What’s the difference between a degree in accounting and a degree in finance? If you can’t answer this question, you’re not alone. The reason why differentiating the two can be tricky is because they are, in fact, so similar.
“The entry-level jobs and responsibilities in each field are often the same, and no matter what your position, it’s likely that you report to the Chief Financial Officer, or CFO,” says David Cartwright, CPA and Academic Director of Online Programs at Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education. “I tell my students that the best way to think about it is like a Venn diagram with a lot of overlap between the two. The main difference is that accounting majors spend the majority of their time looking at the numbers to make sense of the past, while finance majors are looking at the numbers to try to make sense of the future.”
If you are interested in a career in the finance or accounting field, pursuing a degree makes sense: Nearly 100 percent of professionals in each field have completed an undergraduate degree. To help you make the decision of which degree is right for you, we’ve answered a few frequently asked questions below.
What Is Accounting?
Accounting is the study of managing, keeping, and organizing the “books” connected to a business. An accountant may work as a financial consultant or examiner, payroll administrator, tax adviser, treasurer, bookkeeper, auditor, or some similar field. These professionals work with the day-to-day management of financial records, reports, and payroll in business, and around 97 percent of these professionals hold a bachelor's degree, at a minimum. Accountants are very detailed individuals, and the degree will focus on how to use that detail to keep strong records.
What Is Finance?
Finance is less narrowly focused in that it teaches more than just bookkeeping and financial records management. People who choose a degree in finance are able to pursue training and degrees in other financial-services fields, and often find themselves working in business, banking, and consultancy. The majority of these professionals, around 99 percent, hold a bachelor's degree. Finance degree holders are the credit managers, risk managers, financial analysts, and applications developers in the modern banking and business world. Finance, as a degree, has more of a focus on analytics and forecasting than accounting.
How much can a Finance or Accounting graduate hope to earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants and auditors earn an average of $65,940 per year or $31.70 per hour. The career is expected to see growth potential of 11 percent, which is faster than average for all career fields. This means that employment opportunities and income potential are good for accountants and similar professionals. Those with a degree in finance have a slightly better career outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that financial analysts can expect a 12 percent growth potential from 2014 to 2024, with an average income of $78,620 per year, or $37.80 per hour.
Which degree is right for you?
As you can see, these two degrees are incredibly similar, so how can you make a decision on which is right for you? Consider these questions as you decide: Do you picture yourself in a career that involves poring over books, keeping detailed records, and helping businesses organize their financial books? Or would you prefer to spend your time studying the industry, making forecasts, and finding ways to profit from financial trends? The answer to that question may help you determine which of these two degree fields is right for you. Regardless of the path you choose, you will have strong income and career growth potential with a degree in either of these fields.
Johnson & Wales University offers an online Master of Science — Finance degree and a Master of Business Administration — Finance. For more information, complete the "Request Info" form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881.