Starting a career in accounting begins with a proper education. Many accountant job positions require certain educational requirements or even professional certifications to advance up the corporate ladder. So where do you start? There are so many different types of accounting degrees and career paths to choose from. How do you know what accounting degree is right for you?
Many high school students who are ready to start college, college students who want to pursue certifications, and professionals who are looking for a career change ask me these questions. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer because it depends on the career path you choose. There is no best accounting degree, but there is one that’s right for you, your budget, and your career path. Let’s take a look at some of the different types of accounting degree programs and the career paths that are commonly associated with them.
Associate’s Degree in Accounting
An associates in accounting is typically a two year program offered at most community colleges and universities. Students learn the basics of accounting principles, fundamentals of business, and communication skills. Since associate programs are online two years, they typically don’t offer advanced classes or highly technical courses. You can think of these programs like an introduction in an accounting education. They provide the foundational concepts but don’t go much further than that.
A two-year accounting degree usually consists of 60 credit hours of coursework including general business, accounting principles, math, science, and English courses. In fact, the coursework is very similar to the first two years of a traditional bachelor’s degree. You take all of the general education requirements and a few specific courses in business and accounting. Nothing is advanced or highly technical, but it gives you enough knowledge about the subject to start a non-technical profession or decided to continue your education.
What can you expect to earn with an accounting associates diploma? It all depends on where you live and what type of career you decide to pursue. An associate accounting degree salary is typically between $25,000 and $40,000. Let’s take a look at some of the different careers you can pursue with an AS degree.
Associates in Accounting Careers
Students who graduate from an associate program are somewhat limited in their career opportunities because most accounting careers require advanced degrees, but there are plenty of available career paths for associates.
Graduates from associate programs are well equipped to become accounting clerks, bookkeepers, and accountant assistants. These jobs don’t require a high level of accounting and finance knowledge but do require a fundamental level of understanding and skills.
There are many different types of accounting clerks, but each clerk’s duties are similar. The basic accounting clerk job description requires them to manage and track accounting transactions in the general accounting system. For example, an accounts payable clerk manages the payable accounts, the relationship with the vendors, and ensures the payments are made timely and recorded properly. An accounts receivable clerk, on the other hand, is responsible tracking customer payments and ensure customers pay their debts. There are numerous other types of clerks including auditing, bookkeeping, and payroll clerks. Each is set to manage and track transactions and business events.
Bookkeepers have a simple job. They are in charge of making sure business transactions are recorded in the accounting system or ledger properly and accurately. They are also in charge of filling out property tax forms, payroll forms, and working with the accountant or CPA at the end of year to close the books and file income tax returns.
Bookkeepers make sure there is an accurate record of every business transaction, so management can make decisions about the finances and future of the company. A good bookkeeper is a quintessential part of a healthy business and thus is always in demand. Every company needs a bookkeeper.
Is an AS in Accounting degree this right for you?
An associates degree is a great option for people who want a basic business education and don’t want to or can’t commit to a traditional four-year degree. Associate programs are much less expensive than bachelor programs and can help you start your career faster. For instance, if you want to be a bookkeeper or clerk, you don’t need a four-year degree. It’s just a waste of time and money.
An associate degree in accounting will also give you the basic knowledge set to run your own business. However, if you want to pursue a career in public accounting or earn one of the many accounting certifications, you will need more education than an AS degree.
Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting
A bachelors in accounting is a traditional four-year degree program that is offered at most universities in collaboration with their colleges of business. These undergraduate programs focus on teaching beginner, intermediate, and advanced accounting topics including financial and cost accounting, auditing, and information systems. Students who graduate with a BS in accounting are prepared for a career in public accounting, management, consulting, and governmental or non-profit accounting. Most undergraduate accounting degrees also fulfill professional certification educational requirements.
A traditional undergraduate degree program consists of at least 120 credit hours of coursework but can require as much as 130 credit hours of classes. Although it’s considered a four-year degree, many students take longer to complete the program than four years. A typical graduate takes four to five and half years to complete a 120 credit hour program. This coursework give students an advanced knowledge in all accounting areas and professions. Undergraduates are required to complete tax, auditing, and theory coursework that will prepare them for almost any career.
How much can you expect to earn with an accounting bachelors diploma? A graduate with a BS in accounting has a wide variety of career opportunities, so their salary ranges are also quite large. Depending on the geographical location and job position, a bachelor accounting degree salary starts between $40,000 and $80,000. Obviously, there’s no real limit to what you can earn over the course of your career with a BS in accounting. Partners in large firms can make almost $1M a year while graduates who go on to become executives often make more than $1M a year! Here are a few of the different careers you can pursue with a BS accounting degree.
Bachelors in Accounting Careers
Students who graduate from an undergraduate program have a limitless number of career paths and opportunities. There are so many options out there for accountants and the economic demand isn’t slowing down. A BS in accounting is the building block for all accounting career paths and it’s the starting point to a successful career into public, private, governmental, or non-profit accounting.
Graduates from bachelor programs are equipped to become staff accountants, tax accountants, auditors, and many other jobs. These jobs require a sophisticated understanding of accounting principles and business fundamentals and an ability to work in teams and with clients. Let’s take a look at a few of the job descriptions.
Tax accountants are always in high demand because the tax codes and regulations are always evolving and growing in complexity. These growing rules and regulations demand tax accountant jobs on both sides. Companies need to comply with the new rules and the government needs to enforce them. Thus, there are typically three different kinds of tax accountants.
A private company tax accountant does internal tax work for the company itself. This might include property tax, sales tax, or income tax returns. A public accounting tax accountant is a member of a CPA firm or tax provider like H&R Block who provides tax services to the public. CPA firms file tax returns for Fortune 500 companies as well as small, local stores and individuals. The last group of tax accountants works for the government and ensure the laws are written properly and followed accurately. Each group has a slightly different tax accountant job description.
With the growing rules and regulations in the financial markets, the demand for highly educated auditors is at an all-time high. In an effort to reduce accounting fraud and scandal, the SEC requires that all public companies’ financial statements be audited to provide proper assurance to the public that they are free of errors and misleading information. Audit and assurance is a multi-billion dollar a year industry with no signs of slowing down.
An auditor job description usually includes an understanding of accounting and bookkeeping as well as an ability to communicate and work well with other team members. Since auditors rarely work alone in public accounting, you will most likely work with a team of staff members if you choose to go into auditing.
Just like tax accountants, the government needs auditors as well. The IRS is constantly hiring new auditors to make sure businesses and individuals are reporting their income properly and accurately from year to year. The Obama administration single handedly hired more than 10,000 new IRS agents and auditors after the healthcare bill was passed. Needless to say, it’s a booming industry.
Is an BS in Accounting degree this right for you?
A bachelor degree is the only real option for people who want to go into public accounting. No firm will hire an individual without at least a BA in accounting because CPA firms want to employ CPAs or people who will become CPAs in the future. Since every state requires at least a bachelor’s degree in order to sit for the CPA exam, it only makes sense that firms would also require this educational requirement.
So, if you want to become a CPA or work in public accounting, a BS in accounting is the way to go. There are also many other career doors outside of public accounting that a BA in accounting will open. For instance, internal accountants, cost accountants, and financial management will benefit from a formal accounting education. Most CFOs start their careers as accountants. Also, governmental and non-profit accountants typically have at least an accounting undergraduate degree. Keep in mind, that an undergraduate education in accounting is also a great training ground to learn how to properly start and run your own business if you are an entrepreneur.
Here’s a list of the best undergraduate accounting schools to think about attending.
Master’s Degree in Accounting
A masters in accounting degree program is typically a one to two year endeavor that is designed to give students an advanced and in depth understanding of business, finance, and accounting. These programs often have specializations that focus on key areas like tax and auditing. A masters in tax law trains students how to analyze and interpret the complex tax regulations and research new topics that haven’t been thoroughly documented. A masters in auditing focuses on training students how to perform complex assurance work like pension funding accounting and financial services auditing.
The traditional masters degree in accounting consists of 30 credit hours of highly specialized, advanced accounting and business courses. Since most graduate students work full time, they often take night or online classes. Graduate degree programs tend to schedule classes on specific days of the week instead of all week like undergraduate degrees. For example, a graduate program might only meet Monday and Tuesday each week. Accountants with a masters in accounting are prepared for upper management and tax matters partner level careers.
As with all accounting jobs, your location and job description plays a big role in your earning potential. So how much does a masters in accounting degree salary start at? Well, starting salaries for a graduate degree are based on job description, experience, and sonority. Most people getting a masters degree are currently working and want a graduate degree to earn a raise or promotion. Thus, all starting salaries are different, but you can estimate an accountant with a accounting masters degree will earn between $75,000 and $150,000 upon receiving the diploma. Obviously, salaries can increase over time with promotions.
Masters in Accounting Careers
Many undergraduates go on to get their masters in accounting degree to fulfill their 150 credit hour state CPA exam requirements. Accountants also go on to get graduate accounting degrees to further their careers in public accounting and academia. For instance, many firms want specialized CPAs to handle complex tax issues or assurance engagements that a regular CPA might not be equipped to deal with. Most universities, on the other hand, require professors to obtain at least a graduate degree before becoming a faculty member.
Graduate students are typically earning their degrees to further their career, not start one. Thus, it’s a great way to get a promotion, raise, or learn a technical knowledge set. Here’s a little more information about the two main types of accounting graduate degrees.
Masters in Tax
A masters degree in tax law prepares students for the complex world of public accounting taxation. Big firms file income tax returns for worldwide corporations that have tax compliance issues in multiple states and countries. The job of the tax accountant is to research the local taxation laws and make sure the company is complying with the regulations. These tax accountants also help provide preemptive tax planning services that can save companies a large percentage of their tax dollars.
Masters in Audit and Assurance
A masters in audit and assurance is a slightly less popular option than the tax degree, but it is just as valuable. Typically, assurance and advisory accountants are paid more their tax professional counterparts, so an advanced degree in assurance course work will further enhance the salary disparity. Auditors performing a higher level of work command a higher salary. Plain and simple.
Is an MS in Accounting degree this right for you?
A graduate degree opens the doors to many career opportunities and promotions, but it isn’t always necessary. The first thing to research is your company willing to pay for some of your graduate tuition. Many big 4 firms pay for a portion or the entire amount of graduate tuition for their staff members to obtain the needed credentials. If your company pays for it, enroll in a program today. There’s no reason not to.
If your company isn’t paying for your tuition, think about your career aspirations. Do you need the extra credit hours to qualify for an accounting certification? Will you get promoted faster with a graduate degree? If the answer is yes, you should look into attending a good MS degree program.
MBA in Accounting
There really isn’t such a thing as an MBA in accounting, but this is what many people call a masters in business that focuses on accounting. Many undergraduates pick this type of program after their bachelor’s degree because it fulfills the CPA exam 150 credit hour requirements for most states and it gives them management knowledge and experience.
Students who want to broaden their career focus past the narrow lens of public accounting tend to go for an MBA because it has great applications in industry. Many CFOs, COOs, and CEOs were promoted to these executive level positions because of their master’s in business administration credential. An MBA is a great way for an accountant to differential himself or herself from others, obtain the minimum CPA education requirements, and move away from an accountant role into a management role within his or her company.
PhD in Accounting
Few people go on to get their PhD in accounting because its applicability is very limited. Most accounting firms and industry companies don’t want a PhD as an accountant or advisor because they typically lack real world experience. Since an accounting Ph.D. can take anywhere from five to ten years to complete, these students don’t usually have experiences outside the classroom.
Although there are job opportunities out there for Ph.D. recipients like researchers and high level budget and company analyzers, they are typically confined to academia. This might sound bad, but some people would rather have a job as a professor than in the private sector. PhDs have a starting salary of $100,000 or more depending on the university. The summer vacations are also a plus.
Many people refer to a master’s degree in accounting as a CPA degree because it fulfills the educational requirements to take the CPA exam, but there isn’t a school that actually calls their program a CPA degree.
Forensic Accounting Degree
Forensic accounting is the field of investigatory accounting. This is where accountants dig through records to figure out what actually happened in a fraud case and who committed a crime. It’s an interesting area of study that many students choose to pursue. A forensic accounting degree prepares students for a career as a certified fraud examiner or CFE that can work for large public firms, independent research groups, governmental agencies, or private companies. Since fraud will always be a risk in our financial markets, forensic accountants will always be needed.
I hope this short guide helps you understand what educational path you need to pursue in order to start your career in accounting. There are tons of opportunities out there for accountants in many different industries. Find one that you are interested in and get started today.