What Factors Should You Consider When Pursuing an Accounting Degree?
Traditional vs. Online Accounting Degrees
Students interested in accounting careers have two options in terms of degree program delivery: traditional, in-class programs and online accounting degree programs. When it comes to deciding which of the two programs best meets your needs, there are several factors to consider.
Accounting majors should think about whether they would feel more confident learning the basics of accounting through a structured setting on a physical campus or an independent, asynchronous online program. Next, students should compare the costs of in-person versus online degree programs. While the costs of some programs are the same for both types of students, others vary by program type.
Types of Accreditation
Accreditation matters — and certainly for online schools. In a career field as niche as accounting, earning a degree from an institution accredited by the U.S. Department of Education is crucial. It shows potential employers that your degree was earned at a respected institution. Additionally, attending an accredited institution makes you eligible for federal financial aid options, whereas you won’t be eligible for federal aid at unaccredited institutions.
Accounting Degree Levels
We’ve broken down each of the four accounting degree levels — associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD — by highlighting core courses, areas of specialty, potential career paths, and more.
An associate degree in accounting is a two-year degree program intended to prepare students for specific occupational and vocational careers or serve as an pathway toward enrollment at a four-year institution.
What can you do with an online associate degree in accounting?
Students entering the workforce immediately after earning an associate degree in accounting are typically hired as accounting assistants, accounts receivable clerks, bookkeepers, financial auditors, and tax examiners.
What courses are usually taught at this level?
Students in associate programs are exposed to a general business curriculum, as opposed to a more targeted curriculum that's more often taught in bachelor’s programs. However, this kind of broad curriculum provides a strong knowledge base for those interested in entering this field or pursuing higher education after obtaining their associate degree.
Common courses at this level may include the following: Principles of Accounting, Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, Microeconomics, and Macroeconomics.
Accounting at the bachelor’s level involves a four-year academic program consisting of around 120 credit hours. However some colleges and universities may offer accelerated programs that allow you to finish in as few as two years.
What are the different types of bachelor’s degrees in accounting?
Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting
A BS in Accounting focuses more on math and science than other undergraduate accounting programs aimed at preparing graduates for careers in personal and corporate financial accounting.
BS in Business Administration (BSBA) in Accounting
While this program also focuses heavily on math and science, a BSBA in Accounting specifically emphasizes financial accounting and ethical standards.
Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Accounting
A key differentiator of the BBA in Accounting is that is has a broader business curriculum. While the focus remains on accounting, students are exposed to a variety of business sectors.
What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in accounting?
Earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting opens the door to a number of opportunities within the four specialty areas of accounting: public, corporate/private, government, and forensic. Below, you’ll find a few examples of potential positions within each speciality area:
- Public: Financial Advisor, Tax Accountant & Auditor
- Corporate (Private): Accountant: Controller, CFO & Management Accountant
- Government: Accountant, Financial Manager or Auditor & Treasury Enforcement Officer
- Forensic: FBI Accountant, Legal Team Accountant, Financial Accountant
Bachelor's graduates may also pursue careers in the world of corporate accounting by seeking internships with private firms. Among the most highly sought after are internships with one of the big four accounting firms, Deloitte, Ernest & Young (EY), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and KPMG.
A master’s degree in accounting prepares students for advanced professional careers in accountancy through a curriculum consisting of upper-level courses that cover critical thinking, data collection, analysis, business writing, and more. Most master’s programs consist of 30-36 credit hours.
A master's program also prepares students to obtain their Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. A CPA license demonstrates expertise, ethics and mastery in the accounting industry. All U.S. states need CPA applicants to finish a minimum of 150 semester hours of college coursework in order toearn a CPA license. Since this requires 30 additional hours on top of a traditional bachelor’s degree, a master's degree is often the obvious next step.
What are the different types of master’s degrees in accounting?
Master of Arts (MA) in Accountancy
An MA in Accountancy offers an overarching, graduate-level accounting curriculum to help prepare graduates for the CPA exam and a career in their desired speciality area.
Master of Science (MS) in Accounting
An MS in Accounting provides students with a deep understanding of accounting, and it prepares students for specialty careers: auditing, budget analysis, taxation, and forensic accounting.
Master of Professional Accountancy (MPA)
Students in MPA programs benefit from a specific, practice-based curriculum that sets them up for success in their chosen specialty areas, such as financial fraud investigation, internal auditing, and public accounting.
Master of Business Administration (MBA) With an Accounting Concentration
An MBA with a concentration in accounting has a curriculum covering a wide range of business and advanced accounting courses that help prepare students for leadership and management positions. Moreover, coursework typically fulfills the educational requirements to become a CPA.
Students interested in careers as college professors or researchers may choose to enroll in PhD programs, such as a PhD in Accounting or a Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) with a concentration in accounting. While both programs focus heavily on research, there are marked differences between the two. In general, while PhD graduates go on to work in academia as faculty or researchers, DBA graduates tend to work in private and public accounting sectors in leadership and management roles.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median annual wage for accountants and auditors was $73,560 as of May 2020. Additionally, the BLS projects the number of openings for accounting professionals to grow by 7% through 2030.
Among the many specialty areas in accounting, below we list some of the most common concentrations in the field as well as the associated accounting jobs:
A specialization in auditing focuses on reviewing a company or organization’s financial documents to ensure the accuracy of reporting and adherence to industry financial rules and regulations.
Potential Careers: Audit Manager, Internal or External Auditor, Information Technology Auditor
Accounting students who are interested in the investigation component of the job may choose to concentrate in forensic accounting. This area of specialization focuses on investigating everything from fraud and money laundering to identity theft and trademark infringement.
Potential Careers: FBI Accountant, Legal Team Accountant, and Financial Accountant
A managerial accounting specialization is ideal for students interested in helping a company or organization make financially savvy business decisions via a thorough analysis of a company's financial records and statements.
Potential Careers: Chief Financial Officer, Cost Accountant, and Corporate Controller
Whereas most other areas follow a set of professional standards known as Generally Accepted Accounting Principals (GAAP), tax accountants follow the accounting principles of Other Comprehensive Basis of Accounting (OCBOA). In general, they help individuals, corporations, and organizations prepare financial statements and process tax returns among other responsibilities.
Potential Careers: Business Accountant, CPA, and IRS Accountant
Should You Get Your CPA License?
While some graduates decide to enter the workforce immediately after earning their bachelor’s degree, the majority choose to work toward becoming a CPA. A CPA license shows a level of professional commitment that garners a deep level of respect and trust from potential employers. To earn your CPA license, you must pass an exam as well as meet state-specific education and experience requirements.
You can learn what your state requires by visiting the list of state boards
of accountancy provided by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).
AICPA describes the exam in detail: “All candidates must pass the Uniform CPA Examination (CPA Exam), which comprises four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). While the CPA Exam is the same for all candidates, other requirements may differ by jurisdiction.”