Accounting – degrees, programs and career options

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HomeAccounting overview

Welcome to the world of accounting

A business is an important investment that needs a lot of work and attention to make it profitable and turn it into a success story. An essential step towards that goal is to have a system in place that lets you know and interpret the financial details of that business.

Fortunately, that system exists. Accounting is a process that helps professionals called accountants examine the financial situation of a business or an individual. During this process, accountants record, organize, and analyze financial data to be able to interpret economic facts such as profitability and cash flow.

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What does an accountant do?

Accountants create and present financial reports to assess and establish a commercial organization’s economic situation and activities. They can also help with other business-related operations like financial forecasting or tax planning.

Accountants use their math, law, and economic knowledge to carry out profit and loss analyses and monitor financial risks. They communicate this information to business owners helping them see how their company performs at a given time and make informed decisions for the company’s future.

Types of accounting

Financial accounting

As a specialist in this field, you put together and analyze a commercial entity’s balance sheets and financial statements.

Tax accounting

If you work in this field, you ensure that your employer follows all tax laws and provisions in effect.

Forensic accounting

When you choose this career path, you can become an internal or an external auditor. A forensic accountant deals with uncovering tax evasion and other types of financial fraud in various organizations.

Managerial accounting

When you become an accountant manager, your job is to oversee other accountants in an organization and their duties. This role requires having extensive experience in various accounting fields and functions.

Things to know when choosing a degree

An accounting degree can offer you multiple opportunities in the current and future job market, and it can help you have a prosperous accounting career in many industries.

There are different levels and types of accounting degrees and numerous institutions countrywide that offer them. Each of those has specific admission requirements that vary based on the level of the accounting degree you look for and the institution that offers the degree.

You can also earn an accounting degree online. This option offers you some advantages, with convenience being one of the most important ones, but it lacks on-campus networking and face-to-face guidance.

It’s good to know that the cost of your degree can vary from state to state. You pay less if you study online than if you do it in person. Prices also change significantly if it’s in-state or out-of-state tuition or if you choose profit or non-profit public institutions.

If you are interested in applying for an internship at the big accounting firms, you can get help from your university’s career center. There you learn how to interview, write a cover letter, and apply for the internship.

Before you begin to look for an accounting degree, it’s essential to know that you’ll need a specific amount of credits to graduate for every degree. That number depends on the duration of the program you choose. A year has two semesters, and degrees would typically require 15 credit hours per semester.

1. Certificate

If you show interest in business and finance, good mathematical skills, and an eye for detail, you may have what it takes to apply for an accounting certificate. A certificate degree is the right choice if you want to learn the basics of accounting without investing too much time and money. However, note that having a certificate in accounting does not equal holding a certification in this field.

Program duration: up to 6 months

Courses

Financial accounting

This course teaches you ways to collect and interpret financial information.

Managerial accounting

Here you’ll learn the principles of accounting you can use to analyze the financial performance of a business.

Taxation

This course provides information on tax laws and taxation principles.

2. Associate’s Degree in Accounting

Institutions will likely require you to hold a high school diploma with a Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 2.0 to enter their associate’s degree program. Some of these programs could also require knowledge of foundational courses.

An associate’s degree can prepare you for higher-level education, such as a bachelor’s degree. In an associate’s degree in accounting program, you’ll learn the main principles of accounting, such as finance, business, taxation, and mathematics. Other subjects could focus on communication skills or current software technology used in the industry.

Program duration: 1-2 years

Courses

Accounting

This course teaches the main accounting procedures and systems.

Principles of financial accounting

In this course, you’ll learn how to summarize, analyze, and report various financial information.

Principles of macroeconomics, microeconomics

You’ll learn the laws that govern Microeconomics and Macroeconomics and how to apply them in real life.

Introduction to business logic and ethics

This course teaches you the principles of ethical behavior in business environments.

Payroll accounting

You will find out the foundations of payroll accounting, such as the accounting cycle or how to prepare a balance sheet.

Accounting information systems

This course teaches you how to use information systems in the accounting profession and recognize and avoid security risks.

Cost accounting

In this course, you’ll learn the principles of cost accounting with a focus on how it affects financial planning and analysis.

3. Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

If you want to apply for a B.A. in accounting, you need to have a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 2.5 to enter, which can increase to a GPA of 3 for the most competitive programs.

Institutions that offer these accounting programs will usually want you to demonstrate a strong background in mathematics as part of their entry requirements. Also, taking a course in statistics or business will be an added advantage in your admission application. Most institutions will offer a broad curriculum for a B.A. in accounting, focusing on specialized courses.

Program duration: 4 years

Courses

Intermediate and advanced financial accounting

This course goes deeper into practices of gathering and interpreting financial information.

Managerial accounting

This course provides a higher-level understanding of ways you can interpret and communicate financial information.

Taxation

You’ll become familiar with ways to prepare taxes, learning about governing laws, codes, and conventions.

Economics

Learn economic principles and use them to interpret and measure financial situations.

International accounting

This course will focus on essential global accounting practices as well as understanding different cultures.

Business income taxes

Gain knowledge about the influence tax laws and regulations have on corporations and other businesses.

Auditing

This course teaches the principles of auditing, focusing on procedures, legal details, and ethics.

4. Master’s Degree in Accounting

Admission requirements for an M.A. in accounting typically focus on your bachelor’s degree subject, grades, and professional experience.

Higher education institutions that offer M.A. in Accounting programs expect candidates to hold a B.A. in accounting or related subjects like finance, economics, or business studies. When you apply for graduate programs, you should include your GMAT or GRE scores, undergraduate transcripts, as well as letters of recommendation or references.

Some universities that offer an M.A. in Accounting only accept applications from accountants who already hold professional qualifications.

Program duration: 1-2 years

Courses

Advanced auditing

You’ll learn about internal control systems, with a deep focus on managerial accounting and fraud examination.

Advanced managerial accounting

This course teaches how to interpret financial information and apply it in decision-making situations.

Taxation

You’ll learn about how tax laws and regulations influence financing policies, investments, and financial planning.

Ethics in accounting

Such a course will introduce and analyze the principles of ethical behavior in accounting, with a focus on procedures that ensure ethical decision-making.

5. MBA in Accounting

If you want to focus more on business leadership than on accounting in your career and consider going up the management ladder, an MBA may be a better fit for your career plans than a Master’s in Accounting (MAcc).

You must hold a bachelor’s degree if you want to apply for an MBA program. Most of the institutions that offer MBA programs also expect candidates to have a business background or a related degree.

Program duration: 2-3 years

Courses

Financial accounting

This course teaches you how to develop critical thinking, improve decision-making, and touches on issues like investments, budgets, and analyzing assets.

Advanced auditing

In this course, you will learn how to uncover and analyze financial fraud, and you’ll acquire essential knowledge of internal control systems.

Advanced managerial accounting

Such a course will focus on high-level financial analysis methods, including reporting and forecasting.

Taxation

This course covers the connection between tax laws, regulations, and policies, and business organizations.

6. Ph.D. in Accounting

If you think about having a career in academic research or teaching in a high education institution, consider enrolling in a doctoral program. To do that, you need to have a rich academic background in the fields of finance and accounting.

Program duration: 4 years or more

Courses

Advanced research work in accounting

In a doctoral program, you’ll focus on reading accounting theories and academic literature and gain advanced knowledge in your focus area.

The benefits of accounting licensure

An important step towards finding an accountant job is to earn a degree. However, if you want to take your career to the next level, consider accounting licensing and certification. Even if it’s not a compulsory requirement to work in this profession, accounting license or certification will help you stand out in the job market.

Why you should get accounting certification

Certifications can help you get ahead in your accounting career. It’s optional to become a CPA, but remember that employers tend to hire professionals who hold credentials that are widely recognized and prove mastery in their field of work.

Types of accounting certifications

Certified Public Accountant

CPA is the certification employers request from a candidate most frequently. The exam to become a Certified Public Accountant is organized by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

CPA requirements for exam enrollment vary from state to state, but most specify that candidates have a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of two years of experience in public accounting.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, there’s no need to worry. You can still get CPA certification through examination offered by NASBA together with AICPA available in the UK, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates.

Certified Management Accountant

If your goal is to become a financial accountant or a management accountant, then you should think about becoming a Certified Management Accountant (CMA). The Institute of Management Accountants offers the exam, and you must hold a B.A. degree and at least two years of working experience to enroll.

Certified Internal Auditor

If you want to pursue a career in internal auditing, becoming a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) can help you get there. Offered by the Institute of Internal Auditors of North America (IIA), the CIA exam is available in 12 languages. You must hold a B.A. degree and internal audit work experience to apply.

Certified Information Systems Auditor

Are you interested in a career in auditing information systems? Then becoming a Certified Information System Auditor (CISA) can bring added value. ISACA is the body that offers the exam and asks candidates to demonstrate holding related degrees and work experience.

Certified Fraud Examiner

If you are interested in boosting your Forensic Accounting career, you may want to become a Certified Fraud Examiner. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners is the official body that organizes the exam. You must become a member of the CFE and have a bachelor’s degree to be able to go through the examination process.

Your guide to a career in accounting

Accountants are in demand. It’s a fact. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountant jobs will grow at a steady 6% until 2028. BLS also shows that in 2019 accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $71,550, depending on their experience, degrees, and certifications.

Knowing all that, it’s no surprise if you want to choose a career in accounting. Here are some of your options:

In a bookkeeping job, you’ll be responsible for recording and monitoring a company’s financial transactions.

2019 median annual salary: $41,230

Responsibilities for an accounting clerk include various administrative tasks and working with all types of financial documents.

2019 median annual salary: $45,000

There are two main categories of accountants: private and public.

Private accountants work for only one company, performing tasks such as drawing up budgets and preparing monthly financial reports.

2019 median annual salary: $55,000

Public accountants either work in a public accounting company or are self-employed professionals. They provide services to a variety of external businesses and individuals, ranging from traditional accounting and taxation to financial planning. Although it’s not mandatory, most of those who choose this path opt to earn certification and become Certified Public Accountants (CPA). Accountants must get CPA licensure from a state board of accountancy if they want to become CPA.

2019 median annual salary: $69,000

A CPA can choose to become an auditor. Auditors can be internal, working for public accounting firms, or external professionals. Even if they are similar in duties, the two positions distinguish one from the other. External auditors are employed by an outside organization, rather than the one they are auditing, such as is the case for internal auditors.

2019 median annual salary: $71,000

An experienced private accountant can become a financial controller. People in this position oversee a company’s accounting operations. It is a senior position that requires expertise in different levels of accounting.

2019 median annual salary: $129,000

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) position is at the top of the management ladder for accounting professionals. People in this role are responsible for all the financial operations of an organization, including – without being limited to – reporting, taxes, accounting, and decision-making.

2019 median annual salary: $129,890

If you want to become a Professor of Account, you will most probably need to earn a Ph. D. first. Accounting professors perform academic research work or teach graduate or undergraduate students at higher education institutions.

2019 median annual salary: $87,200

American Association of Finance and Accounting (AAFA)  The AAFA connects accounting organizations, firms, and professionals throughout the United States. 

International Federation of Accountants (IFA)  This organization represents accounting professionals in more than 130 countries around the world, acting as a global common ground for networking and best practices in the accounting industry. 

The Institute of Internal Auditors of North America (IIA)  The IIA is an organization with 200,000 members globally that represents internal auditors’ interests at national and international levels. 

Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) – ISACA now has more than 150,000 members in over 180 countries and is a global organization for information governance, control, security, and audit professionals.