Earning an Online Doctorate in Accounting

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Accountants who complete a Ph.D. in accounting online qualify for the highest level of positions in the field, including CFO, accounting professor, and financial manager. And an online Ph.D. in accounting offers lucrative salary potential. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that financial managers earn nearly $128,000 on average and projects strong job growth between 2016 and 2026. Online programs deliver doctorates in a flexible, convenient format, allowing students to attend top programs around the country without relocating.

Why Get a Doctorate in Accounting?

Pursuing Specialization

During a doctoral program, graduate students complete advanced coursework in their field. Students can specialize in any area of accounting, including managerial accounting, tax accounting, auditing, or financial accounting. Many programs also let students take customized courses to pursue specialized topics that align with their goals and interests.

Career Advancement Opportunities

A doctorate is the terminal degree in accounting. With a doctorate, accountants qualify for the highest-level positions, enjoying lucrative salaries and significant responsibility. Potential positions include CFO, CEO, professor, and financial manager. Accountants considering in-demand certifications, such as the CPA credential, meet the educational requirements with a doctorate.

Online Learning Technology

Students enrolled in an online program use communication technologies to interact with professors and students. Familiarity with these tools helps accountants advance in the workforce, since many businesses rely on comparable communication technologies.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a DBA in Accounting?

Prospective accounting doctoral students can choose between a Ph.D. or a DBA. Generally, a Ph.D. prepares graduates for research and academic positions, while a DBA acts as a professional degree. For instance, graduates with a Ph.D. pursue jobs as professors and researchers, while those with a DBA may work as financial managers or CFOs.

Accredited online accounting Ph.D. programs emphasize research skills, with coursework on accounting methodologies and theory. Ph.D. students conduct original research that culminates in a dissertation. DBA coursework includes different accounting specializations, such as management accounting or financial accounting. DBA students also conduct research and often write a dissertation.

Prerequisites for Online Doctorate in Accounting Programs

During the application process, Ph.D. programs assess an applicant's likelihood of succeeding in the program. Schools that offer a Ph.D. in accounting online set their own prerequisites for prospective students, so students should research the requirements of each potential program.

    • Work Experience: In general, Ph.D. programs do not set work experience requirements for incoming students, although some may require or suggest a master's degree before enrolling. However, some DBA programs may expect professional experience in accounting or a specialized area within the field.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Most doctoral programs require standardized test scores. Typically, accounting programs accept scores from the GRE or the GMAT. Programs may set minimum scores for admission, which they often list online. Applicants who meet GPA minimums or hold a master's degree may receive a GRE/GMAT waiver. GRE and GMAT scores generally remain valid for five years.
    • Coursework: Accounting doctoral programs often set coursework prerequisites, including foundational classes in accounting. Many programs expect incoming students to hold a master's degree in accounting or a related field before applying. Programs often set a minimum GPA for admission.
    • Recommendations: During the application process, prospective students typically submit 1-3 letters of recommendation. Typically from accounting professors or supervisors, these letters speak to the applicant's ability to succeed at the doctoral level. Prospective students should give writers at least three weeks to complete the letters.
    • Essays: Many online doctoral programs in accounting ask for a personal statement or essay as part of the application package. The essay prompts may ask prospective students to outline their reasons for pursuing a doctoral degree in accounting, their preparation for an online learning environment, or their professional goals after completing the degree.
    • Interviews: Some online programs conduct interviews as part of the admission process. During an interview, prospective students meet with accounting faculty members. Usually conducted virtually, the interview lets the faculty assess the student's preparation and fit for the program.
    • International Students: International students often submit additional materials, including proof of English language proficiency. Many doctoral programs set minimum TOEFL scores for admission. International applicants may also need to provide English translations of foreign language transcripts.

How Much Can I Make With a Doctorate in Accounting?

Earning an online Ph.D. in accounting qualifies graduates for lucrative positions. According to the BLS, accountants and auditors earn an average salary of nearly $79,000 per year. Accountants in the 10th percentile earn more than $43,000, while those in the 90th percentile earn nearly $123,000. As accountants complete higher degrees, their salary opportunities increase. Several career paths, including academia, prefer candidates with a doctorate.

Traditional Careers for Accountants

Careers Stats Description

Accountant

Median Pay: $70,500

Job Growth: 10%

Accountants prepare and examine financial records for accuracy. They work in several subfields, including public accounting, management accounting, and government accounting. A Ph.D. qualifies accountants for advanced research and practice roles, including leadership positions within an accounting organization. Accountants with a Ph.D. can also take the CPA exam to become certified public accountants.

Financial Manager

Median Pay: $127,990

Job Growth: 19%

Financial managers oversee the financial health of an organization. They create strategies and plans to meet the organization's long-term financial goals, produce financial reports, and oversee investment activities. Financial managers also oversee employees in charge of budgeting, financial reporting, or other accounting activities. They often work with top executives.

Auditor

Median Pay: $70,500

Job Growth: 10%

Auditors review financial documents to identify mismanagement or fraud. They may specialize in internal auditing or external auditing, or in an area like risk management or fraud detection. Internal auditors help organizations avoid mismanagement and improve efficiency. External auditors work for outside organizations, reviewing financial statements to ensure organizations follow regulations and laws.

Accounting Professor

Median Pay: $78,470

Job Growth: 15%

With a Ph.D., accountants qualify for professor positions at colleges and universities, including tenure-track positions. Accounting professors teach undergraduate and graduate students. They create syllabi and lectures, assess student learning through examinations, and advise students. Professors may also conduct and publish research.

Chief Financial Officer

Median Pay: $104,980

Job Growth: 8%

A chief financial officer, or CFO, is the top executive in charge of finances for an organization. CFOs analyze financial statements to meet the company's goals, managing employee finances and overseeing the organization's financial reporting. They also set financial procedures for the organization.

Source: PayScale/BLS

Nontraditional Careers for Accountants

Accountants with a Ph.D. can also pursue nontraditional career paths in business, government, healthcare, and other sectors. For example, an accountant may open a financial advising business or work as a CEO. Accountants interested in academic opportunities can work in college administrative positions, including as an academic dean.

Careers Stats Description

Chief Executive Officer

Median Pay: $104,980

Job Growth: 8%

Skills Overlapped: Research; self-direction; leadership

CEOs, also known as executive directors, managing directors, and presidents, oversee a company or organization. They set goals for the organization, manage operations, and implement new policies. CEOs work with other top executives and the board of directors to manage an organization.

Management Analyst

Median Pay: $83,610

Job Growth: 14%

Skills Overlapped: Analysis; problem-solving; research

Management analysts, also called consultants, advise managers on increasing profitability by reducing costs and increasing revenues. They collect information about an organization; analyze financial data, such as revenue, expenses, and employment; and create solutions. A background in accounting benefits management analysts specializing in tax, audits, fraud, finance, or other accounting fields.

Personal Financial Adviser

Median Pay: $88,890

Job Growth: 15%

Skills Overlapped: Math and accounting; analysis

Personal financial advisors help clients understand their financial needs and make investments. They work with clients on short- and long-term financial goals, including retirement planning. Some specialize in risk management or tax. Personal financial advisors often run their own business.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Median Pay: $94,340

Job Growth: 10%

Skills Overlapped: Organization; problem-solving

Working within a college or university, postsecondary education administrators ensure the institution functions smoothly. Candidates with a Ph.D. qualify for titles like academic dean and provost, overseeing academic policies, faculty appointments, and budgets. Many need experience as a professor before moving into administration.

Source: PayScale/BLS

Paying for a Doctorate in Accounting Online

The cost of an online doctorate in accounting varies by program. In general, in-state public universities charge the lowest tuition rates, while private universities typically charge the highest rates. However, financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, and fellowships can significantly lower the cost of a Ph.D. in accounting. Students can also consider an accelerated or part-time option to save money.

Scholarships for Online Accounting Students

Doctoral students earning an online Ph.D. in accounting qualify for multiple scholarships. The following funding sources help doctoral students fund their education, with several opportunities providing $10,000 or more toward an accounting doctorate. The eligibility guidelines and restrictions vary depending on the scholarship.

What to Expect From an Online Accounting Program

Students earning an online Ph.D. in accounting typically spend 4-7 years completing the degree, depending on their enrollment status. During that time, doctoral students complete coursework in their research area, pass qualifying examinations, and complete a dissertation. Working with a faculty advisor, doctoral students propose a dissertation topic, conduct research, and write an original scholarly work that contributes to the field. Specific courses and requirements vary depending on the program.

Major Milestones

  1. Orientation

    After gaining admission to a Ph.D. in accounting online, new doctoral students may attend a virtual or on-campus orientation. During the orientation, students meet with faculty members and other doctoral students.

  2. Coursework

    Doctoral students complete classes in advanced accounting research, quantitative skills, and accounting topics in their focus area. Coursework may take two or three years to complete, depending on the program.

  3. Qualifying Examinations

    After completing coursework requirements, most doctoral accounting programs require students to take qualifying examinations. A faculty advisor and committee evaluates the examination to determine whether the student passes.

  4. Dissertation Research

    Doctoral students conduct original research on a dissertation topic after a faculty committee approves their dissertation proposal. Accounting students may create qualitative research proposals to conduct their research.

  5. Dissertation Defense

    After writing the dissertation, doctoral students must defend it before their faculty advisor and committee. During the defense, doctoral students demonstrate advanced knowledge within their research specialization.

  6. Graduation

    Online doctoral students can often attend on-campus hooding and graduation ceremonies. Students may need to file an intent-to-graduate form the semester prior to graduation.

Coursework

While earning a doctorate in accounting, students can customize the curriculum around their research interests. Courses vary depending on the program and school, but the following list covers several common Ph.D. in accounting courses.

Financial Accounting

Doctoral students study research strategies and methods in financial accounting, including financial reporting regulations and financial accounting standards. The course prepares doctoral students to conduct research in financial accounting.

Accounting Theory

Theory courses examine the theoretical approaches in different accounting disciplines, including public accounting, financial accounting, auditing, and managerial accounting. Students explore the relationship between theory and practice in accounting by reviewing research, case studies, and scholarly literature.

Accounting Research

Doctoral coursework prepares accounting students to conduct their own research and write a dissertation. Courses on accounting research address research methods such as surveys, archival research, and analytical research.

Accounting Literature Survey

Literature surveys introduce doctoral students to recent scholarly work in the field, covering topics like compensation, tax, cost accounting, and financial reporting. The course may also specialize in an area such as corporate disclosure, governance, or capital structure.

Managerial Accounting

Courses on managerial accounting analyze current research in the field. Doctoral students critically assess research methods, research sources, and the conclusions that managerial accounting experts draw from their work.

Degree Timelines

Accredited online accounting Ph.D. programs offer a variety of degree-completion timelines, including part-time, full-time, and accelerated options.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

7 years

On a part-time schedule, doctoral students in accounting may take just one class per term. Most part-time students take around seven years to complete the 90-120 credits required for a doctorate, including the dissertation. The option appeals to working professionals and those balancing school with family obligations.

Full-Time

4-5 years

During a full-time accounting Ph.D. program, students typically take 6-9 credits per semester. Doctoral students complete coursework requirements during the first two or three years and spend the remaining time researching an original dissertation topic and defending the written dissertation.

Accelerated

3-4 years

Some programs offer an accelerated schedule to earn a doctorate in accounting. For incoming students with a master's degree, an accelerated schedule may only require one or two years of coursework in addition to a dissertation. This option may let students complete a Ph.D. in three or four years.

Licenses and Certifications

Graduates from accounting doctoral programs qualify for multiple licenses and certifications. These certifications help accountants demonstrate specialized skills and advance in their field. For example, the certified public accountant credential, one of the most common for accountants, translates into higher earning potential. A doctorate meets the educational requirements for all certifications, and some certifications let applicants substitute educational experience for professional experience requirements. While certifications are optional, they benefit doctoral students considering accounting practice careers.

    • Certified Public Accountant CPAs must pass an examination that requires at least 30 credits of study beyond the bachelor's level. Ph.D. students meet the licensure requirements for a state CPA license. AICPA, which administers the CPA examination, reports that CPAs make 10% more than noncertified accountants.
    • Certified Management Accountant With a specialization in management and financial accounting, doctoral students can earn the CMA credential. Offered by the Institute of Management Accountants, a master's or doctoral degree meets the educational requirements for the credential.
    • Certified Fraud Examiner Doctoral students interested in fraud examination can become CFEs by passing an exam offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. The credential requires at least two years of fraud examination work experience.
    • Chartered Financial Analyst Doctoral students pursuing financial careers can become CFAs by passing three examinations and demonstrating four years of relevant work experience. A doctoral degree can substitute for part of the professional experience requirement.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Students enrolled in an online Ph.D. in accounting program benefit from professional organizations, which connect graduate students with career development resources, relevant research, and career services. Many professional organizations host annual conferences and local events with networking opportunities. Accounting students can also learn about scholarship opportunities, certification programs, and continuing education opportunities through professional organizations. These resources ease the transition from graduate school to the workforce.

  • American Institute of CPAs Dating back to 1887, the AICPA offers multiple scholarship opportunities and career resources for accounting students. The institute also administers the CPA examination and provides educational resources.
  • American Accounting Association An association for academic and professional accountants, the AAA publishes scholarly journals, grants awards, and offers a career center for job seekers.
  • National Society of Accountants With a focus on tax accounting, NSA publishes research, offers professional development tools, and hosts educational events. NSA also provides a career center and tax resources.
  • International Federation of Accountants A global organization with nearly 3 million members, IFAC provides accounting news, determines professional standards, and publishes research. The federation also offers professional resources.
  • American Association of Finance and Accounting AAFA brings together finance and accounting professionals, emphasizing recruitment and staffing. The association connects executive search firms with accounting professionals.
  • CPA Career Center The CPA Career Center lists job openings for CPAs. Run by the AICPA, the career center lets job seekers upload a resume and search current listings. The center also offers career coaching resources.
  • Accounting Review Founded in 1926, the Accounting Review publishes articles on accounting research, professional approaches and methods, and accounting methodologies. The AAA publishes the journal.
  • CPA Exam Doctoral students meet the educational requirements for the CPA exam. The AICPA provides resources and information about the four-part exam, which covers auditing, financial accounting, regulation, and business concepts.
  • AICPA Scholarships The AICPA offers multiple scholarships and fellowships for graduate students in accounting. Many of these scholarships provide $10,000 or more toward an accounting degree.
  • CPA Career Paths Doctoral students considering the CPA designation can learn more about career paths from this site run by the AICPA. The resource covers CPA career paths in academia, government, corporate accounting, and nonprofit accounting.