How Hard Is Accounting Compared to Other Majors?

How Hard Is Accounting Compared to Other Majors?

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Accounting is notoriously known as one of the most challenging college majors. Stereotypes have it that if you choose an accounting major, you’ll have to spend your night in the library while your friends from other majors are busy pub-hopping. But is the statement close to the truth or just hyperbole?

While accounting isn’t as hard as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) major, it’s arguably more challenging than any other business or liberal arts major. Students can’t slack off their way through the course. They need to put in consistent time and effort to do well.

The rest of this article will explain a few topics related to this question in great detail, including what makes accounting one of the most demanding majors, whether it requires you to know a lot of math, and if accounting is a dull and stressful major. So, keep reading this article to learn more.

What Makes Accounting One of the Hardest Majors?

Accounting requires you to be disciplined. It requires you to put in time and effort day in and day out, and it’s not one of those subjects you can prepare for the night before the exam and still do decently well. But, what exactly makes accounting such a tough nut to crack?

What makes accounting one of the hardest majors is that the concepts aren’t intuitive and have a steep learning curve. The demanding workload and abundance of rules and regulations students need to remember don’t make it any easier.

Every major is easy for some people and hard for others, and every major presents different kinds of challenges to students. Let’s take a look at some of the difficulties accounting poses to students.

Accounting Demands Regular Work

Normally, students need some time to adjust to the new life at college, get into the groove, and study.

However, in accounting, if you don’t keep up with the pace of the class from the start, you can get behind quickly and lose your way. This is especially true for people who haven’t had any experience with accounting in their life before college. 

Most colleges have Accounting 101 or similar courses for the new students, and they cover the basics of the high school accounting and bookkeeping syllabus in the first few classes of the first semester and move to the next topic.

What takes high school students a couple of years to learn, a newbie with no accounting experience is expected to learn in a few classes.

Most students put in the effort and manage to familiarize themselves with the required concepts, but some can’t do that. What compounds their misery is that one needs to know these foundations to understand the advanced concepts. 

And, since they don’t know that, these students struggle to understand the following classes as well.

The college isn’t to be blamed here either. There’s so much to teach and not enough time to cover everything in detail. They can’t afford to slow down everyone for the sake of a few students. If they do that, in the end, they’ll have to cram advanced, more complex concepts into a few classes, which will affect the entire semester.

The Workload Can Be Intimidating

Another reason students find accounting hard is because of the amount of information they need to learn. Accounting has a lot of jargon, concepts, and principles, and if you don’t understand them properly, you’ll have a tough time in this major.

Unlike in many other majors, memorization isn’t of much use here. 

Sure, there are concepts and rules you need to memorize. However, you also need to understand them and know when and how to use these concepts.

Every semester there are more things to learn. And, you can’t afford to forget what you’ve learned in the previous semester since that knowledge serves as the base for future classes. Perhaps this is why even those students who have the kind of brain that gets accounting agree that this subject has a demanding workload.

Some Courses Are Quite Challenging

Let’s move to the reason that keeps many students up at night, and discuss the dreaded courses accounting students have to study.

Intermediate Accounting

The common consensus is that intermediate accounting is the most challenging course accounting students have to study. That’s why many colleges split the syllabus into two or more courses to lessen the burden on the students.

Still, intermediate accounting continues to be the stuff of a nightmare for many students. In fact, it’s said that intermediate accounting washes out students who don’t have the aptitude for accounting.

If you speak with students, you’ll find that even straight-A students struggle to pass this course, and it takes some students a few attempts to get through this class.

Tax Accounting

This course is broken into different sections: 

  • Income tax
  • Sales tax
  • Property tax
  • Employment tax
  • Other taxes

This course aims to teach students how to calculate tax in different situations and minimize it as much as possible for their clients.

Tax accounting is quite challenging for novices because of how tax codes are written, as most of the things are vague and illogical. Besides, tax rates and rules change frequently, which further confuses students.

Accounting Isn’t a Good Fit for Everyone

Accounting is a stable career, and it’s projected to grow at a rate of 7% every year between 2020 and 2030. It also pays well, and in fact, in 2021, the median salary for accountants was $77,250 per year.

It’s no surprise then that many students flock to this major, which seems like an intelligent choice. Who doesn’t want a career that guarantees a prospering future?

There’s a problem with this kind of thinking, though. Some of these students don’t have the aptitude required to do well in this field. For example, if a student isn’t used to studying for long hours and procrastinates a lot, he’ll struggle to cover the syllabus. 

It’s only natural this student will find accounting hard.

Does Accounting Require a Lot of Math?

A popular misconception is accounting requires you to be a math wizard. And it makes sense at first glance because after all, accounting requires you to analyze the financial record of companies, look after their tax records, and do other tasks that involve number crunching. However, this theory isn’t entirely true.

Accounting doesn’t require a lot of math, but to become successful in this domain, you need to love numbers or at least be comfortable with them. Accountants spend most of their time in front of a screen, staring at spreadsheets full of numerical data. 

If you run away at the sight of numbers, this isn’t the right field for you.

However, you don’t have to be proficient in calculus, trigonometry, or other complex topics to understand accounting. You can sail smoothly through the course if you know the four basic arithmetic operations, i.e., addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division

Besides, you should know elementary algebra and statistics.

Using these operations should come easy to you, though. They’re an integral part of the course, and you’ll be using them frequently for your coursework and job. Before you lose hope, remember that most colleges and workplaces allow you to use a calculator, which saves you from the trouble of performing the mathematical operations mentally or manually. 

The spreadsheet and other online software you’ll use at work can do the calculations for you.

You’ll thrive in the field if you can read complex mathematical problems, extract required information, remember data and use it all to find the correct output. Also, you should have strong reading comprehension skills and be able to memorize a lot of rules and principles and recall them when required.

Is Accounting Stressful?

It’s clear by now that accounting has its own set of demands and challenges, and the ability to handle pressure conditions well is a must for success in this field. However, does the pressure get to be too much, and do situations become stressful?

Accounting is both a stressful career and a major to study in college. Research has shown that the majority of accountants are stressed in their jobs. If you can handle the pressure of the major in college, then you can handle the pressure of an accounting job.

I mentioned earlier about the intense workload and the need to be up to date with classes all the time. It’s easy to see how that can cause stress for students.

Let’s talk about accounting professionals now. A whitepaper published by CABA, a charity working for the well-being of accountants, claims that 55% of accountants were dealing with stress and burnout. The corresponding figure for people working in other industries is 41%.

According to the same study, 79% of accountants believe that stress and poor mental health are a problem within the industry. 

The common reasons they cite for that are:

  • Being massively overworked: 87%
  • Extended working hours: 72%
  • Complex work with no room for error: 63%

I understand these data paint a grim picture, and I know that not every accountant is unhappy with their job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that there are more than 1.3 million accountants and auditors in the United States today. 

Of course, there will be those people who have an innate fondness for accounting and love this vocation.

However, even these passionate people will tell you that sometimes they find their job stressful and time-consuming. For example, the end of the tax season requires tax specialists to work for way longer than their usual hours. 

Sure, the work is rewarding and satisfying, but it does take a toll on your personal life and mental health.

How Boring Is Accounting?

Accounting is considered a stable and lucrative field. Despite that, there are some downsides to being in this evergreen occupation.

While accounting has always been infamous for being a boring profession, it is actually an exciting career. Every industry needs accountants, including the FBI, the Oscars, and the big-budget movies. Any industry that needs money needs accountants, so not all accounting projects are boring.

In spite of it being an exciting career choice, a study conducted by the University of Essex shows that people believe that accounting is one of the top five most boring professions.

In fact, accounting comes second in the study, preceded by data analysis workers. Tax and insurance, cleaners, banking & finance are the following three professions on the list, in that order. 

It’s evident finance jobs dominate the list.

Interestingly, security professionals, such as security guards, transportation security administration, and other similar professions are in the 10th position, and librarians are in 13th place on the list of most boring jobs, way below accounting.

The study concludes that accountants, and other finance professionals, are often perceived as dull and incompetent. 

However, keep in mind that this is an outsider’s perception, not necessarily the reality.

Another study, this one conducted by KPMG, found that 41% of employees working in financial services had parents working in the same sector. For reference, the corresponding figure for other sectors is 12%.

Take a moment to think about it. 

Four in ten people watched their parents working in the industry, so they had an idea about the workload and nature of the work. The fact that they still chose to work in the industry means they could see themselves enjoying their work. 

Perhaps, that also explains why 4 out of 5 accountants would recommend their friends to pursue a career in this industry. It’s clear there’s a discrepancy between the outsider’s perspective and the reality of the industry.

People think accounting isn’t an exciting job because they are under the illusion that accountants sit in their cubicles and stare at the screen all the time. But isn’t the same true for most other office-based jobs today?


Accounting often gets a bad reputation for being a hard major because of the intensive workload and challenging curriculum. Contrary to popular opinion, an accounting student doesn’t have to be a master of math or know complex mathematical operations.

Accounting is a stressful job for the most part. 

Studies show that more than half of accountants feel stressed and burned out because of the nature of their careers. While the general public perceives accounting as a boring job, accountants working in the field don’t hold the same view.