What Is the Difference Between a Finance Degree and an Accounting Degree?

On the surface, accounting and finance seem synonymous since they both heavily involve data, number-crunching, and quantitative analysis. They also are frequently grouped together in academic programs as “FAME” subjects — an acronym that stands for finance, accounting, management, and economics.

There are more differences between accounting and financial degree programs than there are parallels. At the same time, it is not uncommon for those with degrees in accounting or financial management to cross paths in terms of their day-to-day duties and the professionals with whom they interact. It is important to establish the differences now so you can begin your career path on the right foot — a process made possible by obtaining the proper skills and expertise.

What Is Finance?

Finance is the study of money and other types of assets. People who work in finance may manage finances, analyze data related to financial assets, or consult with others about financial options. Finance falls under three major categories:

  • Public finance: Public finance has to do with the financial choices of a public entity, such as a government.
  • Corporate finance: Corporate finance has to do with the financial choices of a corporate entity.
  • Personal finance: Personal finance has to do with the financial choices of an individual entity, such as a private citizen.

A degree in finance can be highly applicable to careers within any category of finance, and therefore can be a strong investment.

What Is Accounting?

Accounting is the process of calculating, cataloging, and communicating important financial information about private individuals or other entities. The process of accounting ensures that finances are all in order and there are no discrepancies that could cause financial issues for the client. Proper accounting is also a key element of annual tax reporting, which is a legal obligation of private citizens and corporate entities.

Important Skills for Careers in Finance

To some degree, the skills that you will need to develop for a career in finance will depend on what specific career or role you are interested in. However, the following are some common skills that are used by finance professionals:

  • Mathematics;
  • Interpersonal skills;
  • Communication skills;
  • Financial modeling;
  • Development of financial reports;
  • Knowledge of cybersecurity protocols;
  • Knowledge of fintech;
  • Analytical skills;
  • Data management;
  • Problem-solving skills;
  • Cash flow management;
  • Aptitude with technology;
  • Business savvy;
  • Management capabilities.

If you determine what skills you will need to develop for the finance niche that you are interested in, you can better choose coursework that suits your goals.

Typical Courses in Finance Programs

The following are some courses that someone may be required to complete as part of a postsecondary finance program:

  • Intermediate financial management;
  • Financial research methods;
  • Equity portfolio management;
  • Advanced derivatives;
  • Behavioral finance;
  • Corporate finance;
  • Economics/econometrics;
  • Financial mathematics
  • Financial management;
  • Financial markets;
  • Financial engineering;
  • Financial reporting;
  • International finance;
  • Private equity;
  • Venture capital;
  • Principles of real estate;
  • International financial management;
  • Strategic management capstone experience.

The specific requirements to complete your coursework will depend on the specific guidelines provided by your educational institution.

Important Skills for Careers in Accounting

While there are many overlapping skills between finance and accounting careers, accounting is a more focused specialty. Some common skills that are used by finance professionals:

  • Mathematics;
  • Critical thinking;
  • Time management;
  • Customer service skills;
  • Organizational skills;
  • Systems analysis;
  • Communication skills;
  • Attention to detail;
  • Adaptability;
  • Clerical knowledge;
  • Knowledge of accounting software.

If you determine what skills you will need to develop for the finance niche that you are interested in, you can better choose coursework that suits your goals.

Typical Courses in Accounting Programs

The following are some courses that someone may be required to complete as part of a postsecondary accounting program:

  • Accounting information systems;
  • Financial accounting;
  • Cost accounting;
  • Income taxation;
  • Auditing
  • Budget analysis
  • Business strategy
  • Financial reporting;
  • Forensic accounting;
  • International accounting;
  • Macro/microeconomics;
  • Management accounting;
  • Quantitative analysis;
  • Risk management;
  • Internal auditing;
  • Accounting capstone.

The specific requirements to complete your coursework will depend on the specific guidelines provided by your educational institution.

Career Options in Finance

As a finance major, you may gravitate toward finance career paths in personal finance, corporate finance, or public finance. While there are many possibilities within these areas, potential finance careers include:

  • Financial analyst: Financial analysts may work in a wide variety of roles reviewing financial assets and strategies to help refine the client’s financial strategy.
  • Financial manager: Financial managers oversee the general financial health of an organization, and manage employees in related roles.
  • Investment banker: Investment bankers consult with individuals, organizations, and governments to guide these clients in strategically developing valuable investments.
  • Personal financial advisor: Personal financial advisors consult with individuals about how to save, invest, and otherwise manage their financial assets.
  • Purchasing manager: A purchasing manager determines what supplies an organization needs and makes orders for products as needed.
  • Financial broker: A financial broker buys and sells financial assets — usually stocks.
  • Hedge fund trader: Hedge fund traders buy and sell securities related to the fund and manage relevant investments and trading activities overall.
  • Credit analyst: A credit analyst determines how creditworthy an individual or organization is.
  • Chief financial officer: This is a company officer who dedicates their time to managing the company’s finance, as well as related record-keeping and reporting activities.

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.

Typical Salaries for People in the Finance Sector

Because the jobs among finance majors are broader in scope and activity, their earnings can be lower or higher than a general accountant’s salary. Using the median pay range as an example, entry-level employees in a finance role may start out at approximately $42,110 per year, according to U.S. Bureao of Labor Statistic (BLS) estimates. However, those in the field may eventually earn up to $120,600 depending on their experience and location.

Job Outlook for Careers in Finance

According to the BLS, careers in the business and finance sector are projected to grow 7% between 2021 and 2031. This is a fairly typical growth rate for professions at large. This growth is expected to create approximately 715,100 new jobs over the decade. Additionally, approximately 980,200 openings are expected to be created each year as a result of turnover rates.

Career Options in Accounting

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): A CPA is a professional who is licensed to provide accounting services to the public.
  • Forensic accountant: A forensic accountant investigates the assets and financial reports related to an individual or organization to determine whether they have failed to comply with any laws or regulations related to financial activities or reporting.
  • Internal auditor: An internal auditor reviews company finances and related activities to determine whether there are any compliance issues or other risks that may negatively affect the organization.
  • Tax accountant: A tax accountant calculates and prepares tax information according to federal and state guidelines for tax reporting.
  • Controller: A controller oversees daily financial activities within an organization.
  • Treasurer: A treasurer manages an entity’s treasury.
  • Technical accounting manager: A technical accounting manager reviews and manages networks and other systems related to financial management.
  • Accounts payable or receivable clerk: An accounts payable or receivable clerk reviews, computes, and reports on accounts payable and receivable.
  • Cost accounting manager: Cost accounting managers ensure that costs for products and services are applied according to the company budget, company standard operating procedures, and regulated standards.
  • Bookkeeper: Bookkeepers track and report on income and expenditures.

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

Typical Salaries for People in the Accounting Sector

In much the same way the job responsibilities of those in finance positions are generally more wide-ranging than accounting, the same goes for what they stand to earn, based on the most recent statistics available from the BLS. The median annual wage for accountants and auditors in 2020 was $73,560. The lowest 10% of accountants made approximately $45,200 while the highest 10% earned nearly $128,700.

The amount of money an accountant makes in a typical year can depend on their expertise, how long they’ve been an accountant, their employer, and where they live.

Not only do certified public accountants make more than general accountants, but forensic accountants with certification from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners usually earn more per year compared to their peers without the credential. A study from the ACFE shows that anti-fraud professionals with a CFE credential earn a 17% higher salary than their non-certified counterparts on average.

Job Outlook for Careers in Accounting

According to the BLS, careers related to accounting and auditing are expected to grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031. This is a fairly typical growth rate for occupations at large. This growth, combined with regular turnover, is expected to result in approximately 136,400 openings for accountants and auditors each year.

Overlapping Curricula and Foundational Disciplines

Students in both finance and accounting programs will get an introduction to both disciplines. 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

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 often include an international-focused course. Courses such as International Accounting and International Finance help students examine their fields through the lens of a global marketplace.

Experiential Learning and Capstone Experiences

Both types of programs typically involve experiential learning requirements and capstone experiences. These may include courses like an accounting capstone for students pursuing a degree in accounting and a strategic management capstone experience for those studying finance. Despite the 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 is also worth noting that, as with most other finance and accounting programs, students who complete UAB’s online Bachelor of Science in Finance, online Bachelor of Science in Economics, and online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems will earn Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees, rather than Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degrees.

While 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.

Choosing Between a Finance Degree and Accounting Degree

When exploring different degree programs, it is 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?

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 innovative strategies. Alternatively, an accounting degree can grow your confidence in the many aspects of accounting and auditing. You are likely to come away with a strong grasp of quantitative analysis and GAAPs.

What Is Your Preferred Style of Work?

Even without knowing what job title you are 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.

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 and kick off the job search process. 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 then start to build the right skill set and experience.

What Other Factors Will Influence Your Experience in Either Field?

When judging the similarities and differences between a finance degree versus an 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. While online courses present their own challenges, an online degree will offer a greater level of flexibility and may allow you to study from any location.



U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Business and Financial Occupations”

Investopedia, “GAAP: Understanding It and the 10 Key Principles”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020”

Investopedia, “How Much Do CPAs Make?”

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, “ACFE’s 2022 Compensation Guide Highlights Changing Work Environment for Anti-Fraud Professionals in a Post-Pandemic World”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Accountants and Auditors”