PhD programs require intensive writing and analysis in the areas of mathematics, economics, accounting, business, research methods and statistics. These programs also demand students produce individual, original research – under the supervision of a committee of faculty advisors ― that makes a unique contribution to the field’s knowledge-base.
Students interested in pursuing a PhD in accounting must have completed at least a bachelor’s degree; transcripts should show a significant number of accounting courses, although the major does not have to be in accounting. Some schools admit students without an accounting background but necessitate additional coursework to provide foundational knowledge. Applications usually require GMAT scores.
While many PhD graduates pursue careers in academia, as professors and researchers, other paths are possible. The knowledge and skills gained in a doctoral program often lead to jobs in corporate consulting and public policy analysis, especially for students with experience as professional accountants.
Who Earns a PhD in Accounting?
There are many reasons why someone might want to pursue a doctorate in accounting. These students can be described in one or more of the following ways:
Interested in continued development and growth as a professional accountant or business leader
Interested in teaching accounting at a college or university
Motivated to pursue an area of specialized, original research related to accounting
Interested in conducting complex analyses of issues and trends in accounting, economics, public policy and related topics
Common Career Paths for Accounting PhDs
Through advanced academic preparation and research experience, accounting PhD graduates are uniquely prepared to succeed in positions at colleges and universities, as well as in a variety of settings working as consultants, advisors and researchers.
College and University Professors
A doctorate is required for most faculty positions in higher education, especially those working with and teaching graduate-level students. While non-traditional employment is prevalent (i.e., adjunct instructors, visiting professors, lecturers), there is a current need for full-time, tenure-track professors in accounting programs.
According to a salary survey conducted by The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, the average annual salaries for professors in business and related fields are:
Assistant Professor: $95,268
Associate Professor: $100,066
Jobs and Roles
Most universities use a rank system for full-time faculty members that begins with assistant professor as an entry-level position. New professors may progress to associate professor and full professor positions by meeting institutional requirements for promotion and tenure. This process includes intensive research and publication, as well as teaching and professional service roles.
Consultants, Analysts and Advisors
While the minimum requirement to become a consultant is a bachelor’s degree, the completion of advanced coursework and original research allows students to develop expertise in a specific topic area relevant to the corporate environment. Prior practical experience as a professional accountant is essential in these roles.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for analysts and consultants are expected to grow 19% between 2012 and 2022. This is faster than most occupations and may be due to an increased need to identify more efficient business practices within limited budgets.
The PhD is primarily a research degree, providing students with the knowledge and skills necessary to design effective studies, collect and analyze data and report results. This background is critical in professional organizations, academic research centers, think-tanks, government agencies and other groups addressing public policy issues.
PayScale.com’s salary survey found that the median annual salary for Policy Analysts was $54,347, with top salaries reported at $84,000. Pay varies by region, as well as years of experience.
Jobs and Roles
In addition to expertise in accounting and financial policy, analysts develop skills in multiple areas, such as legal research, project management, legislative policy analysis and technical writing. After succeeding as entry level analysts, these researchers may advance to more senior positions within their organizations or similar agencies, work with political parties and campaigns or become part of a Congressional staff.
PhD in Accounting
1. PhD in Accounting: Program Overview
PhD programs include a wide-range of learning experiences distributed through a combination of classes and research practice. Coursework is designed to provide the high-level knowledge needed to conduct a dissertation research project. Each student’s educational background and previous experience in the field are taken into consideration to develop an individual degree plan that meets both the program’s requirements and the student’s interests.
Completing a PhD demands between 70 to 120 credit hours. Some of these credits are earned as part of a program’s research requirement, while others may be through for-credit internships, teaching assistantships and other practical learning experiences.
After completing course work, students take one or more oral and/or written comprehensive exams. Upon passing these assessments the student moves into “candidacy,” during which the dissertation becomes the primary focus. Online doctoral programs often have a residency component, requiring students and faculty members to meet in person for advising, seminars and other organized events.
The time to complete a PhD depends on how many courses the student takes each term, and how long it takes to complete the dissertation. Overall, students should plan for 4 to 7 years of study if enrolled full-time.
Students interested in pursuing a PhD program should carefully examine several factors related to the school:
Access to qualified advisors with research interests similar to their own
Opportunities outside of course work to gain experience in teaching, research, data collection and analysis, conference presentations and academic writing for publication
Where program alumni have worked, and in what types of industries and positions
PhD students complete a program of study that includes classes in accounting, business, economics, statistics and research methods, intended to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct original research. A typical PhD in accounting curriculum includes courses in the following categories:
Accounting and Business
Advanced Financial Reporting
Measurement Data Analysis in Marketing
Advanced Decision Models
Theory and Practice in Business Management
Economics and Statistics
Economics in Global Environments
Introduction to Linear Statistical Models
Game Theory and Applications
Behavioral Research in Accounting
Financial Accounting Research
Advanced Qualitative Research
Quantitative Research Techniques
Capital Markets Research in Accounting
Schools and programs offering doctorate-level education have likely gone through the rigorous accreditation process; however, do not assume that all programs are accredited. This type of evaluation involves an independent, external review of school and program components, such as curriculum development, faculty qualifications, student support services, financial resources, academic services and resources and student achievement. The goal is to establish whether or not the academic experience meets strict quality control standards.
Current accreditation is important for doctoral students who are interested in:
Transferring Credits: Some PhD programs allow students to transfer credits from their master’s programs and continuing education efforts. Most schools only accept transfer credit from institutions accredited by regional and/or national agencies.
Employment in Academic or Corporate Settings: Employers hiring accounting graduates are interested in working with applicants who have graduated from accredited programs.
Find out if the schools you are interested in attending have received regional or national-level accreditation. Additional accreditation from agencies specializing in accounting and business subjects is also desirable. Individual academic departments and degree programs can also earn specialized accreditation. Graduate-level accounting programs are usually accredited through one or more of the following organizations:
AACSB – Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
ACBSP – Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs
IACBE – International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education
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