Written by Doug Wintemute


In general, accountants enjoy strong job prospects with high earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants make a median annual wage of $71,550, with the top 10% of earners making more than $124,000 per year.

Prospective accountants can pursue a variety of concentrations, depending on their interests and career goals. This guide contains information about the cost accounting concentration to help students determine whether it's the right fit for them. Sometimes called management accounting, this specialization focuses on managing the cost of doing business for an organization.

What Is a Cost Accounting Concentration?

Cost accountants oversee the internal operations of an organization, including budgeting, marketing, and financial planning. Students in this field learn how to help organizations set goals, make informed decisions, and operate efficiently. Enrollees learn to identify inefficiencies, evaluate performances, and analyze operational metrics.

Cost accounting differs from general accounting in that it focuses more on internal management successes, rather than financial accuracy and compliance. Cost accountants typically use their skills to improve all areas of an operational chain, including purchasing, logistics, and employee efficacy. Learners in this concentration usually begin with the same foundational training as general accounting students before specializing their studies.

Graduates with cost accounting concentrations may qualify for many of the same positions as general accounting graduates. However, their specialized training can lead to additional opportunities. Since this specialization delves into organizational processes and operations, graduates may explore broader business- and management-related career fields.

Students can access cost accounting specializations at most degree levels. They can also develop their own emphases or complement their official concentrations through electives, research, and internships. The following sections outline what these programs look like at various levels and the degree programs in which students can find them.

Bachelor's Concentration

At the bachelor's level, cost accounting concentrations cover topics like business operations, performance evaluation, and budgeting. Graduates may qualify for careers in financial management and corporate financial positions.

Along with cost accounting, these programs may also assume titles like management accounting or corporate accounting. Potential degree types include:

  • BA
  • BS
  • BBA
  • Bachelor of Accountancy
Master's Concentration

At the master's level, cost accounting concentrations primarily focus on cost accounting roles and responsibilities, process control, corporate finances, and risk management. With master's degrees in the field, graduates may qualify for advanced organizational management positions as corporate controllers and financial officers.

Similar to bachelor's degrees, specialization titles and degree types may vary. Programs can be titled as corporate accounting or managerial accounting, and degree types may include:

  • MA
  • MS
  • MBA
  • Master of Accountancy

Why Get a Cost Accounting Concentration?

The cost accounting field offers many personal and professional rewards. The following list explores some of the many reasons people choose this career pathway.

Career Variance

In addition to traditional accounting positions, cost accounting graduates can work as cost estimators, financial managers, or budget analysts.

Strong Salaries

Accountants earn a median annual salary of $70,000, but some cost accounting positions pay much more. For example, financial managers earn a median annual wage approaching $130,000.

Professional Growth

After graduating with a cost accounting concentration, professionals can continue their educational and professional development through additional experience, degrees, and certifications, which may lead to higher-paying roles with more responsibilities.

Demand

According to the BLS employment data, the projected demand for accounting professionals is on par with the national average. However, professionals with analytical abilities, like cost accountants, enjoy stronger demand.

Leadership Positions

Their training in analysis and organizational processes qualifies cost accounting graduates for a variety of management positions across organizations and industries.

When Is a Cost Accounting Concentration Better Than a General Accounting Degree?

Cost accounting offers students a unique blend of business management and accounting skills. Compared to general accounting degrees, the cost accounting discipline tends to expand career opportunities to include management, analytical, and consulting positions.

Graduates may also gain access to unique certifications, such as certified cost accountant.

When Might a General Accounting Degree Be Better Than a Cost Accounting Concentration?

The cost accounting concentration offers an attractive path for many students, but it may not suit everyone. Students who have not yet decided on their career paths, for example, might find that general degrees help them experience the field more fully. General accounting degrees also make a good choice for learners who want to use electives to build their own concentrations.

What About Other Concentrations?

Cost accounting represents just one of the many concentrations available to accounting majors. Learners can find concentrations to satisfy most interests and career goals.

Courses to Expect With a Cost Accounting Concentration

Courses vary by program and degree level, but accounting students at the bachelor's level typically take the same core courses, regardless of their concentration. During their senior year, students may focus on their chosen specialization. Master's programs, however, emphasize concentrations from beginning to end. Some courses, like taxation, auditing, and accounting information systems, may appear in all accounting concentrations, but the following courses are most common in cost accounting concentrations.

Production and Operations
This course examines how production and operations management function in organizational settings. Topics covered may include inventory management, decision-making, forecasting, and quality control. Students learn how each of these independent functions works together and how proper project management ensures that all operations run smoothly.
Statistical Decisions in Management
In this course, students learn to use statistics for problem evaluation, problem-solving, and planning. They also learn to use the information available to them to eliminate or minimize managerial complications. The course covers contemporary statistical ideas, theories, and models used in today's business settings.
Financial Management
Students in this course learn how organizations manage their money when operating within national and global economies. The course examines practices and techniques for financial planning and analysis, along with securities evaluation, risk assessment, and capital management. This training helps graduates secure business management positions.
Fundamentals of Strategic Management
This course looks at the methods for developing and implementing effective business strategies. The training examines a variety of environments, dynamics, and organizational levels. Students learn to assess their current processes and design new strategies to achieve competitive advantages.
Corporation Finance
In this course, learners explore concepts and tools used in corporate finance, such as securities and bonds, budgeting, investment decisions, and capital structures. Graduates can apply this versatile training to careers in finance, business management, and accounting.

Careers for Cost Accounting Degree Graduates

Cost accounting concentrations create new career pathways, which branch off from traditional accounting paths. Concentrated training in business processes and financial management can open up doors to a range of management positions.

Cost accounting training may lead to careers as financial managers, management analysts, or financial analysts. According to BLS occupational data, the median salary for financial managers exceeds $129,000 per year, while management analysts and consultants and financial analysts earn more than $85,000 annually.

The following sections outline common careers for graduates with a cost accounting degree.

Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors work for a variety of organizations, ensuring the accuracy and compliance of financial documents. Auditors review financial data for mistakes, inaccuracies, and mismanagement.

Annual Median Salary: $71,550

Management Accountant

Management accountants review and analyze organizations' financial information. These professionals seek ways to improve operations through finances, such as budget control and performance evaluation. They also use their skills for risk assessment, forecasting, and financial investments.

Annual Median Salary: $71,550

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts work in many different settings, providing financial advice for organizations. They review and evaluate financial decisions and seek investment opportunities. Cost accounting concentrations take an organizational focus, helping move students from accounting programs into the business field.

Annual Median Salary: $85,660

Management Analyst

Management analysts work to improve organizations' operational effectiveness. They evaluate all operations, identifying inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement. They may review financial documents, staff performance, logistics, and management strategies. These professionals can work for an organization permanently or on a consulting basis.

Annual Median Salary: $85,260

Financial Manager

Financial managers oversee organizations' financial health, handling investments, creating plans, assessing financial risk, and producing forecasts. These professionals help organizations produce accurate financial documents, remain compliant, and maximize profits. Financial managers may work in a variety of industries and positions as controllers, treasurers, or finance officers.

Annual Median Salary: $129,890

Selecting an Accounting Program With a Cost Accounting Concentration

Students should consider several factors when researching prospective programs, including accreditation status. Accreditation indicates that a school meets high academic standards, and expands employment, financial aid, and education opportunities. To verify a school and/or program's accreditation status, students can search the Database for Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Learners should also consider their ideal delivery formats. Online programs allow students to attend top programs across the country without relocating. They also typically offer more flexibility and affordability than on-campus programs.

Students should also consider curricula, confirming that their programs of interest offer classes aligned with their interests and career goals. Other key considerations include program length, tuition costs, and admission requirements.

Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I become a cost accountant?
Cost accountants typically need a related bachelor's degree, but some employers require a master's degree and/or relevant experience.
Is cost accounting a good career?
Cost accounting professions offer several benefits, including strong salaries, steady career development, and job opportunities.
How long is a cost accounting course?
The length of a cost accounting concentration depends on the program and level. Concentrations typically take one year of study in a four-year bachelor's program. A master's concentration occupies most of a two-year program.
What can I do with a bachelor's in cost accounting?
Bachelor's degrees in cost accounting may qualify graduates for careers in accounting, financial management, management analysis, and cost accounting. Some employers may require experience in addition to degrees.
Can you get a cost accounting degree online?
Many schools and programs offer fully online accounting programs, though some online programs feature on-campus requirements.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations provide support for accounting professionals and students. Many professional organizations offer benefits like networking, professional development, and continuing education opportunities. They may also offer student and/or professional discounts and job opportunities.

  • Society of Cost Management Dedicated to bringing together cost accounting professionals and improving the profession, the SCM develops industry best practices. Members gain access to discussion groups, training programs, career boards, and industry news.
  • Institute of Management Accountants Founded in 1919, the IMA strives to grow the management accounting profession by empowering its members and advocating for the industry. The association offers members access to training, certifications, and career resources.
  • American Accounting Association The AAA was founded in 1916 and hosts the largest network of accounting academics in the country. Through teaching, research, and networking, the association seeks to shape the industry and the accounting profession. Members can access the association's research, training, and career center.
  • The American Association of Finance and Accounting Established in 1978, the AAFA hosts one of the most extensive networks and career search databases in the industry. Members can access career development resources, such as a career board and consulting and networking opportunities.

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