Accounting & Finance
If you have a strong interest in managing money, creating budgets, or advising others on how to manage their own funds, then a career in accounting and finance could be perfect for you. While many graduates find work as accountants, there are so many alternative careers open to those with a strong background in financial data gathering, analysis, and reporting.
While physical cash may not be around for much longer, there will always be a need for qualified professionals who can manage the finances for individuals and organizations—just look at the projected job growth statistics further down this page. What’s more, careers in accounting and finance are, for the most part, above the national average for salary expectations.
So, if you’re thinking about a career in these fields, check out this complete guide to accounting and finance to get a good picture of the degrees and careers that are open to you.
The Best Colleges for Degrees in Accounting and Finance
This guide is a general overview of the field of accounting and finance, with information about the types of degrees and careers that you can pursue. For a more specific look at the best colleges and universities for studying in these fields, check out the rankings we’ve put together below.
We’ll also continue to add to these lists over time, so check back regularly if you’re going to be applying soon.
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What Degrees Are There in Accounting and Finance?
While there are associate’s degrees in accounting and finance, many of the most popular careers require you to have at least a bachelor’s degree. That’s why we’d recommend that you focus your attention on getting qualified to this level if you’d like to have the best opportunities available after graduation. Below, we’ve listed some of the most popular degree choices offered within these fields.
Accounting majors learn principles like auditing and reporting, and become experts in managing financial accounts, whether for individuals or major corporations. This major is often considered to be one of the most intense concentrations you can choose, with rigorous coursework that covers many subject areas. In addition to strong analytical and mathematical skills, and a high attention to detail, you’ll need to understand business, economics, taxation law, and more.
Economics programs teach courses including demand theory and estimation, forecasting, production and cost theory, and government regulation, among others. The analytical makeup of most programs means that economics majors are in high demand in the business world after graduation. Careers available to you are similar to those open to mathematics and statistics majors, including budget analyst, statistician, and loan officer.
With a four-year bachelor’s degree in finance from a strong college or university, you can be ready for a long and lucrative career in financial advisory, commercial or investment banking, insurance, or real estate. Your courses will typically include an introduction to the principles of business and business law; the principles of management, project management, and personal finance; the fundamentals of marketing, and many other topics. It’s a very broad degree program and thus can be a good choice for prospective students who want to work in finance, but who haven’t yet decided on a specific career.
While similar to an accounting program, forensic accounting degrees will give you the necessary skills to work in financial crime investigation. So, in addition to traditional accountancy knowledge and skills, you may also learn about fraud examination, auditing, federal taxation, and interview techniques for conducting investigations. These programs are well-suited to those who have an interest in money, while also getting a kick out of solving complex problems where the answer or evidence isn’t always straightforward.
Insurance and Risk Management
Risk management programs, which may or may not be coupled with insurance, prepare you for work in a variety of roles. You’ll learn how to identify potential risks to an organization’s operations, in addition to how to mitigate those risks to lessen the likelihood of their occurrence. You’ll also gain an understanding of how to develop plans and policies should a risk become an issue that affects a business. With a degree in risk management, you could find work as a risk manager or an actuary.
Life and Health Insurance
Some institutions offer degrees specifically tailored to life and health insurance. Since the role of insurance agent or underwriter is typically an entry-level position, these degrees are commonly offered at the associate level. You’ll take classes that cover the knowledge needed to sell or underwrite life and health insurance policies, in addition to often giving you a basic level knowledge of economics, mathematics, management, and customer service.
Mathematics and Statistics
There’s a constant demand for qualified mathematicians and statisticians in many industries. These people look for patterns and hidden relationships within data, developing forecasts and predictions that are used by almost every organization to plan business goals and activities. You’ll be qualified to find work in a broad variety of roles, including as an actuary, budget analyst, economist, operations research analyst, and more. In fact, most of the careers we’ve listed within this article are available to graduates with a degree in mathematics or statistics.
What Are the Admission Requirements for a Degree in Accounting and Finance?
The requirements for admission into accounting and finance degrees vary greatly from institution to institution. Many of the highest-ranking programs for degrees like accounting are extremely selective when it comes to admissions. As a minimum, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED to apply for entry into a bachelor’s program.
The more competitive institutions will normally ask for a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 to 3.5 on a 4-point scale, though this could be as low as 2.5 for lower-ranking colleges and universities. Aside from your academic achievement, there will also usually be a need to submit letters of recommendation, your official transcripts, and a personal statement or essay.
For a more precise answer to this question, you’ll need to look at individual institutions that offer the course you’re interested in. At the bottom of this page, we’ve linked to a number of rankings for different subject areas; with these, you can find the best colleges and universities for different program areas and compare their entrance requirements.
What Can I Do with a Degree in Accounting and Finance?
For many careers in accounting and finance you’ll only need a bachelor’s degree. Others require further study to a master’s level to give you the best chance of acceptance, particularly where there’s a strong focus on mathematical and statistical analysis.
Popular Careers for Accounting and Finance Graduates
Accounting and finance careers are some of the most lucrative in the nation. Traditional careers like accounting are still in high demand and can set you up with a defined career path and high salary ceiling for life. Alternatively, you could be working in economic forecasting, insurance, or underwriting for a financial services company. Below, we’ve collected some of the most common careers for graduates with an accounting and finance degree.
Accountant or Auditor
Accountants are the people responsible for ensuring that an organization’s financial records are accurate, properly maintained, and correctly reported. They ensure that all taxes are filed and paid, and that every transaction is logged. You might have to produce regular financial reports and make recommendations to senior management on how to conduct certain areas of business.
Auditors typically have similar responsibilities, but approach them from a different perspective. Internal auditors may be appointed to a company to investigate potential fraudulent activity or mismanagement of the company’s accounts. External auditors have the same responsibilities, yet are employed by a third-party agency; for example, the IRS may send an auditor into a company to investigate suspected wrongdoing.
Actuaries are involved in the prediction and management of risk and uncertainty. They’ll employ statistical and mathematical skills, along with financial knowledge, to determine the potential risks to a company’s business operation and the likelihood of them occurring. They’ll also develop policies to help mitigate and minimize the cost of these risks should they occur. As such, this is a common role in the insurance industry, where the provision of insurance policies and costing is all about the risk posed to the business by each customer that takes out a policy.
Bookkeeping, Accounting, or Auditing Clerk
Bookkeeping clerks have similar responsibilities to accounting clerks, but their role is typically broader. For example, as a bookkeeper, you could be handling all invoices, payments, and credits for a company. An accounting clerk, on the other hand, may be assigned to just a single account within a company, with multiple clerks employed for different areas of the business.
As a budget analyst, you’ll be helping private or public institutions to manage and control their annual expenditure. On any given day, you could be working with project managers to determine and develop the company’s budget; reviewing proposals for projects or other expenditure that utilizes that budget; making and justifying recommendations for funding or expenditure requests, and creating predictions for future expenditure or financial needs. Budget analysts typically hold a bachelor’s degree, while other courses in areas like accounting and economics can help.
Claims Adjuster, Appraiser, Examiner or Investigator
When you make a claim on your home, car, or medical insurance, a claims adjuster, appraiser, examiner, or investigator is the person responsible for evaluating your claim. In this role, you’d make decisions about whether or not to pay out a claim and how much to pay. You may have other responsibilities, such as determining whether a claim might be fraudulent, contacting necessary third party organizations to further investigations, and negotiating settlement agreements. Most entry-level positions are available to those with a high school diploma.
Cost estimators are needed by companies who work in construction and manufacturing. As a cost estimator, you’ll analyze data to produce estimates on how much resource is required to complete a new build or project. You might spend your time collecting data, studying blueprints, working with salespeople, engineers, and architects, and maintaining accurate records. A bachelor’s degree is normally required to find work in this type of role, though experienced professionals with several years’ worth of experience might bypass the education requirements in some firms.
Economists are needed in a broad number of fields, including health care, government, and education. They’re involved in the logistics of the supply chain, working with the manufacturing of goods and services. Applying your knowledge of economics, you’ll canvas and research for data, and use these data to interpret and forecast trends in the market. You’ll be an expert in advising organizations on the economy, advice which will be used to shape decisions such as an organization’s budget needs and annual expenditure, or the likely impact of changing laws and regulations on the economy.
As a financial analyst, you’ll help businesses or individuals to understand whether investments are financially sound. You’ll follow the performance of different stocks and other investments, recommending the best investments to your clients. Financial analysts might also be known as portfolio managers or fund managers, depending on the type and scope of investments that they work with. To gain entry into these roles, you’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree with a focus on finance and accounting, mathematics or statistics.
As a financial manager, you’ll support the financial operations within an organization. You’ll be involved in creating financial reports and developing plans that help the organization to hit its financial targets. This will usually include analyzing data and reviewing financial reports to come up with cost-saving measures; participating in financial decision making, and preparing financial statements and forecasting. You may also be in charge of a team of other employees who are responsible for managing the budget or producing their own reports. You’ll need a thorough understanding of financial regulations and tax laws, especially those relating to your organization’s industry.
Fraud Examiner, Investigator, or Analyst
Fraud investigators work primarily in the financial services sector, analyzing data to detect fraudulent activity, and investigating suspected cases of fraud. You’ll be expected to gather evidence that supports your decisions, and prepare reports that explain your findings. In terms of theory, you’ll need an understanding of financial law, strong communication skills, and strong analytical and mathematical skills. However, you won’t always need a bachelor’s degree depending on your professional experience and the company you’re applying to work with.
Insurance Sales Agent
This is typically an entry-level position, which can secure you a foothold in an organization to build your career. You’ll be the first point of contact for customers looking to buy an insurance policy. You’ll work with inbound or outbound calls, or both, discussing customers’ needs with them and recommending the best insurance policies to suit. Much of the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in these positions comes from on-the-job training and experience in the role.
Insurance underwriters make decisions on whether to provide an insurance policy to a customer or organization. Using information supplied on the application and from various other sources, you’ll determine the risk level, use specialized software, and speak to third-party agencies to decide whether a policy should be granted. Most insurance underwriters choose a speciality, such as life insurance or property insurance. Responsibilities are similar across industries, but you’ll be expected to learn and understand the risk level and criteria that apply to your field.
Just as an insurance underwriter makes decisions on whether to pay out for a claim, a loan officer decides whether or not to approve loan applications for a customer or organization. Your daily responsibilities include having a thorough understanding of your company’s financial products, meeting with customers to gather personal details or provide loan information, and making decisions regarding whether to lend to prospective applicants. Most roles are entry level, though mortgage loan officers usually require licensure.
Management analysts look for ways to increase the profitability of an organization. You’ll gather and analyze information about the way that a company conducts its business, while developing solutions that can save that company money or make its practices more efficient. Recommendations will come from analyzing financial data, interviewing existing members of staff, or examining a company’s premises or processes. You’ll need strong communication skills, as you’ll often be pitching recommendations at a senior or board level.
Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts are commonly involved in the launch of a new product or service. They’ll provide input into the development process, helping a company to understand the target audience, what people want from a product, and the pricing structure that’s most likely to succeed. You’ll work with market data to analyze product and sales trends, and produce forecasts. You might spend time evaluating competitor products and visualizing the data you gather for presentation to senior management. A bachelor’s degree in a mathematical or statistical field is a common requirement for most companies.
Mathematician or Statistician
Mathematicians and statisticians are needed in many industries, including science, engineering, and government agencies. Working as part of a team, you’ll be the expert in gathering and analyzing mathematical and statistical data for use in sales, product development, and other areas. You might be working directly with scientists, political figures, designers, or chemists. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum level of education needed, though many companies now look for graduates of a master’s program in a related area.
Personal Financial Advisor
As a personal financial advisor, you’ll help others to understand how best to manage their own finances. This can include everything from basic taxation to investments, insurance policies, mortgages, and retirement planning. Often working on a self-employed, contractual basis, you’ll meet with your clients to analyze their current financial situation, before explaining the products and services that best suit them, or formulating plans that help them to reach their goals. Some advisors choose to specialize in a specific area, like investing, risk management, or retirement. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum level of education needed, though a master’s degree can help when establishing your own business and client base.
Tax Examiner or Collector, or Revenue Agent
According to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly half of these professionals were employed by the federal government, while the remaining half were in state or local government. They’re responsible for working out how much tax is owed and collecting it, as necessary, from both individuals and organizations. You’ll review and analyze tax returns, contact those who have underpaid or overpaid tax, and perform audits. You’ll need to be excellent at recordkeeping and will be expected to produce detailed records for every case you handle.
Urban or Regional Planner
This little-known role involves supporting the growth of communities and cities across the country. On any given day, you could be conducting investigations to make recommendations about land development; reviewing development plans from third parties; assessing the feasibility of development proposals, and talking to local communities about proposed projects or developments. A master’s level education is the norm for roles at this level.
How Much Can I Earn with a Degree in Accounting and Finance?
Below, you’ll find information about the earning potential for some of the most popular careers in accounting and finance. Thanks to data from the BLS and the government’s Occupational Information Network (O*NET), it’s easy to see where your career could take you before you even take the first step. Note that some of these careers apply to multiple fields; for example, you’ll find budget analysts and cost estimators in both the insurance and finance industries.
|Median Salary (2019)||Projected Growth (2018–2028)|
|Actuary||$52.09 hourly / $108,350 annually||Much faster than average (20%)
5,000 new openings
|Budget Analyst||$36.80 hourly / $76,540 annually||Average (4%)
2,400 new openings
|Claims Adjuster, Appraiser, Examiner, and Investigator||$31.99 hourly / $66,540 annually||Decline (-4%)
13,000 fewer openings
|Cost Estimator||$31.37 hourly / $65,250 annually||Faster than average (9%)
18,700 new openings
|Insurance Sales Agent||$24.49 hourly / $50,940 annually||Faster than average (10%)
48,300 new openings
|Insurance Underwriter||$33.67 hourly / $70,020 annually||Decline (-5%)
5,400 fewer openings
|Loan Officer||$30.42 hourly / $63,270 annually||Faster than average (8%)
24,300 new openings
|Median Salary (2019)||Projected Growth (2018–2028)|
|Economist||$50.49 hourly / $105,020 annually||Faster than average (8%)
1,700 new openings
|Market Research Analyst||$30.67 hourly / $63,790 annually||Much faster than average (20%)
139,200 new openings
|Mathematician and Statistician||$44.25 hourly / $92,030 annually||Much faster than average (30%)
14,400 new openings
|Operations Research Analyst||$40.78 hourly / $84,810 annually||Much faster than average (26%)
28,100 new openings
|Political Scientist||$58.76 hourly / $122,220 annually||Average (5%)
300 new openings
|Survey Researcher||$28.45 hourly / $59,170 annually||Little or no change (1%)
100 new openings
|Urban and Regional Planners||$33.75 hourly / $74,350 annually||Much faster than average (11%)
4,200 new openings
|Median Salary (2019)||Projected Growth (2018–2028)|
|Accountants and Auditors||$34.40 hourly / $71,550 annually||Average (6%)
90,700 new openings
|Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks||$19.82 hourly / $41,230 annually||Decline (-4%)
65,800 fewer openings
|Financial Analyst||$41.18 hourly / $85,660 annually||Average (6%)
20,300 new openings
|Financial Manager||$62.45 hourly / $129,890 annually||Much faster than average (16%)
104,700 new openings
|Management Analyst||$40.99 hourly / $85,260 annually||Much faster than average (14%)
118,300 new openings
|Personal Financial Advisor||$42.24 hourly / $87,850 annually||Faster than average (7%)
19,100 new openings
|Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents||$26.39 hourly / $54,890 annually||Decline (-2%)
1,400 fewer openings
|Top Executives||$50.33 hourly / $104,690 annually||Average (6%)
150,600 new openings
|Median Salary (2019)||Projected Growth (2018–2028)|
|Forensic Accountant||$68,531 annually||Average (6%)
90,700 new openings
|Fraud Examiners, Investigators, and Analysts||$39.22 hourly / $81,590 annually||Average (4 – 6%)
13,700 new openings
Can I Get an Online Degree in Accounting and Finance?
Online degree programs are becoming more popular every year; in fact, there are numerous institutions that solely offer online programs, with no on-campus courses. You only need to look at the cohort statistics within many universities to see that the average age of the student body is increasing, too. Online courses make a higher education more easily attainable for those who have existing work or family commitments, as you can study from home on your own time, and on your own schedule.
In many cases, the courses are offered on evenings and weekends, which provides you with more flexibility around a full-time career. Learning might be synchronous or asynchronous; this means you’ll either log in at set times, with the rest of your peers, and follow live instruction from a professor, or choose how, when, and where you complete your courses, respectively.
As accounting and finance degrees rarely have any need for practical, real-world experiences—unlike, for example, nursing, medicine, or social work—you can easily complete all your courses and coursework remotely over the internet. This makes obtaining an online degree in accounting and finance relatively straightforward, providing you can afford the course and find the time and motivation to complete the work.
In most cases, you’ll pay less for an online degree than you would for an on-campus program. There are no fees for room and board, and tuition is often offered at a flat rate, as opposed to being charged at different rates for in-state and out-of-state students. Finally, most online institutions don’t make reference to the fact that you earned your degree online when issuing your transcripts. This means that future employers won’t even know that you completed your work entirely from home.