue an education in finance or accounting. Here’s a look at both fields to help you understand the similarities, differences, pros, and cons related to a finance vs. accounting degree, as well as a glimpse into what career opportunities each type of degree could lead to.

An accountant makes calculations.

What Are Finance and Accounting?

To best understand these different degree types, it’s helpful to start with a quick overview of finance and accounting and how each discipline functions in a business setting.

The two disciplines are often grouped together “because both functions deal with the administration of a business’ assets,” explains Salary.com. “At a high level, finance is the science of planning the distribution of a business’ assets. Accounting is the art of recording and reporting financial transactions.”

In other words, both fields deal with financial information. However, accounting is all about recording what has already happened with an organization’s money, whereas finance is about planning for the future.

Accounting for the Past vs. Planning for the Future

Accounting involves tasks like reporting, bookkeeping, auditing, analyzing financial records, and preparing tax return materials, all of which deal with past financial activities. Accountants help organizations keep their records accurate and compliant.

Finance, on the other hand, involves activities such as financial forecasting, strategic short- and long-term planning, asset allocation, budgeting, and other tasks. Finance professionals help organizations develop and execute strategic goals, manage cash flow concerns, and fund ongoing and future operations.

What Are the Similarities Between a Finance vs. Accounting Degree?

With those major differences established, let’s take a closer look at the degrees that can prepare you for a career in either finance or accounting. By comparing and contrasting the online finance vs. accounting degree programs at UAB, you can get a better sense of the similarities and differences of each field of study.

At UAB’s Collat School of Business, our online Bachelor of Science in Finance and online Bachelor of Science in Accounting programs share several core and upper-level courses, including:

  • Financial Accounting
  • Fundamentals of Financial Management
  • Business Communications
  • Management Processes and Behavior
  • Basic Marketing
  • Information Systems
  • Operations Management
  • Professional Development

Introduction to Both Disciplines

As you can see, students in both programs will get an introduction to finance as well as accounting. Since the fields are both integral to an organization’s financial health, it is essential for degree programs to expose students to both sides of the coin. This provides a more holistic understanding of how each role fits into the bigger financial picture.

Foundational Business Education

Additionally, the curricular overlap allows students in the finance and accounting programs to become familiar with several important aspects of business, ranging from management and marketing to information systems. A comprehensive business education can help lay a solid foundation for a student’s career path, no matter their major.

International Focus

Discipline-specific courses in both programs include an international-focused course. International Accounting and International Finance help students examine their fields through the lens of a global marketplace.

Experiential Learning and Capstone Experiences

Moreover, both programs involve experiential learning requirements and capstone experiences. These include the Accounting Capstone for students pursuing a degree in accounting and the Strategic Management Capstone Experience for those studying finance. Despite different subject matter, both offer students hands-on opportunities to dive deeper into specific interest areas and apply all of the skills and knowledge they have gained throughout their studies.

Bachelor of Science Credentials

It’s also worth noting that, as with most other finance and accounting programs, students who complete UAB’s online Bachelor of Science in Finance and online Bachelor of Science in Accounting will earn Bachelor of Science degrees, rather than Bachelor of Arts degrees.

While U.S. News & World Report notes that there isn’t a national standard differentiating either type of bachelor’s degree, the B.A. tends to involve a liberal arts approach. The B.S. frequently involves practical applications of math and science, making it a suitable fit for students who want to help organizations manage their money in either a finance or accounting setting.

What Is the Difference Between a Finance vs. Accounting Degree?

Given the unique business functions of finance and accounting, degree programs in these fields will feature different curricular emphases. This is the primary difference between a finance vs. accounting degree.

Courses Translate to Different Types of Job Responsibilities

An overview of the differences between UAB’s finance and accounting curriculum can illuminate the contrasts between both subject areas. Courses unique to the online undergraduate accounting degree program at UAB include:

  • Accounting Information Systems
  • Financial Accounting II
  • Cost Accounting
  • Income Taxation I
  • Internal Auditing
  • Financial Accounting III
  • International Accounting
  • Accounting Capstone

Courses specific to UAB’s online undergraduate finance degree program include:

  • Intermediate Financial Management
  • Financial Research Methods
  • Equity Portfolio Management
  • Principles of Real Estate
  • International Financial Management
  • Strategic Management Capstone Experience

The classes an accounting major takes translate directly to the real-world responsibilities of an accountant or auditor. Likewise, finance majors complete coursework that relates directly to financial management and related activities.

For instance, in either program, you may work with financial statements, but how you do so will differ. In an accounting or auditing course, you might assess such statements for accuracy and reconcile them with other records. In a financial management course, you might use the same type of information to help forecast future performance.

What Can You Do with a Finance vs. Accounting Degree?

A degree in finance or accounting can lead to a variety of job opportunities. You could qualify for the same positions with either type of degree, paired with the right experience and skills. However, finance and accounting degree programs traditionally funnel into different career paths.

Either Degree Can Prepare You for a Wide Variety of Careers

Qualified finance and accounting professionals are consistently in demand in the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2019 there were:

  • 1,436,100 auditing and accounting jobs
  • 697,900 financial manager jobs
  • 487,800 financial analyst jobs
  • 263,000 personal financial advisor jobs
  • 214,200 cost estimator jobs
  • 66,900 financial examiner jobs
  • 57,600 tax examiner, tax collector and revenue agent jobs
  • 55,400 budget analyst jobs

This adds up to almost 3.3 million finance and accounting jobs across the country. However, some of these roles deal more closely with accounting theories and practices, whereas others require a finance mindset.

Accounting Jobs

An accounting degree naturally prepares you for an accounting career. Just a few of the possible job titles you could pursue include:

  • Certified public accountant (CPA)
  • Forensic accountant
  • Internal auditor
  • Tax accountant
  • Controller
  • Treasurer
  • Technical accounting manager
  • Accounts payable or receivable clerk
  • Cost accounting manager
  • Bookkeeper

These roles will generally involve record keeping, generating financial reports, account reconciliation, and analyzing past performance in terms of budgeting and profitability. In accounting-focused roles, you will take a close look at a company or client’s financial history and use your skills to ensure that records accurately reflect past financial activities and adhere to all relevant laws and regulations.

In an accounting career, you will implement generally accepted accounting principles (GAAPs) in your work. According to Investopedia, this means that you will uphold the standards outlined by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to keep your financial records clear, consistent, and compliant.

Finance Jobs

As a finance major, you may gravitate toward finance career paths in either personal finance, corporate finance or public finance. According to Investopedia, these are the major subcategories of finance related to serving individuals, businesses, and governments, respectively. While there are many possibilities within these areas, potential finance careers include:

  • Financial analyst
  • Financial manager
  • Investment banker
  • Personal financial advisor
  • Purchasing manager
  • Financial broker
  • Hedge fund trader
  • Credit analyst
  • Chief financial officer

In these types of finance roles, you will typically be responsible for supporting an organization’s profitability and maintaining its financial resiliency. This is done through a variety of means, depending on the role, ranging from making shrewd investments and tracking their performance to optimizing supply chains, value engineering projects, and minimizing financial risks.

As a finance professional, you will keep abreast of market trends, industry developments and economic influences that impact the trading landscape. These types of roles also require a strategic mindset. Your work may have a direct impact on how high-level decision-makers lead the organization.

How Can You Choose Between a Finance vs. Accounting Degree?

When exploring different degree programs, it’s not always immediately clear which field best aligns with your interests. Asking yourself the following questions can help you get closer to a decision.

What Do You Want to Learn?

As we’ve seen, a finance degree will help you gain skills in aspects of corporate finance and financial management. It will also show you how to put an organization’s assets to work, reducing risks and increasing profitability through a variety of traditional and more innovative strategies. Alternatively, an accounting degree can grow your confidence in the many aspects of accounting and auditing. You’re likely to come away with a strong grasp of quantitative analysis and GAAPs.

When evaluating both types of programs, consider which courses sound the most appealing, what questions you want answered, and what skills you want to build.

What Is Your Preferred Style of Work?

Even without knowing what job title you’re targeting, you can start thinking about how you like to work. For instance, accounting careers can be more process-oriented, whereas finance can allow for more innovation when it comes to creative problem solving and strategic thinking. Accountants can become extraordinarily busy during tax season, but finance professionals may be required to travel to meet with various stakeholders.

While these are not necessarily universal truths, considering your options and personal preferences can help you rule out certain career paths and explore others of interest.

What Career Paths Are You Interested In?

Researching specific job titles and career trajectories is a great way to find out what type of job can help you achieve your goals. If you can pinpoint a specific role, salary range, industry, type of employer, or another detail, work backward from there to find out how you can start on the best possible path and build the right skill set and experience.

What Other Factors Will Influence Your Experience in Either Field?

When judging the similarities and differences of a finance vs. accounting degree, keep in mind that the following factors can lead to different educational experiences, even within the same discipline:

  • College or university
  • Program format
  • Curriculum design
  • Faculty members
  • Fellow students
  • Available resources and support

For instance, one accounting program might offer hands-on assignments and electives in a specialization that interests you, while a different program places the emphasis elsewhere.

As for program type, a traditional campus-based program would require you to be present in the classroom. However, an online degree like the online Bachelor of Science in Accounting at the Collat School of Business will offer a greater level of flexibility and allows you to study from any location.

Explore UAB’s Online Finance and Accounting Degree Programs

To learn more about UAB’s innovative online Bachelor of Science in Finance and online Bachelor of Science in Accounting programs and discover whether a finance or accounting degree could be the best fit for you, visit our program pages and contact an enrollment advisor today.

Recommended Readings:

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Finance

Tips for Professionals in Accounting Working from Home

Great Jobs for Those With a Bachelors in Accounting

Sources:

Salary.com, The Difference Between Finance and Accounting

U.S. News & World Report, Understand the Difference Between a B.A. and B.S. Degree

BLS, Accountants and Auditors

BLS, Business and Financial Occupations

Investopedia, What Is Finance?

Investopedia, Generally Accepted Accounting Principles