Accounting Degree Concentrations and Specializations

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Accounting degree programs often boast several specialization options to help students prepare for specific careers or fields. Accounting fields and related concentrations differ with respect to their career preparation, salaries, and job outlook.

Choosing between the many available concentration options can prove difficult, but the following guide outlines various concentrations and offers tips for choosing the right concentration. This page also outlines associated careers and professional certifications.

WHAT ARE ACCOUNTING CONCENTRATIONS?

Prospective accounting students interested in specific fields or career paths should consider degree programs that feature corresponding concentrations. Pursuing a concentration allows students to complete a set of courses directly related to their desired career or field. Concentration options reflect accounting’s many types and branches, and some programs include concentrations in specialized fields, such as sports accounting or environmental accounting.

Not all bachelor’s in accounting programs feature concentration options, however many master’s programs offer them. Popular concentrations such as forensic accounting, auditing, and financial accounting often appear in both bachelor’s and master’s programs in accounting. Some niche specializations, such as environmental accounting, are only offered at the master’s level.

DO I NEED TO SELECT A CONCENTRATION?

Most accounting programs include foundational business and accounting courses, as well as the option to take additional core courses and electives related to a concentration. A great way to focus your education, pursuing a concentration within an accounting degree can prepare you for a particular area, field, role, or industry.

Major accounting fields include auditing, financial accounting, managerial accounting, and public accounting. Careers in very specialized fields, such as sports accounting, international tax, mergers and acquisitions, and forensic accounting, often expect job candidates to boast related degree specializations and/or professional experience. In a bachelor’s program, students usually complete core accounting courses during their first two years, then decide on a concentration during their sophomore or junior year.

Some programs require students to choose a concentration, but most schools also offer a general accounting degree that includes an array of business and accounting courses. These programs usually appeal to prospective students unsure of their career goals. Most master’s in accounting programs, however, require students to specialize their course of study.

Pros of Accounting ConcentrationsCons of Accounting Concentrations
  • Focused Career Preparation: Accounting concentrations cultivate skills and knowledge pertinent to specific career paths, industries, and accounting fields.
  • Job Competitiveness: Generally, job candidates with relevant specializations stand better chances of landing positions in that career or industry area. Specializations can also increase competitiveness for upper-level positions in specific industries or fields.
  • Advanced-Degree Preparation: Undergraduate concentration courses prepare students for graduate coursework in similar fields. Some accredited undergraduate courses may also meet master’s requirements, shortening the time to graduation.
  • Reduces Exposure to Other Accounting Areas: By incorporating more specialized coursework, concentrations reduce exposure to general coursework and electives.
  • Fewer Career Options: Concentrated degrees can make it more difficult to qualify for careers outside of that specialized area.
  • Less Management Preparation: General degrees in accounting or business often include coursework useful to aspiring financial managers. General degrees also typically provide a more comprehensive understanding of accounting’s role in business.

    Some concentrations are offered in bachelor’s and master’s programs, while others appear only at the master’s level. See below for descriptions of these accounting education trends and concentrations.


    • Bachelor’s Concentrations

      Many aspiring financial managers pursue business degrees with a general concentration in accounting. However, students interested in becoming CPAs or accountants in a specific industry often choose bachelor’s programs in accounting with specific concentrations. Popular concentrations include public accounting, managerial accounting, financial accounting, and auditing.

      EXPLORE TOP BACHELOR’S IN ACCOUNTING PROGRAMS


    • Master’s Concentrations

      Most master’s in accounting programs expect students to choose a concentration and complete specialized coursework and projects. Master’s programs allow students to pursue niche fields such as environmental accounting, forensic accounting, international tax, and sports accounting. See below for descriptions of these and other accounting concentration options.

      EXPLORE EOP MASTER’S IN ACCOUNTING PROGRAMS


    HOW TO SELECT AN ACCOUNTING CONCENTRATION

    The process of choosing a concentration should involve careful consideration of multiple factors, including your strengths, career goals, educational plans, and interests. Students also benefit from examining accounting industry trends and job outlook data.

    What are your strengths?

    Each student possesses a unique combination of strengths, so take time to consider your particular assets as a student and a professional. Students with strong synthesis skills and business acumen may do well in management, cost, or financial accounting, while detail-oriented learners often thrive in auditing or taxation concentrations and careers. Meanwhile, aptitude or skills in IT serve students well in an information systems concentration.

    Does this concentration align with your intended career?

    Consider your career aspirations carefully as you survey accounting concentration options. Concentrations closely related to your desired role, sector, or industry usually provide the best career preparation. Enrollees passionate about the environment often study environmental accounting, while students who love sports can choose programs with sports accounting concentrations.

    Would this specialization impact future education paths?

    Undergraduates who are uncertain of their career plans may benefit from general accounting bachelor’s programs that offer diverse electives. This approach also makes sense for students who desire high-level accounting positions and plan to pursue specialized master’s degrees. However, undergraduates with definite career plans often apply to bachelor’s programs with concentrations that correspond to their desired master’s specialization.

    Is your concentration in demand or growing?

    Some accounting fields enjoy better job growth projections than others. BLS job outlook data for accountants and auditors projects high growth rates in fields such as international mergers and acquisitions. Consequently, students interested in this area may benefit from selecting international tax or mergers and acquisitions concentrations.

    Do the classes in this concentration cover what you want to learn?

    The BLS also indicates that a CPA certification improves job prospects among accountants and auditors. Public accounting concentrations feature CPA exam preparation curricula to help graduates jumpstart their accounting careers. Consider the skills and knowledge needed for your desired career path.

    ACCOUNTING DEGREE CONCENTRATIONS

    The following list outlines accounting concentrations available in many bachelor’s and/or master’s programs. While several of the concentrations below appear at both bachelor’s and master’s levels, some may only be offered at the graduate level.

    Keep in mind that concentration options vary widely by program and school. Although not comprehensive, the list below outlines some of the most popular concentrations, career paths, and professional certifications in accounting.


    • Auditing

      Offered at both bachelor’s and master’s levels, auditing concentrations prepare students for tax consulting, internal auditing, and auditing careers. Bachelor’s students take courses such as advanced auditing, accounting for mergers and acquisitions, and internal auditing. Master’s-level auditing concentrations often feature coursework in accounting research, big data, and corporate governance and financial reporting ethics. Students may also complete electives on topics such as forensic accounting.

      Auditing graduates may also pursue the certified internal auditor certification.

      LEARN MORE ABOUT AUDITING


    • Cost Accounting

      Commonly found in master’s programs, the cost accounting concentration teaches students to collect and analyze performance evaluations and financial documents, identify opportunities for cutting costs and increasing profit margins, and advise executives on how to boost profits. Coursework covers topics like cost variance analysis, budgeting and pricing, cost management, and profit planning.

      Graduates usually become cost accountants, management accountants, or certified public accountants. Many graduates also seek the certified management accountant (CMA) credential granted by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).

      LEARN MORE ABOUT COST ACCOUNTING


    • Environmental Accounting

      A newer accounting field, environmental accounting does not typically appear as an undergraduate degree option. Students interested in this field often earn a bachelor’s in general accounting or environmental management, followed by a green MBA or a master’s degree in sustainability, environmental management, or environmental accounting.

      Courses teach students to identify resource consumption, measure costs, and analyze the environmental impact of company decisions. Graduates often work as government accountants or environmental auditors. These professionals also usually hold CPA certification and/or certified professional environmental auditor certification from the Board of Environmental, Health and Safety Auditors.

      LEARN MORE ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOUNTING


    • Financial Accounting

      Many schools offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees in financial accounting — a field that involves financial data collection, analysis, reporting, and advising. Financial accounting concentrations feature courses on topics such as risk management, tax law, investments, and estate planning.

      Often employed as financial analysts, financial planners, consultants, or advisors, financial accounting concentration graduates sometimes need professional certifications such as chartered financial analyst, certified financial planner, chartered financial consultant, or personal financial specialist.

      LEARN MORE ABOUT FINANCIAL ACCOUNTING


    • Forensic Accounting

      A popular concentration in both bachelor’s and master’s programs, forensic accounting prepares graduates for jobs such as forensic accountant, forensic auditor, and investigative auditor. Forensic accounting concentrations train students to prevent, detect, and investigate financial fraud. Coursework typically covers computer investigation, interview techniques, fraudulent financial statement detection, and forensic auditing.

      Many forensic accounting concentration graduates also become certified in financial forensics, usually through certification programs provided by the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

      LEARN MORE ABOUT FORENSIC ACCOUNTING


    • Information Systems

      Many bachelor’s and master’s in accounting degrees offer information systems concentrations, with coursework focused on topics like data security, threat protection, and information asset safety. Students in this concentration acquire skills in risk assessment, fraud/cybercrime detection, and internal controls.

      Graduates may pursue professional certifications in fraud examination or financial forensics. Professionals in this field often work as compliance officers, auditors, or risk managers.

      LEARN MORE ABOUT INFORMATION SYSTEMS


    • International Tax

      International tax courses may appear as electives in accounting bachelor’s programs. Students interested in careers in this field may pursue this concentration more formally through master of law or accounting programs.

      International tax coursework usually covers international inbound and outbound transactions, income tax treaties, comparative transfer pricing, and international problems. Some courses may focus on international taxation in specific regions of the world.

      International tax graduates may work for global companies as tax consultants, tax managers, or tax accountants. Relevant certifications include CPA, enrolled agent, and tax preparer certifications.

      LEARN MORE ABOUT INTERNATIONAL TAX


    • Management Accounting

      Management accounting concentrations use internal accounting data to inform business operations and decision-making. Offered in many master’s and bachelor’s programs, this concentration includes diverse coursework in cost accounting, budgeting, corporate accounting, and business planning. Students also learn to create internal financial reports and present recommendations to organizational executives.

      Graduates often pursue the IMA’s CMA certification and take jobs as management accountants or consultants, cost accountants, or CPAs.

      LEARN MORE ABOUT MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING


    • Mergers and Acquisitions

      Students interested in this field often start with an undergraduate accounting degree, pursuing concentrations/electives in banking and finance or mergers and acquisitions. Relevant courses cover topics like financial services principles, banking principles, and strategic planning. Master’s-level concentrations in mergers and acquisitions often feature courses on topics such as advanced financial reporting, negotiation strategy, and post-merger integration.

      Often located in the banking and finance sectors, mergers and acquisitions careers may include financial accountant, financial planner, or financial manager. The certified merger and acquisition advisor credential offered by the Alliance of Merger and Acquisition Advisors can prove useful in this field.

      LEARN MORE ABOUT MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS


    • Public Accounting

      Available at the bachelor’s and master’s levels, concentrations in public accounting combine core accounting coursework with public accounting electives on topics such as modern business law, controllership, ethics, and tax planning. This concentration usually prepares students to pass the examination required to earn AICPA’s CPA certification.

      Desirable careers for public accounting graduates include certified public accountant, tax accountant, and tax consultant. Graduates may provide accounting services to organizations or individuals.

      LEARN MORE ABOUT PUBLIC ACCOUNTING


    • Sports Accounting

      Developed for professionals interested in working in athletic settings, concentrations in this niche field typically appear at the master’s level. However, some bachelor’s programs offer elective courses in sports accounting, so aspiring sports accountants often earn general accounting bachelor’s degrees and then pursue master’s degrees with specializations in sports management or sports accounting.

      Sports accounting concentration graduates often work as tax accountants, internal auditors, or payroll accountants for sports teams, agencies, or organizations. Sports accountants ensure tax compliance, perform auditing duties, and analyze salaries and bonuses.

      LEARN MORE ABOUT SPORTS ACCOUNTING


    • Taxation

      Taxation accountant concentrations often appear in associate and master’s degree programs. Tax accounting concentrations prepare graduates for tax recording and reporting roles and offer courses on federal tax law, tax deductions, income tax, and property tax. Taxation associate degree graduates may work as bookkeepers, accounting assistants, or accounting clerks, while bachelor’s and master’s degree-holders often pursue jobs such as tax accountant, tax consultant, or tax manager.

      Many tax accountants hold CPA, certified internal auditor, enrolled agent, or tax preparer certifications.

      LEARN MORE ABOUT TAXATION


    FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


    • What is a concentration in accounting?


      Accounting concentrations entail core courses and electives related to a specific industry, field, or career path. Popular concentrations include forensic accounting, auditing, and public accounting.

    • What are the different levels of accounting?


      Entry-level careers in accounting include accounting assistant, accounting clerk, and bookkeeper. Bachelor’s graduates with appropriate professional certifications can qualify for jobs such as CPA, management accountant, or internal auditor. Master’s graduates with requisite experience may qualify for higher-level careers such as accounting manager.

    • What degree is best for accounting?


      Most accountants need bachelor’s degrees in a related field, plus CPA certification. Many students complete a master’s degree or CPA certification program to meet the educational requirements for CPA licensure.

    • Is accounting a good degree?


      Accounting degrees prepare graduates for lucrative, in-demand careers. Accounting bachelor’s graduates make about $63,000 per year, on average, according to PayScale. Accountants with a master’s degree can make significantly more.

    • What are different types of accounting?


      This varied discipline includes several major subfields, such as managerial accounting, financial accounting, and auditing.

    • What is the best field in accounting?


      Accounting boasts many profitable and interesting fields and careers. The most rapidly growing accounting fields include forensic accounting, international tax, and mergers and acquisitions.

    • Is accounting hard to study?


      Accounting’s difficulty depends partly on the learner’s aptitude. Accounting students with good numbers sense, business sense, and attention to detail tend to do well in accounting programs.

    • What skills should an accountant have?


      Accountants need strong organization, analysis, financial reporting, and technical skills. Many accountants also need to understand the larger business dynamics that influence companies’ finances.

    NOT READY FOR CONCENTRATIONS? EXPLORE DEGREE OPTIONS FIRST

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