Working as an accountant can provide a great measure of professional respect and job security as many companies today rely on efficient and accurate accounting. Accountants are invaluable assets when it comes to many different financial tasks. From taxes to budgets to investments, accountants are employed to handle various money related jobs for all types of companies. If the fast-paced high stakes field of accounting sounds interesting to you, this site will give you all of the information you need to start working towards becoming an accountant.
There are many ways to get your foot in the door of the field of accounting. There are associates degree programs, for those interested in more entry-level work, which result in an associates of science degree in accounting. There are bachelor’s of science in accounting degree programs for those interested in more in-depth accounting education. There are also education programs designed to help you become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) if that is your desired goal. Whatever you career plans or goals, taking the first step towards a new career may seem intimidating. Read on to find out the answers to many of your questions about the field of accounting as well as accounting degrees and programs.
Before launching into a career as an accountant, it is important to understand what accountants do. The training required to become an accountant will require a significant time and monetary commitment, so it is a good idea to ensure that a job as an accountant will be a good fit for you. The information below will provide some details about accounting job descriptions, salary, and job titles.
What does an Accountant do?
The most basic definition of accountant is “a person whose job it is to keep or inspect financial accounts.” Of course, any accountant will likely tell you that his or her job description is much more varied and nuanced than that. Accountants are typically hired by companies both large and small to perform many different tasks. Some of these may include any or all of the tasks listed below:
- preparing financial statements
- analyzing costs and budgeting
- auditing financial statements
- preparing tax returns or assisting with tax planning
- advising on investments decisions
- reconciling and reporting on financial reports
The daily tasks of every accountant will vary depending upon education, location, and area of expertise. The list above provides a general idea of some things that a typical accountant may be involved in. If you are interested in more detailed descriptions of accountant jobs, please take a look at “Accounting Careers.”
How much do accountants make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) accountants (including CPAs) and auditors in 2015 made an average of $75,280 annually. The top 10% of earners made an average of $118,930. The reported 2015 earnings for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks (whose positions require less education) were a mean annual wage of $38,990.
For more detailed information on accountant salaries, please see “Accountant Salary.”
Where do Accountants work?
Accountants work in all types of businesses, both large and small. Many work for state or local government agencies. They can work for tax preparation firms, in the payroll services department of a company, or in the accounting department of any business from a hospital to a law firm. Some accountants set up their own accounting firms or do freelance work for several different clients. In short, if a place of business deals with revenue, finances, or taxes, they will likely require the assistance of a professional accountant.
What type of person makes a good Accountant?
Accountants, first and foremost, should have a love of numbers and excel at mathematics. Beyond a basic knowledge of finance and bookkeeping, accountants should be very detail-oriented, focused, and organized. An accountant should also be very thorough and able to handle scrutiny of his or her work product. Accountants may spend some time working alone, but many accountants work together as part of an accounting team or department. They may also have frequent meetings with company finance directors or clients. It is important that an accountant has good communication skills and can work well with others. A professional and direct manner will likely be beneficial to an accountant when reporting financial information or discrepancies. The world of finance can be high stress and anxiety producing, so it is also important that an accountant is able to cope well with deadlines and pressure.
What is the difference between a Bookkeeper, an Account, and a Certified Public Accountant?
The roles of bookkeeper, accountant, and CPA are often confused. Although the terms bookkeeper and accountant are sometimes used interchangeably, they are usually regarded as two different positions. Bookkeepers generally have less formal education, and may have some college experience or on-the-job training. They will usually perform tasks revolving around financial records, invoices, and payroll. Accountants have a bachelor’s degree, usually in accounting but not always, and are often hired by companies dealing with larger amounts of money. Accountants often oversee an accounting department or bookkeepers. They may review financial accounts, track discrepancies, and report to financial directors.
A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) has achieved the high level of accounting education required to complete a certification exam. The requirements to become a CPA vary by state and region, but will likely include some hours of graduate schooling beyond a regular four-year degree as well as a certain level of experience. CPAs can work within companies with higher levels of responsibility, or they can start and run their own independent accounting firms. CPAs are certified to perform professional auditing and tax services for individuals or companies, whereas bookkeepers and accountants do not have the credentials to allow them to do so.
There are several different options when it comes to choosing an accounting degree. Each requires a different commitment of time as well as money. If you are considering working towards earning a degree in accounting, the below information can help you decide which degree to obtain.
Certificate in Accounting
The most basic entry-level education for a student of accounting would be the undergraduate accounting certificate. An undergraduate certificate program does not result in a degree, but it does provide a fundamental accounting education. If you would like an introduction into the world of accounting, a certificate program may be helpful to you. Certificates in accounting may also be called Bookkeeping certificates, as they typically teach the basics of bookkeeping. There are many online programs which provide an accounting certificate after several courses are successfully completed. Obtaining an accounting certificate can be a good first step towards a future degree, or it may be a means of preparation for an entry-level accounting position such as bookkeeper or accounting clerk.
Associates Degree in Accounting
An associates degree program is the next step up from a certificate program. Depending upon whether a student chooses to attend full-time or part-time, an associates degree usually takes around 2 years to complete. Associates degrees are offered by many community or technical colleges in-person as well as online. While an associates degree provides more accounting education than a certificate, it is still considered education for an entry-level accounting job. If you are interested in getting into the field of accounting, earning your associates degree could be a good way to work towards a job such as accounting clerk or bookkeeper. It is also a great first step if you are interested in continuing your accounting education towards a bachelor’s degree.
For more detailed information please see “Associates Degree in Accounting.”
Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting
A student looking to earn a bachelor’s degree can earn a bachelor’s of science in accounting or a bachelor’s of accountancy. Some business administration students may also earn degrees with an emphasis in accounting. A bachelor’s degree provides more in-depth accounting education and also gives students the chance to take courses in other subjects in order to produce well-rounded graduates. A bachelor’s degree can be a great benefit when looking for a job in the accounting field. While many accounting hopefuls will continue on in education after earning a bachelor’s degree, not all find it necessary to do so. This degree can help prepare you for an accounting career and make your resume more attractive to potential employers.
For a full-time student, a bachelor’s degree typically takes 4 years to complete. There are options for completing a bachelor’s degree in-person or by taking online courses. Some of the typical course topics covered may include auditing, financial accounting, cost accounting, income taxation, budgeting, and accounting systems. Bachelor’s degree programs oftentimes require students to take core classes in areas such as English, science, and social science in addition to courses directly related to accounting. Many employers looking for new accountants will likely want to see at least a bachelor’s degree level of education for new hires, so obtaining your bachelor’s degree may be beneficial to you in the job market. If your goal is to go beyond a typical accounting job to become a Certified Public Accountant, a bachelor’s degree is a necessary step.
For more detailed information please see “Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting.”
Master’s Degree in Accounting
To obtain a master’s degree in accounting, students attend an additional year or more of schooling beyond the bachelor’s degree. If a student is interested in obtaining a CPA designation, he or she will need additional credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree program can provide those additional hours which are necessary to qualify students to sit for the CPA exam. If you are not interested in becoming a CPA, a master’s in accounting program is still a great way to gain an edge in the job market. It gives you the ability to specialize in specific areas of accounting and provides high credentials as a future job candidate. A master’s degree is a way to go above and beyond, and distinguish yourself as a professional.
For more detailed information please see “Master’s Degree in Accounting.”
PhD in Accounting
If you are interested more in the research or teaching facets of accounting, than you may be interested in pursuing a PhD. PhD programs are known to be rigorous and thorough and will involve long hours of research as well as preparation and defense of a dissertation. A love for the field is important when choosing to pursue a PhD. It may be difficult, but will likely result in increased career opportunities and professional pride.
Before choosing a particular accounting program or school, there are many different factors to consider. There are so many different options available to today’s student that it is often possible to choose a school or program that fits many of your specific needs and desires. Below we will discuss some of the factors that vary between accounting programs to help you think about what specifics you are looking for in a school.
Length and Cost of Program
Two of the most important factors to consider when choosing a program is how long it will take to complete and how much it will cost. The answers to these questions most often take some online research. Many of the online accounting programs have length of program and price per credit listed on their main website page. For brick and mortar schools it may be easiest to contact the school’s admissions office or financial office to obtain information regarding tuition prices and average length of completion.
Of course, the length and cost will vary depending on what type of degree you choose to pursue as well as what type of program you choose. Online programs are typically, though not always, less expensive than in-person institutions. Certificates and associates degrees take less time to complete than bachelor’s or master’s programs, but may not offer the same types of career possibilities in the future. Part-time schooling may fit best with your schedule, but it can be difficult to finish if you stretch out the length of a program when you would rather have it finished quickly. There are positives and negatives to the different choices surrounding length and cost of accounting programs, but the most important thing is that you find a program that meets the goals and expectations that you have set for yourself.
Traditional in-person college programs used to be reserved for the typical high school graduate. Today, however, many programs, and especially business schools, are finding ways to provide the in-person schooling experience to those who have additional work or family obligations. Many programs offer night and weekend classes which take place on-campus. Some have classes on campus one weekend per month which are supplemented by online coursework during the rest of the month. Classroom learning experiences cannot be easily replicated online and are very valuable for the amount on face-to-face time with professors as well as other students. Group discussions, lectures, and small group work often flow more easily and naturally in a traditional classroom setting. Classroom time also offers a great deal of accountability as it may be more apparent which students have come prepared and which have not. There are many accounting degree programs in schools around the country which offer traditional classroom teaching. If you are a student who is able to focus solely on schooling full-time, or who has the flexibility to attend class in the evening and on weekends, an accounting education which takes place in-person may be a great fit for you.
With the advancement of technology in the past several years, online schooling has taken off in availability as well as popularity. There are many accounting programs which offer degree programs through online education. Online classes typically consist of a pre-recorded or real-time lecture and include regular reading and writing assignments as well as exams. Online classes may also include discussion time facilitated by webcam or a chat room type interface.
Online learning has many benefits. Online classes are convenient and easy to access anywhere with a computer and an internet connection. Attending class online removes the hassle of commuting to and from school or relocating in order to be closer to the institution of your choice. If you are looking for a specific type of accounting degree program and it is not offered by an institution in your area, you may be able to find it offered online. Online learning often gives you the freedom to choose where and when to complete your classwork so that school does not interfere with your daily responsibilities. Some programs are self-directed, meaning you can go at your own pace, while others are on a stricter timeline and include deadlines for assignments and exams. Whatever type of online course you choose, you will likely find that you have access to your professors and other classmates over a portal or chat room feature. Being able to speak directly, and sometimes in real-time, with professors and classmates can help improve your learning experience.
If you have trouble with self-motivation or learning on your own in a solitary environment, an online school may not be the best fit for you. If, however, you are highly motivated to complete your accounting program and can find time to complete your coursework, online accounting education can be a convenient and easily accessible option to help you start your accounting career.
For more detailed information on the different types of online accounting degree programs please take a look at “Online Accounting Degrees.”
Many accounting degree programs, and specifically bachelor’s programs, may have the option for students to complete an accounting internship as part of their curriculum. An internship can be a great benefit to the student. Internships give you the chance to see the day-to-day process of being an accountant and can help you make a decision as to what type of company you may like to work for or what you may like to specialize in. In addition to providing great information and opportunities for learning, an internship is also a good way to build experience and will look good on your resume as a new graduate. If you are an online student that works full-time an internship may not be a possibility for you. Some schools do not require an internship while others may require one, so it is important to find out before you enroll. If you do have the ability and opportunity to take an internship position, it is usually beneficial and may be a good step for your future career prospects.
The professional designation of Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is given to individuals who take and pass the Uniform CPA Examination. The requirements to sit for the exam vary between state and region. According to the American Institute of CPAs, many states “now require or will require 150 semester hours of education for obtaining CPA certification.” It is important to consult with your regional board of accountancy to find the specific requirements for your area. If you are hoping to become a CPA, it is also important to look for an accounting program that will help you fulfill the additional education credits required to take the exam. It is not always necessary to obtain a master’s degree in order to fulfill the extra credits and there are some programs that offer some additional graduate level courses or a specially tailored 5-year program for CPA students. There are many programs available that offer some credit hours beyond the typical bachelor’s degree in order to help students meet the CPA requirements so if you are interested in becoming a CPA it may be helpful to seek out one of those types of accounting programs.
Accreditation for accounting programs is a voluntary process. Some accounting programs apply to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) by submitting an application which is then reviewed for accreditation. According to the AACSB there are currently 180 accredited accounting programs through their accreditation process. Unfortunately, accreditation for accounting programs is not controlled by one particular board and there are additional schools which offer accounting degrees that are accredited through other accrediting agencies. In order to sit for the CPA exam in your region, you may have to earn a degree from an institution that is accredited by an accrediting agency listed with the United States Department of Education. The admissions contacts at your school of choice should be able to give you more information on the school’s accreditation status.