Earning an accounting degree can open the door to many career opportunities in finance. The ability to efficiently analyze and decipher data enables accounting graduates to work in numerous monetary roles.
Pinpointing one concentration from the various types of accounting degrees raises challenging choices for degree-seekers. A public accounting degree caters to those who seek a career in finance while also wanting a role in the business world.
Enrollees in public accounting courses learn the analytical skills needed to efficiently manage money, report finances, and implement the latest practices. These professionals play a significant role in organizing the finances of individuals and businesses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a 6% growth rate in accountant and auditor jobs from 2018 to 2028, higher than the projected growth rate for all occupations (5%).
This page will delve into how a public accounting degree can help facilitate success in various financial industries.
What Is a Public Accounting Concentration?
Before enrolling in a public accounting program, degree-seekers should first explore the field of public accounting and the skills needed in the industry. The profession has many uses in the financial trade, but the three most common services include auditing finances, preparing tax documents, and offering financial consulting.
A public accounting degree offers learners in-depth study into the daily tasks of a public accountant. These include analyzing financial data, compiling accounting information, and ensuring the accuracy of transactions.
According to the BLS, you typically need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field to work as an accountant. Completing a public accounting concentration at this level can help graduates prepare for a career as a certified public accountant (CPA), a credential that generally also requires passing an exam and a certain amount of work experience.
Continue reading for more information on educational paths to public accounting jobs.
A bachelor's in public accounting usually involves similar courses as a general accounting degree. However, a public accounting curriculum delves into theory and practice of the subfield to provide learners with a comprehensive understanding of its real-world applications.
Examples of specific course topics in a typical public accounting concentration that differ from a traditional accounting degree include:
Investigating financial statements
These classes differ from a normal accounting degree coursework in that the courses are more geared toward specific public accounting skills such as how to conduct financial investigations and file public accounting reports.
A master's in public accounting focuses more on meeting the continuing educational requirements needed for more advanced accounting roles. The advanced coursework differs from a typical accounting master's program with more focus on the daily practices, ethical standards, and guiding principles of public accounting.
Most accounting master's programs meet the educational requirements for CPA licensure, making for a natural transition into the world of public accounting. In addition to CPA, graduates with a master's concentration in public accounting also qualify for roles like auditor, financial manager, and tax consultant.
Progressing through your accounting career typically requires some form of certification and/or licensure. A public accounting concentration not only prepares degree-seekers to earn those credentials but also provides a host of other benefits.
Check out some benefits of a public accounting concentration below.
Public accountants need to pass exams for further certification in their field. A public accounting concentration typically offers exam prep classes to educate enrollees on the exam's materials.
A role in public accounting can cut across numerous sectors, including government, public, private, and nonprofit organizations. This variety of potential opportunities helps increase the chances of maintaining employment.
Protection Against Job Loss from Automation
As automation decreases the need for many jobs, the demand for financial experts with critical thinking and analytical skills helps insulate those roles from obsolescence.
A public accountant does not have to work for a financial firm. Public accountants can provide their services independently to a variety of individuals and businesses.
When Is a Public Accounting Concentration Better Than a General Accounting Degree?
When it comes to public accounting, the right type of degree can make a world of difference. With higher education and certifications needed to advance in the industry, enrolling in a public accounting concentration can better prepare you for postgraduate requirements many businesses look for in applicants.
Graduating with a public accounting concentration degree demonstrates a thorough understanding of the profession. While a general accounting degree can furnish access to a wide array of industry jobs, a specific concentration in public accounting can prepare you for more in-depth assignments like conducting government audits and filing tax documents.
When Might a General Accounting Degree Be Better Than a Public Accounting Concentration?
For undergraduates, earning a general accounting degree provides a pathway to employment in many different sectors of the finance world. Understanding basic accounting principles enables learners to take a comprehensive look into the overall scope of a business as required by various roles within finance.
This general education allows degree-seekers to broaden their skills across the industry, opening up more chances for jobs. Students interested in pursuing a job in finance but unsure of their ideal role can use a general accounting degree to identify which specific area they find most appealing.
What About Other Concentrations?
Public accounting represents just one of the numerous concentrations, including auditing and taxation, available for accounting majors. Every concentration has its unique aspects, and taking time to research each topic can help students target the field that most closely aligns with their educational and professional goals.
Keep reading to see how each concentration can cater to your particular interests.
Courses to Expect With a Public Accounting Concentration
Whether you're considering earning a public accounting degree online or on campus, you can expect an intense dive into the profession's intricacies. Accounting degrees incorporate a variety of financial and regulatory subjects, which offer a sweeping look into the investigative and math skills needed for public accounting.
Curriculum overlap does occur between the core courses of accounting and public accounting degrees. Core classes students can generally expect from both programs include auditing, finance investigation, and tax management. Electives popular with public accounting majors include business management and communications, which provide undergraduates a broad look into various entities' practices and correspondence.
Explore the list below to learn about courses common to public accounting programs.
This course covers the basics of economic analysis, including how to compile reports, read financial statements, and master industry standards. Understanding the basics of the trade provides degree-seekers the foundation for further education.
Often included in a master's degree program, advanced auditing helps summarize the in-depth techniques needed for auditing financial and tax documents. Students learn the latest applications of the auditing process and how new laws impact procedures for individuals and businesses.
Accountants tasked with upholding industry standards must adhere to a strict set of ethics. Creating misleading financial reports or not reporting financial fraud can result in severe economic devastation. Learners also research the past moral failings of accountants and explore the importance of integrity.
A comprehensive tax law class provides a foundation for reporting taxes on the individual and corporate levels. One of the most common aspects of accounting entails dealing with the IRS, which requires a thorough understanding of the laws and regulations.
CPA Exam Preparation
Earning a certified public accounting license requires passing a CPA exam, which can vary by state. Typically offered as part of a master's degree in public accounting, CPA assessment courses cover the concepts of a CPA exam. Students can not only develop the skills needed for the test but also earn course credits.
Careers for Public Accounting Degree Graduates
Like most professions, public accounting lends itself to several career paths. A career as a CPA is perhaps the most natural path for public accounting graduates due to the role's relation to financial reporting and accounting. Even if they don't plan to work as a CPA, graduates often take the CPA exam to open avenues to more job prospects.
Graduates with public accounting degrees can operate in a variety of career fields, including auditing, tax management, or financial analysis. According to PayScale, the average salary for a CPA is $66,290. Graduates seeking a higher salary might consider working as a tax manager, a role that boasts an average annual salary of nearly $98,000.
Although a public accounting degree encompasses enough accounting disciplines to access a broad range of financial careers, it's not suitable for every accounting career. Roles in real estate appraising, for example, don't mix well with public accounting degrees due to the different skill sets required.
Check out the list below to explore some popular career paths for public accounting degree graduates.
Personal Financial Advisor
Financial advisors help businesses and individuals identify areas where they can enhance their finances. Advisors evaluate spending, saving, and investing habits to create a plan targeting how a business or person can better allocate their financial resources.
A tax accountant's responsibilities center around preparing tax documents for their clients. Tax accountants must follow specific IRS regulations and laws when filing tax returns. Similar to those in a public accountant role, tax accountants provide tax planning advice to ensure their clients can meet financial obligations.
CPAs play a vital role in public accounting. Charged with managing financial information and documents for corporations and individual taxpayers, CPAs receive training to properly analyze and prepare financial records, including tax returns and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The role of an accounting clerk entails recording, evaluating, and reporting financial transactions. Responsibilities for accounting clerks mostly involve basic accounting tasks such as reviewing financial statements and verifying financial transactions to ensure accuracy. Skills suited for this position include strong math expertise, communication, and problem-solving ability.
Auditing involves reviewing financial documents for accuracy and compliance with laws and regulations. A public accounting degree develops the investigative skills auditors need to perform their duties. For any business, spotting financial risks or errors is critical, which makes auditing an integral position.
Selecting an Accounting Program With a Public Accounting Concentration
Conducting the proper research will help you choose the right school with an accounting curriculum matching your educational and career goals. To identify the school best suited for your needs, consider each aspect of a program: Financial aid, scholarship opportunities, career resources, location, and school size can all affect your decision.
Accreditation can also play a critical role when it comes to choosing the right program. Many businesses do not accept applicants with degrees from unaccredited schools. Accreditation can also affect your ability to transfer credits.
The difficulty of being a competitive applicant and the challenges of the coursework can also play a part in your decision. Earning an accounting degree from a prestigious institution enhances your career profile, but the extra costs associated with such a school can deter prospective attendees.
Degree-seekers looking for a public accounting concentration should consider turning to business schools, which can often provide curriculums tailored entirely to the subject. If you prefer less interaction with others or need more flexibility with your schedule, earning an accounting degree online could be a smart choice for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get into public accounting?
A passion for math and analytical thinking makes for a good start. Then, identify and pursue the degree and the specific concentration that best fit your professional goals.
What are the requirements for public accounting?
You need at least a bachelor's degree to enter the profession. Some businesses may also require intern experience at a financial firm.
What subjects are needed to become an accountant?
Courses most accounting majors enroll in include basic accounting, advanced auditing, general financial reporting, and tax laws.
What is the difference between public and private accounting?
Public accountants provide their financial services to businesses or individuals. A private accountant operates only for a particular company.
What's the difference between a public accountant and a certified public accountant?
To qualify as a certified public accountant, you must pass the CPA exam, which can vary by state. This certification enables CPAs to conduct more thorough financial duties.
Can you get a public accounting degree online?
Yes. Many online colleges offer coursework in public accounting to meet the degree requirements for the concentration.
Professional Organizations and Resources
The typical priority for graduates is career advancement. Although your skills and dedication to your profession serve vital functions to that end, networking also plays a vital role. Joining a professional organization in the accounting field can provide you with a myriad of tools and resources to further enhance your career prospects.
Explore our list below to discover which organizations offer the best fit for public accounting professionals.
Institute of Management Accountants This global organization boasts over 125,000 members from the finance and accounting fields. The company provides educational and career resources to help members gain certifications and the knowledge needed to progress in their professions.
National Society of Accountants Established over 75 years ago, the National Society of Accountants works to provide accountants with a network of educational resources and scholarship opportunities. The company also advocates for self-regulation and a standard of ethics for accountants.
Young CPA Network The Young CPA Network, created by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), helps provide a community where new accounting professionals can seek career guidance from those with more experience. The organization features a leadership academy to help young accountants develop leadership and ethical practices.
American Accounting Association Founded in 1916, the American Accounting Association focuses on providing members education, research, and networking resources. The organization strives to encourage communication and innovation in the accounting profession to help strengthen the industry.