Accountants and auditors earn more than $70,000 per year on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Plus, the BLS projects a 6% increase in accounting jobs from 2018-2028, which translates to nearly 140,000 new positions. This guide provides information about becoming a cost accountant and securing a high-paying job in the rapidly growing industry.
This guide answers common questions for learners considering a career in the field, including:
What is a cost accountant?
What does a cost accountant do?
What are the job responsibilities of a cost accountant?
The following sections also explore the education and credentialing requirements for cost accountants and provide career resources for students and professionals.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Cost Accountant?
Cost accountants analyze information such as financial documents and performance evaluations to help managers make informed decisions. These accountants help cut costs, increase margins, and boost profits. Students in cost accounting programs gain many of the skills these professionals use in their daily work.
Many types of accounting positions, including those in cost accounting, require strong analytical skills.
Many types of accounting positions, including those in cost accounting, require strong analytical skills. The primary responsibilities of cost accountants involve gathering and examining financial information and making recommendations to upper management. To recommend cost-cutting measures, cost accountants need to methodically analyze budgets, financial reports, accounting records, business operations, and market trends.
After analyzing financial information, cost accountants must clearly convey their conclusions to colleagues and supervisors. To do so, these professionals need strong oral and written communication skills. Cost accountants may draft written reports explaining revenue-increasing solutions. They may also present their findings in meetings.
Cost accountants often benefit from proficiency in financial analysis, accounting, and database tools.
Cost accountants need computer skills to use various types of software that help them analyze and organize financial information. Cost accountants often benefit from proficiency in financial analysis, accounting, and database tools. As accounting technologies become increasingly automated, businesses need accountants who can carefully track and review the work of a computer.
Successful cost accountants also need excellent math skills. While accounting jobs do not require complex math abilities, cost accountants need to analyze and compare figures.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Cost Accountant?
While aspiring cost accounts do not follow as rigid a path as someone becoming a doctor or lawyer, some key milestones are necessary for all cost accountants.
Generally, cost accountants need to earn a college degree in the field. Some businesses and accounting firms hire associate degree holders, with the expectation that the employee will build accounting skills on the job. However, most accounting positions require a bachelor's degree in accounting or a similar field, such as business. Associate programs require a two-year commitment, while bachelor's programs typically take four years to complete. Remember, degree completion time depends on program details and the student's enrollment status.
University career centers often help students secure full-time summer internships or part-time internships during the school year.
Internships, while not always required, can help students gain practical accounting experience before graduating. The best internships build fundamental experience in bookkeeping, accounting, and cost accounting. University career centers often help students secure full-time summer internships or part-time internships during the school year. Summer internships last 3-4 months, while other internships typically run the duration of a semester.
Early-career cost accountants can take some additional steps to advance their career and broaden their job options. For example, a master's degree in the field can lead to senior-level positions that boast higher pay and more responsibility. Cost accountants with a master's in accounting, an MBA, or a master's in finance can advance to roles overseeing accounting departments and other financial activities. Master's degrees typically require two years of full-time study, but students can complete some accelerated programs more quickly. Likewise, cost accountants can earn their master's at a slower pace to continue working full time.
Master's degrees typically require two years of full-time study, but students can complete some accelerated programs more quickly.
Cost accountants who prefer a shorter time commitment can pursue industry certifications, credentials, and continuing education programs. These options can expand career opportunities but require shorter time commitments than degrees. The following sections detail education requirements and credentialing paths for cost accountants.
What Education Do You Need to Become a Cost Accountant?
While no degree guarantees a particular position, an accounting degree equips graduates with the analytical, communication, math, and computing skills they need to excel in the field.
Cost accountants do not typically need formal training, but they must have a college degree. Most accountant positions require at least an associate degree in the field. Associate degrees in accounting require 60 credits and teach students the basics of bookkeeping, managerial accounting, taxation, and financial planning. Some programs cover topics such as marketing and business law.
Cost accountants do not typically need formal training, but they must have a college degree.
Associate degrees can lead to some entry-level positions, but a bachelor's degree opens the door to more cost accounting opportunities. Associate degree holders can typically transfer credits and earn their bachelor's degree in an additional two years.
Bachelor's programs in accounting build on introductory coursework and explore advanced topics such as cost accounting, managerial decision-making, auditing, and accounting information systems. Bachelor's-level accounting courses may also cover niche topics, such as nonprofit accounting, government accounting, and microeconomics. Students can focus on a specific area of finance or accounting through electives or a minor. Many schools offer accounting as a concentration within a program such as finance or business administration.
Cost Accountant Career Development and Credentials
Certifications and credentials can help cost accountants impress employers and secure advanced positions. Additionally, many continuing education programs offer training to help cost accountants secure promotions and perform their job tasks more effectively.
Certifications and Continuing Education
Cost accountants do not need a credential or license to practice, but optional certifications and professional education courses come with many potential benefits. Certifications and professional development classes can help cost accountants advance within their organization and qualify for specialized roles.
For example, the Institute of Management Accountants offers a certified management accountant credential that demonstrates expertise in areas including budgeting, forecasting, performance management, and corporate finance.
Through the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants, cost accountants can pursue specialized credentials in fields such as global management accounting, forensic accounting, and business valuation. The organization also offers non-certificate training programs.
The American Management Association provides courses in business analysis, Microsoft Excel, and oral presentation. Additionally, many professional accounting organizations offer webinars and in-person workshops on accounting topics.
Credentials and Licensing
Any accountant who files documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission must earn the certified public accountant (CPA) credential. While cost accountants prepare internal reports and are not required to earn this credential, they may become a CPA to demonstrate expertise in the field, bolster career prospects, and increase earning potential. Additionally, cost accountants who pursue roles in another accounting field, such as tax accounting, may need to earn the CPA credential. CPA candidates must pass an exam and complete 30 credits of education beyond a typical bachelor's degree.
Learn More about Cost Accounting and Take the Next Step Today
Institute of Management Accountants
IMA connects more than 100,000 management accountants worldwide. The association offers career development resources such as certifications, webinars, a job board, and salary information.
American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants
With more than 429,000 members, the AICPA is the largest accounting professional association. The association offers information on the CPA certification process and provides continuing education, publications, and specialty certifications.
American Management Association
AMA offers certificate programs and continuing education opportunities that help managers develop new skills. Cost accountants can take AMA's classes in finance, analytical skills, and business writing.
Society of Cost Management
Established in 2010, SCM supports cost management professionals by providing a job board, information on best practices, and ethics resources. Members receive access to career development resources and training opportunities.
National Society of Accountants
NSA provides in-person and online education opportunities to tax and accounting professionals. The association offers several industry publications and links to accounting resources.