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

Job Description

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.

Employment Outlook

Demand

A 2014 article from the American Accounting Association documents the continued shortage of accounting PhDs graduates as being at “crisis levels.”

Salary

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
  • Professor: $118,344
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

Job Description

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.

Employment Outlook

Demand

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.

Salary

The median annual salary for management analysts and consultants in 2012 was $78,600.

Jobs and Roles

Consultants and advisors may work for a consulting firm, in private practices or part-time in addition to a full-time professional accounting or academic role. Additional certification and credentials, such as Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant and Accredited Financial Examiner may be desirable for consultants working with specific client populations.

Public Policy Researchers

Job Description

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.

Employment Outlook

Demand

The job outlook for analysts is expected to increase 19% between 2012 and 2022.

Salary

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:

  • Accreditation status
  • 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

2. Courses

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
  • Forensic Accounting
  • Measurement Data Analysis in Marketing
  • Advanced Decision Models
  • Theory and Practice in Business Management

Economics and Statistics

  • Econometrics
  • Probability
  • Economics in Global Environments
  • Introduction to Linear Statistical Models
  • Game Theory and Applications

Research Methods

  • Behavioral Research in Accounting
  • Financial Accounting Research
  • Advanced Qualitative Research
  • Quantitative Research Techniques
  • Capital Markets Research in Accounting

3. Accreditation

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.
  • Receiving Financial Aid: Graduate students are eligible to receive federal financial aid, but only if they attend institutions that are accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • 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

Program Database

Our program database allows you to filter search results based on your goals and interests, including, type of program and institution, online or on-campus delivery, location, school size, tuition and accreditation. Explore all of the options available through our interactive search and add the school profile pages to your research of associate degrees in accounting.