Finance vs Accounting Degree: Which Major To Choose? (2024)

If you want a career with security and growth opportunities, where you can dig into data and create strategies that help clients understand their finances, plan for the future, and build wealth, the knowledge you need starts in college. Most likely, you’re weighing your options between finance vs accounting, as either path will equip you to work with individual clients, small businesses or large corporations, but which major is the best option?

Deciding between these degrees starts with knowing how they are different and which major may better fit your goals. To help you decide, we’re digging into the differences (and similarities) in skills, even future career paths and salary expectations, so you can choose the best option.


Choosing between accounting vs. finance comes down which area interests you more: analyzing past financial data or creating strategies to build wealth. Both college majors overlap in classes, but the career paths are very different. However, both have similar starting salaries and can benefit from post-graduate licenses or certifications.

Table of contents

  1. What's the difference?
  2. Looking at majors
  3. Choosing your career path
  4. Starting salaries
  5. Which one is better?

Finance vs accounting: What's the difference?

The main difference between finance and accounting is in their scopes and goals. At its most basic, accounting focuses on looking at past transactions to determine current financial positioning while finance deals with analysis and strategy to support future growth.

Finance vs Accounting Degree: Which Major To Choose? (1)

Let’s compare more closely:

Overall management of assets and liabilitiesDaily movement of money in and out of an institution
Big-picture planning for future goalsBookkeeping, reporting and summarizing accounts and spending
Strategy for revenue growth and loss preventionEnsuring the accuracy of account transactions, statements and balances

What is finance?

Finance is the science of asset planning, management and distribution to achieve growth and increase returns. Finance professionals help secure a successful financial future and reduce the risk of loss for individuals, companies and governments.

A successful career in finance requires keen analytical skills and an eye for strategy. Professionals study topics like investment opportunities and capital management to optimally allocate resources and create value.

What is accounting?

Accounting is a broader field that starts with the precise bookkeeping of an individual, company or government’s financial transactions. This includes summarizing accounts, ensuring accuracy and legal compliance and preparing financial documents like taxes, audit reports and financial statements. Accountants also use their reports and data to advise on budgeting and forecasting. They need to be meticulous and analytical, with great attention to detail and a thorough knowledge of applicable laws, regulations and best practices.

Finance vs accounting: Looking at majors

When you consider the college coursework for finance vs accounting degrees, there is quite a bit of overlap but there are several key differences, especially during the last few semesters when you’re taking higher level, more advanced classes.

Finance major

As a finance major, you will take courses where you’ll learn about investments, risk management, financial statement analysis, corporate and international finance and economics. You will apply high-level math and statistics skills in classes like quantitative methods, economic forecasting, financial modeling and other topics. Of course, every college requires different classes and offers a variety of electives, but the goal is to provide you with an in-depth understanding of financial theory, analysis and practice so you will be ready for a career in banking, financial planning and other areas.

Finance majors may also choose from several specializations that prepare you for distinct career paths. A few of these areas include FinTech, general finance, real estate, corporate finance and financial planning or wealth management.

  • FinTech: The use of technology to streamline and improve financial services
  • General finance: The broad term describing the study of money and investments in public, personal and corporate finance
  • Real estate: Finance as applied to real estate, specifically how homes, buildings, and plots of land are purchased, and how it relates to loan management and investment opportunities
  • Corporate Finance: financial management for businesses
  • Financial Planning: Using financial data in the present (income, spending, debt or saving) to map out a beneficial strategy.

Accounting major

The courses for accounting, on the other hand, will teach you accounting theory, tax law, accounting ethics and generally accepted accounting practices (GAAP). You’ll also learn how to prepare and analyze financial statements, perform cost analyses and audit organizations. Standard courses to expect are financial accounting, taxation, business law, accounting information systems and auditing.

As you continue to advance in the program, you may choose an area of specialization like:

  • Tax planning: A deep dive into auditing, economics, finance and management in relation to tax laws, while studying how these regulations impact partnerships and corporations
  • Public accounting: Expertise in auditing, tax, consulting and financial reporting for individuals, corporations and government
  • Forensic accounting: Investigative skills and accounting knowledge used to detect and prevent financial crimes
  • Managerial accounting: Strategic financial planning, budgeting and assessment

Finance vs Accounting: Choosing your career path

Choosing an accounting vs finance degree really boils down to what career paths are most appealing to you and which will help you earn a top-notch job position. A finance degree opens the door to careers like:

  • Entry level
    • Junior financial analyst: Gather and analyze financial information, assisting with the preparation of forecasts and budgets
    • Loan officer: Assist individuals and businesses in choosing and applying for a loan
  • Mid level
    • Financial examiner: Monitor financial transactions and ensure compliance with the law
    • Insurance analyst: Evaluate risks and profits associated with insurance policies, make updates, verify records and increase efficiency for both the insurance company and policyholders
  • Senior level
    • Investment banker: Raise capital through complex financial transactions including issuing securities, as well as acquisitions, mergers and sales
    • Personal financial advisor: Offer tailored financial and investment advice based on each client’s specific needs
    • General and operations manager: Oversee all company or institution’s operations with the goal to improve efficiency and increase profits

Graduating in accounting leads to jobs like:

  • Entry Level
    • Revenue agent: Work with the IRS or other government entities to examine and audit tax returns
    • Fund accountant: Perform accounting duties and reporting for a fund (investment, private equity, non-profit, real estate, etc.)
    • Bookkeeper: Record and maintain the financial transactions of a business or institution
  • Mid-level
    • Public accountant (CPA): provide accounting services for multiple clients, individuals or corporations after earning your CPA license
    • Corporate accountant: Provide accounting services internally, for a single organization
    • Financial examiner: Monitor financial transactions and ensure compliance with the law
    • Tax manager: Ensure tax compliance, prepare and submit tax returns and analyze tax laws
  • Senior level
    • Auditor: Determine whether financial reports accurately follow GAAP
    • Controller: Oversee a company’s accounting operations, reporting and compliance
    • Forensic accountant: combine accounting and investigative best practices to research, reveal or prevent criminal financial action

These lists are far from exclusive but do provide an idea of the type of functions available for financing vs accounting graduates in corporate, personal, government and even non-profit sectors.

Finance vs Accounting Salaries: Which pays more?

Both finance and accounting degrees offer a range of well-paying job prospects. That said, the average starting salary is slightly higher for finance vs accounting degrees. In 2023, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)1 reported that the medium starting salary for finance majors was $61,456, while the medium starting salary for accounting majors was $53,444.

However, there are several factors to consider that can affect earning potential:

  • Location: Living in a higher cost-of-living area will affect your income and earning potential
  • Career path: While the average salary for a finance major is higher than that of an accountant, individual jobs in accounting may pay much more than specific jobs in finance.
  • Licensure and certification: Earning your CPA license or CMA certification will open the door to greater career opportunities and often, a much higher salary

Finance vs Accounting Degree: Which is better?

Only you can answer this question! Both finance and accounting set you up for sought-after jobs and growth prospects. Answering which major is a better fit for you boils down to your interests and career goals. Do you want to dig into financial reports, analyze data, or take on the IRS? Or would you rather follow the financial markets, analyze investments, and focus on future strategies? Do you have a strong attention to detail, enjoy organizing data and spotting anomalies or finding patterns? Or do you prefer a future-focused look at financial modeling and using quantitative data?

If you’re leaning to the first options, an accounting degree is likely to be the right path. If the second option sounds more appealing, you may want to consider a finance degree. Think about what you like studying now, as well as what you want to be doing in 10 years.

Elevate your career in finance or accounting

Whether you choose finance or accounting, you can enhance your career and increase your earning potential even after graduation. Earning a CPA license or CMA certification—regardless of which degree you’ve received—makes you more hirable, with a greater range of job opportunities and a higher salary.

Learn more about the CPA Exam and how licensure can improve your career outlook by downloading our free 2024 CPA Exam guide.

Finance vs Accounting Degree: Which Major To Choose? (2024)


Finance vs Accounting Degree: Which Major To Choose? ›

accounting degrees. Focus area: A finance degree prepares you for planning the financial future of an organization. Meanwhile, an accounting degree prepares you for evaluating and analyzing the current and past finances of an organization.

Is it better to major in finance or accounting? ›

That said, the average starting salary is slightly higher for finance vs accounting degrees. In 2023, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)1 reported that the medium starting salary for finance majors was $61,456, while the medium starting salary for accounting majors was $53,444.

Why choose an accounting and finance degree? ›

With a degree in accounting or finance, there are plenty of careers you can go into. You could become an actuary, providing clients with financial forecats or a chartered accountant, record keeping, auditing and advising.

Is finance major better than business major? ›

Finance graduates are much more likely than business degree graduates to enter the financial industry, typically in banking, personal finance, investment banking, and related fields. Common jobs that finance professionals may pursue include personal financial advisors, financial analysts, and accountants.

Is majoring in finance a good idea? ›

A career in finance can be very lucrative. The average salary for a finance major is $101,038. Pursuing a career as a financial advisor or another form of financial sales can go well beyond this number, whereas a career in corporate America or the government typically stays close to it.

What pays more, finance or accounting? ›

The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducted an analysis and determined that the average annual salary for accounting degrees in the United States is generally around $57,511, and the average annual salary for finance degrees is $58,464.

Is it smart to major in accounting? ›

An accounting degree lays the foundation for many careers in business, including entrepreneurial ones. Once you gain experience and establish business contacts, you may consider starting your own business. Whether in tax accounting or consulting, you can pursue several avenues with an accounting background.

Is finance harder than accounting? ›

While both finance and accounting can be difficult majors, accounting is considered more difficult because it requires more discipline and a lot of math. Accounting is more complex because it relies on precise sets of arithmetic principles.

Why is accounting a good major? ›

Organizations and corporations rely on accountants to accurately track financial transactions, which in turn fosters good financial health. An accounting degree is a solid foundation for numerous career roles, including auditing, certified public accounting, business analysis, financial management, and more.

What is the advantage of accounting and finance? ›

Financial accounting provides all necessary data to owners, creditors, and stakeholders, helping them determine the true standing of the company. Financial accounting provides comprehensive information on all cash flows in a firm. This can help make future growth projections.

Is finance the highest paying major? ›

No surprise, majoring in engineering and finance yields the biggest paydays five years after graduating college, while majoring in liberal arts or performing arts pays the least.

Do finance majors make the most money? ›

California ranks number 3 out of 50 states nationwide for Finance Degree job salaries.

Is finance a tough major? ›

Finance is a somewhat difficult major. The difficulty with finance comes down to its concepts that students would not have experienced before in their lives, the financial lingo in the field, and the concentration of math in the subject.

What are the cons of finance majors? ›

They can include high stress, big responsibility, long working hours, continuing education requirements, and, in some cases, a lack of job security—the finance industry is generally quite cyclical.

What are the cons of being a finance major? ›

Cons of getting a finance degree

Long hours: Many finance jobs require long hours, particularly in investment banking and other high-pressure roles. Stressful work environment: The finance industry can be stressful, particularly during economic uncertainty or market volatility.

Why would someone major in finance? ›

Finance students are taught key knowledge that is both broad in scope and in-depth in nature. A finance degree can teach you important topics to potentially enhance your own financial health, such as: Portfolio theory, management and application for business and individual investment decisions.

Do finance majors make more than accounting majors? ›

In 2021, the average salary estimate for workers in the business field was $63,000. Fast forward to 2023, those who had a bachelor's degree in finance tend to have slightly higher starting median incomes than those with accounting degrees.

Is accounting harder than finance major? ›

While both finance and accounting can be difficult majors, accounting is considered more difficult because it requires more discipline and a lot of math. Accounting is more complex because it relies on precise sets of arithmetic principles.

Can a finance major be an accountant? ›

Can you get a CPA with a finance degree? Yes, you can get a CPA with a finance degree. In order to sit for the CPA exam, you will need to have completed a bachelor's degree in accounting or another business related field. A bachelor's degree in finance will qualify you to sit for the CPA exam.

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