Is an Accounting Degree Worth It? Statistics You Should Know

The cost of an accounting degree can exceed $34,000 a year in tuition and fees — is it worth the effort to pursue one?
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Jessica Bryant
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Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
Published on July 13, 2023
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Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and data writer for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evaluati...
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Data Summary

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    More than 1.4 million people were employed as accountants or auditors in 2021.[1]
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    By 2031, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of working accountants will rise by 6%.Note Reference [1]
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    On average, financial specialists — including accountants, auditors, analysts, advisors, and more — earn 69% more than the average worker across all industries in the U.S.[2]
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    While the average total cost of attendance for any degree is high at an average of nearly $36,440 a year as of 2021-2022, accounting majors have a high return on their investment.[3], [4]
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    Two years after graduating, graduates who earned a bachelor's degree in accounting earn approximately $39,600 net of their debt payments.Note Reference [4]
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    In 2022, accountants and auditors earned median salaries of $78,000 a year.Note Reference [2]
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    Financial risk specialists had the highest average salary of all financial specialists at $102,120 a year.Note Reference [2]
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    By earning a master's degree in accounting, graduates can increase their average earnings by 33%.Note Reference [4]

Accounting degrees are often touted as a great return on investment for students as they can lead to lucrative careers. But are they actually worth the cost and effort?

Below we explore the possible career paths for students who obtain degrees in the field, potential salaries, and what the future of the accounting industry holds.

What Can You Do With An Accounting Degree?

As a degree program and area of study, accounting encompasses finance, economics, statistics, business, and general accounting principles.

Students who obtain accounting degrees develop a wide range of knowledge and skills, giving them a variety of career paths to choose from, including:

  • Loan Officer
  • Accounting Clerk
  • Accountant
  • Auditor
  • Financial Advisor
  • Financial Analyst
  • Budget Analyst
  • Real Estate Appraiser
  • Tax Manager
  • Actuary

But potential career paths can vary greatly depending on what type of degree or credential a student obtains.

Is an Accounting Degree Worth It?

There are a number of pros and cons to choosing any major. Here, we examine the advantages — and disadvantages — of pursuing accounting.

You Can Earn Licenses to Advance Your Career — And Earning Potential

There are four types of accounting degrees — associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate. Those interested in accounting can also obtain a variety of credentials allowing them to become a certified public accountant (CPA), certified financial analyst (CFA), certified internal auditor (CIA), and more.

Certified licenses in accounting may help increase job opportunities and earning potential as most employers looking to bring on an accounting specialist will only hire someone who is licensed.

Average Salaries for Certified Accountants per Payscale, June 2023
Certified Accounting License Average Salary
Enrolled Agent (EA) $56,592
Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) $63,102
Certified Management Accountant (CMA) $70,000
Certified Financial Planner (CFP) $71,435
Certified Public Accountant (CPA) $74,233
Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) $81,984
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) $89,401
Source: Payscale, June 2023[5]

By obtaining a CPA certification, for example, a professional is telling their prospective employer that they have confirmed skills in taxation, auditing, regulatory compliance, and analysis.

Accounting Majors Often Show Up in Surprising Sectors

Though it may seem like becoming an accounting professional only allows students to work in one type of industry, there are a number of unique opportunities for accounting majors.

Some unexpected professionals that utilize accounting principles include fashion purchasing managers, film production managers, nonprofit development managers, and even private investigators.

Due to accountants' financial knowledge and analytical skills, other unexpected career options could include real estate agent, fraud investigator, or consultant.

Accounting Majors May Earn Competitive Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary accountants and auditors was $78,000 as of May 2022.Note Reference [1]

However, students who graduate with a degree in accounting may pursue other careers that fall under the category of financial specialists who have a slightly higher average salary at $78,180 a year. Among this group — which includes accountants, auditors, analysts, advisors, and more — financial risk specialists have the highest average annual salary at $102,120.Note Reference [2]

By comparison, the average annual salary for all occupations during the same year was $46,310 — that's 41% lower than accountants' average salary.Note Reference [2]

The Cost of a Degree Is Expensive — And Getting Pricier

The cost of an accounting degree can vary depending on the type of institution a student chooses and the degree they pursue. During the 2021-2022 academic year, the average total cost of attendance at four-year undergraduate institutions was roughly $36,440.Note Reference [3]

At public institutions, average total costs were about $26,030, but at private nonprofit institutions, average total costs were $55,840 a year.Note Reference [3]

Tuition and fees also differ depending on if students choose to attend a four-year or two-year institution.

Average total costs were the lowest for students who chose fully online programs.

Total Cost of Attendance, 2021-2022
School Type Four-Year Two-Year Online Learning
Public Institutions $26,027 $16,090 $10,000
Private Nonprofit Institutions $55,840 $33,007 $15,000
Private For-Profit Institutions $32,895 $27,214 $17,000
Source: NCESNote Reference [3], [6]

ROI of an Accounting Degree

According to a 2022 Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report, which analyzed business programs at more than 1,700 institutions, accounting degree holders at all levels have a higher than average annual income net of debt payment just two years after graduating.

For students who obtain an associate degree in accounting, average earnings two years after graduating total $31,200. And for students at the highest degree level, annual earnings net of debt two years post-graduation total $52,800.Note Reference [4]

Graduates of Georgetown University bachelor's program have the highest average annual earnings net of debt payments two years after graduating at $75,600.

For master's degree-holders, earnings net of debt are highest for graduates of New York University at $73,200. And for associate degree-holders, earnings are highest for graduates of Dakota County Technical College in Minnesota at $40,800.

Schools Reporting Top Salaries for Accounting Majors, Net of Student Debt, 2022
School Degree Average Salary Net of Debt
Georgetown University Bachelor's $75,600
New York University Master's $73,200
Mercy College Master's $72,000
University of Massachusetts, Boston Master's $69,600
University of Hartford Master's $68,400
Boston College Bachelor's $68,400
Seton Hall University Master's $68,400
Fordham University Bachelor's $68,400
Santa Clara University Bachelor's $67,200
Central Connecticut State University Master's $67,200
Source: Georgetown CEWNote Reference [4]

Graduates of the top online master's and bachelor's programs in accounting can anticipate that their average earnings net of debt will fall between $45,600 and $64,800 two years after graduating.

Average Salaries for Graduates of Online Accounting Degree Programs, 2022
School Degree Average Salary Net of Debt Program
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Master's $64,800
Golden Gate University, San Francisco Master's $64,800
Regis University Master's $60,000
SUNY College at Old Westbury Master's $55,200
National University Master's $54,000
North Carolina State University at Raleigh Master's $54,000
University of Miami Master's $54,000
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Master's $51,600
Florida Atlantic University Bachelor's $45,600
University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bachelor's $45,600
Source: Georgetown CEWNote Reference [4]

What the Future of the Accounting Industry Holds

As of 2021, there were nearly 1.45 million accountants and auditors working in the financial industry.Note Reference [1] By 2031, the BLS projects that this will rise to 1,531,600 — a 6% increase. That's slightly higher than employment projections for all occupations.

That may be one reason why new graduates with bachelor's degrees in accounting enjoy lower unemployment than other bachelor's degree earners. A 2022 National Association of Colleges and Employers report found that just 6.4% of accounting majors were seeking employment versus 12.5% of all bachelor's degree earners.[7]

So, while demand for financial specialists — particularly accountants — continues to grow, it's clear that studying accounting is a promising career path for those looking for longevity in their profession. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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