A Comprehensive Guide to Pursuing an Accounting Degree
An accounting degree major is one of the most sought-after choices for business students as it provides all the necessary skills to excel in roles related to auditing and accounting.
Choosing the right career path can be a challenge for any student. But for those studying accounting, it’s certainly demanding.
The fact that accounting is one of the most sought-after majors in business programs means that you’ll have to navigate a highly competitive job market while also feeling immense pressure to succeed in your chosen field.
But there must be a reason why so many students enroll in an accounting degree program, right? And math certainly isn’t one of them.
Let’s get right to it.
What is an Accounting Degree?
An accounting degree is no longer just an accounting degree but a prerequisite for success in today’s accounting and auditing world. It provides a comprehensive education of accounting principles and practices and the specific skills necessary to prepare financial records and analyze accounting data in all its forms.
The importance of accounting cannot be overstated; it is essential for any business or organization to stay profitable and organized year after year. It provides crucial insights into how well a company is doing financially and serves as a guide when making decisions about investments or operations going forward.
Its importance has also grown significantly over the last few decades due to technological advances that have made it easier for organizations to track finances electronically with access to real-time data.
This is because they now rely heavily on data-driven decision-making and need qualified professionals who understand the complexities of financial transactions and can accurately track finances across multiple departments or entities.
That’s where you come in.
What are the Accounting Degree levels?
Before you start dreaming about the lucrative career opportunities that await your future as an accountant, you must familiarize yourself with the various degree levels within Accounting.
With your educational degree, you have the power to dictate potential salary and job opportunities, as well as begin mapping out your professional future.
Consider this the first pivotal step when embarking on an accounting career path.
Certificate in Accounting
Certificates are ideal for those who want to gain basic knowledge in the field of accounting but need more time or resources to pursue a degree.
They typically require 12-15 credits, which can be completed in one semester or more. After completing it, you may be eligible for entry-level positions in public or private accounting firms.
- A high school diploma or equivalent (GED)
*It’s essential to differentiate between a certificate and a certification. Certificates are awarded by schools for completing an academic program, whereas certifications come from professional agencies that recognize meeting specific qualifications.
Associate in Accounting (AA)
Associate degrees typically take two years to complete and require around 60 semester credits. In addition to core coursework in accounting principles and practices, it includes economics, business law, and finance classes.
After earning an associate degree in accounting, you may be eligible for entry-level positions as an accountant or bookkeeper at public or private firms.
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Placement tests (such as SAT or ACT)
Bachelor of Science in Accounting (BS in Accounting)
This is the most common undergraduate degree in accounting, and it typically takes four years to complete.
It covers a broad range of accounting topics and provides a foundation if you want to pursue a career as an accountant or auditor.
Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting (BBA in Accounting)
This degree is comparable to the BS in Accounting but has a broader study scope encompassing economics, management, and marketing. The comprehensive curriculum will give you an extensive understanding of business operations which can be applied on many levels.
Entry requirements for a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting:
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Placement tests (such as SAT or ACT)
- Minimum GPA requirements
Master of Science in Accounting (MSA)
A Master of Science in Accounting is a postgraduate program tailored to expand upon the basics learned during an undergraduate degree in accounting.
Typically spanning two years, this advanced level of study dives into complex topics such as financial statement analysis, tax planning, and auditing techniques.
Master of Business Administration (MBA) with an Accounting concentration
An MBA with an Accounting concentration is a general business degree offering a broad range of business-related courses but focusing on accounting.
Master of Accountancy (MAcc)
This is a specialized graduate degree in accounting designed to meet the requirements for certification as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
It usually takes 1-2 years to complete, covering financial accounting, auditing, and taxation topics.
Entry requirements for a Master in Accounting:
- Bachelor’s degree in accounting or in a related field
- Minimum GPA requirements
- Letters of recommendation
- Some colleges may require professional work experience.
Ph.D. in Accounting
A Doctorate in Accounting is the highest educational degree one can receive. Those pursuing it often aim to conduct research at universities or organizations devoted to such work and teaching college-level classes.
Entry requirements for a Doctorate in Accounting:
- Master’s degree in accounting or in a related field
- Minimum GPA requirements
- Professional work experience is preferred
Disclaimer: The entry requirements for a degree in Accounting may vary depending on your university and state. However, here we have outlined the general qualifications that are frequently asked for.
What types of specialties and concentrations can you find in Accounting Degree programs?
Now that you have chosen to major in accounting, the next step is to decide which concentration will best suit your future career goals.
Considering the diverse industries available to accounting students, selecting one that fits your personal and professional goals can be daunting, as it is for many current graduates.
Your decision on what concentration studies you should pursue can highly influence where or how you use your degree once you graduate!
The list below highlights some of the most in-demand concentrations within an accounting degree program. Although it is not exhaustive, this selection can help you determine which direction to take in your career.
Public Accountancy Concentration
In the public accountancy concentration, you will learn about taxation, financial accounting, managerial and cost accounting, auditing, mergers, and acquisitions. Business law classes discuss commercial transactions contract laws as well as Uniform Commercial Code.
On the other hand, auditing and forensic classes help you understand what is needed for an audit, along with steps to provide a positive outcome for clients at the end of each engagement.
The courses in the public accountancy concentration could help you hone your skills, including:
- Attention to detail and critical thinking
- Strong communication abilities at work with ethical standards
- Computer literacy and leadership prowess
Forensic Accounting Concentration
Forensic accounting is perfect for those interested in combining investigative work with traditional accounting duties. As a forensic accountant, you’ll utilize your financial analysis skill to investigate fraud or other suspicious activity.
You may be tasked with uncovering embezzlement or money laundering within an organization and analyzing data related to criminal investigations or civil litigation cases.
Forensic accountants must have excellent attention to detail, analytical skills, communication abilities, and problem-solving capabilities to execute their duties effectively.
Tax Accountancy Concentration
A tax accountancy concentration prepares you for public accounting or taxation services careers. You will learn how to prepare individual, corporate, and other tax returns and research complex tax issues.
The curriculum includes theoretical and practical components that provide an understanding of federal income tax laws and regulations and state taxes applicable to individuals and businesses.
The ever-evolving tax laws demand that professionals stay ahead of the changes.
By completing this program, you’ll have the problem-solving aptitude, strategic thinking capabilities, and interpersonal expertise needed for success in the contemporary workplace.
Managerial Accountancy Concentration
Managerial accounting is all about providing actionable information to managers and departments.
Capital budgeting and cost controlling are cornerstones of this type of accountancy, giving you the expertise needed for success in variance analysis and the budget process.
The managerial concentration offers a deep insight into these areas that will help your career advancement.
Managerial accountancy requires a sharp eye for detail, critical thinking capabilities, and strong communication skills.
Courses within this concentration can help you cultivate these traits while learning the fundamentals of capital budgeting, business ethics, and working collaboratively with others.
Courses & Curriculum in Accounting Degrees
Accounting degree courses can be challenging for any student, given the rigorous requirements and meticulous attention to detail needed for success.
Nevertheless, they are an invaluable gateway to incredible professional opportunities for those committed to mastering the material.
Check out the following sample courses to get an overview of what you can expect from an accounting curriculum.
Business Math and Statistical Measures
As part of this course, you will practice your math skills and knowledge to tackle financial undertakings and statistical analyses.
Through clear step-by-step guidance utilizing sample problems related to banking, credit, fundamental finance, investments, and statistics, you will gain an understanding of monetary instruments and the fiscal language used for business purposes.
Prepare to delve into the world of microeconomics as you explore economic principles that shape decisions made by both individual consumers and business managers.
Through this course, you’ll uncover how supply and demand influence characteristic pricing and quantity choices in many market scenarios.
Get an intensive exploration into auditing from a professional perspective, emphasizing the application of auditing techniques and following appropriate standards.
Topics discussed include external audit services, auditor responsibilities, use of technology for internal control, and computerized audit systems.
Intermediate Accounting I
This course dives deep into the entire accounting cycle, covering conceptual issues, financial reporting principles and practices, as well as balance sheet formation, income statement construction, and cash flow analysis.
Corporate Tax Decisions and Strategies
This course focuses on how federal income tax affects business, its structure of it, and the meaning of taxable income in this context. Taxation rules significantly affect business decisions. To highlight a few:
- Purchasing or selling business assets
- Reorganizing or dissolving a company
- Transactions between employers and workers
On-campus vs. Hybrid vs. Online Accounting Degrees
We’ve now come to one of, if not the most crucial decision you will make as a student.
Since the pandemic hit, the whole educational system has been forced to adapt and change, resulting in more and more online programs.
However, now that things are slowly returning to normal, you must reconsider all the options since your chosen path will shape your college experience.
Let’s examine the differences between on-campus, hybrid, and online accounting degree programs and their pros and cons.
On-Campus Accounting Degrees
These programs allow you to attend classes in person and benefit from the traditional college experience. The in-person interaction with professors and peers will enable you to gain valuable experience that could prove beneficial when entering the job market.
However, on-campus options are typically more expensive than other options, but they provide support from professors and access to essential resources like libraries and laboratories.
On the other hand, given the brick-and-mortar structure of on-campus accounting degrees, they usually require students to follow a set schedule which can be inconvenient for those who need flexibility or cannot commit to attending classes every day.
Hybrid Accounting Degrees
The hybrid accounting degree combines traditional classroom learning with online coursework. It offers some benefits of an on-campus program while allowing students to complete some coursework remotely. Hybrid programs offer flexibility while providing the same quality education as an on-campus program.
A hybrid program is ideal for individuals who cannot commit their time exclusively to a fully on-campus program but also desire more convenience than what an online program provides.
Online Accounting Degrees
Online accounting degrees are becoming increasingly popular due to their accessibility, flexibility, affordability, and convenience. Online programs allow you to study from anywhere in the world without worrying about commuting or taking time off from work or family obligations.
Additionally, online programs often offer more specialized courses than traditional options, giving you a competitive edge when it comes time for job applications after graduation.
Accounting is uniquely suited for online teaching given its course’s fact-based rather than theory-centric nature.
The downside is that these programs lack face-to-face interaction with professors or classmates, making it more difficult for some students who thrive in a collaborative environment.
Ultimately, choosing an accounting degree program depends on your needs and preferences. If you value face-to-face interaction with classmates and professors, then an on-campus might be best for you.
If convenience is key, or the cost is your primary concern, then a fully online option might be the right choice.
At the end of the day, when deciding, you must consider all factors such as cost, flexibility, resources available through each program, and career prospects post-graduation, to name a few.
What to consider when choosing an Accounting Degree?
Although success should be every student’s top priority, it can be easy to get sidetracked. Accounting is a field that especially requires both theory and practice to be able to execute effortlessly and confidently on a daily basis.
So, deciding to pursue a degree in accounting can be a big step. It requires research and planning, but with a little bit of effort, you’ll find that the right program can open up a world of career possibilities.
Here are some tips to help you select the best accounting degree program.
1. Research Different Programs
When choosing an accounting degree program, it’s essential to do your research and explore all available options. Many colleges and universities offer different types of accounting degrees—from associate’s degrees to Bachelor’s degrees and even master’s degrees.
Ensure you understand what each type of degree offers and which is most suitable for your professional goals. Additionally, consider the tuition cost and other factors like location or class size.
2. Understand Prerequisites
Before enrolling in an accounting degree program, you should learn about any prerequisites required for admission into the school or program. Some schools may require applicants to have completed high school or college-level courses before enrolling in specific classes or programs within the curriculum.
Some schools may also require students to pass specific exams or take additional classes before they can officially enter the program.
3. Think About Your Career Goals
Consider what positions you would like to apply for after graduation and how the specific accounting degree program will help you reach those goals.
Does the school offer internships that could provide experience in a particular field? Are there networking opportunities through alumni groups? What type of job placement assistance does the school offer?
4. You'll Spend Hours Studying
As a student, you may be familiar with studying; however, looking to enroll in an accounting degree program means that you’ll spend hours researching and revising materials. Surprisingly, this is far from negative.
Taking advantage of your free time and focusing on comprehension rather than memorization will benefit and arm you with essential accounting skills so that when exams are over, instead of relearning these abilities later on in your career journey, you can hit the ground running.
5. Look for Accreditation
Accreditation is an important consideration when selecting an accounting degree program. It is a process by which educational institutions are evaluated and certified for meeting quality standards set by accrediting bodies in their respective fields.
So, when searching for a business school and degree program, confirm that your program is accredited by one of the most esteemed organizations, such as AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), AMBA, or EQUIS.
Of these three accrediting bodies, AACSB stands out as the premier level in business education, with its recognition being granted only to those institutions of the highest caliber.
What can I do with an Accounting Degree?
An accounting degree opens up numerous job possibilities in various industries, such as banking and financial services companies, government agencies, tax firms, non-profit organizations, or even self-employed accountants or consultants.
The career outlook for someone with an accounting degree is very promising.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job opportunities for accountants and auditors will grow 6% in the decade from 2021 to 2031, a rate that matches most other occupations.
This means plenty of job opportunities will be available for those who have obtained their accounting degree.
Accounting Degree Salary
As mentioned above, having an accounting degree can lead to higher earning potential than those without one.
According to the BLS, the median salary for accountants and auditors was $77,250 in May 2021. This puts accountants at higher earning potential than other professions in similar industries like finance or marketing.
Additionally, many positions offer bonuses and other incentives that increase salary potential.
Top Accounting Degree Jobs you can get:
Accountants & Auditors
Accountants evaluate financial records, identify potential risks and opportunities, create solutions, and guarantee accuracy in data entries while also helping pay taxes properly.
$77,250 per year
Organizations, ranging from governments and private companies to universities rely on Budget Analysts to inform them of their financial matters.
Not only do they prepare reports, but they also evaluate proposed budgets based on the analysis of data regarding related costs versus benefits.
$79,940 per year
Tax Examiners and Collectors
Tax examiners and collectors are responsible for calculating the correct amount of taxes due and collecting that tax from individuals or businesses on behalf of federal, state, and local governments.
They review all submitted tax returns to ensure accuracy before conducting any audits. These experts diligently collect overdue payments to keep government entities fiscally sound.
$56,780 per year
Credit analysts utilize credit data and financial statements to assess the potential risk of lending money.
They assemble reports with pertinent information to make sound monetary decisions based on the findings.
$88,030 per year
Financial examiners guarantee compliance with laws that govern organizations dealing with monetary transactions.
By scrutinizing balance sheets, assessing the associated risk of loans, and evaluating bank management performance, they ensure financial stability for consumers and other entities.
$81,410 per year
Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks
Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks are responsible for accurately creating financial records to maintain the fiscal integrity of organizations.
From tracking transactions and updating statements to ensuring accuracy in all reports, these experts work diligently to ensure that finances remain sound.
$45,560 per year
Tax preparers are invaluable in assisting individuals and corporations with the complicated process of filing their taxes.
They proficiently utilize tax preparation software while drawing on their expertise regarding taxing regulations.
$51,080 per year
*Please be advised that the average salary provided by the BLS may deviate significantly from state to state and occupation to occupation, depending on various factors.
Popular colleges with Accounting Degree Programs
University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business is one of the leading business schools in the US for accounting.
The school offers undergraduate and graduate-level accounting degrees, ranging from Bachelor to Doctoral degrees. Students can access extensive resources, including dedicated faculty, advanced technology, and internship opportunities.
University of Pennsylvania
The Wharton School of Business offers comprehensive degree programs in accounting and finance. Students can access various course offerings, innovative research facilities, and career-building activities through the school’s multiple centers and institutes.
New York University
The NYU Stern School of Business is a top-notch accounting school offering undergraduate and graduate-level programs. Students benefit from the school’s world-class faculty, cutting-edge facilities, and numerous extracurricular activities.
University of Southern California
The Accounting program at USC Marshall School of Business is one of the most comprehensive in the country. Students have access to auditing, taxation, and accounting research courses. The school also offers a variety of professional development opportunities, such as internships and corporate partnerships.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Department of Accountancy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Accounting. The department provides students with a well-rounded education, combining theoretical knowledge with practical skills. Additionally, the school has an active alumni network that helps students find careers after graduation.
FAQ about Accounting Degree Programs
With an Accounting Degree, you will learn a variety of skills, such as:
- Basic accounting principles and practices;
- Analytical skills for decision-making and problem-solving;
- Critical thinking, communication, strategic planning, and organizational skills;
- Effective budgeting techniques to maximize profits;
- Knowledge of auditing processes and regulatory compliance standards;
- Familiarity with taxation laws.
Depending on the program structure and course load of your Accounting Degree program, it usually takes about two years to earn an Associate’s degree in Accounting or four years for a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting.
The cost of an Accounting Degree will vary by institution. Usually, tuition fees reflect the type of program you enroll in and any extra charges connected to your enrollment (e.g., technology or lab fees).
After earning an Accounting Degree, there are several options for continuing education and professional development, including pursuing higher-level degrees (MBA) or certifications (CPA). Professional organizations like the AICPA also offer resources to help students stay up-to-date on industry trends and regulations.
Accounting and finance degrees involve money management but ultimately focus on different aspects. An accounting degree is focused on analyzing and understanding financial data to make accurate reports, which are then used by businesses to inform decision-making.
A finance degree focuses on investments, budgeting, forecasting, and risk management across sectors such as equities, fixed income, or derivatives.
Both an accounting and a finance degree involve mathematics-based problem-solving skills; however, accounting degrees tend to include more general business topics within their coursework, while a finance program has more specialized classes in areas such as corporate finance or asset pricing.
Having an Accounting Degree opens up a wide range of career paths and opportunities. Some popular alternative career paths include financial analysis, auditing, consulting, and tax advice, but they can also lead to management roles such as CFO or Controller.
With an Accounting Degree, you can also pursue job opportunities in investment banking, corporate finance, and venture capital financing.
To conclude, if you are thinking of getting an accounting degree, you should reflect on all components before settling upon a decision:
- What type of accounting degree level do you want to get?
- Should you take on-campus, hybrid, or online classes?
- Research types of programs offered and associated cost.
- Consider positions desired after graduation to decide if the program suits your goals.
This degree can be your ticket to a great job that can help you build a successful career.
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