PhD in Accounting

A PhD in Accounting (or doctorate in accounting degree) is an advanced graduate degree–the highest available–that equips students to work at the highest levels of the accounting field in private, public, and government accounting, as well as in education. Graduates with a PhD in Accounting are prepared to make contributions to accounting research and theory as well as advance the practical applications of accounting science. Increasing government regulation is leading to healthy growth in career opportunities for accountants, and the education graduates of PhD in Accounting degree programs receive in research and theory prepares them to explain how regulations may impact their business.

Why Pursue a PhD in Accounting Degree?

A PhD in Accounting degree is the highest level accounting degree that career accountants and auditors can obtain. As such, graduates with a PhD in Accounting command competitive salaries and can enter the job market as in-demand candidates at all levels of business. Government accounting positions are also available to graduates; these positions are highly sought after and compared to a lower level degree, a PhD can make a candidate more attractive to government employers. Graduates with a doctorate in accounting are also eligible to work as faculty and researchers at the college level.

Prerequisites and Requirements

Programs for doctorate degrees in accounting are very rigorous, and as a result admission to these programs is competitive. Students applying to a PhD in Accounting degree program must hold at least a bachelor’s degree; select programs may also require students to hold a master’s degree, or to have earned experience in the accounting field prior to admission. Students should also expect to take a graduate level examination such as the GRE or GMAT. Since a PhD in Accounting degree program typically covers advanced mathematical theory as it relates to accounting, candidates usually must have completed a core set of math courses at the college level, including algebra, calculus, and/or statistics.

Typical Coursework

Most PhD in Accounting degree programs allow students to focus in one core area of accounting, such as finance, taxation, economics, or math. Nearly all PhD in Accounting degree programs follow a similar course of study, in which for the first two years students take advanced accounting courses. Courses may include such topics as:

  • Data Analysis
  • Econometrics
  • Accounting Research
  • Organizational Processes
  • Decision Theory

The course segment is followed by two to three years during which the student devotes their time to developing, researching, and writing a doctoral thesis and attending research workshops. Research workshops, in which research papers by students, faculty, and established accountants are presented and discussed, are an integral part of most PhD in Accounting degree programs. These workshops meet periodically, and attendance and active participation are often mandatory as part of the program since the goal of these workshops is to prepare students to write their own doctoral thesis. Many programs expect a student’s doctoral thesis to be submitted and accepted to a peer reviewed journal; in most cases, the student is also expected to defend their thesis in front of a panel of faculty and others established in the accounting and auditing fields.

Career Opportunities for Graduates

Graduates of PhD in Accounting degree programs have many career options; the most common path for graduates is to become faculty members of business schools to teach accounting to others. Many leading organizations in the accounting field, including the American Institute of CPAs, believe that there is a growing shortage of accounting PhDs,1 meaning that there are not enough qualified faculty to teach future accountants at the undergraduate level. This can lead to highly competitive salary offers for graduates with a PhD in Accounting. According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, full-time business faculty earned an average salary of $122,905 in 2013.2 Graduates of these programs are also eligible to work in public, private, and government accounting at higher levels of responsibility and at commensurately higher salaries. In private business, individuals with a PhD in Accounting degree may embark on careers as chief financial officers, at average salaries starting at $155,000 per year according to Robert Half Accounting and Finance.3 This degree can also prepare graduates to work in information technology, designing and implementing accounting programs and databases for public, private, and government entities at an average salary of $102,190 per year.4 Job growth in this field is anticipated to average 15% between 2012 and 2022, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.4

1. Accounting Web: http://www.accountingweb.com/topic/education-careers/aicpa-scholars-program-aims-increase-accounting-phd-faculty
2. Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, 2013-2014 Salary Survey Reports: http://www.aacsb.edu/~/media/AACSB/Publications/data-reports/global-salary-survey/2013-2014-global-salary-survey-exec-summary.ashx
3. Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance: http://www.roberthalf.com/sites/default/files/Media_Root/Images/AT-PDFs/ATFAMR_Salary_Guide_Robert_Half_2015.pdf
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer and Information Research Scientists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm