You may not have known there is a doctoral-level degree in accounting. However, there are doctoral degrees in most fields, giving you the option to pursue the highest possible degree level in your academic area of study, including a PhD in Accounting.
Accounting is a complex field that is often offered as a major or an area of focus in business school. Most students who pursue a Master’s Degrere in Accounting are already accountants with experience in public accounting and research. They may also be experienced business professionals with a master’s degree in the business world, such as a master of business administration (MBA).
This is a competitive doctoral-level degree for talented accountants who are truly passionate about pursuing a career in accounting research, consulting, or teaching.
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What is Accounting?
Most people think of accountants as the people who do their taxes. Though some accountants, tax accountants, do spend their time helping individuals and corporations with their taxes, accounting goes far beyond these tax-related duties. The accounting field is actually a growing and highly in-demand academic field. Accounting focuses on recording financial transactions and sorting and summarizing them into reports and analyses. Academic accounting is a field that incorporates related subfields like econometrics, statistics, finance, and theory.
Why Get a PhD in Accounting?
A PhD in Accounting is an excellent degree choice if you are truly committed to the field of accounting and interested in accounting theory. This is because accounting research is often theoretical in nature and like accounting, requires strong analytical and mathematical abilities.
Accounting doctoral students are interested in pursuing theoretical concepts of accounting and applying them to real markets. Some of the country’s best business schools offer master’s degree programs in accounting.
If such a program sounds interesting to you, read on for more information on what you can expect as a PhD accounting student.
PhD in Accounting Components
Before considering specific programs in-depth, it’s a good idea to look into what most programs require and include. These are competitive, advanced-level degree programs for strong and dedicated students. Each program will have a slightly different set of curriculum requirements and may have different concentration offerings. Here is a general summary of what you should expect.
When applying to any PhD program, students typically start their search process by researching program faculty members. This is because PhD programs are so rooted in the doctoral thesis, which requires extensive 1:1 advising and mentorship from an academic advisor and faculty members.
One of the most important aspects of your application is a proven academic track record in accounting, math, economics, and finance. Programs require bachelor’s degrees, at a minimum. If you have a Master’s Degree in Accounting and/or are a certified public accountant, you will be a more competitive applicant. Several years of work experience in the field can really help applicants gain entry to their desired program.
Applicants will also be required to submit GRE or GMAT exam scores. Because many doctoral accounting programs are run through business schools, the GMAT is sometimes required.
PhD in Accounting Curriculum
Most universities offer doctoral programs in accounting through their schools of business. For example, one of the best-known programs of its kind is part of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
PhD programs in accounting can take approximately four to seven years to complete, depending on your thesis project and its time requirements. Programs start with foundational coursework that prepares students for the final years of dissertation work. Here are some common courses accounting students can expect to see at the PhD level:
- Research Methods
- Capital Market Research
- Statistical Analysis
- Quantitative Methods for Accounting
- Managerial Accounting
- Theories in Accounting
Most PhD programs prepare students for careers as academics, accounting professors, and expert consultants. For this reason, most programs require that students complete teaching practicums as part of the degree process. Students take the important core accounting classes, they develop as researchers, and they learn how to teach.
Concentrations and Dissertations for an Accounting PhD
You will likely choose an accounting concentration within your doctoral program. Some common concentrations are:
- Public Accounting
- Forensic Accounting
- Accounting Information Systems
- Managerial Accounting
Regardless of the concentration you choose, you will pursue a major research project as a doctoral student. This research project is commonly called a doctoral dissertation. It is the culmination of several years of research under the mentorship of a faculty advisor.
It typically results in a published paper and possibly in presentations at conferences and professional organizations. For academics in colleges and universities in the United States, the doctoral dissertation is the first major opportunity to embark on a publishable, in-depth research project.
Top PhD in Accounting Programs
You should now have a better understanding now of what an accounting PhD entails. Therefore, let’s now take a look at some specific programs. It’s important to note that there is no shortage of programs. In fact, there are 536 different doctoral programs in accounting in the US alone. That said, some programs are much stronger and more competitive than others.
Below is a list of some of the best PhD accounting programs in the United States.
The PhD in Accounting at Stanford in Palo Alto, California, is one of the strongest programs in the country. The program requires students to enter with a solid academic foundation in microeconomic theory, econometrics, and math. It also requires students to have basic computer programming skills in programs like STATA, Python, and SAS. After a couple of years of initial coursework, students move on to practicum experiences in teaching and researching before focusing on their dissertation work.
University of Pennsylvania
The Wharton School, the University of Pennsylvania’s school of business, offers a top-notch program that focuses on analytics. Graduates of the program are prepared to dedicate their academic and professional careers to financial and economic research.
The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
Michigan’s flagship state institution offers an extremely competitive PhD program in accounting, only accepting one to three applicants per year. Students can expect to be fully funded for five years and complete the program in as much time. Students can also expect to spend their first two years on focused research into investor relations, managerial investments, and cash holding.
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the Accounting Research Center host this exclusive PhD program in accounting. This program is all about flexibility, allowing its students to cater their program according to their interest in an array of different specializations. Courses offered include econometrics, price theory, finance, and economic modeling. This program consistently produces top graduates who go on to become experts in the field.
The University of Texas at Austin
Out of all of the programs listed here, the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas offers, by some accounts, offers the top PhD in Accounting program in the country. According to the Public Accounting Report of 2019, it is the #1 program in the nation.
The Texas McCombs PhD, as the program is officially called, stands apart with distinguished faculty and extremely rigorous preparation for academic life. The program prepares students by helping them develop their research and writing skills and by making them highly competitive when entering the job market or the academic world of accounting.
Career Outlook With a PhD in Accounting
There is a shortage of accounting professors in the US. This is great news for someone considering the terminal degree in accounting: a doctoral degree. With a PhD in Accounting, you can help fill this shortage and you will be in high demand.
Actually, some students who would have typically stopped their studies with a Master’s Degree in Accounting have decided to continue on to a PhD in Accounting because of the job security the degree offers. Universities need to fill vacancies for accounting professors. This also means that they are willing to pay higher-than-average business faculty salaries to hire and retain accounting professors. The average starting salary for accounting professors under the age of 45 is $101,000.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall accounting field is predicted to see faster-than-average growth between 2019 and 2029.
Should You Get Your PhD in Accounting?
The career outlook alone should be enough to help you answer this question. The answer to this question might be yes, if:
- You are passionate about accounting and accounting theory
- You have a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting or a related field
- You have some professional experience in the accounting or finance sector
- You are interested in being a university professor in accounting
- You love research
With excellent job security and very comfortable pay, accounting professors can enjoy successful careers. If you’re excited about pursuing this career track, use this article as a guide to launch your PhD in Accounting program research.
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