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If you have an interest in enhancing your ability to create strategic change in an organization through professional financial or accounting leadership, or wish to engage in accounting research, education, or be a practitioner, then an advanced degree such as a doctoral degree in accounting is your likely next step. Now, you can earn a master degree, MBA, or a doctorate in an online format through a website, with no or limited in-person meetings, allowing you to keep up with your work projects and family while still earning an advanced degree.

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What is a PhD Degree in Accounting?

First, it is helpful to understand what a doctoral degree or PhD degree is. This degree is the highest academic degree that a person can earn in the U.S. These degrees generally take four or five years to complete and are typically research based, ending with a thesis or dissertation. Most individuals who have gone to school for accounting will complete an undergraduate program (such as a bachelor of science) or a master’s in accounting and, depending upon the focus of the program, may be planning to complete a few more courses to become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) or work in an agency’s fiscal department. You must have a master’s degree in accounting or a related field (economics, entrepreneurship, business management, tax law and regulation, human resources and payroll, financial operations, etc.) to get through the application process for a distance doctorate program in accounting, and licensure is also helpful. College and university doctoral programs in accounting typically focus on the development of skills and providing tools for conducting advanced research into accounting topics. This is also including an increased focus on math, statistics, and economics issues, as well as research methodology curriculum and projects that can pertain to a specific position, industry, or market.

Why Obtain an Online Doctorate in Accounting?

With a big four- or five-year typical commitment in order to successfully pursue a degree in accounting, there are many things to think about while considering this endeavor. If you are the type who loves school and whose analytical mind is always picking up on statistics and numbers, you may consider this an important career objective. If one of your career goals is to become a post-secondary educator in accounting studies, obtaining a doctorate in accounting is something to seriously consider as it may be required for a position.

  • Increased Career Options
    Another benefit of dedicating all of your resources to a program like this is that once you complete it, you will have many more opportunities to branch out and change position within the financial industry, no matter which market or industry you have an interest in. You can be creative with how you use your degree. If you decide to skip the professor route, for example, you will still have the highly tactical skills needed to run your own consulting business. You will have the freedom and flexibility that many people desire in a job. You may choose to be a finance writer, freelance auditor, or a part-time professor. The options are practically endless. You will have freedom to set your own agenda with this degree, especially as a distance student. You can work independently or as part of a team and supplement your income with consultation, writing, or research or even have the training to find a high-level position in government.
  • Professor Shortage
    There is a known shortage of professors and accounting faculty according to the American Association of Accounting. There is a high demand and an expectation of an even greater increase in the need for accounting professors. There's no question that this makes the market for this position quite desirable. Because of this, there is an increase of job openings and salaries and compensation are higher. There is a demand to have qualified professors to teach the growing number of post-secondary education students wishing to pursue accounting in undergraduate school in both the classroom, email, and forums.
  • Student Fellowships
    Earning a doctoral degree in accounting will require a dedication of about four to five solid years of academic work. According to the Journal of Accountancy, however, most PhD programs offer students stipends and fellowships which help students avoid paying tuition. In turn, when they graduate, they'll have fewer student loans and also a salary in the six figures pretty quickly after graduating and securing a position. This is another reason why considering a doctorate program in accounting may be a great choice even if a person has not completed an undergraduate program specifically in accounting.
  • Flexible Learning Options
    Another benefit of pursuing this type of degree is that currently there are flexible learning options, especially in online instruction. There are diverse hybrid programs where students can learn in a more flexible way while still having the advantage of small classroom engagement. Students can choose a combination of distance and on campus classes. These types of options help quality programs become more accessible to its students. Some allow for part-time attendance. Depending upon goals and lifestyle needs, there are many great options on offer for those considering this course of education.
  • Industry Involvement
    The Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program was created in June 2008 as a program sponsored by the AICPA foundation (American Institute of CPAs) and some of the country’s largest accounting firms as a way to address the increasing need for accounting professors with real world experience. Having this resource available is another benefit as it helps create partnerships and alliances with future doctoral students and enhance the level of their education and network. If you are considering this area of study, this is another option that may benefit many aspects of your life when you make the decision to beginning this new journey.

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CPA's and Doctoral Degrees

Most bachelor-level academic programs in accounting will help prepare an individual for the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam. In order to sit for the exam in many states, there is a requirement to have a certain number of hours in the field. Sometimes this will require people to pursue additional education and some will opt to go on to obtain a master’s degree to get ahead since they already need to take those extra hours anyway. As a result, some will just decide to go straight into an advanced degree. By passing the exam and becoming a CPA, many individuals will be qualified to teach in a higher education facility or get into a managerial accounting position in the industry of their choice; however, there is more of a chance to obtain a higher salary and more notoriety if you obtain a doctorate. If you are already a CPA, you can still apply to become a professor without a doctoral degree, but it is highly recommended to have a doctoral degree in order to become more respected and have better earning opportunities. Even if you are a CPA, you will still usually have to take the GMAT in order to apply to schools. Having a CPA certification does provide a candidate with an excellent foundation of knowledge from which to begin applying to online doctoral programs in accounting.

DBA vs. PhD Doctorate Online Degree

There are two different types of accounting doctoral degrees and you may prefer or decide to choose one over the other depending upon the theory and financial discipline that you plan to work within. Below you will find more details on each one. However, the main difference between the two is that a PhD student and graduate will be more focused on theoretical structures and forming a research question, testing theories, and analyzing results. A DBA student and graduate will likely be taking these types of results and utilizing them in a more executive leadership function in a corporation or governmental business.

  • Doctor of Philosophy
    The first one is a Doctor of Philosophy in Accounting or PhD program. This degree option is heavily focused on research, theory, and application. If one of your dreams is to become a well-known and respected professor in the industry, a PhD is likely a wonderful choice. As a professor, you will have to meet requirements in order to achieve tenure. One of these requirements will likely be conducting research and becoming published in a scholarly journal. The PhD path will prepare individuals for that as part of working as a professor in a given academic institution.
  • Doctor of Business Administration
    Another type of doctoral degree option is the Doctor of Business Administration or the DBA program. Those individuals who have earned a DBA can still go on to higher education teaching jobs, however, it is recommended that obtaining a PhD is a better, research-based choice for that sector. Those who decide on pursuing a DBA will also learn and become prepared for executive leadership jobs once they graduate. Many with a DBA will remain in leadership roles within a corporation.

Career Outlook for Accounting Doctorates

In addition to flexibility with regard to career and life balance, accounting doctoral graduates have many choices. In general, by studying accounting one can choose many different career paths. Options include tax, managerial and corporation accounting, information technology and systems accounting, auditing, and finance. With these concentrations, one can successfully work in any accounting capacity. These include, but are not limited to, university professor, tax/audit consultant, researcher, business manager, government sector work. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, career opportunities and jobs in this sector a growing faster than average. Add this to the shortage of university professors, especially as many are retiring, and the career outlook is looking great in this field.

Salary Expectations for Accounting Doctorates

Salary expectations for accounting doctoral graduates are relatively lucrative. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, professors with a PhD can begin as high as $76,000 and six-figure incomes are definitely possible depending upon the area of study, discipline of teaching and level of previous experience. With the help of fellowships and assistantships with many doctoral programs, the salary becomes even more exciting when a graduate does not have to worry about student loans or growing a large debt after completing a doctorate.

According to the BLS, an accounting doctorate graduate can make the following in salary depending upon the field:

  • Teaching - $113,800 - $137,800
  • Teaching - $113,800 - $137,800
  • Research - $150,000 - $175,000
  • Accounting Professor Salary: $77,400
  • Accountant with PhD Salary: $120,000
  • Upper management - $100,250 - $503,000
  • Government Salary: $53,500

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PhD Curriculum and Course Information

When choosing to go back to school for a doctorate degree, be prepared for more advanced curricula materials, less lecture-style classes and more seminar classes with smaller amounts of students. Even though you are contemplating a distance program, there will still be participation in class discussions and attendance requirements along with the usual workload and course expectations. Depending upon the track that a person chooses, the curriculum will vary a bit. There are empirical tracks, research tracks in tax or financial management, analytical tracks, and teaching tracks to name a few.

Most schools will offer classes in either this or similar types of organization: Advanced Research, Research Processes and Theory, Finance Theory, Econometrics and Quantitative Analysis, Micro and Macroeconomics, Research Papers, and a Dissertation conclusion to the program of study. In addition, some research programs will concentrate on more of an archival research component, or one that focuses more on technical analysis, while other research programs focus on a more behavioral and psychological approach to pertinent topics.

How to Choose the Best Doctorate

Choosing a doctorate in accounting should not be difficult. Armed with your future goals and your current lifestyle, it should be easier to make an informed decision. One thing to consider is the type of program you are seeking. For example, if you are thinking of pursuing a future in research and working at a university, there is a program called the Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program that may help guide you to reach your goals more effectively. Another consideration is whether or not you are able to go part- or full-time. There are many different programs that accommodate not only that, but also a hybrid approach where a student can choose online and on-campus classes. Financing is also another option. For many students who already have an abundance of student loans and other financial responsibilities, it may be helpful to look into programs with fellowships and assistantships and see how these will work with your current lifestyle.

Another factor to consider is the accreditation for the school you choose to go to. There are two types of accreditation for schools offering these degrees. The first type is evaluated by the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. These organizations evaluate the quality of a school based upon qualifications of the faculty on staff, tracking of outcomes of graduates, standards of technology and availability/type of educational resources, type of coursework offered, and support systems available at the institution.

Another type of accreditation that a prospective student should be concerned with is business school accreditation. This accreditation is evaluated by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB, the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). These organizations evaluate the quality of an institution based upon the same types of factors, but specifically for the business-related departments (such as accounting, administration, etc.) within the larger university.

The Bottom Line

There are a number of things to consider when choosing whether to go to school to obtain your doctorate degree online. It is important to ensure that you are able to take on the time commitment of a distance degree program. Even though these programs are more convenient, it definitely is still rigorous and demanding. Consider whether your online program is accredited. Weigh out the cost of attendance vs. the end result salary and career expectations that you are seeking. Make sure to factor in any student loans and the amount that may be lost in salary while actively participating in the online doctorate program. At any point during your education path, you can choose to specialize in a particular field and obtain a forensic accounting degree. Ultimately, consider whether this is the best investment for your career goals and lifestyle using the facts and considerations outlined above.

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