As the government cracks down on businesses that lack the foresight or integrity to protect their shareholders, the need for accountants who have the knowledge, skills and experience to honestly and accurately prepare, interpret, and communicate financial information is expected to rise considerably.
This, along with a continued increase in the number of new businesses whose success relies on making informed financial decisions, makes accounting a career with very good prospects, according to the United States Bureau of Labor. With your choice of accounting degrees, you may work for individuals, private companies, and local, state, and national governments doing the fundamentals of accounting, as well as financial planning, budget analysis, technology consulting, and certain legal services.
Accounting School: What to Expect
Though there are some associate's degrees in accounting available, most accountants may need to have at least a four-year bachelor's degree in accounting or finance to find work, though some employers may want candidates with an additional two-year master's in accounting or business administration.
Accounting courses may cover topics like:
- Accounting principals and ethics
- Forensic accounting
- Not-for profit accounting
- Critical thinking
You may pursue specific skills such as budgeting, auditing, taxation, and using computer software. Business degrees with accounting concentrations offer the above courses as well as economics, finance, management, organizational behavior, and statistics.
All of these classes adapt very well to online accounting courses. There are many online accounting degree programs that may allow you to get your education at your convenience, including the advanced master's degree in accounting.
Career Options for Accounting School Graduates
There are three major areas of accounting: public, management, and government. Public accountants (also known as external auditors) work for themselves or public tax offices providing tax-based services, accounting system design, consultation on employee benefits, and auditing financial statements for companies, non-profits, individuals, and government agencies. Some public accounts may deal in forensic accounting, combining finance, law, and investigative skills to uncover fraudulent money practices.
Management accountants (also known as private accountants) may work for companies documenting and interpreting financial information. They manage costs and assets, analyze budgets, evaluate company performance, and prepare reports, usually as part of an executive team.
Government accountants may maintain financial records for government agencies, as well as private companies and individuals whose income and spending must adhere to government taxation and regulations. Some work for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or within the federal government doing financial management, administration, or budget analysis.
Other related accounting careers and specialties may include:
- Accounting or auditing clerk
- Cost estimator
- Budget or financial analyst
- Loan officer
- Personal financial advisor
- Management analyst (an accountant that specializes in accounting computer software systems)
Salary Outlooks for Accounting Degree Holders
Since any accountant who files a report with the Security and Exchange Commission must be a certified public accountant (CPA), most choose to take the Uniform CPA exam. Pursuing a CPA may be a common way to garner an accounting career with more trust, opportunities, and financial pay-off, though you may also take the path of a certified management accountant (CMA).
Both certifications may require a rigorous four-part exam, a commitment to continuing education for re-certification, and in some states, some professional accounting experience as well. Check with state laws before you select from the available accounting degree programs, since they each require differing amounts of semester hours to make you eligible for certification.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, $67,430 was the mean annual wage for accountants as of 2009. New York pays its accountants the most, followed by Washington D.C., New Jersey, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Salaries for related occupation look like this:
- Bookkeepers, accounting, and auditing clerk: $34,750
- Budget analyst: $69,240
- Cost estimator: $61,190
- Financial analyst: $85,240
- Tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents: $53,800
- Personal financial advisor: $94,180
- Loan officer: $63,210
Whether you start with online courses in accounting or opt for a full-fledged master's degree, it can add up to a hard-earned career with plenty of financial stability and the opportunity for continuing education and advancement.