Battle of the Majors: Accounting vs. Finance

“Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.” — Katherine Whitehorn


I. Introduction
II. Job Opportunities
III. Skills- Technical & Soft
IV. Education & Exams
V. Closing / Wrap Up

I. Introduction

I. Introduction
Coming from a business school, there is one question students always asked each other- what is your major, accounting or finance? Freshmen enter college choosing either major because of its popularity or because that is the status quo. The mindset is if you go to a business school, you should choose either accounting or finance, regardless of the fact that many don’t know what each major entails. But for many others, choosing either accounting or finance requires researching, networking, and an understanding of what they are getting themselves into. There are plenty of factors to take into consideration. What job opportunities are available? How much am I going to get paid for my work? What does the education of each major look like? That is the point of this blog post — not only to break down certain aspects of both majors, but to help you narrow down a career path that puts you in the right environment to utilize and grow your strengths.

Talk to students racing for a position in the corporate world, and you will find for the most part that they aspire to be accountants or financial analysts. There exists some overlap between the skill set and knowledge of an accounting major and a finance major, but these two areas focus on different aspects of the business world.

Accountants use the present reality of a company’s finances to create, prepare, and examine financial statements. They tend to be more interested in the specific and exacting details of the past, day-to-day operations, to create information about the present.

Financiers use these financial statements created by accountants, as well as current market trends and other data to create an overall picture of the present and future of a company or investment.

In the simple way of things, accounting jobs account for things in the past and make them relevant for the present, whereas finance jobs use the past and forecast the future to make present financial decisions.

II. Job Opportunities

One of the biggest concerns when picking a major in college is thinking about whether or not a job will be available to you after you graduate. Luckily, both accounting and finance are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 16% and 14% job growth for finance and accounting careers, respectively. Increasing regulations and market complexity following the 2008 financial crisis are driving the growth for financial analysts. As more regulations are put into place, and information technology continues to grow, accountants are needed to scrutinize every aspect of a companies financial stability and operations.

Image provided by Rasmussun College

Each field of study has its own unique job titles, as seen in the table below, however it is important to note that financial analysts can be found in both the accounting and finance sectors. This may seem confusing, but accounting jobs often require similar skills as finance jobs, thus the saying goes “an accounting major can do finance work, but a finance major can’t do accounting work.”

III. Skills- Technical & Soft

Take a look at the in-demand soft and technical skills for both majors that employees are seeking in a competitive individual. Don’t feel intimidated. These are skills that are acquired throughout your college journey in various internships and club experiences.

Soft skills have to do with who you are rather than what you know. Soft skills are personality traits and people skills acquired overtime that highlight your relationship with other individuals and groups. On the other hand, technical skills are ability acquired through learning and practice, having to do with what you know rather than who you are.

It is extremely important, as you are taking a look at the table below, that you be self-aware. Examine the soft skills you currently have in your tool-set, and the type of technical skills you can really see yourself developing.

IV. Education & Exams

Education credentials are essential to the careers of accountants and analysts. Pursuing a degree in accounting is the typical straightforward path for future accountants, and includes 150 credits as opposed to the typical 120 credits for other majors. Similarly, pursuing a degree in finance is the typical path for a career in finance, but mathematics or economics can also open up the same doors in the industry. As a side note, it is important to highlight that where you pursue your finance degree, top tier school or not, may have an impact on entry-level positions and career placement. Top tier schools generally have a strong reputation with programs that have established relationships with top tier banks and firms, thus giving these students greater access.

Both career choices, accounting and finance, require a professional certification. For accountants it is the title of Certified Public Accountant (CPA), which is one of the most widely known and recognized professional titles in the industry. For a career in finance there are several exams one can take depending on the position they strive to have. A financial analyst generally strives for the title of Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). However, many other exams exist within the field of finance. For those looking to work in the area of investment banking, the Series 79 exam is required. For those looking to work as a stockbroker the Series 7 exam is required. Click here to see an entire list of the Series exams.

For those interested, here is a small list of suggested minors that complement each major. Some people choose to minor in things that they have a true passion (that doesn’t necessarily have much to do with their major), and that is totally fine. But those that want to minor in something to strengthen their major and are seeking suggestions here you go:

V. Closing / Wrap Up

Accounting and finance are career options that are growing in demand and appeal to many data-crunching and analytical individuals. The major differences boil down to what you want your average day to look like. That is why it is extremely important to be self-aware. Knowing your current soft skills and the technical skills that fit with your personality, you can make a quality decision on the major that may be the right fit for you.

​To see a day in the life of a public accountant, click here.
To see a day in the life of a financial analyst, click here.

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