logo

PhD in Accounting

A doctorate in accounting is the highest degree available in the field, but it is typically pursued by those interested in conducting accounting research in academic institutions or research organizations or those interested in teaching at the postsecondary level. People who are interested in becoming Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) need to have 150 hours of college credit, which can usually be satisfied with a master’s degree in accounting or a bachelor’s degree in accounting along with a graduate certificate or additional graduate-level coursework. Students interested in specialized consulting or governmental work may benefit from an accounting PhD as well. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly 550 not-for-profit schools in the US have advanced accounting programs, which include programs at the master’s, doctoral, and graduate certificate levels.1

Table of Contents
Learning Goals
Program Options
Core Concepts
Select Program Profiles
Jobs with a PhD in Accounting
Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Program Options

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Accounting programs culminate with students 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 comprise 70-120 credit hours.

In addition to the academically-focused PhD in Accounting, the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is another degree choice for those interested in a doctoral degree in accounting. While there may be some overlap between the two degrees, the PhD tends to focus on research, academia, and accounting theory, while the DBA is considered a professional degree and tends to focus on making contributions to business management in practice.

Online Degree Formats

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, however, most programs require students to study on campus and do not offer online PhD degrees.

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:

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

Select PhD in Accounting Programs

Traditional Programs

University of Georgia

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 dissertations. 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

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

Columbia University’s Business School offers 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. All doctoral students participate in the Burton Conference at Columbia, which is a series of peer-evaluated workshop sessions with accounting scholars from other institutions.

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 professor
  • Consultant
  • Financial analyst
  • Public policy researcher
  • Researcher

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a PhD to become a CPA?

In general, CPA requirements can be fulfilled by a master’s degree or with a bachelor’s degree in accounting along with additional accounting coursework or an accounting certificate. A PhD is not required to become a CPA in any state, though it may satisfy CPA state educational requirements. 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.

How much can I make with a PhD in Accounting?

Postsecondary teachers of business earn an average annual salary of $87,200, and this salary can vary depending on the academic institution as well as the specialization and experience level of the professor.2 Postsecondary business teacher positions are projected to grow by 14.7% through 2028, much faster than the average profession.3

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.

Can I get certified with a PhD in Accounting?

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 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. In summary, depending on a student’s career interests and work experience, accounting certification may or may not be necessary.

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.

What is the difference between a PhD in Accounting and a DBA in Accounting?

Another option for students who are interested in a doctorate of accounting degree is the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). Essentially, while a PhD is academically-focused, the DBA is practice-focused. DBA graduates are more interested in changing the industry of business than they are in theoretical business research and academia. Before making a decision on which type of doctoral degree in accounting you wish to pursue, you should carefully consider your career goals and look for programs that will support those goals.

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.

References:
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2019 Postsecondary Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-5
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm