An accounting degree can open doors to a successful career in business, finance, and banking. Students who finish their accounting degree can work as accountants, auditors, financial analysts, or bookkeepers. For this reason, accounting is one of the most widely sought degrees in many universities.
According to college statistics published in the Journal of Accountancy, there were nearly 208,000 students enrolled in undergraduate accounting programs in the school year 2017-2018, setting the second-highest number on record for over a decade (Tysiac, 2019). Many of the oldest colleges in the US also offer accounting degrees.
This document will provide an overview of the accounting profession to help you get started on earning your degree. The following sections also provide an answer to your question: What can you do with an accounting degree? Below, you will find detailed discussions on the types of accounting degrees, tuition costs, and specific career options in accounting.
An accounting degree prepares you for a wide range of career paths in business and finance. Throughout the program, you are expected to develop the skills required for an accounting role, such as auditing, analyzing data, and organizing financial information. You will also learn about the different theories behind accounting principles and how you can leverage them in various contexts.
As an area of study, the accounting degree definition is a multidisciplinary discipline that covers topics, such as statistics, business, economics, information technology, auditing, and financial accounting. It dives deep into typical business administration schemes, the ethics of accountancy, and the laws that govern business. It also involves analyzing and utilizing financial data to assess different types of business performance.
Typical courses in accounting degree programs include an array of mathematics subjects, such as calculus, college algebra, and business statistics. You may also come across several social science courses like economics, law, and history. Furthermore, most universities require accounting students to take introductory courses in finance, business administration, and marketing.
With an accounting degree, employment opportunities for you span almost every industry that needs accounting support for financial and tax-related processes. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the accounting industry grows at a pace of 13% and is expected to offer more than 1.4 million jobs by the end of 2022 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).
An accounting degree can lead you to a wide range of career options. As an accounting major, some of the job roles you can fill include staff accountant, bookkeeper, tax manager, financial analyst, internal auditor, and more. In these positions, your general knowledge of business and finance concepts, as well as your mathematical and analytical skills, are vital to any organization that you choose to join.
Investing in college degrees comes at a steep price. According to the latest data published by College Board, average tuition at public four-year colleges for the school year 2018-2019 adds up to $21,370 for state residents and $37,430 for out-of-state residents. This includes expenses for room and board, transportation, books, and school activity fees (College Board, 2020).
Despite the rising cost of college education, earning a degree still pays off for the majority of graduates in the long run. For instance, degree holders have more earning potential compared to workers with only high school diplomas. In fact, an analysis by the BLS revealed that the median salary for non-degree holders is $38,792, while for degree holders, the average median salary is $64,896 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019
As you jump into the decision of studying for an accounting degree, you must remember to factor in the cost of a degree program in your choice of university. Tuition costs can vary greatly depending on the type of institution and the degree level that you need. Thus, it is important to take a look at each university’s average yearly tuition for a better idea of how much it could cost before you can earn your degree.
For instance, the accounting degree tuition at public four-year institutions costs $8,730 for the school year 2019-2020, while at private non-profit four-year, tuition cost is $36,360. Also, don’t forget to check other expenses outside of tuition and fees. Ask questions like what is room and board in college costs or how much you need for textbooks and other miscellaneous fees.
As you pursue an accounting career, you will most likely face stiff competition from other job candidates in the employment market. Due to the challenging nature of accounting jobs, most employers seek accounting majors with proficient abilities in planning, forecasting, and administering financial expenses. An accounting major is also expected to have extensive business knowledge and can easily keep up with changes in the industry and business structures.
That being said, an accounting degree can help you build a strong foundation of business and financial knowledge and develop the required skills applicable to many different career paths. This gives you an edge over other job candidates, making you a much more marketable employee compared to others. As an accounting degree holder, you can explore a wide array of career opportunities in financial consulting, financial planning, financial data analysis, and budget management.
Furthermore, the accounting profession is considered a well-respected occupation in any part of the world. Thus, a degree in accounting can also land you jobs in big accounting firms worldwide, giving you a chance to gain international experience and take on more senior roles in the future.
The accounting profession is generally associated with job security, high salaries, and a certain level of prestige. The following section discusses in detail the kind of job roles you can have with an accounting degree.
As long as there are money transactions involved in an organization, there will also be accounting work to be done. Most businesses rely on accounting professionals to analyze and report financial data, audit accounts, prepare tax returns, and act as financial consultants. More than that, accountants also ensure regulatory compliance in the company’s accounting practices.
The current employment landscape sees a high demand for accounting degree jobs, such as accountants and auditors. According to a report by BLS, employment for auditors and accountants is projected to grow to over 1.4 million by the year 2029 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). This makes the said accounting roles the fastest-growing jobs in America.
The main factors driving this demand for accounting professionals include the growing economy, globalization of businesses, and technological changes affecting the tax and regulatory environment.
These insights are further reflected in Bei Chen’s “Research and Practice on the Training of International” published in the International Journal of New Developments in Education. Chen reflects, “with the development of society and the globalization of economy, accounting has not only become a hot subject in various schools but also been internationalized in its educational modes and talent training. In order to cultivate new high-quality applied accounting talents, most of our universities have changed their teaching objectives, reformed teaching methods, set new teaching programs, and introduced an international accounting education mode.”
Every year, there are about 125,700 job openings in the accounting sector (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Some of these openings also result from the need to replace retired workers or employees transferred to another role.
Aside from being a well-respected profession, the financial rewards of accounting jobs are considerable too. In fact, some of the highest-paying jobs can be found in the accounting sector. According to the latest report by Comparably, the earning potential of entry-level accountant positions range from $48,859 to $76,460 per year (Comparably, 2020). With progressive levels of experience, this number even goes up between $83,200 and $116,000.
As you now know, the field of accounting presents an abundance of employment opportunities for accounting majors. With a degree in accounting, you can work various jobs in corporations, government agencies, nonprofits, and small businesses. However, if you want a career in some of the highest-paying professions in the field, most organizations require licensure as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
But before that, the first step you must take is to earn your accounting degree. Programs for accounting degrees come in different levels, from an associate degree to a Ph.D. You can also check Title IV schools for a list of affordable higher education institutions that offer accounting degrees.
Average time to complete: 2 years
If you want to pursue entry-level jobs in accounting but are not yet ready to commit to a four-year degree program, then an associate degree can lead you to junior positions in business and finance. With an associate degree, you can find entry-level careers as a bookkeeper, accounting assistant, and payroll clerk. This degree also provides you with a path to a bachelor’s degree in accounting, in case you want to advance your studies and take on more senior positions as an accounting professional.
An associate degree program in accounting introduces you to fundamental courses like federal taxation, financial accounting, and cost accounting. You will also come across other concepts and coursework in accounting, such as business law, business income taxes, and integrated accounting application. Typically, an associate degree takes two years to complete and requires 60 credits.
Entry-level jobs: Accounting assistant, Bookkeeper, Payroll clerk
Average time to complete: 4 years
A bachelor’s degree in accounting often leads to high-paying careers in the accounting field. In fact, public accounting is considered one of the highest-paying bachelor’s degrees in the U.S., with professionals in the mid-career stage earning over $138,800 (PayScale, 2020).
Generally, it takes four years to complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting and requires 120 credits, covering an introduction to accounting business fundamentals. Later in the program, studies usually shift to more advanced topics, including strategic cost management, contemporary cost accounting, and pricing and revenue analysis.
Depending on the school, there could be different types of bachelor’s degrees in accounting. Some offer a bachelor of arts (BA) in accounting, while others provide bachelor of science (BS) degrees. The two mostly have similar core courses, but they differ in training focus and electives.
For instance, a BS in accounting highlights practical application courses, such as business, marketing, and finance. Also, BS degrees usually require more credits, so many students often choose a BS program to easily complete the 150-credit requirement for a CPA license.
Meanwhile, BA in accounting provides more focus on the humanities aspect of accounting courses. In this degree type, you will learn how to incorporate social science topics like psychology and communications with accounting courses.
These differences often lead to different career paths and specializations for most accounting majors. Graduates of BS degrees in accounting are most likely preparing for financial analyst roles and the like, while BA degree holders take on more human-focused roles, such as private financial consultants.
Entry-level jobs: Forensic accountant, Auditor, Financial advisor
Source: PayScale, 2020
Average time to complete: 2 years
A master’s degree provides an advanced level of studies in the accounting discipline. It typically requires 30 to 45 credits and takes up to two years to complete. It covers more advanced accounting principles, such as sales and exchanges of property, business analytics, and in-depth taxation. Master’s degrees in accounting also offer several specializations in areas like personal finances, financial management, and corporate accounting.
As a graduate of master’s degree programs, your chances of finding jobs in higher-level positions are better than other candidates and can lead to executive and managerial roles. Some of the career options befitting a master’s degree holder in accounting include senior accountant, accounting manager, and tax examiner.
High-level positions: Management analyst, Financial manager, Senior auditor
Average time to complete: Five years
Compared to other degree programs, a Ph.D. or doctoral degree in accounting usually differ in format. In most cases, it takes five years to complete with a credit requirement of between 60 and 120. In a Ph.D. program for accounting, you will come across several research and methodology courses, as well as advanced statistics, economics, and business courses.
With a Ph.D. in accounting, you can pursue research careers or post-secondary teaching positions. It also qualifies you for the most advanced and lucrative positions in the field, such as accounting supervisor and senior roles in finance departments.
High-level positions: Researcher, Accounting professor, Finance manager
To be eligible for an accounting degree program, there are a few requirements that you have to take note of. The following section gives more information on admission and skill requirements for an accounting degree.
High school diploma or GED
Accounting degree prerequisites vary from state to state. Some universities may require you to present your high school diploma, while some accept at least a GED certificate as proof of your educational attainment. In case you already have an associate degree in accounting, you can also ask the institution to transfer your credits to the bachelor program you are applying for.
Since accounting is generally a competitive field, most universities require at least a 2.5 GPA before you become eligible for a degree program (Chron, 2020). However, if your GPA does not meet the criteria, you have an option to take prerequisite courses at community colleges and build up your GPA.
Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)
Exam scores vary greatly by program and institution, with some universities not even requiring them at all. The most competitive schools might need you to take the SAT, though, so it is best to communicate with school officials to find out the required score you need for the program. In general, the average score needed for accounting programs is between 1050 and 1060.
Mathematical and deductive reasoning
Because accounting heavily touches on a broad range of mathematical subjects, you will need a good level of number skills and deductive reasoning to get through most of your courses. As an accounting major, you will face all sorts of financial data on a daily basis, so your mathematical skills will play an important role in earning your degree.
Regular deadlines are common in the accounting environment. In most jobs, you are likely to have weekly, monthly, and yearly deadlines, especially when it comes to preparing audits or other financial documentation. Thus, time management is among the essential accounting degree skills and is critical to meeting deadlines and closing off accounting records on time.
In accounting, problem-solving skills are vital to resolving and uncovering potential areas of concern. Since organizations rely heavily on accountants to identify discrepancies and other issues in financial records, your problem-solving skills can give you an edge as an aspiring accounting professional.
Not all accounting degrees are created equal, so there are a few things to look out for when choosing which program you should take. Some of the factors you need to consider include accreditation and financial aid options.
Though academic requirements for a CPA license vary from state to state, graduating from an accredited school of accounting means you have completed the highest tier of requirements for the CPA examination in most states. As one of the world’s leading authorities on quality accounting and business education programs, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, or AACSB, is considered the main accreditation body for accounting degrees.
AACSB ensures that schools offer the highest quality of the academic curriculum, have outstanding faculty, and produce graduates who have achieved specified learning goals. Thus, choosing an AACSB-accredited school for your accounting degree ensures that you will receive the finest quality of accounting education.
Regardless of the degree level you want, it is likely that you will spend thousands of dollars before completing the program. This is the reason why financial aid options exist at most schools, and it is important for you to communicate with school officials to see if there are any financial aids available at your choice of university.
One of the most common financial aids available at most schools is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which helps more than 13 million students in their educational expenses every year. At public four-year schools, the acceptance rate for financial aid among undergraduates is 83.6% in the school year 2017-2018 (EducationData.org, 2020).
Source: Educationdata.org, 2019
As you can see, an accounting degree opens up a wide selection of math career paths in almost every industry. Whether you have an associate, bachelor, master’s, or doctorate degree in accounting, the employment opportunities and financial rewards that await you cover a broad scope. From financial management to tax accounting, accounting is a much larger and more diverse field, providing you with a variety of employment options.
So if you are still asking the question if an accounting degree is worth an investment, take this accounting statistics into consideration: for the 2014-2024 period, there will be a 10.7% job growth rate for accounting jobs. This is equivalent to 142,400 jobs for accountants and auditors over the same period. (Kich, 2017). Aside from that, the accounting industry is a stable and growing job field, giving confidence to aspiring professionals that the employment market’s demand will not decline any time soon.
On that note, we hope that this guide has helped you find out all the information that you need to kickstart your education in the accounting discipline. In case you are also having a hard time deciding on which university to attend, we have a guide for best value colleges that you can check out.