Accountants with a Ph.D. qualify for top positions in their field, including accounting professor and CFO. They may also hold research, management, or policy positions in government agencies or private organizations. In a Ph.D. program, doctoral students conduct original research and build advanced skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many accounting professions offer lucrative salaries and growth opportunities. The BLS projects positions for financial managers to grow 19% by 2026.
Before applying to accounting doctoral programs, prospective students should research the top programs for their interests and career goals, how to get an admission offer, and how to maximize a graduate education. This article discusses the process of earning a Ph.D. in accounting and transitioning from the degree to the workforce.
Should I Get a Doctorate in Accounting?
An accounting doctorate provides many career opportunities. With a Ph.D., accountants can pursue tenure-track jobs in academia, teaching future accountants, conducting research, and publishing scholarship. A doctorate also prepares accountants for high-level positions in research, financial management, and policy. Graduates may work as an organization's chief financial officer, setting policy, or in managerial positions within accounting firms.
While earning a doctoral degree in accounting, students take specialized coursework in their research area; identify a faculty adviser to supervise their dissertation; and research, write, and defend an original dissertation. Doctoral students build quantitative research skills to design a research agenda for their dissertation. During the program, doctoral students may receive networking opportunities, present research in front of scholars, and submit publications to scholarly journals.
Programs provide job placement assistance for students, including support for the academic job market. After graduation, doctorates in accounting hold the terminal degree in their field and qualify for the most advanced positions in accounting. In any job market, a candidate with a Ph.D. in accounting benefits from increased competitiveness.
When evaluating potential programs, applicants must consider whether an on-campus or an online program best fits their needs. Working professionals or individuals pursuing a career change may prefer the flexibility of an online program. Accounting students moving directly from a master's program into a doctorate may prefer an on-campus option.
What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Accounting?
Earning a doctorate in accounting qualifies graduates for advanced positions in accounting and accounting-related fields. Graduates can work as CPAs or in higher-level positions overseeing CPAs or directing an accounting organization. They can also work as CFOs or financial managers, overseeing the design and implementation of financial strategies. A doctorate also meets the educational requirements for tenure-track positions in academia, where accounting professors divide their time between teaching and research.
Professional accountants prepare financial records in the public and private sectors. Accountants with an advanced degree may work as CPAs, in managerial positions within an accounting firm, or as financial managers. While many entry-level positions only require a bachelor's degree, a Ph.D. in accounting qualifies candidates for advanced positions.
Median Annual Salary: $69,350*
- Financial Manager
Financial managers oversee the financial health of an organization. They create financial reports, design the investment strategy, and plan for the organization's long-term financial goals. Many positions require a graduate degree in accounting or finance and work experience.
Median Annual Salary: $125,080*
Auditors review financial reports and evaluate financial operations for public and private companies. They help organizations run efficiently, identify financial problems, and ensure the organization pays its taxes. An accounting doctorate qualifies candidates for managerial or advanced positions in auditing.
Median Annual Salary: $69,350*
- Chief Financial Officer
CFOs design the financial strategy for an organization to ensure that it meets its goals. They also plan, direct, and coordinate the organization's activities, with an emphasis on financial health. A doctoral degree in accounting qualifies candidates for CFO positions.
Median Annual Salary: $104,700*
- Accounting Professor
A doctorate qualifies accountants for tenure-track professor positions. Accounting professors conduct research, teach undergraduate and graduate classes, and publish work in scholarly journals. Depending on the institution, accounting professors may spend most of their time teaching or researching.
Median Annual Salary: $76,000*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Doctoral Program in Accounting
Choosing the right Ph.D. in accounting program impacts a graduate's career, so prospective students must carefully consider their options. Researching key factors such as cost, location, and time to completion helps graduate students find programs aligned with their goals.
For many students, the cost is a deciding factor during the admission process. While in-state, public universities typically charge the lowest tuition rates, many programs offer fellowships and assistantships which cover the cost of tuition. Prospective students should research financial aid options in addition to tuition expenses.
Location is also important. Many students cannot relocate to attend an on-campus doctoral program, particularly working professionals and students with families. These students may benefit from the accessibility of an online doctorate in accounting, which lets students complete coursework and dissertation requirements around their other obligations. Online programs also provide access to top universities without requiring relocation. Students can research the top online accounting doctoral programs to learn more.
The time to earn a Ph.D. in accounting ranges from about four to seven years. Students should research the curriculum, graduation requirements, and graduate timelines to find a program that fits their needs. While researching the curriculum, students should check for potential faculty advisers working in their planned research area.
Programmatic Accreditation for Doctoral Programs in Accounting
To earn accreditation, colleges and universities submit to a multi-year review by an independent, nonprofit agency. Accrediting agencies evaluate an institution's learning outcomes, degree requirements, and faculty qualifications. Accreditation ensures that colleges and universities follow the highest standards for education, and it demonstrates to employers that a candidate's degree comes from a reputable institution.
In addition to regional or national accreditation, which reviews an entire college or university, specific programs may undergo accreditation reviews from specialized agencies. For example, programmatic accrediting agencies review teaching programs, social work programs, and counseling programs. Many accounting programs receive programmatic accreditation. Several agencies accredit business schools, including the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Prospective students should check a program's accreditation status to ensure their degree meets the requirements for licenses and certifications.
Doctorate in Accounting Program Admissions
Most programs set prerequisites, such as a master's degree in accounting or professional experience, that applicants must meet to apply. However, some programs may waive certain prerequisites or grant provisional admission to candidates. Students should contact a program adviser to learn more.
While the specific requirements vary by program, applicants should plan to spend several weeks compiling their applications. Some programs, such as online accounting doctoral programs, may require additional steps, such as working with an admissions adviser during the application process. Applicants should plan to apply to multiple programs to increase their chances of acceptance and receiving financial aid opportunities, such as fellowships and assistantships.
- Degree: Many programs require a master's degree in accounting for doctoral candidates. However, some programs may accept applicants with a master's in a related subject, or with a bachelor's degree in accounting and significant work experience.
- Professional Experience: Programs may prefer candidates with professional experience, such as a minimum number of years working in an accounting field. Requirements vary, so prospective students should check the recommendations of prospective programs.
- Minimum GPA: Doctoral programs often set a minimum GPA for incoming students, which may be as high as 3.5. Typically, the GPA minimum applies to the applicant's master's program. Candidates who do not meet the minimum may be able to apply for provisional admission.
- License: Some programs prefer applicants with accounting licenses or those who completed the requirements to become a CPA. This depends on the program's focus.
- Application: Doctoral candidates must submit an application detailing their educational history, professional experience, and reasons for pursuing a doctoral degree in accounting. Many require a statement of purpose or essay detailing the applicant's goals.
- Transcripts: Accounting programs typically require transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate programs. Candidates with a master's degree in accounting may only need to submit graduate transcripts.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most programs require two or three letters of recommendation that speak to the applicant's academic accomplishments and likelihood of success at the graduate level. Applicants should give writers at least three weeks' notice.
- Test Scores: Applicants may need to provide standardized test scores as part of the admission package. Most programs require either the GMAT or the GRE.
- Application Fee: Programs typically charge an application fee to cover the cost of reviewing materials. Applicants can apply for a fee waiver.
What Else Can I Expect From a Doctoral Program in Accounting?
Doctoral students in accounting should research each program's concentrations, curriculum, and degree requirements. These factors can influence the cost and length of an accounting doctorate. In addition, students benefit from learning about professional organizations and resources for graduate students. This section introduces what else you need to know about accounting doctoral programs.
|Public Accounting||The public accounting concentration prepares students to work for individuals, government agencies, corporations, and nonprofits, preparing taxes or auditing financial statements. At the doctoral level, students may focus on research or theoretical approaches to accounting.||CPA, accounting professor|
|Audit Accounting||An auditing concentration emphasizes the systematic review of financial records. Doctoral students may study the theoretical framework for auditing, best practices in the field, or the oversight of auditors. Doctoral students may also study how to teach auditing.||Auditor, accounting professor|
|Forensic Accounting||Concentrations in forensic accounting emphasize uncovering financial fraud. Students in this track may research case studies of financial fraud, forensic accounting theory, and new approaches to forensic accounting. Graduates may take leadership positions in government agencies that investigate financial fraud or private organizations that uncover corporate fraud.||Forensic accountant|
|Managerial Accounting||A managerial accounting concentration covers executive-level decisions in accounting, including forecasting, financial analysis, and financial reporting. Graduates in managerial accounting may pursue executive positions, such as CFO.||Managerial accountant, CFO|
|Accounting Information Systems||An accounting information systems track focuses on the connection between business, management, and accounting. Students study the development and design of accounting systems, the theory behind information systems, and analytical tools for business accounting.||Accountant, accounting professor, executive|
Courses in a Doctoral Program in Accounting
Doctoral students in accounting often take specialized classes tailored to their research interests. While programs create their own curricula, many include the following core classes in theory, quantitative methods, and research.
- Theory of Accounting
Doctoral students study accounting theory while reviewing scholarly literature. The class may cover the relationship between accounting theory and practice, and students may study case studies.
- Advanced Topics in Accounting
Doctoral students take advanced topics seminars in their focus area, such as managerial accounting, auditing, or accounting information systems. The class covers current research, problems and questions in accounting literature, and accounting practice. The course may require a research project based on the student's focus area.
- Quantitative Methods for Accounting
Quantitative methods classes build strengths in accounting research, providing the research tools necessary to complete a dissertation in accounting. Students study data analysis, variability, forecasting, and quantitative tools.
- Accounting Literature Survey
Accounting programs may require a seminar covering scholarly literature in the student's research area. During this course, students read academic research in accounting, and the class may require a scholarly literature review paper.
To earn a Ph.D. in accounting, students must research, write, and defend a dissertation in their concentration. Doctoral students work under the supervision of a faculty adviser, defending the finished dissertation before a committee of professors. The dissertation may require students to design their own research studies and draw conclusions from their work.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Accounting?
In many programs, doctoral students complete between 90 and 120 credits, and full-time students may take between four and seven years to complete the graduation requirements. During an accounting doctorate, students take required coursework in their research area, build quantitative research skills, and design an original research project. They also work with a faculty adviser to write and defend a dissertation, which may take several years.
Doctoral students may complete their degree in less time by taking additional classes each semester, transferring in graduate credits, or choosing an accelerated program. Alternatively, some students prefer to earn their degree part time, which allows working professionals and students with family obligations to balance school with other responsibilities.
How Much Is a Doctorate in Accounting?
The cost of a doctorate in accounting varies by program and institution. Typically, in-state, public universities offer the lowest tuition rates, while out-of-state, public schools and private institutions charge higher rates. In addition to tuition, doctoral students should also consider related expenses, such as technology fees, books, living expenses, and other costs. Most doctoral students should plan to spend at least $10,000 to $20,000 per year on their degree.
Beyond tuition, the length of the program is the biggest factor influencing the cost of a Ph.D. in accounting. Doctoral students who complete their coursework and dissertation in less time can save a significant amount. Many accounting programs offer financial support for doctoral students in the form of fellowships and assistantships. Accounting students may act as research assistants for professors, for example, or as teaching assistants in undergraduate accounting classes.
After paying for their degree, doctorates in accounting may still need to spend thousands on certifications and licenses in their field. By planning for these expenses, professional accountants can start their career in a secure financial position.
Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Accounting Prepares For
- Certified Public Accountant
To become a CPA, candidates must pass an examination, demonstrate academic preparation, and meet the licensure requirements for their state. The uniform CPA examination, offered by the American Institute of CPAs, contains four parts that candidates must pass to apply for a state CPA license. On average, CPAs make 10% more than noncertified accountants.
- Certified Management Accountant
Accountants specializing in management and financial accounting can apply for the CMA designation through the Institute of Management Accountants. The certification requires at least a bachelor's degree and two years of relevant work experience.
- Certified Fraud Examiner
Offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, CFEs must pass a certification exam, hold at least a bachelor's degree, and show two years of work experience in fraud examination or a closely related field. With the certification, fraud examiners qualify for advanced positions in the field.
- Chartered Financial Analyst
Accountants specializing in finance can earn the CFA title, offered by the CFA institute. Candidates must pass three CFA exams, which must be taken in succession; show four years of relevant work experience; and join the CFA institute. Doctoral candidates can substitute educational experience for work experience.
- Certified Bank Auditor
The Bank Administration Institute offers the CBA designation for financial auditing professionals. Candidates must pass four examinations within a three-year period. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree, and CBAs complete 30 hours of continuing education each year to maintain their certification.
Resources for Accounting Doctorate Students
AICPA offers scholarships and fellowships for accountants earning degrees, including a fellowship for minority doctoral students.
To become a licensed CPA, accountants must pass the CPA exam, a four-part examination of skills in auditing, financial accounting, regulation, and business concepts.
A journal published by the American Accounting Association, which dates back to 1926, The Accounting Review contains articles on scholarly research, methodologies, and findings in accounting.
Professional Organizations in Accounting
Doctoral students in accounting benefit from joining professional organizations, which often offer membership discounts to students. These organizations publish many of the top scholarly journals in the field, provide professional development resources, and offer certifications for accountants. Members also benefit from career support. As doctoral students in accounting transition from their degree to the workforce, professional organizations are a valuable resource.
Founded in 1887, AICPA offers educational materials, proctors the CPA examination, and provides scholarship and career resources for professional CPAs.
The association brings together academic and professional accountants, with three journals publishing research in accounting. Members benefit from access to career center resources.
A nonprofit organization, NSA provides professional development resources; a directory of accountants; and publications for professional accountants, particularly taxation specialists.
Representing nearly 3 million accountants worldwide, IFAC publishes research, news on accounting across the globe, and sets professional standards.
A professional organization centered on recruiting and staffing, AAFA connects executives with finance and accounting professionals. Job seekers use the association to market their skills and advance their careers.