How to Choose an Accounting Degree Program

Updated November 3, 2022 · 5 Min Read

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Many people consider accounting the language of business. This age-old field remains a vital part of the modern commercial world. Companies across the nation need individuals who can understand numbers and make sense of their bottom line. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accounting jobs can expect steady growth across the next decade. The BLS projects that employment of accountants will grow at a rate of about 7% from 2020-2030, the average rate of growth for all occupations in the U.S. Accounting plays an integral role in the economy, and the profession continues to evolve.

Below, we cover everything you need to know to select the right accounting or finance degree for today's business world. We explore the different accounting degrees available to accounting majors and examine the many factors to consider when selecting a degree program. We also explore what to look for in an accounting degree curriculum and the various specializations students can pursue. Additionally, we highlight the many accounting degree career paths open to new graduates, as well as the salaries that accountants typically earn in the modern economy. This guide concludes with answers to frequently asked questions about becoming an accountant.

Why You Should Consider an Accounting Degree

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Earning a degree in accounting prepares you to enter a growing field that features robust demand. Every organization -- whether it is a government, nonprofit, or for-profit entity -- needs to know the state of its finances, which makes financial jobs on pace to grow faster than the average for all occupations.

Information and data drive today's economy, and accountants hold the key to an organization's financial information. Accountants often find themselves moving beyond bookkeeping and into boardrooms to help make decisions that propel companies forward. Some accountants also direct and develop accounting information systems, while others use their expertise to uncover fraud as forensic accountants. In short, an accounting degree opens an array of career possibilities.

Prospective students can pursue several degree options to prepare for a career in accounting, including a bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, or bachelor of business administration. Each degree can open graduates to exciting new opportunities. However, they may emphasize different topics or skillsets. Read on to discover the right program for you.

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How To Know Which Accounting Degree Program Is Right for You

Finding the right accounting degree program requires that you first consider your personal and professional goals. Like other college majors, accounting programs encompass a broad range of topics, and each university boasts its own features and areas of expertise.

The first step is to determine whether to pursue an associate or bachelor's degree. An associate degree in accounting is a two-year degree that opens entry-level jobs in the field. Some bookkeeping jobs, for example, require nothing more than an associate degree. You can also find work in payroll, as an accountant's assistant, or as an administrative assistant.

Those with a four-year baccalaureate will find many more options available to them. For instance, accountants with a bachelor's degree can land jobs in tax auditing, forensic accounting, and corporate accounting. Earning a bachelor's degree in accounting can help qualify you to sit for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. With a CPA credential you can find more positions at advanced levels. However, to meet the full educational requirements for CPA licensure, many candidates choose to obtain a master's degree.

Earning a master's degree in accounting can lead to even more high-level and lucrative positions. Many accounting master's programs prepare graduates to work in upper management careers such as corporate controller or chief financial officer. Master's degrees typically require two years beyond a bachelor's degree, and some schools offer four-plus-one programs in which students earn their bachelor's and master's in just five years.

With a Ph.D. in the field, graduates often pursue research or teaching careers in academia. Doctoral programs add three to seven years beyond a master's. Some students skip a master's entirely and begin a Ph.D. immediately after their bachelor's program.

Many programs at the bachelor's level and above allow students to pursue a concentration. In accounting, these might include specializations such as taxation, auditing, forensic accounting, CPA preparation, business administration, or accounting information systems. Most universities build these specializations right into the program, with no additional schooling required.

What To Consider When Choosing an Accounting Degree

Choosing the right accounting degree requires that you consider a number of factors at each university.

Research the school's reputation

Each school delivers its accounting programs differently. Make sure to review the university's reputation online. Explore the acceptance rate and admissions criteria, and ensure that you meet the qualifications for admission.

Make sure the program is accredited

Does the school hold accreditation from one of the nation's reputable regional accreditation agencies? Regional accreditation ensures that you receive a rigorous, quality education. Then, review accreditation for the specific accounting program that interests you. The best programs in the country carry accreditation from business-related accrediting agencies. These might include the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Look at location

Universities in major business hubs like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles often hold partnerships with local companies and host guest speakers and meet and greets. These create excellent internship and networking opportunities. Some schools also boast international campuses or centers, giving students the chance to explore other countries and global businesses.

Consider an online accounting degree program

Online programs bring a variety of different benefits. Many offer huge cost savings, as they allow students to avoid pricey travel and room and board expenses. Some schools extend less-expensive, in-state tuition to distance learners. Studying online also generally allows students to keep working, which can help offset the cost of school.

Determine whether the program fits your scheduling and budget needs

Check to see if enrolling online lengthens or shortens the time it takes to earn a degree. Some colleges and universities offer accelerated sessions that can cut months or even years off of a program's length. This, of course, can save students additional money and allow them to enter the workforce more quickly. Alternatively, some online programs feature part-time sessions for working professionals, which can lengthen time to completion.

Review the curriculum

Look closely at the school's curriculum to make sure it features the right array of accounting degree classes and concentrations. Every program prioritizes different aspects of an accounting education. Some schools might include a lot of general business classes, while others might stress management and leadership. Many focus mainly on in-depth accounting topics and core principles. If you are interested in CPA certification, make sure your chosen program meets all educational requirements and prepares you for the exam.

Browse the faculty roster

Spend some time considering the school's faculty. Make sure professors hold the proper credentials and determine if any specialize in areas that interest you. Some programs even feature guest professors.

Explore the school's career services

Find out what steps the school takes to help graduates land their first job. Some institutions enjoy huge and active alumni networks that can help you land the right position.

Frequently Asked Questions About Accounting Degrees

As they consider an accounting degree, students often find themselves brimming with questions. Is an accounting degree worth the investment? What can I do with an accounting degree? How long does it take to get an accounting degree? Below we provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. 

Is an accounting degree worth it?

The simple answer is yes. According to the BLS, accountants earn an average of more than $70,000 in a typical year. Those who work in finance and insurance take home $76,000 or more. With average incomes in that range, graduates can pay back loans quickly. Remember, too, that those figures represent the average. Accountants who pass professional examinations like the CPA can earn approximately $100,000 per year, with the best paid accountants earning about $125,000. The jobs in the field keep growing; positions are growing faster than the average for all occupations in the U.S.

What jobs can you get with an accounting degree?

Most people assume graduates of accounting programs simply work as bookkeepers. However, the industry has evolved over the past few decades. These days, accountants still crunch numbers, but they do a lot more as well. Today's accountants often hold executive positions, interpreting finances and making decisions. Some work in forensic accounting investigating white-collar crime. Others find employment in technology to make sure digital systems maintain accurate records. Accountants may work for the government to audit taxes or may hold upper-level positions in private corporations. They may also work as consultants, visiting companies to show them how to make better financial decisions.

What does an accountant do?

Accountants create and maintain financial records and conduct bookkeeping in both the public and private sectors. They also interpret numbers for their employers and help decision-makers understand their organization's financial situation. Accountants also audit the books to make sure their employers comply with federal regulations. They may also prepare taxes. Many accountants investigate financial records to look for discrepancies, while others help companies with investment portfolios.

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