How to Choose an Accounting Degree Program
Compiled and Written by Accounting.com Staff
Date Updated: May 2020
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 6% from 2018-2028, 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
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.
How to Know Which Program Is Right for You
Finding the right accounting 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 Program
Choosing the right accounting degree requires that you consider a number of factors at each university.
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.