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Accounting is an attractive enterprise for people who are detail-oriented, naturally good with numbers, excel at organization and enjoy helping others with their finances. An accounting degree is also beneficial for business entrepreneurs running a small business. Accounting degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate level are available to prepare graduates for employment in a wide array of jobs in both the public and private sectors. Possible professional roles include bookkeeper, Certified Public Accountant (CPA), accountant, auditor, real estate assessor and financial analyst.

Degree Overview

Accounting degree programs are designed for those students who possess strong analytical skills and enjoy working with finances. This degree program explores concepts in income tax planning, consulting and financial management. Within the program, students learn auditing skills and analyzing techniques to help enable them to maintain fiscal records and scrutinize financial budgets.

Information about the Path to Accounting

Undergraduate accounting degrees and certificates can result in obtaining entry-level accounting employment. An online accounting degree or on-campus certificate program typically provides the essential knowledge and skills needed to work in accounting. Some schools offer specialized graduate certificate programs, such as accounting for financial and business analysts or accounting for controllers. The principal degrees include:

  • Associate’s degree - This two-year program provides students with the fundamental principles and skills required to achieve business and financial management methods. The equivalent of a high school diploma is required for enrollment, and students should expect to earn up to 64 credits, but can vary by school. An associate’s degree is comparable to the first two years at a four-year college or university, enabling students to transfer to pursue a bachelor's degree.
  • Bachelor's degree - This four-year program offers a detailed examination of accounting principles in addition to electives and general education courses. Some accounting subjects may include business law, federal taxes and advanced accounting studies. Many accounting programs enable students to focus on a particular subspecialty, such as auditing, forensic accountancy or tax accountancy. Some curriculum requires that online students complete accounting internships or externships; whereas, other degree programs may be completed exclusively online.
  • Master's degree - A master’s degree program typically includes leadership, management and accelerated accounting topics, such as advanced tax for individuals and businesses, managerial accounting and advanced auditing theory. The majority of accounting positions require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree and CPA certification. However, many employers are giving preference to those with a master’s degree in accounting because a graduate degree provides students with the skills necessary for managerial accounting roles.

Many online accounting programs permit students to choose a distinct accounting major, such as tax, forensic or managerial accounting. Completing basic prerequisites such as math or statistics may enable students to finish in less time.

Certified Public Accountant

Passing the CPA exam requires a significant amount of education. To begin the process, accountants must meet the qualification conditions, which include requirements for education, work experience and state residency. If accounting requirements were completed outside of the United States, credentials may require evaluation by an approved agency. After approval of the application, a notice is sent scheduling the examination. Once the test is graded, a report will indicate the score and any prior credits. Those with a passing score are considered a licensed CPA. To maintain the license, most states require completion of continuing education hours.

Reasons to Choose an Accredited Program

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountant positions are expected to grow by 18 percent between 2006 and 2016. For the greatest possible educational and professional results, students are encouraged to enroll in an accounting program that is properly accredited. Accreditation is granted by a programmatic association or institution that the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or U.S. Department of Education recognizes. Some states require programmatic accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) to take the CPA exam.

When choosing a college, university, business school or other learning institution for an accounting degree, it is wise to choose one with an accredited program. Accrediting agencies may certify the entire school for all of its programs or specific programs within the institution. Accredited programs provide multiple advantages over non-accredited programs. They offer students a quality education recognized practically everywhere throughout the educational and professional arena. Other reasons to select an accredited program includes:

  • Ensuring that academic programs meet acceptable educational quality levels
  • More opportunities to qualify for federal financial aid
  • Ability to obtain appropriate professional licensure in your field
  • Transferable credits between universities and colleges

There are various types of accreditation that may apply to on-campus and online accounting degrees. However, for those who aspire to become CPAs, it is highly recommended to enroll in and complete an accounting program with AACSB accreditation, as some states require it to sit for the CPA exam.

Associate’s Degree in Accounting

An associate’s degree in accounting provides fundamental principles of accounting to help develop a mixture of skills needed for prospective careers, such as problem-solving, organization and written communication. You will explore topics including managerial, financial and cost accounting principles It is ideal for professionals who want to enter an accounting-related field, and those already establishing in the accounting industry who want to advance their careers. This degree can prepare students for jobs such as bookkeepers, accounting clerks and payroll assistants in a broad range of work settings.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Accounting

A bachelor's degree in accounting can provide the in-depth training that is required for preparation and analysis of financial records. The accounting bachelor's degree program typically takes four years for completion and requires about 120 credit hours of coursework. Specialized CPA exam prep programs may require 150 credit hours or more.

The accounting major focuses on courses in math, economics and diverse accounting principles. Classes comprise financial, management, and cost accounting. Macro- and Microeconomics classes inform students how the market system works at the individual, national and international levels. Other common courses include auditing, budgeting, taxation and information systems for accountants. Many accounting bachelor's degree programs also incorporate classes in general business topics such as leadership, management, marketing and finance, and general education subjects in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences areas.

Depending on their work or internship experience, graduates with bachelor's degrees in accounting can apply for a variety of entry-level and intermediate accounting positions. Employment industries include government, corporations and the private sector. Corporate accountants work for distinct businesses and help by filing taxes, planning budgets, keeping track of spending and providing investment advice. In contrast, accountants and auditors with government agencies may work with the Internal Revenue Service to ensure that citizens file their taxes appropriately or on in-house accounting.

Accountants who have 150 credit hours or more of coursework can take the CPA exam to try to become a Certified Public Accountant. Although taking the CPA exam is not a general employment requirement, the CPA credential helps accountants improve their job prospects, gain clients and increase annual salary.

Master’s Degrees and MBA Programs in Accounting

The accounting master’s degree program length is between one and two years. The graduate school curriculum equips students with an advanced understanding of principal accounting areas, such as auditing, financial accounting and taxation. Traditional colleges and business schools commonly offered these programs, most of which focus on those changing careers or current accountants searching for additional education and training. Typical prerequisites include an accredited undergraduate degree with foundational classes in statistics and economics and GRE or GMAT scores.

The master’s in accounting concentration focuses on specialized accounting topics, business coursework and advanced accounting concepts. For instance, in advanced management accounting classes, students discuss corporate contracts, mergers and other current business accounting topics. Financial accounting classes feature preparation and analysis of a financial statement. Other courses examine business law, information systems in accounting, strategic management and taxation.

Most students use the master’s degree in accounting to secure a stronger and more competitive position as a professional accountant. The master’s degree is frequently used to meet the 150 credit hour requirement qualification for taking the CPA exam. Obtaining the CPA credential is highly valuable in the industry and quite beneficial for securing employment. Accountants who have a master's degree may work in a variety of settings, including state and local government, private accounting services, finance and insurance and manufacturing.

The Future of the Accounting Profession

The principal characteristic of successful people that the accounting profession identifies as most valuable to them is the potential to isolate and solve problems creatively without requiring a formal structure. Implicit in this type of person is a desire to learn, which drives research and unique investigation. This class of person has the instinctive ability to analytically resolve vague situations. Looking ahead, the future of accounting incorporates the following predictions:

  • Increased demand for higher degrees
  • Competitive market due to outsourcing
  • New regulations affecting required job skills

Overall, employers will continue to prefer an accounting curriculum with a strong focus on practical, real-world, global perspectives and candidates with substantial accounting expertise. Executives look for a background that incorporates an accounting concentration. This usually produces students with the technical tools to handle an evolving profession, and with the maturity gained from experiences to facilitate individual and corporate success.

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