Accounting professionals offer valuable expertise to businesses and individuals all over the globe, in virtually every industry. The good news for these professionals is that an increasingly complex business environment will contribute to employment growth in this field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

If you’re looking for a college major that offers a wide variety of job possibilities, consider taking a closer look at careers in accounting. In this guide, we’ll cover how long it typically takes to earn an accounting degree, some of the many careers in finance and accounting, and some of the expectations and requirements of an accounting career.

What Are the Majors in Accounting?

Accounting is a versatile major that can help you qualify for a wide variety of career opportunities. Some accounting professionals hold an Associate of Arts in Accounting degree, while others have earned a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting. Still other accounting professionals majored in business administration with a specialization in an accounting-related field. For advanced degree seekers, some good choices are Master of Business Administration with a Specialization in Accounting, Master of Business Administration with a Specialization in Finance or Master of Business Administration with a Specialization in Accounting & Finance.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Degree in Accounting?

Listed below are several educational paths that can lead to a career in accounting. Accounting professionals can invest two years, four years, six years or more in the pursuit of an accounting degree.

  • Associate’s Degree: A two-year associate’s degree in accounting may qualify you for certain entry-level positions in the field. Advancement often requires a bachelor’s degree in accounting, which may be attainable by enrolling in an online degree program as you begin your accounting career.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: Most accounting and auditing positions require a four-year bachelor’s degree. Employers may show preference to candidates who majored in accounting, finance, or business administration with a specialization in accounting. Some professionals in the accounting field earn advanced degrees to enhance their career possibilities.
  • Master’s Degree: Some senior accounting positions require an advanced degree, such as an MBA with a specialization in accounting. Other specializations that can lead executive or management positions include the MBA in Finance and MBA in Accounting and Finance. An advanced degree typically takes an additional one to two years beyond the bachelor’s level.

Some employers may offer tuition assistance to help their employees obtain a degree while pursuing their career.

What Careers Can Accounting Majors Support?

Opportunities for careers in accounting are varied. Plan on pursuing the education that matches your current and future career goals.

  • As an Associate’s Degree in Accounting graduate, you can start toward a career as a financial data analyst, bookkeeping or financial clerk, accounting assistant, audit associate, or payroll administrator.
  • After earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting, you may find yourself applying for jobs such as budget analyst, tax associate, personal financial planner, income tax accountant, internal auditor, government accountant or management accountant.
  • With a master’s degree in accounting, an MBA in accounting and finance, or an MBA with a specialization in accounting, you may qualify for executive financial positions such as senior budget analyst, director of accounting, finance operations director or senior financial analyst.

Job Growth Statistics for Accounting Careers

Accounting majors can expect strong employment opportunities in coming years. According to national data published by the BLS in 2012, employment for accountants and auditors is projected to expand by 16% through 2020, while bookkeeping and accounting clerks jobs are projected to grow by 14% through 2020. Prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research regarding actual job growth rates, which vary according to location, education and experience.

Expectations and Requirements for a Successful Career in Accounting

Prospective accounting professionals may expect rewarding careers, with strong earning power:

  • According to a 2010 national survey conducted by U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual wage of accountants and auditors was $61,690. The top 10% earned more than $106,880. The lowest 10% earned approximately $38,940.
  • According to the same U.S. Department of Labor survey, the median annual wage of bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks was $34,030. The top 10% earned more than $51,470. The lowest 10% earned approximately $21,270. Because salary potential may vary depending on location, education and experience, prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research to determine actual earning potential. 

Most accounting personnel work full-time hours, with longer hours sometimes required at the end of a company’s fiscal year, during tax season, or when monthly or annual audits are performed.

With hard work, determination and the right qualifications, achieving success in the accounting field is possible. Accounting offers opportunities in both general practice and specializations, such as forensic accounting, litigation support and environmental accounting. It also offers a variety of working conditions, ranging from large multinational CPA firms to small local companies to independent consulting. Consider your personal qualities before deciding which path to pursue. Are you ready for a competitive nature of a large firm, or are you more comfortable working alone or on small teams?

Certifications for Accounting Majors

Certification is widely recognized as part of a path to success in the accounting field. Industry-respected certifications for accounting majors include:

  • Certified Bookkeeper (CB): Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks with two years of bookkeeping experience may apply for the CB designation. This certification, awarded by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers, recognizes skills in accepted accounting procedures.
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): After earning a bachelor’s degree and gaining work experience, many accountants apply to become a CPA. The CPA designation provides a competitive advantage when seeking certain accounting positions. Each state has its own requirements for certification, which is administered through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
  • Certificate in Management Accounting (CMA): The CMA is an important credential for management accountants. Individuals with two years’ experience in management accounting are eligible to take the exam, offered twice each year by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA): The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) offers the CIA to graduates from accredited colleges and universities who have obtained two years’ experience and pass a four-part exam.

The work experience required to sit for certification exams can be obtained through summer internships or part-time work while pursuing an accounting degree.

Other Qualifications and Advancements in Accounting

Employers hiring for accounting positions will typically seek candidates with strong analytical and math skills, as well as a high attention to detail, strong problem-solving and organizational abilities, and excellent communication skills.

Advancing to positions with more responsibility is possible at every level of accounting. With additional education and training, bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks may advance to become accountants or auditors. Junior internal auditors, cost accountants or tax accountants often advance to positions such as accounting manager, budget director and senior financial analyst, with experience or advanced degrees. As an accounting major, you may aspire to executive positions, such as chief financial officer or vice president of finance.

There are Many Paths to Rewarding Careers in Accounting

If your career goals lie in the business arena, and you’re good with analysis, math and communication, you could be a great fit for the wide variety of career opportunities in finance and accounting. An accounting major offers a broad-based business education that can be put to work in nearly any industry. Plan your education according to your strengths and interests, and you could soon be on your way to an exciting accounting career.

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