Deciding whether to pursue a degree in accounting or in finance can be difficult if you’re not sure of what separates the two fields. Although many of the required skills and coursework overlap, there are distinct differences that set these degrees apart.
Handling Money vs. Tracking Money
The basic difference between the fields of finance and accounting is that accounting deals with information about money while finance focuses more on the money itself. With a degree in finance, you’re likely to wind up with a job that involves the transfer, handling or movement of money; management of investments; creating financial projections for businesses; or working with other financial products. Careers in the accounting profession focus on preparing financial or tax statements, creating budgets, performing audits, keeping financial records and helping individuals or businesses manage their assets.
Varied Skill Sets
Both finance and accounting require a head for numbers and the ability to apply advanced mathematical skills to money management. Professionals in these fields must be able to keep clear, accurate records while monitoring economic changes that may affect their clients. A financial degree gives you the knowledge you need to track a fluctuating market. You’ll also learn how to create financial models and reports, analyze current market conditions and predict future trends. In accounting, you gain skills related to account management, interpreting financial statements, and tracking cash flow.
Mathematics is a big part of financial and accounting degree programs, but other coursework tends to vary. Students studying finance focus on many areas of the discipline, including corporate and international financing. Financial planning and engineering, markets and equity may also be part of the program. Accounting majors take courses that teach basic accounting, reporting, economics, auditing and tax preparation. Graduates must have either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree to land a job in one of these fields. Specialized degrees in areas such as applied finance, professional accounting and financial economics are also available.
Job and salary prospects are good whether you go into finance or accounting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, by the year 2020, the accounting and finance sectors will grow 13 and 16 percent, respectively. With average starting salaries of $51,475 in accounting and $52,788 in finance recorded in 2015, it’s possible to land a lucrative job right out of school and continue advancing in the years to come. As a finance major, your career options include risk management, credit management, financial analysis, financial trading and investment banking. Accounting students may become accountants, tax managers, auditors, financial consultants or payroll administrators.
You may wish to pursue further finance or accounting studies to earn specialized certifications. Becoming certified opens the door to new careers in niche areas of your chosen field. Certification options for accountants include:
• Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
• Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
• Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
As a finance major, you may choose to become one or more of the following:
• Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
• Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
• Chartered Investment Counselor (CIC)
These are just a few of the many designations that can be earned. Studying for any one of them shows dedication and a commitment to high standards that employers value.
The exact definition of and course requirements for accounting and financial degrees varies from school to school, so you’ll have to spend some time finding the program that’s in line with your goals. Choose the field that you’ll be most comfortable working in and that allows you to use your strengths to further your career.
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