What Is the Difference Between a BBA in Accounting and a BS in Accounting?

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The core difference between a bachelor of business administration degree with a concentration in accounting, and a bachelor of science in accounting, lies in the fundamental purpose of the programs. The BS in accounting is designed for people who want to become accountants, a licensed CPA or equivalent. The BBA with a concentration or minor in accounting is for people who are more interested in the general business and management courses, but also want to study accounting in greater detail. The following sections break down the differences between the two degrees.

BS in Accounting

A bachelor of science in accounting provides the fundamental skills and knowledge needed to excel in the accounting profession. All degree programs will include critical financial competencies and key accounting course work. Students will learn the importance of ethics, leadership, professional values and strategic thinking skills. Students will become very familiar with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and be introduced to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). A bachelor of science in accounting will cover a variety of business topics, such as law, statistics, economics, auditing, financial accounting, taxes, and corporate finance.

After graduation, students who want to become a CPA will generally need to pursue a master’s degree in accounting. This is due to the educational requirements for the CPA certification exam. Every state and U.S. territory require at least a bachelor’s degree, with 150 credit hours of coursework, to become a licensed CPA. Some states allow you to take the CPA exam with only 120 credits, but still require 150 credits for licensure. However, 150 college credits aren’t the only requirement. Each state also has requirements for how many of those credits must be accounting-related. And some even require a certain number of upper-level accounting courses, graduate level courses, and specific courses. Requirements vary from state to state, so be sure to check the requirements in any state in which you might pursue licensure. Some states, like Illinois, only require 30 hours in accounting-related subjects, while others have much more granular requirements. The good news is that many colleges and universities are aware of these stringent requirements, and specifically design their bachelor of science in accounting and master of science in accounting programs to fulfill the most state requirements possible. Anyone who wants to become a CPA should start with a bachelor of science in accounting.

BS in Accounting Coursework

The curriculum for a BS in accounting degree is designed to develop proficiency in relevant computer applications, principles of finance, business policies, macroeconomics, microeconomics, auditing, and individual income taxes.

  • Computer Applications: Basic accounting requires familiarity with spreadsheets, databases, and desktop publishing programs. This will be covered in courses like digital foundations for accounting, and Quickbooks for accounting professionals.
  • Finance: Students will develop an understanding of the principles of finance through the study of courses like financial accounting, principles of finance, financial reporting, and financial statement analysis.
  • Business Policies: Accountants must be aware of the standard practices and policies one may expect to find in any business. There are many courses that cover these topics including principles of management, principles of marketing, operations management, business policies, business statistics, business communications, and business law.
  • Economics: It is essential for accountants to be aware of basic economic principles. Expectations and strategy for businesses change based on the economic climate. The government sets tax and economic incentives according to the health of the economy as well. Thus, having a basic understanding of economic theory is essential. This will be covered in courses on macroeconomics and microeconomics.
  • Auditing: While many may associate auditing with the IRS, it’s essential for businesses and their accountants to conduct regular internal audits to make sure all the numbers add up. Additionally, accountants that work for consulting firms are often called in as third party auditors to help businesses solve various problems from an objective point of view. The skills necessary to perform audits are covered in courses like auditing, accounting theory, financial statement analysis, and data analytics.
  • Taxes: To be honest, taxes are what most people think of when they think “accountant”. And for good reason. Taxes are a huge part of any accountant’s job. There are a couple courses dedicated to taxes you will find in any accounting curriculum, these cover individual income tax, tax planning and decision making,

These courses and more are designed to lay the foundation of skills required to become a great accountant. As you can see, the coursework is highly focused on topics directly related to accounting, with less focus put on general business operations that you will find in a BBA in accounting program. This makes the program much better suited for anyone who wants to become a CPA.

BBA in Accounting Coursework

A bachelor of business administration covers a lot of the basic accounting groundwork, but goes far less in-depth than the bachelor of science in accounting. It is possible for some bachelor of business administration in accounting degrees, when paired with a master of science in accounting, to meet the CPA exam educational requirements for some states. However, because the degree is less comprehensive, extra attention will be required to ensure your specific degrees will meet the standards of the specific state in which you intend to work. The other issue at hand is flexibility. The bachelor of business administration, when paired with a master of accounting degree, will likely not fulfill the CPA licensure requirements for all states. This could lead to a situation where if you decide to move from one state to another, you may have to take additional courses in order to qualify for licensure.

This is not to say that the BBA in accounting is worse than the BS in accounting. It’s just different. What you sacrifice in accounting courses, you gain in courses on business and management that can be immensely helpful to your career. Especially if you intend to become a chief financial officer or other executive or high level manager. Some of the accounting courses are similar to those mentioned above. You will take courses on intermediate accounting, cost accounting, federal income tax, ethics for accountants, auditing, and advanced accounting.

However you will also be able to use electives to take classes like management fundamentals, competitive analysis, analysis and design of organizations, and contemporary management issues. This extra focus on management is something there just isn’t much room for in a bachelor of science in accounting program.

Do I need to become a CPA to have an accounting career?

There are plenty of accounting-related jobs for accountants without a CPA. However, opportunities for career advancement tend to be more limited for those who don’t have CPA licensure. While non-CPA accountants can still get jobs in management over accounting-related departments like payroll, receivables, and payables, or jobs as corporate controllers, which tend to pay well. Most medium and large-sized companies want somebody with a CPA for positions like CFO.

Does this mean that a BS in accounting is your best choice if you want to be an accountant? Yes. If you are sure that you want to be an accountant, then the more narrowly focused degree will likely serve you better.

Is it worth the extra effort it takes to become a CPA? There is currently a shortage of CPAs, and according to the projections of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, roughly 75% of current CPAs are expected to retire in the next 15 years. This means significant numbers of top-level positions will start opening up and need people to fill them. The future is bright for CPAs so if you put in the work, it’s likely you will have every opportunity to advance in the coming years.

Is this a mark against the BBA option? Not really. The accounting profession is currently going through the process of automating a lot of the basic work. This means the productivity of any single accountant will rise. This means there is a strong argument that the added management and business skills offered by a BBA degree will provide you with more options as the industry evolves. During times of innovation and change, flexibility is the key to success. In evolution it’s not the strongest that survive. It’s the most adaptable. So in the end, either degree can be a great choice. Automation or no, the need for CPAs isn’t going anywhere any time soon. So whether you plan to earn the BBA or the BS in accounting, we suggest going the extra mile for that CPA licensure.

So which is better? BBA in Accounting or BS in Accounting?

Both are great, and it all depends on your goals. If you are all-in on accounting, then the BS is probably the choice for you. It’s heavily accounting-focused and will provide you with the in-depth understanding necessary to excel as an accountant. The BBA provides you with greater flexibility in terms of how you function in a business setting. You learn essential management skills that can help you flourish in your career. You sacrifice some accounting knowledge but still take enough courses to, in most cases, qualify for the CPA exam after earning your master’s degree in accounting. It comes with the cost that it may not qualify you for the licensure exam in all states, even with the master’s, which can be a bit of an inconvenience in a time when it’s so common to move between states for jobs. So in the end, it all comes down to you, and what you want. I hope this article has provided some useful information that will help you make the right choice.

Bambi Majumdar
Author

Melissa Anderson
Expert

Julie McCaulley
Editor-in-Chief