A bachelor's in accounting is typically a 4-year degree program that can lead to various business roles, including careers as accountants and auditors. Colleges and universities offer several types of bachelor's in accounting, such as a bachelor of science, bachelor of business administration, and bachelor of arts. Each degree features its own curriculum, but they all prepare learners for careers in business.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that accountants and auditors make a median annual wage of $71,550. This guide explores career options for bachelor's in accounting graduates in addition to what to expect when earning the degree and how to choose the best bachelor's in accounting program.
Why Get a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting?
Many jobs, including accountant and auditor positions, require at least a bachelor's in accounting, so this degree creates career opportunities for graduates. The degree also provides a solid foundation for further study.
Future Accounting Education
A bachelor's in accounting opens doors to advanced education opportunities. Bachelor's in accounting graduates often continue their education to become certified public accountants (CPAs). Many accounting firms prefer to hire CPAs. Aspiring CPAs must earn at least a bachelor's degree and complete either a CPA certification program or a master's in accounting to qualify for the CPA exam.
Even accountants who do not plan to become CPAs benefit from master's or doctoral degrees in accounting, which increase salary potential and lead to new job opportunities. Accountants can further bolster their resumes with certifications, as well. Some careers, such as forensic accountant and internal auditor, require specific certifications.
Bachelor's in Accounting Careers
Professionals with just a bachelor's in accounting still qualify for lucrative careers. Some graduates work as tax examiners, earning a median annual salary of $54,890, according to the BLS. Others find careers as cost estimators and take home $65,250 per year, per BLS data. Accounting majors often become financial analysts, as well.
Financial analysts review the finances of individuals and businesses and provide counsel on areas like stocks and bonds, among other types of investments. Financial analysts may work independently, for small firms, or for larger corporations.
BLS projections show a 6% increase in financial analyst positions from 2018-2028, which would add 20,300 positions during that time frame.
The BLS reports that financial analysts earn a median annual wage of $85,660, with the top 10% of earners making over $167,420 per year.
Public accountants and auditors may work for accounting firms or establish their own private practices. Their primary role involves reviewing financial information, preparing related reports, and maintaining financial records.
Employment for accountants and auditors is projected to grow by 6% from 2018-2028, on par with the average growth rate for all occupations, according to the BLS. CPAs enjoy stronger hiring potential, as do accountants with master's degrees.
As companies expand into overseas markets, accountants and auditors may need knowledge and skills related to international business and finance. Accounting majors can also specialize in areas such as forensic accounting.
Accountants and auditors working for accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services earned a median annual salary of $70,500 as of 2018.
Accountants who sign and file documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission for their clients must hold CPA designation. This certification process includes an exam and requires education and experience.
Also referred to as management accountants and private accountants, corporate accountants work with companies and organizations to manage financial records and transactions, such as payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable, financial analysis, and asset management.
The Institute of Management Accountants lists predictive accounting, business analytics, and information technology management among current trends in management and corporate accounting.
In addition to pursuing CPA licensure, management accountants can become certified management accountants (CMAs) through the Institute of Management Accountants. Different employers may prefer different certifications.
Internal auditors work within companies, organizations, and government agencies 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.
Accountants and auditors who have completed specialized training or earned advanced credentials may enjoy a hiring advantage with some employers.
The BLS projects demand for qualified internal auditors to increase in part due to the dynamic nature of compliance laws and regulations. Accountants and auditors pursuing this path provide optimal business recommendations by staying updated on the latest industry developments.
PayScale reported the average annual salary for internal auditors as $58,539 as of 2020.
In addition to CPA licensure, internal auditors may seek certified internal auditor (CIA) designation through the Institute of Internal Auditors. Employers hiring internal auditors may prefer specific types of certification or specialized training related to their industry.
How to Get a Bachelor's in Accounting
Students can earn bachelor's in accounting degrees from most accredited four-year institutions. Bachelor's in accounting applicants may need to complete prerequisite courses, submit letters of intent, and meet minimum GPA requirements.
Some students complete associate degrees in accounting before earning their bachelor's. The two-year associate in accounting covers prerequisite courses and basic accounting material. Students may earn associates in accounting from community colleges, which charge much less for tuition than four-year institutions. Graduates with an associate in accounting may transfer to four-year institutions and study for two more years to complete a bachelor's in accounting.
Anyone considering a bachelor's in accounting should demonstrate an interest in accounting, finance, and business. Analytical, detail-oriented students thrive in these programs.
The Accounting Major's College Experience
Most bachelor's degrees, including those in accounting, feature a mix of required and elective courses. Specific degree requirements vary by school and program, but students can expect to complete approximately 120 credits, including a general education curriculum and specialized courses related to the accounting major.
Full-time students typically complete a bachelor's in accounting in four years, though some programs offer accelerated, three-year degrees. Those already holding associate degrees or transfer credits may complete their programs in fewer than four years. Part-time degree-seekers usually take longer than four years to complete a bachelor's. These learners should check with their prospective school about potential time limits for degree completion.
Students considering a bachelor's degree in accounting can choose from several program types, though some schools offer limited options. Prospective students should explore the following accounting degree types:
Bachelor of Science in Accounting
BSACC coursework focuses on the technical and analytical aspects of accounting, including advanced mathematics.
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting
BSBA curricula concern business practices and management functions, with an emphasis on accounting topics.
Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting
The BBA core curriculum features business courses with a major in accounting and less intensive math requirements.
Bachelor of Accounting/Accountancy
BAC programs provide a foundation in accounting topics, preparing learners for advanced degrees such as an MBA or a master of accounting.
Graduates with a bachelor's degree in accounting gain knowledge and skills in the following core accounting concepts.
Managerial Accounting: Ongoing financial data analysis, interpretation, and reporting (e.g. weekly, monthly); provides information related to profit, debt, and inventory, assisting management personnel with business decision-making
Cost Accounting: Analysis of costs associated with the development of a product or provision of services; assisting in organizational efforts regarding budget management and planning, cost reduction
Auditing: Reviewing 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, 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 and the technology used to manage them
Most four-year accounting degrees comprise 120-128 credits, roughly half of which cover accounting topics. Undergraduate students usually complete at least 15-16 credits each semester, starting with basic accounting topics and gradually moving on to advanced accounting practices.
Accounting curricula teach students to analyze rules and regulations for accounting, create financial statements and records, prepare tax returns, demonstrate an understanding of tax laws, and audit financial materials. Accounting degrees also offer specialization options in fields like forensic accounting, fraud examination, and auditing. Each institution designs its own curriculum, but most bachelor's in accounting programs include the following courses:
Usually an upper-level accounting course, managerial accounting teaches planning and decision-making for management-level accountants.
Federal Tax Accounting
Federal tax accounting teaches students about the relationship between businesses and federal taxes. For bachelor's students, this course covers the fundamentals of the federal tax code.
This course teaches accounting students to audit or conduct tax investigations. Course topics include examination, testing, and using evidence to properly analyze financial statements.
Another upper-level accounting course, cost management calls for accountants to analyze various factors in organizations to determine effective strategies to improve performance. For accounting students, cost management focuses on financials.
Ethics represents a main pillar of the CPA designation. Accountants must hold themselves to a strict set of ethical standards. Accounting ethics teaches state and federal tax laws and shows learners how to remain ethical and compliant.
Should I Get My Bachelor's Online?
With the rise of distance education and online courses, new students may wonder whether they should earn an accounting bachelor's online. The best online accounting degrees often match the best on-campus accounting degrees in terms of quality.
The pros of earning an online degree include affordability and flexibility. Colleges and universities often charge lower tuition rates to online students, who also avoid commuting costs. Online education also offers more flexibility since distance learners can often access course material whenever is convenient for them.
However, in-person classes keep students on a rigorous schedule, and some learners require more structure to stay focused and complete their program. Many students prefer face-to-face instruction and peer collaboration while earning their degrees.
During the accreditation process, independent, external reviewers evaluate higher education institutions and programs against an established set of quality standards. These standards vary between accrediting agencies, but they generally include components related to curriculum development, faculty qualifications, student support services, financial resources, academic resources, and student achievement.
Not all schools and programs hold current accreditation; students should seek accredited institutions if they plan to:
Transfer Credits: Most schools will not accept transfer credits from non-accredited institutions.
Receive Financial Aid: The U.S. Department of Education does not provide federal financial aid to learners studying at schools not accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.
Apply to Graduate Programs: Graduate school applications often require transcripts from accredited undergraduate programs.
Become a Certified Public Accountant: Most states require prospective CPAs to complete 150 credit hours at a school accredited by an agency that holds approval from State Boards of Accountancy.
Students should verify that their schools of interest hold regional or national accreditation. Individual academic departments and degree programs can earn additional accreditation from agencies specializing in specific subject areas and career fields. Accounting programs often hold accreditation through one or more of the following organizations:
Selecting the Best College for a Bachelor's in Accounting
Each institution decides which material to include in and omit from its bachelor's in accounting curriculum. Moreover, colleges and universities vary by factors like size, cost, reputation, outcomes, and location.
One student may prefer a private college with 3,000 students, while another may seek a public university with 30,000 students. Factors like student body size may influence how students interact with professors and each other, which ultimately affects their education.
Prospective learners should also consider factors specific to accounting programs. For example, some universities might boast better rates of graduate students who pass the CPA exam. Career outcomes, class sizes, specialization options, and accreditation all factor into the quality of an accounting degree.
To help aspiring accounting students find their best education fit, we've compiled three separate accounting program rankings: the best online bachelor's in accounting programs, the best affordable online accounting programs, and the best overall accounting programs.
Next Steps After Getting a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting
It's never too early to begin planning an accounting career. Students should consider the following post-grad possibilities as they clarify their goals and research their education options:
Enter the Workforce
Many employers want to hire recent accounting graduates. Students should consult their school's career center to learn more about current hiring practices, connect with hiring managers, and explore various career paths for accounting majors. Alumni can also provide information about their experiences, along with resources for professional networking.
Become a CPA
Some accounting positions require licensure. Not all bachelor's in accounting degrees meet CPA examination requirements, which in most states include 150 credit hours of education. All states use the same CPA exam, but some implement additional education- and experience-related requirements. Prospective CPAs should review their state's exam details.
Pursue a Master's Degree
Many accounting jobs require only a bachelor's degree, but some managers prefer applicants with advanced education in accounting, business, or a related field. Graduate school also allows learners to specialize in specific areas of accounting.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I start a career in accounting?
A career in accounting requires at least a bachelor's degree, CPA licensure and a master's degree may increase employability.
Is an accounting certificate equivalent to a bachelor's?
Accounting certificates lead to accounting positions that require no college degree. For aspiring accountants, bachelor's degrees carry more leverage than certificates.
Is a degree in accounting a BA or BS?
Institutions offer both options, but BS in accounting degrees are the most common. Bachelor of business administration in accounting programs are common degrees, as well.
How long does a bachelor's in accounting take?
Most bachelor's degrees take four years to complete, though accelerated accounting programs may take less time.
How much does a bachelor's in accounting cost?
Tuition costs vary between institutions. In-state students at public universities typically pay the lowest tuition rates. However, many programs allow all online students to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of where they live.
How can I pay for my bachelor's in accounting?
Learners pay for their bachelor's in accounting through various types of financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and student loans.
What can you do with a bachelor's degree in accounting?
A bachelor's in accounting leads to careers in accounting, auditing, and financial analysis, among other business careers.
Can I become a CPA after earning a bachelor's in accounting?
CPA licensure requires 150 college credits, meaning learners must complete bachelor's degrees in accounting plus additional education to qualify for CPA designation.
What salary can you get with a bachelor's degree in accounting?
Salaries depend on career path. The BLS reports that accountants and auditors earn a median annual income of $71,550.
Can I get a job with a bachelor's in accounting but no experience?
Yes, though employers may ask graduates to qualify for and earn a CPA license within 2-3 years. This license requires 1-2 years of professional experience.
Networking plays a vital role in the job search, and accounting organizations provide students, graduates, and working accountants with job prospects, educational resources, and networking opportunities. See below for examples of accounting organizations:
Our program databases allow graduates to filter search results based on their goals and interests, including program and institution type, online or on-campus delivery, location, school size, tuition, and accreditation. Prospective students can explore all available options through our interactive search, incorporating school profile pages into their research on bachelor's degrees in accounting.