Doctorate degree in accounting program guide

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What is a Ph.D. in Accounting?

A Ph.D. in accounting is a graduate degree program that combines attending advanced classes in your chosen field of study with pursuing original research on that subject matter. Holders of this degree naturally gain the highest level of knowledge and have extensive expertise in the accounting field. A doctorate in accounting qualifies you for high-level accounting roles such as CFOs or financial managers. It also gives you the required body of knowledge to be considered for post-secondary teaching positions.

The real state of doctoral degrees

One can build a case around the fact that students tend to enroll in Doctorate in Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs and drop out before graduation to cut down debt accumulation or to take advantage of opportunities from the private sector. For example, the 2018 MIT Doctoral Exit Survey shows that 48% of the institution’s Ph.D. graduates in that academic year did not move into a postdoctoral position after earning their degree, choosing to work in the private or public sectors.

The decrease in the number of people interested in pursuing an accounting doctoral degree in the United States has been addressed in articles for some years now, and recent figures also support this topic. According to the AICPA 2019 trends report Ph.D. enrollments decreased 23% compared to 2018, with many students choosing to enter or remain in the workforce instead of pursuing an advanced accounting degree.

Nevertheless, data presented by the National Science Foundation on its survey of earned doctorates page shows that the number of Ph.D. recipients from U.S. colleges and universities was the highest ever in 2018. The same year holds another record – the largest number ever of doctorate students in the United States.

However, regardless of what statistics may say or how things may stand, choosing to earn a Ph.D. remains an act of passion for the topic you want to conduct research work in. As idealistic as that sounds, being passionate about a subject doesn’t automatically mean a Ph. D. would be the right degree for you to study next. Let’s find out more about what this type of graduate program entails and how earning your doctoral degree can help you in your accounting career.

Why choose a Ph.D. in Accounting?

There is more than one reason why you may choose to enroll in a Ph.D. program. As already mentioned, students tend to choose a Ph.D. because they are deeply interested in that subject and want to dedicate more time to its study. These are the people with substantial intellectual curiosity whose goal is to discover new things both about themselves and the subject they research.

Another reason stems from this wish for further exploration, namely becoming a specialist in the field. This combination of skills and know-how creates a unique advantage that can help Ph.D. holders stand out in the employment game, paving their way for high-level positions in the industry.

How to select a Ph.D. in Accounting

Apart from passion and intellectual curiosity for the field of study, you have to be perseverant and committed to earn a Ph.D. The main thing you should know when considering a doctoral degree is if such a program is the right one for you and your career.

Start by finding potential faculty advisers actively working in areas similar to your research study and know the faculty’s current work placement record. Learn the program’s flexibility on a potential mid-way change of concentration, and if you can get financial help to take part in academic conferences to present your research. Finally, know what career opportunities you can have access to within the faculty during your Ph.D. and after graduation. Learn more about the best Ph.D in Accounting programs.

Duration of studies

The duration of a Ph.D. can vary depending on the type of program you choose, the specific requirements of its curriculum, and the format of the studies. When doing your research, you can choose a full-time, on-campus program, an online format, or a hybrid version that combines the two. Based on your choice, earning a Ph.D. in accounting degree can take 4 to 6 years to complete, or between 70 and 100 credit hours.

How much does a Ph.D. in Accounting cost?

The tuition cost can fluctuate significantly based on several factors such as in-state versus out-of-state programs, private versus public universities, and on-campus versus hybrid or online formats. Per year, you can expect to pay between $10,000 and $20,000, but note you can benefit from financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, or government loans.

The importance of accredited Ph.D. programs

If higher-education institutions and their programs are recognized at state or national level, that means they are trustworthy and well-ranked. Program accreditation is also essential when it comes to receiving financial aid towards the payment of your studies. Make sure your Ph.D. program is accredited by checking it with the following reputable organizations:

Admission prerequisites and requirements

It’s important to know that a Ph.D. is not for everyone. You must tick various boxes to enroll and complete it successfully. Probably the most important prerequisite is that you need to have a strong academic background to apply. Most universities expect candidates to hold a master’s degree or considerable work experience in accounting. Other prerequisites criteria can include having a GPA test score of at least 3.5 or showing proof of meeting entry requirements for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination.

Ph.D. admission requirements normally include a personal statement that details why you would like to enter the program, completed studies and professional experience. Other materials institutions generally ask you to have in your application are undergraduate and graduate transcripts, high GMAT or GRE test scores, and recommendation letters.

Courses in a Ph.D. in Accounting program

The coursework of a Ph.D. in Accounting focuses on teaching a specialized body of knowledge connected to your chosen dissertation topic. Classes help you develop research skills and competencies and offer advanced guidance towards writing and completing your dissertation successfully, which is the primary goal of a Ph.D. program. Based on your area of interest, you can choose a related concentration to gain specific advanced information on your desired accounting branch.

Ph.D. in Accounting concentrations

Forensic accounting

In this concentration, you’ll focus on honing your analytical skills and developing your computing abilities. Courses will teach investigative techniques and fraud examination best practices, detailing criminal laws related to the accounting field.

This concentration will appeal to students who already hold a graduate degree in accounting or have a professional background in either finance or business.


Courses will touch on internal and external audit procedures, forensic accounting, financial law, and business ethics.

You’ll gain advanced working competencies with computer-assisted auditing techniques (CAAT), which are essential when it comes to uncovering accounting fraud attempts.

Tax accounting

Courses in this concentration offer a deep dive into taxation, focusing on taxation processes, techniques, and practices locally and globally. You’ll gain specialist skills in tax planning and tax codes and advanced knowledge in the field of federal taxes and other regulations of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

International accounting

Students will develop an extensive understanding of how accounting techniques and practices function in different business environments in different cultures and social systems globally.

Courses in this concentration will also focus on international financial reporting standards and how they affect economic activities in diverse industries worldwide.

Financial accounting

The main goal of this concentration is to teach federal and state laws and regulations and their impact on the economic activity of a business. You’ll learn advanced techniques to help you compile, interpret, and communicate financial data and related accounting information.

Classes will also touch on international tax laws, corporate governance, or due-diligence procedures, enabling you to develop advanced accounting competencies. This specialization prepares you for management roles in finance and accounting.

Careers with a Ph.D. in Accounting

Graduating a Ph.D. in accounting program can offer you access to a broad spectrum of employment opportunities. This degree qualifies you for post-secondary teaching positions and managerial roles in consulting for public institutions or private accounting firms.

This is most probably the typical role you qualify for when you earn your Ph. D. degree. University professors conduct academic research work or teach graduate or undergraduate students at higher education institutions.

2019 median annual salary: $79,540

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) position is the highest managerial role for accounting professionals. People in this position oversee all the financial operations and departments of an organization and are part of the decision-making process regarding investments, payroll, or mergers and acquisitions.

2019 median annual salary: $184,460

In this advisory role, you analyze and evaluate your organization’s financial information and help the company increase profitability and improve operations by offering various recommendations like decreasing or eliminating unnecessary costs.

2019 median annual salary: $85,260

Also called financial manager, the person in this role handles the accounting operations of a business. This is a senior position that requires specialist knowledge and competencies in various areas of accounting.

2019 median annual salary: $129,000

American Accounting Association (AAA)

The AAA gathers under one roof an extensive community of accountants from all walks of life, including the academic field.

National Society of Accountants (NSA)

NSA is a society with a core mission of helping tax and accounting professionals further their knowledge.

American Association of Finance and Accounting (AAFA)

The AAFA connects accounting organizations, firms, and professionals throughout the United States.

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)

NASBA acts like a forum for the 55 State Boards of Accountancy in the US, which administer the Uniform CPA Examination. In partnership with AICPA, NASBA facilitates CPA examination for professionals oversees.

Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)

FASB is an independent organization that sets the standards for public and private organizations following Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) in the field of financial accounting.