One of the major challenges facing accounting education is the creation of a learning environment that promotes high-quality learning. Comparative research across disciplines offers educators the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the influence of contextual and personal variables on students' learning approaches. Using the Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (ASSIST), this study examines the learning approaches of 329 first-year accounting students and 275 first-year science students at an Irish university. The analysis reveals that the accounting students are more strategic than the science students, while the science students are more inclined to adopt a deep approach than the accounting students. There was no significant difference in the scores of the two groups on the surface scale. An examination of the variation in the learning environments of the accounting and science students identifies the teaching approach, the level of continuous assessment, students' motivations for choosing their degree programme, and their prior learning experiences as possible factors contributing to the differences in the approaches to learning adopted by both groups. The article concludes by considering the implications of these findings for educators, and suggests avenues for further research. © 2010 UCU.