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

Are you considering a career in Accounting? 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.” Our 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 you wish 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, you can move into other job titles such as CPA (Certified Public Accountant, an expert with more in-depth involvement), Forensic Accountant (analyzing records for compliance, fraud, and errors), Auditor (analyzing financial records to ensure precision), Management Accountant (helps with important strategic decisions of a business such as planning and budgeting, risk management, and more), Cost Accountant (analyzing a company’s expenses to improve their processes and financial efficiency), Government Accountant (making sure tax money is used wisely and helps to plan government activities), Project Accountant (works on an as-needed basis overseeing all of the expenses of a project), Investment Accountant (works for investment firms to maintain their investments and ensure they adhere to state regulations), and Staff Accountant (entrusted with a variety of responsibilities such as preparing financial statements, maintaining payroll records, cash management, and more).

Accounting Certificate

You can get an Accounting Certificate with just a high school diploma or GED, but most jobs probably won’t hire you over someone with a bachelor’s degree. While you won’t be able to get a job as an Accountant with just a high school diploma and a certificate, you 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 you to learn the skills and the basic groundwork needed for a career in accounting, and you 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 you choose to enter an undergraduate program to obtain your Associates degree in Accounting, there will be more jobs open to you, but will still be in the entry-level. You will be working toward an Associate of Science in Accounting (AS) degree, or an Associate of Applied Science in Accounting (AAS) degree if you choose this path. This is typically a two-year program. Some of the jobs you can get with an associate degree are billing clerk, accounting assistant, payroll clerk, accounts receivable associate, tax preparer, accounting technician, and administrative assistant, much the same as if you entered the field straight out of high school. In studying to obtain your associate’s in accounting, you 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 you may just want to get your foot in the door right away with a career in accounting, whether with a certificate or an associate degree, your best bet for job growth is to continue your education and receive your bachelor’s degree. More positions in the accounting field are open to someone who holds a bachelor’s in accounting, and you won’t be stuck in an entry-level job all your life. Some careers open to individuals with a bachelor’s in accounting are general, forensic, internal, government, and management accounting.

With a bachelors, you can take the CPA exam to become a Certified Public Accountant, or obtain a license in another specialty such as Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Payroll Professional (CPP), or Certified Forensic Accountant (CrFA).

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 your 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 you moving up to other roles in the field, which may come with a bigger salary.

Graduate Degrees

If you so choose, you can continue to further your 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 you to land more senior roles such as CEO of a company or starting your own business. Only one year of graduate studies is needed for this degree and you do NOT 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 a Financial Advisor or CPA.

If you are interested in accounting as a scholarly practice, or you are interested in the research behind the numbers, you may want to pursue a PhD 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 PhD in accounting can become a professor of the subject or can delve more into the research of economics.

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, according to payscale.com.

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


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