What Does it Mean to Study Accounting?
An accounting degree is one of the most versatile business degrees available. Accountants can be found working for businesses, individuals, and even the government. Because of the wide variety of jobs available, becoming an accounting major is an attractive course of study for many individuals.
If you are considering an accounting degree, you should have an aptitude and interest in mathematics. Successful accountants must be able to analyze, compare, and interpret facts and figures quickly. They must also possess the skills necessary to clearly communicate their results to clients and managers. Above all, maintaining high standards of integrity are especially important.
Steady career advancement is one of the most appealing aspects of professional accounting. Accountants can be found working in all levels of business, while some choose to branch out and work in their own private practice. Keeping up with industry standards and technological applications is crucial in maintaining a successful, progressive career in accounting. Many accountants with college degrees continue to seek additional training, enrolling in refresher courses or working towards more specialized accounting degrees.
Types of Accounting Degrees
Accounting degrees are available in nearly every form, both on-campus and online. Accounting majors can pursue certificates, associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, master's of accounting degrees, or other MBAs with accounting specializations. Most entry-level jobs require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. Job seekers who earn special certifications, a master's degree, or cultivate another specialized expertise may have an advantage in the job market. And now that computers handle the bulk of the "bean counting" functions of accounting, professionals spend more time working on in-depth analysis and serving on decision-making teams.
Online courses in accounting allow an increasing number of students to learn about this industry. From traditional college students to working parents and professionals, online accounting degree programs help students pursue their education on a schedule that fits their busy lives. Colleges offering accounting degrees via distance learning can help students to advance their careers without infringing on their personal and work obligations.
Certificate Programs in Accounting
Accounting and finance certificates at the undergraduate level can open up career opportunities within a myriad of organizations requiring accurate financial recordkeeping, effective cash management, and investment strategies. These certificates may help graduates land entry-level jobs in business administration, operations, or finance departments. Certificate programs generally last from a few months to one year. Common courses may include:
- Introduction to Accounting
- Introduction to Auditing
- Introduction to Federal Taxes
- Fundamentals of Cost Accounting
Associate Degrees in Accounting
An associate in accounting degree program is a good way for students to learn skills used for entry-level jobs in the accounting field, such as an accounting assistant, bookkeeper, tax preparer or management trainee. Associate degree programs generally require two years of full-time study to complete and focus mainly on basic accounting principles and tasks. The concepts they cover can usually be applied either to a career or to a bachelor's degree program. Typical courses at this level may include:
- Fundamentals of Accounting
- Business Law and Accounting
- Introduction to Management
- Computerized Accounting Applications and Spreadsheets
Bachelor's Degrees in Accounting
A bachelor's in accounting degree program is meant to teach students how to measure and report the financial events of an individual or entity. Other common topics include understanding the elements of the audit process, analyzing financial statements, and applying accounting information to management-level decisions. In addition to tax-focused accounting, accounting majors that focus on managerial and administrative accounting are also available.
This is a common degree level for entry-level positions to require, and earning one is also required to sit for certain accounting certification exams. Common courses at the bachelor's level often include:
- Concepts in Financial Accounting
- Information Systems for Accounting
- Intermediate Financial Management
Master's Degrees in Accounting
Earning a master's degree in accounting is an excellent way for working accountants to further their education and advance their careers. These degrees may also be a good fit for students who have earned a bachelor's degree in a related area, such as business or finance, who now wish to pursue or advance their career in the accounting field. Many master's degree students work full-time, which make online degree programs an attractive option. Although required course vary by institution and specialization, common courses often include:
- Accounting Research
- Advanced Financial Accounting
- Advanced Auditing
- Advanced Taxation Topics
- Principles of Fraud Examination
Doctoral Programs in Accounting
Doctoral degree programs in accounting focus on academia and research. Generally, Ph.D. students specialize in the study of either managerial or financial accounting. Courses are largely theory-based, and research methods rely heavily on methods from economics, statistics, sociology and psychology. Doctoral students are typically required to complete a dissertation in order to earn their degree. Common courses at this level include:
- Microeconomic Theory
- Current Auditing Issues and Topics
- Advanced Accounting Theory
- Accounting Information Systems Research
- Data Mining
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Accounting?
An accounting degree can lead to any number of jobs in a variety of different fields. As such, accountants have a high potential for upward mobility and advancement depends on their continued education and certification. Accountants can specialize in different businesses or fields, or according to particular accounting functions.
Generally speaking, accounting is divided into four major fields: public accounting, management accounting, government accounting, and auditing. Some specific positions within these fields include:
Accountants and Auditors
Accountants and auditors examine financial statements for accuracy, determine the amount of tax owed, and prepare tax returns for individuals and corporations. They may also be tasked with keeping financial records and inspecting the bookkeeping records for an organization. Some accountants and auditors make financial and business recommendations to management based upon their findings.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: A bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field is typically required. Some employers prefer candidates who have earned a master's degree.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: Accountants and auditors may be required to be certified based on their area of expertise. Certifications include credentials like the Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), and more.
Tax Examiners, Tax Collectors, and Revenue Agents
Tax examiners, tax collectors, and revenue agents work for various local, state, and federal agencies. These professionals review tax returns and conduct audits for government entities. They may be charged with notifying taxpayers of taxes due, which they then attempt to collect on the government's behalf.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: Minimum educational requirements vary, but most positions require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: No special certifications or licensure is typically required, although previous work experience in a related field is often desired.
Bookkeeping, Auditing, and Accounting Clerks
Bookkeeping, auditing, and accounting clerks record an organization's financial transactions and help produce any appropriate financial statements. These professionals do the actual preparation of the statements as opposed to analyzing them. They enter any appropriate information, typically into an organizations financial software, then proofread the statements for any errors.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: Most positions require some type of educational training after high school, such as earning an associate degree in accounting. On-the-job training is also typically required.
- Special Certifications and Licensures: No special licenses or certifications are usually necessary, although some choose to become certified by organizations like the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers or the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers.
Management analysts are consultants hired to help an organization become more efficient. A large part of the process is often requires gathering and analyzing various financial reports and data. Based on their findings, management analysts can suggest recommendations to the organization's management team on ways they can improve efficiency or solve pressing organizational issues.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: To become a management analyst, most positions require at least a bachelor's degree. Fields of expertise vary widely, but common degrees include those in business, management, accounting, and other business related topics. Some employers prefer those candidates holding a master's degree.
- Special Certifications and Licensures: While not required, management analysts may choose to pursue certification in order to improve their competitiveness in the job market. The Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation is available to those who pass an exam and meet the required levels of education and work experience.
A budget analyst helps to prepare and review an organization's financial proposals. They make recommendations on funding, monitor the organization's spending, estimate future expenditures and costs, and ensure that the organization's budget is accurate and falls within legal boundaries.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: A bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field is generally the minimum requirement for entry-level employment. In some positions, master's degrees may be preferred.
- Special Certifications and Licensures: Certifications are available to those that qualify, including the Certified Government Financial Manager designation.
Accounting Salaries and Career Outlook Data
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Accountants and Auditors||1,259,930||$78,820||6.4%|
|Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks||1,530,430||$42,110||-3.9%|
|Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents||54,550||$60,500||-2.4%|
Accounting Associations and Organizations
Accounting degree graduates have a number of organizations and associations available for continued education and professional development:
- American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) - The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants supports advocacy and professional development for its members. It also administers the Uniform CPA Examination and confers the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation.
- National Society of Accountants (NSA) - The NSA promotes high educational and ethical standards in the practice of accounting. They boast advocacy, educational opportunities and resources for their members.
- Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) - The IMA is an association of accountants and other financial professionals working in business. They administer the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) exam and confer the designation upon those who meet the requirements.
- Accountants and Auditors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm
- Accounting (B.S.), Clemson University, http://www.clemson.edu/degrees/accounting
- associate of Science in Accounting, Colorado Technical University, http://www.coloradotech.edu/degrees/associate/accounting
- Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/bookkeeping-accounting-and-auditing-clerks.htm
- Budget Analysts, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/budget-analysts.htm
- Management Analysts, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/management-analysts.htm
- master of Accounting Program, University of Missouri - St. Louis, http://www.umsl.edu/divisions/business/accounting/Degree%20and%20Certificate%20Programs/maccotln.html
- Online Certificate in Accounting, University of Virginia, http://www.scps.virginia.edu/certificates/certificate-detail/certificate-in-accounting
- Ph.D. in Accounting, Rutgers University, http://www.business.rutgers.edu/phd/programs/accounting
- Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/tax-examiners-and-collectors-and-revenue-agents.htm