Accounting is often called the language of business – with good reason. Studying it can lead to work in all types of business and financial fields for the government, non-for-profit organizations, or the private sector. An interest in economics and business may initially draw someone to accounting, but today's world of accounting also involves computer technology, tax law changes, government regulations, and globalization. If any of those hits a nerve with you, you might also find yourself drawn to the field.
An accounting degree will teach you how to evaluate how a business is fairing financially and determine its bottom line. That includes skills like learning how to examine, analyze, and interpret accounting records, create and analyze balance sheets, prepare tax filings, and use accounting information systems. An accounting program will also teach you the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or, simply, accounting principles, which are the standards, conventions, and rules accountants follow when preparing financial statements. Other, more specialized, areas of interest of accountants and auditors that your accounting program may have include tax law and internal auditing.
Classes and Assignments of an Accounting Major
Accounting majors must have strong foundations in economics, math, statistics, and law, and programs will often require students to have prerequisites in these areas before declaring their major. Your exact accounting degree curriculum will greatly depend on the school, program, and areas you're interested in, though generally, you can expect to take courses in financial statement analysis, principles of accounting, accounting information systems, business policy, principles of finance, auditing, fraud, business law fundamentals, and marketing foundations. Elective courses might include mergers and acquisitions, managerial accounting, entertainment accounting, and international reporting and financial statement analysis.
Some programs might allow students to follow a specific track or specialization, such as public accounting, banking, financial investigation, or internal auditing, which will further determine your curriculum. Either way, students can expect to read current literature from accounting publications and associations, learn different accounting systems, and have business- and math-intensive studies. They also may be encouraged or required to do an internship to apply their classroom work to a real-world setting. There are online degrees, as well as programs at brick-and-mortar institutions, for any level of your accounting education.
Degree Levels for an Accounting Major
- Associate. An associate degree can prepare a student to earn a four-year degree, which is required to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, or entry-level work in payroll or accounts receivable. Courses may include income tax planning and preparation services, banking, bookkeeping, and fraud detection.
- Bachelor's. Most accountants and auditors need at least a bachelor's degree to practice, making it one of the most useful college degrees you can pursue for this field. Generally, that may mean a Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting or related online bachelors accounting degrees, depending on the school. Programs are geared toward training students to sit for the CPA exam, and cover advanced topics in accounting. Depending on their career goals, students may also elect a five-year bachelor's/master's program, where upon completion, they'll have earned both a bachelor's and online masters accounting degrees, or related topic such as taxation.
- Master's. . A Master of Accountancy, or MAcc, prepares students for the CPA exam, as well as work in public accounting through a broad-based education in accounting principles and business practices. Students may also earn a Master's of Business Administration in accounting at this level, which introduces students to the various areas of business practice. As mentioned earlier, students may choose to take a five-year bachelor/master's program. There are also self paced online masters degree programs for those already working in the field who are looking for a more flexible option. Additional master's programs in accounting may focus on specialties, such as taxation or internal auditing.
- Doctoral. Accounting professionals interested in a career in academia, or who want to challenge themselves academically, may choose to pursue online doctotral accounting degrees. Doctoral candidates can expect to conduct research, teach at the college level, take courses, and complete a dissertation. It may be the best college degree for future educators in accounting, especially for those who want to become college professors or department heads.
A Future as an Accounting Major
There are many areas accountants may find work, such as financial experts, controllers, chief financial officers, financial consultants, budget analysts, auditors, business owner, tax preparers, and accountants in government or for firms or individuals. The employment of accountants and auditors is expected to grow 22% between 2008 and 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with the creation of new jobs, changing financial laws, corporate governance regulations, and an increase in the number of businesses accounting for the growth. In the field, accountants and auditors may earn somewhere around $68,960 a year, which is the mean annual wage for the profession, according to the BLS. However, keep in mind that salaries can vary greatly depending on your employer, experience, and location.
Accountants and auditors with professional certification, such as a CPA, may have the best job prospects. A master's degree in accounting or business administration with a concentration in accounting also provides an advantage. Additionally, those interested in earning a Ph.D. in accounting may also find themselves in demand. Universities are facing shortages in accounting faculty, with departments expected to retire faculty faster than schools are producing Ph.D. graduates. For working professionals looking to get a leg up, an online master of accounting degree from an accredited institution, or online post graduate certificate programs that prepare for such certification as the CPA, offer a flexible way to accomplish your goals.