PhD in Accounting

A doctorate, or PhD, in accounting is the highest degree available in the field. PhD in accounting programs culminate in a student completing specialized, original research that contributes to the accounting industry. Prior to completing a dissertation project, students take courses in advanced accounting theory and applied research methods. This degree usually takes four to seven years to complete, depending on the student’s course load and chosen research project. Most programs are 70-120 credit hours.

This degree is ideal for those interested in conducting accounting research in academic institutions or research organizations. Postsecondary teachers, for example, earn an average annual salary of $75,430, and this salary can vary depending on the academic institution or specialization of the professor.1 These positions are projected to grow by 9.3% through 2024.2 Students interested in specialized consulting or governmental work may benefit from an accounting PhD as well.

Admission Requirements

Every university has different guidelines, but in general, admission to PhD programs is very competitive. Applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree, and some schools also require a master’s degree or experience in the field. Applications usually require GMAT or GRE scores and proof of an academic background in subjects such as mathematics, statistics, and economics. Students that have taken a significant number of accounting courses or have earned bachelor’s or master’s degrees in accounting may have an advantage in the application process.

Core Concepts and Coursework

PhD program curriculum usually starts with advanced and specialized courses that students need to complete their dissertation research. These courses focus on the accounting, business, economic, statistical, and research skills needed to pursue research projects. Students may also complete teaching practicums or periodic oral or written examinations. PhD programs conclude with a student conducting original research and writing a dissertation. Though every university is different, below are some common foundational courses and seminar titles:

  • Research Methods
  • Mathematical Modeling
  • Empirical Research
  • Econometrics
  • Capital Markets Research
  • Behavioral Accounting Research
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Advanced Financial Reporting
  • Decision Models
  • Doctoral Dissertation Seminars

PhD in Accounting Learning Goals

1. Understand research methods and quantitative tools.

Students should gain a strong foundation in the tools and knowledge necessary to conduct thorough research. A comprehensive understanding of research methods and processes will allow a student to complete careful, accurate work in the PhD program and beyond.

2. Contribute original research to the accounting field.

Doctoral students should pursue the subarea of accounting that interests them or explore areas of the field that still have unanswered questions. With the resources and support of the university, students can create new, original research that can add to the field of accounting.

3. Apply research to relevant issues in accounting.

The doctoral research done by students should be applicable to the accounting industry. By examining current, relevant issues, doctoral students can help move the academic accounting field forward and contribute to the industry at large.

PhD in Accounting Programs

Most PhD programs are intensive, four- to seven-year-long degrees that take place on one campus. A number of universities across the country offer PhD programs where students can pursue original research in the accounting field. Due to the intensive, project-based nature of PhD research, most programs require students to study on campus and do not offer fully online PhD degrees.

University of Georgia (Athens, GA)

At the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, students can earn a PhD in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting. The faculty at UGA is focused on research in the field, and students can collaborate with professors doing active research. All PhD students take preparation classes such as Capital Markets Research and Math for Economists. Students then choose one of three concentrations within accounting: Financial Accounting, Taxation, or Auditing. Each concentration requires additional classes, such as specialized econometrics or statistics courses, to prepare students to do their research. During the last year of the program, students work on their doctoral dissertation. Many graduates from the PhD program go on to work at research-oriented universities or take research positions in private organizations or government.

Stanford University (Stanford, CA)

The Graduate School of Business at Stanford University offers a PhD in Accounting. Students study a broad, interdisciplinary curriculum, learning skills for conducting analytical and empirical research. The program focuses on the application of economics, decision theory, and statistical analysis of accounting issues. Through a foundational series of economics, finance, and econometrics courses, students prepare to develop the framework and skills needed to conduct their original research. To be considered for admission, students need a thorough understanding of subjects such as microeconomic theory, econometrics, and mathematics, as well as some computer programming skills. This quantitative-focused PhD program does not require students to have a traditional accounting background or CPA designation.

Columbia University (New York, NY)

Columbia University’s Business School has a doctorate program offering a PhD in Accounting. Students gain familiarity with the research literature and conceptual foundations in the accounting field. In courses such as Accounting Theory, Economic Analysis, Mathematical Methods, and Empirical Research in Accounting, students learn concepts and research skills applicable to their own original research. The curriculum includes doctoral seminars, research projects, and peer and faculty reviews of current research. Students choose between financial accounting, managerial accounting, and auditing as the focus of their dissertation research.

Accounting Certification with a PhD

Some PhD students who have previously worked in the accounting field may already have professional designations such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). Professional certifications may be helpful for graduates who want to go into consulting work, and the PhD curriculum may prepare students without certifications to sit for these licensure examinations. However, many doctoral accounting programs do not require a certification, as accounting research relies more on quantitative and modeling skills. In addition, a professional accounting designation may not be necessary to pursue academic or research positions. Depending on a student’s career interests and work experience, accounting certification may or may not be necessary.

Jobs with a PhD in Accounting

Many graduates from PhD in accounting programs go on to work in research-oriented positions in academia, research institutions, or government. Graduates may also find work in consulting or public policy. Some potential positions for those with PhD in Accounting degrees include:

  • College or university professors
  • Consultants
  • Financial analysts
  • Public policy researchers
  • Researcher

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a PhD to become a CPA?

In general, CPA requirements are fulfilled by a master’s degree, and a PhD is not required to become a CPA. Through pursuing a PhD, students may complete the necessary educational requirements to sit for the CPA examination. However, it should be noted that most PhD program curricula do not focus on preparing students for the CPA certification, but instead focus on a student’s research dissertation.

What can I do with a PhD in accounting?

A doctoral accounting degree is most commonly sought by those interested in doing research in the accounting field. Graduates may go on to work as professors, researchers, or consultants.

How long does it take to complete a PhD in Accounting?

The PhD program length depends on the university, but most universities range from four to seven years. Students’ progress depends on their course load, chosen research subject, and academic or professional obligations.

Are PhD students required to teach classes?

Some universities require students to complete teaching practicums in the accounting field. These teaching commitments can range from one course during the program to multiple courses every semester. For students interested in academia, teaching undergraduate and graduate classes can provide work experience. Applicants should research programs and talk to faculty to find a program that best matches their interests and goals.

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2016, Postsecondary Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-5
2. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm