The field of accounting is rapidly evolving due to the affordability and availability of accounting software. Gone are the days of green visors and adding machines; computers have taken the fiscal calculating out of the hands of people. With programs busy crunching the numbers, accountants are now expected to take on a variety of responsibilities that previously lay outside the scope of their job description. This change was highlighted in a recent Forbes article describing how the modern conception of an accountant has become one of a trusted business advisor who interprets finances to guide “financial planning, analysis, forecasting, internal controls and decision support.”

This evolution poses a new set of challenges for undergraduate accounting majors looking to enter the field with either a Bachelor of Science (BS), a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) or a Bachelor of Accountancy (BAC). To become marketable job applicants, students must demonstrate not only a well-balanced curriculum, but also professional experience that grants an understanding of the role an accountant plays in the current business climate. Luckily for students, most accounting programs understand the skills that need to be imparted to an individual upon graduation, and they have adapted their curriculum to involve the broad spectrum of materials that should be covered. Additionally, students may want to consider a minor in a subject like history, English or political science to further differentiate themselves from other candidates.

It is more important than ever for young degree seekers to choose the proper school and education plan if they want to land an accounting position upon graduation. To maximize success, we have compiled a selection of critical information and online resources that will help guide prospective accountants to become the successful business advisors demanded by today’s top firms.

Common Career Paths for Accounting Majors

While some employers prefer to hire accountants with master’s degrees, earning a bachelor’s in accounting or a related field can lead to employment in a variety of industries and workplace settings. Explore several of the most common accounting opportunities available to bachelor’s-level graduates.

Public Accountant or Auditor

Job Description

Public accountants and auditors work for accounting firms, but they can also establish a private practice. Their primary role involves reviewing financial information, preparing related reports and maintaining financial records.

Employment Outlook

Demand

The hiring demand for accountants and auditors is expected to increase 13% from 2012 to 2022. Accounting professionals who are also CPAs are likely to have better hiring potential, as are accountants who go on to complete master’s degrees.

Trends

With companies frequently expanding into overseas markets, accountants and auditors are increasingly required to have knowledge and skills related to international business and finance. They can also specialize in areas such as forensic accounting.

Salary

The median salary for accountants and auditors working for accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services was $63,530 in 2012.

Certifications

Accountants who sign and file documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission for their clients must be licensed Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). This certification process includes an exam, as well as education and experience requirements that vary by state.

Corporate Accountant

Job Description

Also referred to as management accountants or private accountants, corporate accountants work within a company or organization to manage financial records and transactions such as payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable, financial analysis and asset management.

Employment Outlook

Demand

The hiring demand for accountants and auditors in general is expected to increase 13% from 2012 to 2022. Those who have earned the CPA credential or completed graduate-level education may be more desirable on the job market.

Trends

The Institute of Management Accountants lists predictive accounting, business analytics and information technology management among the current trends in management and corporate accounting.

Salary

According to the Institute of Management Accountants, the median annual salary for accountants working in business was $96,000 in 2013.

Certifications

In addition to pursuing the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license, management accountants can also become Certified Management Accountants (CMAs) through the Institute of Management Accountants. Employers in different industries may prefer a specific certification option.

Tax Examiner, Collector or Revenue Agent

Job Description

These accounting professionals work for government agencies at the local, state and federal level to review, audit and collect taxes and levies owed by individuals and business organizations.

Employment Outlook

Demand

Due primarily to current budget constraints at all levels of government, hiring for tax examiners, collectors and revenue agents is expected to decline by 4% from 2012 to 2022.

Trends

In addition to a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field (e.g. business, finance, business, economics), tax examiners and collectors hired at the federal level must have relevant work experience.

Salary

The median salary for tax examiners, collectors and revenue agents in 2012 ranged from $40,140 at the local level to $46,790 at the state level and $59,310 at the federal level.

Certifications

Specific certifications and licenses are not required to enter this career path.

Internal Auditor

Job Description

Internal auditors work within a company, organization or governmental agency to review processes and recommend improvements. In the context of accounting, internal auditors evaluate financial reports, systems and functions to assist managers with decisions related to regulatory compliance, risk management and business operations.

Employment Outlook

Demand

The overall demand for accountants and auditors is expected to rise 13% from 2012 to 2022. Those who have completed specialized training or a related credential may have a hiring advantage with some employers.

Trends

The need for qualified internal auditors is predicted to increase in part due to the dynamic nature of compliance laws and regulations. Accountants and auditors in this career path are expected to provide the best business recommendations to their employers by staying up-to-date with the latest industry developments.

Salary

According to PayScale, the annual median salary for internal auditors was $52,000 in 2014.

Certifications

In addition to the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure, internal auditors may choose to become Certified Internal Auditors (CIAs) through the Institute of Internal Auditors. Employers hiring internal auditors may prefer a specific type of certification or specialized training related to their industry.

Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

1. Bachelor's in Accounting: Student Expectations

A bachelor’s degree in most majors includes a mix of required and elective courses, and accounting is no exception. While specific degree requirements vary by school and program, students can expect to complete approximately 120 credit hours, including a general education curriculum (i.e. communications, math and science, social science, arts and humanities, health and wellness), as well as specialized courses related to the accounting major.

Full-time students can expect to complete a bachelor’s in accounting in four years, though some programs offer accelerated three-year degrees. Those entering school with an associate degree or transfer credits may also complete their programs in fewer than four years. Part-time degree-seekers can expect it to take longer than four years to complete a bachelor’s and should check with a specific school to find out if there are time limits for degree completion.

Students who choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting have several options, although not all are available at each school. Before deciding what program is best for you, explore the following accounting degree types:

  • Bachelor of Science in Accounting (BSACC): Coursework with a focus on the technical and analytical aspects of accounting, including advanced mathematics
  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting (BSBA): A curriculum centered on business practices and management functions, with an emphasis on accounting topics
  • Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting (BBA): A core curriculum of business courses with a major in accounting; less intensive math requirements.
  • Bachelor of Accounting/Accountancy (BAC): Coursework provides a foundation in accounting topics; often presented as academic preparation for advanced degrees, such as an MBA or an MAcc (Master of Accounting).

2. Core Concepts

Students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in accounting are expected to have knowledge and skills in these basic areas of the accounting field:

  • Managerial Accounting

    Ongoing financial data analysis, interpretation and reporting (e.g. weekly, monthly); provides information related to profit, debt and inventory, which assists management personnel with business decision making

  • Cost Accounting

    Analysis of costs associated with the development of a product or provision of services; informs organizational efforts related to budget management and planning, as well as cost reduction

  • Auditing

    Review of financial documents and processes to ensure accurate results and compliance with internal policies and external regulations/laws

  • Financial Accounting

    Analysis, interpretation and reporting of corporate-level financial data, which is provided to stakeholders such as shareholders, employees and clients often on a quarterly and annual basis

  • Accounting Information Systems

    Cohesive set of tools and procedures used to monitor accounting tasks and processes, as well as the technology used to manage them

  • International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)

    A widely accepted set of accounting standards designed to create consistent and comparable preparation of financial statements used by organizations located around the world

  • Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)

    A widely adopted framework used to guide practice and procedures throughout the U.S. accounting industry

3. Courses

While each student works with faculty members and academic advisors to create a degree plan comprised of a specific sequence of courses, you can generally expect to encounter the following types of classes.

General Education

Students completing a bachelor’s degree program in almost every field are required to complete a set of courses designed to promote critical thinking skills and enhance knowledge in a variety of disciplines. These courses often represent the arts and humanities, math and science, social sciences, writing and communication and other areas as determined by the school and program. Example Courses:

  • English Composition
  • Contemporary World Literature II
  • Public Speaking
  • Introduction to Human Biology
  • Comparative Politics

Accounting Major

Students majoring in accounting are required to complete a set of courses designed to provide knowledge and skills regarding basic accounting concepts. Example Courses:

  • Federal Taxes I
  • Financial Statement Auditing
  • Payroll Accounting
  • Internal Reporting Issues
  • Accounting Information Systems

Business and Math Core

Accounting professionals are employed in a wide range of settings from government and public organizations to corporations and private practices. The work usually takes place in a business context and requires some level of skill in math. The level and intensity of business and math courses vary based on degree type and emphasis. Example Courses:

  • Organizational Behavior and Leadership
  • Principles of Marketing
  • Applied Business Statistics
  • Fundamental Principles of Calculus
  • Business Law II

Electives

This category includes a part of the degree plan in which students are free to choose which courses they take to fulfill the requirements. The number of elective credits and diversity of topics that are approved varies by program, but they usually allow students to focus on areas of special interest or career preparation. Example Courses:

  • Energy Economics
  • Government and Not-for-Profit Accounting
  • Investment Portfolio Management
  • Business of Healthcare
  • Entrepreneurial Finance

4. Accreditation

Accreditation is the process through which higher education institutions and programs are evaluated against an established set of quality standards by independent, external reviewers. These standards vary by accrediting agency but include components related to curriculum development, faculty qualifications, student support services, financial resources, academic resources and student achievement.

Not all schools and programs have current accreditation, but this status is important for students who are interested in:

  • Transferring Credits: Most schools will not accept transfer credit from institutions that are not accredited.
  • Receiving Financial Aid: The U.S. Department of Education does not provide federal financial aid to schools that are not accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.
  • Applying to Graduate Programs: Graduate school applications include submission of transcripts from accredited undergraduate programs.
  • Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA): To take the CPA licensing exam, most states require completion of 150 credit hours from a school accredited through an agency recognized by the State Boards of Accountancy.

Students should verify that the schools in which they are interested have earned regional or national-level accreditation. Individual academic departments and degree programs can have additional accreditation from agencies that specialize in specific subject areas and career fields. Accounting programs are often accredited through one or more of the following organizations:

  • AACSB – Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
  • ACBSP – Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs
  • IACBE – International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education

Next Steps

While finding a bachelor’s in accounting program may be your immediate goal, it’s never too early to begin planning your career in accounting. What will you do after you graduate? Consider the following possibilities as you clarify your goals and research the options:

  • Enter the the workforce. Many employers are interested in hiring recent accounting graduates. Work with your school’s career center to learn more about current hiring practices, connecting with hiring managers and exploring the different career paths for accounting majors. Alumni can also provide information about their work, as well as provide a resource for professional networking.
  • Become a CPA. Licensure is required for some accounting positions. Not all bachelor’s-level accounting degrees are designed to meet the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Examination requirements, which, in most states, includes 150 credit hours of education. All states use the same CPA exam, but additional requirements related to relevant experience and education vary by state. If becoming a licensed CPA is your goal, review exam, state and academic program details for more information.
  • Pursue a master’s degree. While many accounting jobs require only a bachelor’s degree, some managers prefer applicants with advanced education in accounting, business or a related field. Graduate school also provides an avenue to specialize in a specific area of accounting.

Program Database

Our program database allows you to filter search results based on your goals and interests, including, type of program and institution, online or on-campus delivery, location, school size, tuition and accreditation. Explore all of the options available through our interactive search and add the school profile pages to your research of associate degrees in accounting.