Ph.D. in Accounting Online

Degree Options & Potential Careers

Accounting degree-holders and CPAs looking to advance their careers may want to consider a doctoral degree. While a Ph.D. in accounting is an atypical degree for accountants, the skills learned in pursuit of a doctorate can lead to CPAs opening their own practices, becoming consultants, and deepening their accounting knowledge in a specific niche.

A Ph.D. also demonstrates expertise appropriate for ambitious students interested in moving into high-level supervisory roles at accounting agencies. The specific outcome of a Ph.D., of course, depends on the school and online program chosen.

Should I Earn an Online Ph.D. in Accounting?

Though a Ph.D. in accounting online is not for everyone, many practicing accountants find value in earning a doctoral degree. Accountants should select a Ph.D. program that aligns with their professional goals and other commitments, and online degrees tend to be more flexible for working professionals than in-person programs.

Accountants typically pursue a Ph.D. as an advancement strategy or a way to broaden potential career options. A Ph.D. reflects expertise, and well-known businesses seek well-educated individuals for the highest-paying positions. Continuing your education opens opportunities to specialize in a niche field. Niche specialties often pay well and offer high job security.

Other Ph.D. students earn their doctoral degrees to pursue leadership or teaching in the field. Accounting professors in higher education must complete a Ph.D. Earning a Ph.D. is an important step toward becoming any type of professor, and some positions require additional schooling beyond the doctorate. However, professors are well-paid, and tenured professors enjoy job security and a nice pension.

Students may also choose to earn a Ph.D. as a path toward opening an independent accounting agency. A Ph.D. in accounting communicates expertise to potential clients, which helps to establish the legitimacy of a solo business.

What Can I Do With an Online Ph.D. in Accounting?

Graduates who complete a Ph.D. in accounting online enjoy improved career advancement potential. For most graduates, advancement involves working in a supervisory role at an accounting firm. Most Ph.D. holders in these positions work as senior auditors or senior financial accountants.

Other doctoral degree holders find work in government, such as within the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or as an analyst for policymakers. Public policy guidance requires advanced experience and knowledge. The federal government typically pays well and offers secure employment. Doctoral degree holders also work in local government agencies.

Becoming a professor or working for a university is another attractive option; professors typically enjoy long, productive careers. Multiple educator positions exist, including adjunct roles for full-time professors. Those with teaching experience may eventually advance into high-level careers, such as dean or associate dean of accounting or general business programs. Universities also hire their own internal accountants and auditors to help operate multi-million dollar budgets.

Consulting firms also employ many graduates of doctoral programs, and some graduates start independent consultancies of their own. As a lucrative field that requires high-level employees, consulting generally employs professionals with at least a master's degree in accounting.

Lastly, a graduate with a Ph.D. in accounting might find a position with a nonprofit organization. While these positions may not pay as well, they offer job satisfaction in the sense that you're making a difference in the world.

Senior Accountant

Senior accountants occupy the top rung for accountants in most organizations. These experts analyze financial data to help generate budgets, ensure budgets are on track, and parse budgets for potential inaccuracies. Senior accountants typically work in corporate accounting firms.

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teaching includes both adjunct and full-time tenure-track professors. Professors of accounting create coursework for accounting students, teach the courses, and provide student advisory services. Many schools require additional certification to become a professor, and requirements can vary from state to state.

Financial Controller

Also known as a comptroller, a financial controller oversees one or more financial departments within an organization. A comptroller analyzes budgets, produces financial reports, and ensures compliance with regulatory standards. Comptroller positions also require high-level business management skills.

Accounting Consultant

Consultants work in a wide range of fields, often changing settings every few weeks or months. The responsibilities of an accounting consultant vary, but most analyze an organization's financial reports and present their findings to the organization. Consultants also recommend changes to improve regulatory compliance.

Self-Employed Accountant

Accountants with sufficient professional and educational experience often open their own firms or private practices. Self-employed accountants may provide tax accounting, internal or external audits, or consulting services.

Accounting Ph.D. Program Overview

Aspiring doctoral students can choose among a variety of Ph.D. programs in accounting online, and each offers different potential business outcomes. Read on to find out more about the types of doctoral degrees available in accounting, typical coursework for each degree, and how to apply for doctoral programs.

Types of Doctoral Degrees in Accounting

Students interested in a doctoral degree in accounting may choose between a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) with a focus in accounting or a doctorate in business administration (DBA) with a specialization in accounting. These programs rank similarly in quality, but differ in requirements, coursework, and potential outcomes.

A Ph.D. in accounting tends to be more research-heavy than a DBA. Coursework covers new accounting theories, research and writing on advanced topics, and integrating accounting with other fields and technologies. Outcomes for the Ph.D. include consulting, teaching, and research leadership in the field.

While research is also important for the DBA, students pursuing this doctoral degree typically seek supervisory roles in accounting for large organizations. Outcomes for DBA holders generally involve leadership, although DBA outcomes often overlap with Ph.D. outcomes.

While required courses vary from school to school, you can expect the Ph.D. to require more courses than the DBA. This means that the Ph.D. usually takes longer to complete. For example, a Ph.D. may require 20 courses, while a DBA requires only 16 courses.

Although distance learners who earn their degrees online may study at their own pace, most Ph.D. programs require roughly 3-4 years to complete. Students typically spend 2-3 years completing a DBA. If either degree opens a path toward your dream career, then a DBA may provide a better option solely due to the shorter time required for coursework completion.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

Schools require at least a bachelor's degree for any Ph.D. or DBA program, and many schools also require a master's degree or offer preferential admission status to master's degree holders. Ideal applicants hold degrees in accounting or a business-related field. Other requirements include a GPA of 3.0 or higher on your most recent college transcript and an application fee. While not all schools require standardized test scores, some schools may require GMAT or GRE scores.


Typically, core courses make up the majority of required credits for Ph.D. and DBA programs. Heavy core requirements help ensure that students meet an industry minimum standard of accounting knowledge after graduation. Aside from program length and potential outcomes, core courses for each program differ between the two degree options. Ph.D. courses tend to cover research and theory while DBA courses emphasize leadership.

Along with core courses, doctoral programs also require specialization courses. A typical program requires 4-5 specialization courses to earn either a Ph.D. or a DBA. Ph.D. and DBA programs usually offer similar specialization courses. The main difference in curriculum structure between the two programs is the number of core courses required.

After completing core and specialization courses, Ph.D. students take a comprehensive exam. Many programs also require a dissertation. Instead of a comprehensive exam, DBA students complete a doctoral capstone to prepare for post-graduation careers.

Sample courses for both programs include:

Financial Reporting
Most doctoral-level accounting careers involve analyzing financial reports. This course provides a firm foundation in financial reporting and analysis.
Forensic Accounting
Forensic accounting deals with examining financial reports for evidence of criminal activity. This course teaches students to analyze financial records for specific types of errors linked with fraud.
Advanced Accounting Research
Students in this course conduct personalized research into the field. Students can expect peer editing sessions and detailed in-class discussions of research.
Financial Decision Making
Financial decision making blends ethics and accounting knowledge, teaching students how to evaluate the financial aspects of their own career decisions.
Accounting Theory Research
Students in this course learn about different advanced accounting theories, including agency theory and incentive design.
Research in Special Topics
Students in this course conduct research on topics such as tax and auditing, as well as any specialized topics that might relate to the school's accounting program.
Game Theory
This math-heavy course teaches students about game theory and decision making in accounting contexts. The course material applies to advanced specializations in research analytics.
Business Principles and Practice
Students with leadership ambitions must learn to manage a business. This course provides a strong foundation for future self-employed accountants.

Program Outcomes

The knowledge and skills you learn depend on which doctoral degree you complete, but most online Ph.D. in accounting programs teach analytical, research, and advanced accounting theories. Graduates typically have leadership ambitions, either in general business or in the field of accounting.

At the doctoral level, graduates take on roles requiring heavy research and analysis. Through the capstone project, a research project, and a comprehensive exam, students demonstrate their expertise in accounting theories and their ability to conduct original independent research analyses of financial reports.

Some professions require certifications, and not all students hold proper certification by the time they begin their Ph.D. programs. Most online accounting programs do not offer professional certification as part of the doctoral degree. However, students often qualify to sit for certification exams upon graduation. Requirements for certification vary from state to state, so students may want to complete an online degree from a school located in their current or future state.

Accreditation for Online Accounting Ph.D. Programs

Accreditation is a way of verifying the quality of a school or program. Granted through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the United States Department of Education (ED), agencies provide accreditation at the regional and national level. Agencies also grant program-specific accreditations for individual programs.

When searching for a Ph.D. in accounting online, students should verify state and regional accreditation and ensure that the accounting program possesses accreditation from a program-specific accrediting body such as the respected Accrediting Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).