Earning a Ph.D. in Accounting Online

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July 24, 2019

Many individuals who aspire to high-level accounting research or academic positions choose to pursue a Ph.D. online. Doctoral students investigate advanced theoretical issues and conduct original research. While most graduates take postsecondary teaching jobs, others work as analysts, exploring accounting regulations and their effects on financial markets. As colleges and universities face an ongoing shortage of accounting professors with doctoral degrees, many prospective academics strive to fill the gap by enrolling in accounting Ph.D. programs online. Flexible distance education programs allow candidates to pursue an advanced degree while upholding their personal and professional obligations.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Accounting?

While many individuals enroll in accounting Ph.D. online programs to pursue tenure-track careers as professors, others work in financial data analysis or independent consulting roles after graduation. Those who choose to work in the industry often use their advanced statistical analysis skills to gain supervisory roles in financial market research organizations.

Potential Careers and Salaries

Accountants with baccalaureate and master's-level education take jobs in areas like public accounting, financial advising, budget analysis, auditing, and taxation. They work in a variety of settings, including government agencies, nonprofit organizations, financial institutions, and insurance agencies. In contrast, most doctorate-holders serve in advanced research or teaching roles. Some graduates return to the industry, working as consultants for international clients, conducting independent research for think tanks, or writing scholarly material for professional business publications.

Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors provide businesses and governments with financial reporting, analysis, and auditing services. They advise businesses on cost management and funding allocation, track internal controls, and review financial statements for accuracy, completeness, and evidence of fraud.

Annual Annual Salary: $70,500

Job Growth Projection: 10%

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers educate students at the college level, delivering lectures on topics about accounting and finance to train future generations of workers and teachers.

Annual Annual Salary: $78,470

Job Growth Projection: 15%

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts collect and coordinate financial information to evaluate organizational performance and facilitate sound decision-making. They provide businesses and government agencies with professional advice, evaluate their organization's portfolio management practices, review returns on investments, and track industry conditions.

Annual Annual Salary: $85,660

Job Growth Projection: 11%

Financial Managers

Financial managers oversee their organization's long-range financial health and profitability. Using statistical analysis and business forecasting tools, they supervise strategic financial planning, evaluate cash flow, and examine investment activities' impact on profit and loss.

Annual Annual Salary: $127,990

Job Growth Projection: 19%

Personal Financial Advisor

These professionals provide individual clients with customized financial planning services, including guidance regarding investments, taxes, savings, and insurance. Personal financial advisors make estate planning recommendations, offer risk management advice, and help clients set appropriate retirement savings goals.

Annual Annual Salary: $88,890

Job Growth Projection: 15%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Traits of a Successful Accountant

As respected guardians of the public's trust, accountants must possess many advanced professional skills and aptitudes to succeed in the workplace. In addition to fundamental analytical and abstract critical thinking skills, accountants need strong business communication abilities like active listening and teamwork. Often faced with ethical decision-making dilemmas, accountants should uphold a strong commitment to professional integrity. They must also be skilled at adapting to constant changes in financial regulations, accounting software standards, and tax codes.

Critical thinking skills help accountants constructively assess data and financial outcomes. Accountants use critical thinking to identify relevant questions, extract meaningful patterns, draw implications from data, and develop solutions to financial challenges.
Active listening refers to listening with intent to hear, learn, and fully understand a message. Active listening skills are crucial to career advancement and highly valued among employers.
Accountants must be proficient at using industry software and information systems. In addition to IT security and internal controls issues, professionals should understand database, spreadsheet, and cloud accounting software.

Salary by Experience Level

While most accountants begin their careers employment at public accounting firms, many professionals leave the public accounting arena and pursue advanced degrees after gaining significant work experience. Due to a continuing shortage of accounting professors and an increase in lucrative international opportunities, graduates who earn a Ph.D. in accounting online enjoy many employment options. Combining for Accountants with doctoral degrees who combine academic research and teaching with professional consulting work may also expand their salary potential.

Pay by Experience Level for Accountants

Source: PayScale

Steps to Earning a Ph.D. in Accounting Online

All Ph.D. accounting online programs maintain slightly different admissions guidelines and graduation requirements. A limited number of schools offer doctoral programs in accounting, and some top-ranked institutions admit only one or two new students every other year. Program admission is often highly competitive. However, most prospective doctoral students follow a process similar to the path described below.

Find the Right Program for You

As you evaluate potential programs, consider factors related to your prospective career path and current lifestyle. Do you intend to pursue archival, analytical, or behavioral accounting research? Do faculty members specialize in your area of interest? In addition, some programs permit distance learners to complete all courses online and asynchronously, while others include on-campus intensives or feature synchronous scheduling.


Most prospective doctoral students apply to multiple programs and spend a fair amount of time preparing applications. Typically, schools expect candidates to submit two separate applications: one for the graduate school and one for the accounting program. Be sure to set aside enough time to write statements of purpose, obtain transcripts, secure recommendation letters, and, if necessary, prepare for the GMAT or GRE.

Capstone, Dissertation, or Thesis

Doctoral students usually spend 1-2 years in a standard 4-6 year program performing dissertation research, completing comprehensive exams, and defending their dissertation. Unlike a master's thesis, a dissertation must make an original contribution to the extant body of scholarly knowledge in accounting theory and practice.

Fellowship or Internship

Most accounting Ph.D. programs online and on campus require candidates to complete graduate teaching fellowships at their university. Offering hands-on instructional and research experience, fellowships generally consist of one or more courses per term. Many accounting programs provide graduate teaching fellows with full funding, including tuition waivers and living stipends. Conversely, internships are often unpaid. Instead, they provide candidates with college credit and hands-on workplace training at hiring organizations.

Curriculum for an Online Ph.D. in Accounting

While course offerings tend to vary from program to program, doctoral-level accounting students usually complete a series of required foundational classes. Exploring advanced accounting theory and practice, these courses typically emphasize data analysis using relational databases and statistical research methods. Ph.D. candidates may also complete coursework on measurement theory, econometric techniques, and accounting information systems modeling. Students also learn to analyze the effects of regulatory changes using experimental design as they examine advanced auditing principles and practices, fraud examination, and international accounting standards. In addition, many doctoral curricula include comprehensive seminar courses spotlighting contemporary issues in accounting.

  1. Econometrics: This course covers distributions of economic variables using Bayesian and asymptotic methods. Students explore key models including the standard linear regression model, duration models, and model selection in various contexts. Topics include interval estimation, sample selection, and endogeneity bias. Students gain hands-on experience in applying econometric methods to data sets in real-world business contexts.

  2. Accounting Theory: Exploring the structure, concepts, and rationale behind modern accounting theory, this seminar course is typically offered in a three-term series. Segments address subjects such as empirical analysis of financial reporting, advanced topics in capital markets, and corporate disclosures and governance theory. Coursework often culminates in a research project relevant to the student's intended practice area.

  3. Current Topics in Auditing: This course focuses on current research and issues in external auditing and attestation. Candidates explore the challenges auditors face in professional practice, including ethical and strategic aspects of the profession. Coursework surveys scope of services, audit sampling, compilations and review reports, and reports under attestation standards.

  4. Research in Accounting Information Systems: This course explores broad conceptual concepts related to complex information systems, with an emphasis on managerial and stakeholder decision-making. Students examine research in information systems security, auditing, and control. Other course topics may include audit software, internal control structure, and the systems development life cycle.

  5. Special Topics in Accounting Research: This customizable elective course uses accounting research methodology to explore specialized topical areas such as tax theory and planning, international accounting, fraudulent financial reporting, and accounting for natural resources. Students build advanced research skills as they prepare original scholarly papers on current issues within their focus areas.


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