Accounting careers and fields
Accounting degrees can open the door to lucrative and stable jobs. Career paths are both clearly defined and achievable.
An associate degree in accounting offers access to careers in financial operations, where there are many opportunities for advancement. Bachelor’s programs can lead to impressive earnings, with graduates earning a median salary of $52,101, or $6k more than average. Ambitious accountants can pursue advanced certifications like Certified Public Accountant accreditation, increasing their salary and management potential – both within accounting and the wider business market.
What is accounting?
Accounting is the process of keeping financial information accurate and up to date. In practice, there are a range of functions supporting this objective, from maintaining an accurate record of cash inflows and outflows, to preparing auditable financial statements for public equity raising.
Types of accounting jobs
Even the smallest businesses require some form of financial operation, like generating invoices, making payments, and keeping track of accounts payable and receivable. Larger businesses need accountants to prepare tax returns, audit the books, and prepare more detailed financial statements. Some accounting functions are reserved solely for accountants with a particular education and certifications.
It is a bit of a misnomer to label bookkeeping “entry-level”. Experienced bookkeepers are often able to perform tasks considered to be the domain of a fully-fledged accountant, particularly in private companies. However, in the present context, we use bookkeeping to cover all financial operation tasks associated with managing a company’s book of financial transactions – including payables/receivables reconciliations, payroll, and payments and invoice management.
Depending on the size of a company, there may be specialized roles for each of the above-mentioned functions. Other companies might have one bookkeeper that manages every aspect of these financial operations.
Associate in accounting (AAS)
The associate of applied science in accounting provides entry-level understanding of accounting principles, and prepares students to work in financial operations.
These financial operation roles can be very well paid. While bookkeepers usually have at least an associate degree in accounting, it is not a prerequisite. Financial operations can be a great first gig out of college for aspiring CPAs looking to gain practical experience.
Additional careers with an associate of accounting degree
Graduates with an AAS degree may begin their career in several entry-level specializations.
- payroll accountant
- tax preparer
- cost accountant
Becoming an accountant
We consider accountants to be capable of all bookkeeping tasks, as well as to construct and generate financial reports based on the bookkeeping data, perform internal audits, and prepare taxes. However, a CPA is required to prepare audited financial statements for government or public market audiences.
Bachelor of science in accounting
Bachelor of accounting students are prepared to get started in accounting positions. Additional education is required for eligibility for CPA accreditation.
Additional careers with a bachelor’s in accounting degree
Bachelor graduates can specialize in different accounting related fields. Note that some specializations require experience, and advanced certifications are advantageous.
- tax accountant
- staff accountant
- financial analyst
- internal auditor
Becoming a certified public accountant
To become a CPA you need to pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, as well as any additional state-based certification requirements. Certification requires 150 educational credits, or 5 years post-secondary schooling.
Many aspiring CPAs get their master’s in accounting to fulfill their CPA education requirements and establish their management credentials. There are also undergraduate certification programs, generally 1-year long, designed to bridge the gap between a standard bachelor degree and CPA-eligible education requirements. Many of these are online accounting programs.
Master of science in accounting
Students learn more advanced accounting practices and theory. Graduates will be eligible for CPA accreditation.
Best master’s in accounting programs by state
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Forensic accountants disentangle complex accounting maneuvers meant to hide illicit activities from the prying eyes of the U.S. government.
Experienced accountants can gain accreditation as a CPA or CMA, or in a particular area of expertise. Certifications boost earning potential, and can enhance your reputation as an accounting professional.
Each certification has different prerequisites, and applicants are required to pass specialized exams with varying lengths, installments, and intensities. License renewal requires continuing professional education (CPE) courses, usually on an annual basis.
|Certified public accountant||Bachelor+30 credits||1 year||16 hours||Varies|
|Certified management accountant||Bachelors||2 years in management||8 hours||30 hours|
|Certified fraud examiner||Bachelors||2 years experience||8 hours||20 hours|
|Certified internal auditor||Bachelors||2 years||6.5 hours||Varies|
|Certified financial analyst||Bachelors||4 years||18 hours||20 hours|
|Actuary||Bachelors||3 years||10 hours, 3-5 hours each*||25 hours|
|Enrolled agent||None||5 years, IRS||3.5 hours||72 hours (every 3 years)|
* 7 exams to become an associate actuary, total of 10 to become a fellow. Actuaries may begin working after completing the first 2 exams. It typically takes 7+ years to finish all the exams.
Accounting, economics, and finance
Although these majors are closely related, there are distinct differences in course content.
Accounting programs teach key practical skills needed by accountants and other finance professionals. They also cover the theory of accounting, giving students a well-rounded understanding of the field.
Finance takes a broader look at financial and investment strategy. While finance majors will take some accounting courses, they also study a range of additional classes such as economics, business, and management.
Economics provides a more theoretical, conceptual approach to how systems, governments, and policy shape financial and general economic behaviors. This degree focuses far less on the specific skills required for day-to-day operations. It is an intellectually-focused major, ideal for future MBAs or college professors.
Below we show the comparative earnings of graduates of the different programs, 3 years after graduation.
Where do accountants work
Private sector: Accountants are always in demand in financial operations, financial control, and financial planning and analysis roles. It is important to note the trend in financial operations outsourcing and/or downsizing. Specialist firms can locate themselves in resource- and tax-efficient jurisdictions and provide a relatively cheap service. More sophisticated accounting software is also beginning to pick up some of the workload previously the domain of bookkeepers.
Consulting firms: Business consulting and accounting firms hire numerous accountants and finance professionals. These firms assist companies with many different business services to drive efficiency, save money, and identify areas for growth.
Consulting firms have benefitted greatly from the increasing trend of companies to outsource their core accounting functions.
Investment banks: Investment bankers work with individuals, corporations, governments, educational endowments, and others, to create capital. If you would like to make a lot of money and don’t mind working the legendary 90-hour work weeks for much of your 20s, this may be the role for you.
Uncle Sam: Federal, state, and local governments also need financial professionals. Many accountants go to work for the Internal Revenue Service to manage tax issues, or enter policy positions with various government agencies. Others choose to work with law enforcement.
Accounting degrees lead to well-paid roles in the accountancy field and can be a steppingstone to other jobs within the financial sector. The job outlook for accountancy and auditing professionals is positive, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting employment opportunities to grow 7% between 2020 and 2030. Enrolling in an accounting degree is a solid choice if you want a stable career with opportunities to transition into other finance positions.
The American Accounting Association (AAA)
A large and diverse community of accountants, who aim to help shape the future of accounting.
The American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA)
With over 430,000 members across 130 countries, the AICPA provides educational advice for accountants. It also grades the uniform CPA examination.
The American Finance Association (AFA)
An academic organization which aims to promote knowledge about financial economics.