Many people use the terms accounting and finance interchangeably. They’re basically one and the same, right? Wrong, says Catherine McBride, DBA, MBA, CPA, dean of Accounting at Strayer University.
It’s true that both finance and accounting can offer promising careers.
However, for those weighing a finance degree vs. an accounting degree, there are four distinct differences to note.
Finance requires more math
McBride says a key difference between finance and accounting degree options comes down to math. While many people might assume that both a finance degree and an accounting degree would require strong math skills, in reality it’s the finance degree that demands the more mathematical mind.
“There are a lot more complex formulas and math to work with when you are in finance,” McBride explains. “With accounting, it’s more basic math needed to put the pieces of a financial story together.”
Looking forward vs. looking back
Another major consideration for those contemplating the two degrees is whether you are more interested in looking forward or looking back. According to McBride, a career in finance offers the opportunity to be forward thinking to project how a company can best leverage its assets for growth. With accounting, the focus is more historical – analyzing performance and using that information to improve the company’s financial position.
“Accounting involves looking at the details about where a company has been, its current financial state, and using that information to inform business decisions about the future,” McBride says. “Finance is broader and focuses on the management of assets and liabilities and the planning of future growth. The classes required for each degree are also distinctly different. Accounting involves classes in accounting practices, ethics, business law, tax, audit and accounting theory. If you major in finance, you will take classes about macroeconomics, money and banking, investments, and financial markets and institutions.”
Many people with a finance degree pursue careers in investments, banking and insurance, McBride says. Those with an accounting degree have similarly expansive options, including working for public accounting firms or within accounting departments at companies in roles such as accounts payable, payroll, general ledger and financial analysis.
“It’s important to know that accountants don’t just crunch numbers anymore,” McBride says. “They contribute to budget planning and strategic planning with their in-depth knowledge of a business’ financial position.”
The potential to earn professional certifications is another key consideration to be aware of when debating earning a finance degree vs. an accounting degree. These credentials can carry weight in a job search, McBride says. Within accounting, there are several certifications available, including Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Managerial Accountant (CMA), Certified Fraud Examiner (CFA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), and Enrolled Agent (EA).
The CPA is arguably the most widely recognized certification in accounting. At Strayer, a CPA review course (CPAexcel) is built right into the coursework, so you can prepare to take the CPA exam while you earn your degree. Even better, Strayer graduates maintain access to those prep courses until they pass all four sections of the CPA exam, no matter how long that takes.
“Earning your CPA is a big deal and can make a significant difference in your career,” McBride concludes. “Take the importance of industry certifications into account when deciding which degree to pursue. It all adds up in the end.”