Last Updated: March 27, 2021

Pursuing a Degree in Accounting: Do the numbers add up for you?

The US Bureau of Labor & Statistics states that “the employment of accountants and auditors is projected to grow 10% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.” The ever-expanding economy in addition to the complexity of taxes means that there is a growing demand for accountants and auditors in the United States. A propensity to enjoy math and numbers is a good quality to start with, but writing, language, and communication skills are also important in this field and may help even more further down the line if one wishes to explore and grow into other positions in the accounting field.

Different Accounting Positions

Another benefit of a career in accounting is the potential to grow. From an entry-level position as an accountant, one can move into other job titles such as:

Accounting Certificate

One can get an Accounting Certificate with just a high school diploma or GED, but most jobs probably won’t hire a non-bachelor individual over someone with a bachelor’s degree. While one won’t be able to get a job as an Accountant with just a high school diploma and a certificate, one can get in the door of accounting at the entry-level as a bookkeeper, accounting assistant, auditing clerk, financial reporting clerk, accounting technician, or accounts payable/receivable administrator. Taking a certification course will help one to learn the skills and the basic groundwork needed for a career in accounting, and they can complete it in under a year. These entry-level positions can have you making a salary anywhere from $35k to $50k a year.

Associate degree

If an individual chooses to enter an undergraduate program to obtain their Associate's degree in Accounting, there will be more jobs open to them, but will still be at the entry-level. One will be working toward an Associate of Science in Accounting (AS) degree, or an Associate of Applied Science in Accounting (AAS) degree if they wish to choose this path. This is typically a two-year program. Some of the jobs one can get with an associate degree are billing clerk, accounting assistant, payroll clerk, accounts receivable associate, tax preparer, accounting technician, an administrative assistant, much the same as if they entered the field straight out of high school. In studying to obtain their associate’s in accounting, they will learn how to manage accounts receivable and accounts payable, learn general ledger, payroll, and budgeting management, how to prepare tax returns and financial statements and other computer applications, and exercises in critical thinking and problem-solving. A student graduating with an associate degree in accounting can expect to make anywhere from $50-53,000 a year.

Bachelor's Degree

While one may just want to get their foot in the door right away with a career in accounting, whether, with a certificate or an associate degree, their best bet for job growth is to continue their education and receive their bachelor’s degree. More positions in the accounting field are open to someone who holds a bachelor’s in accounting, and they won’t be stuck in an entry-level job all their life. Some careers open to individuals with a bachelor’s in accounting are general, forensic, internal, government, and management accounting.

With a bachelors, one can take the CPA exam to become a Certified Public Accountant, or obtain a license in another specialty such as:

A bachelor’s in accounting will take 4 years to complete. During this program, students will learn industry software, managerial accounting, financial reporting, account reconciliation, taxation, business law, macroeconomics, and balance sheets. Students will also learn how to manage the finances of small businesses, corporate offices, and financial institutions, opening them up for a future career in either private, public, or non-profit accounting. The average annual salary for someone with a bachelor’s in accounting, dependent upon the hired position and their place of employment, can be anywhere from $40-65,000. Testing for other licenses within the field, continuing to learn and gain experience, as well as hard work can have them moving up to other roles in the field, which may come with a bigger salary.

Graduate Degrees

If one wishes to, one can continue to further their education in the accounting field by attending graduate school. Some of the graduate degree options are a Master’s in Accounting (MAcc or also known as Master of Professional Accountancy, or MPacy), or a Master of Science in Taxation. An MBA can help an individual to land more senior roles such as CEO of a company or starting their own business. Only one year of graduate studies is needed for this degree and one doesn't need a bachelor’s in accounting to enter the program (most schools will take any bachelor’s degree). The MAcc degree program helps students prepare for the CPA or CMA (Certified Management Accountant) exam and can take 1-2 years to complete, leading to a job as a CPA or CMA. Finally, the Master of Science in Taxation is a program designed for students who are looking to focus on taxation and all the laws and developments that change year after year. Graduates with this degree can become Financial Advisor or CPAs.

If an individual is interested in accounting as a scholarly practice, or one is interested in the research behind the numbers, one may want to pursue a Ph.D. in Accounting that lasts 4-7 years. Students in this program will be expected to do intensive writing and analysis of math, economics, accounting, and research, and statistics, as well as having to complete their dissertation with original research. A student graduating with a Ph.D. in accounting can become a professor of the subject or can delve more into the research of economics.

Best Accounting Certifications & Professional Licenses

  1. CPA: The certified public accountant (CPA) is a designation awarded by a state or other governmental jurisdiction to individuals to practice as a licensed CPA. The candidate for the CPA must meet education, examination, and experience requirements.
  2. CMA: CMA stands for Certified Management Accountant and is administered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). There are two parts to the exam and an applicant is expected to have at least 2 years of accounting-related experience prior to becoming certified. The CMA focuses more on company accounting management instead of the tax and auditing procedures tested on the CPA exam.
  3. CFA: The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam is administered by the CFA Institute. An applicant should expect the entire exam process to take significantly longer than the CPA exam because it is only offered on specific dates throughout the year. If investing and finance interest an applicant then the CFA exam will be a great fit for their career. It is also significantly more expensive to take the CFA exam as well, therefore, it is advisable to take the decision wisely.
  4. CIA: If an applicant has transitioned from public accounting into an internal audit role then the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam is a certification that one should consider. The CIA exam is one of the shortest of the professional certifications coming in at only 6.5 hours. Internal auditing plays a major role in any publicly-traded company and the procedures performed can be used in a limited sense by the independent auditors, therefore clearing the CIA exam will open gates of opportunities for any prospective candidate.
  5. EA: The Enrolled Agent (EA) Exam, which is also known as the Special Enrollment Examination (SEE), is a three-part exam administered by Prometric on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service. Enrolled Agents, like attorneys and certified public accountants (CPAs), have unlimited practice rights, meaning they are unrestricted as to which taxpayers they can represent, what types of tax matters they can handle, and which IRS offices they can represent clients before.

Breakdown of requirements for various Certificate exams


CPA

CFA

CMA

EA

CIA

Bachelor Degree

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Work Experience

No

Yes

Yes

Yes/No

Yes

Exam Offered

4 Windows (2 Months Per Quarter)

1-2 Times Per Year

4 Windows (6 Months)

Year Round

Year Round

Exam Length

16 Hours

18 Hours

8 Hours

12 Hours

6.5 Hours

Number of Exam Parts

4

3

2

3

3

Exam Fees

$1,100

$2,400 - $4,590

$1,000

$1,000

$1,100

Exam Review Course Costs

$2,000

$1,600-$3,700

$1200

$600

$949


Average Salary Prospects

The average annual salary of someone in accounting who holds a master’s degree is about $67-118,000. The average salary of someone with a Doctorate in accounting can make up to about $150,000.

Employment Opportunities

There are many positions to work towards if a career in the accounting industry interests someone. It is recommended to take many math and business classes starting in high school, and maybe even join a business or math club. Work their way up from there with undergraduate studies and an entry-level job (if one has time for work and studies), and shoot for a bachelor's or master’s degree or at least a bachelor's with their CPA license. Those seem to be the most profitable and realistic areas of success for graduates. No matter which road one chooses to be on, the accounting profession isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and all roads can lead to a successful career with the right application to their studies and the know-how.

Benefits of having a career in Accounting

  • There is an ever-growing demand for Accountants.
  • Ample opportunities for career advancement.
  • Accountants have a better understanding of finances.
  • Ability to start their own business.
  • The pay range for Accountants is competitive.
  • Gain a better understanding of taxation and business law.

    Ref:
    https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontosociology/chapter/chapter18-work-and-the-economy/
    https://www.theincometaxschool.com/continuing-education/your-pathway-to-becoming-an-enrolled-agent/
    https://www.northeastern.edu/bachelors-completion/news/what-does-an-accountant-do/
    https://www.cpaexamguide.com/accounting-career/accounting-careers
    https://www.encyclopedia.com/finance/finance-and-accounting-magazines/uniform-certified-public-accountant-examination


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