Suppose you’ve always been good with numbers and the have the kind of ordered, analytical mind that lends itself to precise details. Plus, you’re adept at statistics and data mining. Logically then, as you begin researching your post-secondary school career options, you might consider degrees in finance or accounting, two similar and yet vastly different occupational fields.

Actually, you’ll find that as you begin your search it’s best to take an overview of all your options. At the earliest stages of study, a student seeking a degree in finance or in accounting takes the same required introductory courses, but while there are many similarities between the two specialties, they are two distinctly separate disciplines with vastly different coursework offered during your post graduate years.

The main difference between the two disciplines is that those who work in finance typically focus on planning and directing the financial transactions for an organization, while those who work in accounting focus on recording and reporting on those transactions. Accounting is the organization and management of financial information; finance is the management of money.

So the coursework in undergraduate school, after basic requirements, point students in different directions. The concentration for a finance degree is more mathematics-intensive and focused on financial markets, portfolio and investment management theory, financial management, investments and security analysis and valuation. Courses for finance degrees are often more evaluative and analytical than accounting courses.

An Accounting Career

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job description, accountants prepare and examine either a corporation’s finances or someone’s personal finances. Accountants manage the general ledger and cash flow. They ensure that financial records are accurate and that taxes are paid properly and on time. The job outlook, as projected from 2014 through 2024, shows an 11 percent increase. The median salary is $69,150 a year, according to the BLS 2016 figures.

Careers include: auditors, bookkeepers, accounts receivable clerks, accounts payable clerks, treasurers and tax accountants.

How to Get There from here: Degree Options in Accounting:

A certificate in Accounting is a good idea for those folks wanting to learn basic accounting concepts, like bookkeeping. How do you get such a certificate? 10 courses usually are sufficient to satisfy the requirements.

For those interested in an associates degree in accounting there are many quality online options. With this type of degree, graduates can land bookkeeper and accounting clerk jobs. While it’s limited in terms of opportunities, students that graduate can move easily into a bachelor’s degree. The average time of completion for an associates degree in accounting is two years.

Many universities have business schools that offer bachelors degree programs that include coursework in accounting and business strategy. With a bachelors degree in accounting, graduates are qualified for auditing, financial planning, consulting and technical accounting jobs.
Earning a master’s degree in accounting will require an extra year beyond a bachelors degree, but the increase in your earning power will be well worth the effort. With a concentration in tax accounting or auditing, your path to higher paying positions in the accounting field will be secure.

After earning a masters degree in accounting, some students might want to take the next step forward and earn a PhD. Know that this will require years of additional study but it does open you up to additional opportunities, such as work as budget analysts, accountant management and other types of managerial jobs.

A career in high finance

How to Get There from here: Degree Options in Finance

You’ll need a bachelors degree in business to embark upon a career in financing. Finance is a wide open field that can range from corporate finance to personal financial planning. Someone with a masters degree in finance can find lucrative work as an investment banker, financial broker, or planner.

According to the BLS, job growth over a 10 year period from 2014-2024 is 16%. The average median salary for someone with a bachelors degree with a concentration in finance is $69,184. Depending on your career goals, however, compensation can be considerably higher than that, according to the BLS. For example, a financial analyst with “just” a bachelor’s degree (entry level) can expect to earn on average, more than $81,000 a year. Check out the BLS page on financial careers for more information.