Types of Accounting Degrees

Your expectations as an accounting student may be general, as most students are when they start toward a major, or they may be different from your classmates. You may be more focused on what specifically you can learn and how your learning may affect your career path.

If you plan to go into accounting, you should enjoy working with numbers and even various kinds of mathematical equations. You may also enjoy looking at different trends and seeing what they mean. Either way, you should be prepared to hold a lot of responsibility for the finances of a company.

In the end, you chose an accounting major for reasons that apply to you alone. What should you expect? First, there are the general education courses that nearly every student takes at some point. These are important but it’s your major courses that will teach you about cost/benefit analysis, basic accounting principles, accounting software, auditing, tax laws, and more.

Why Get an Accounting Degree?

What is accounting? It is the process of recording and maintaining financial or business transactions that inform a business owner that their business is successful. Business owners want to know that their products, services, and efforts are effective and will end up bringing them a profit. Not only will you be able to help them do this, but every business in every industry needs at least some accounting functions completed throughout the year. They must track transactions, file reports, and keep an eye on their investments and losses.

As you begin taking the accounting and business classes within your major, you’ll begin to develop an idea of which sector of the field you want to work in.

Another reason to earn your accounting degree is job stability. During recessions, people are laid off because their employer finds that customers can’t afford their products or services. However, as long as a business is open, they will have to perform accounting functions if they plan to follow the law and file taxes and income or balance sheet reports. By using your education to get into accounting you can develop a solid career in which your skills and knowledge will constantly be in demand. The BLS states that the accounting field is growing—it projects that jobs for accountants will grow by 6% between 2018 and 2028.

Levels of Accounting degrees

Associate Degree

By working toward an associate level accounting degree, the student in community college is preparing themselves for an entry-level position, with which they can gain some hands-on work experience. The degree program lasts about two years, after which they can find an accounting position or move into a 4-year university to earn their bachelor’s in accounting.

Accounting courses at this level will introduce you to accounting theory and provide you with classes in business, which gives you an introduction into the corporate world. You may also learn corporate accounting and economic management. Computer information skills are definitely recommended, since accountants in today’s businesses will use computers and accounting software daily to work on spreadsheets and financial reports.

A typical Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in accounting requires you to earn 62 credit hours so you can graduate and begin working in the field. With this degree, you could begin working as a junior accountant in the financial industry, business, manufacturing, or for a governmental agency.

A solid associate degree program should hold regional accreditation or national accreditation. Accreditation agencies closely examine degree programs at all levels for quality. At the associate level, these agencies are looking for evidence that students who are ready to graduate are able to apply their knowledge and skills in the basic accounting and bookkeeping processes; can use oral and written communication to get their point across; show a working knowledge of current accounting software and computers; are able to keep up to date with knowledge of changes, such as tax laws; and can carry out detailed, accurate work.

Common Coursework

Your classes at this level may include:

First Semester:

  • Introduction to Business Software Packages
  • Introduction to Financial Accounting
  • Introduction to Business Organization

Second Semester:

  • Introduction to Managerial Accounting
  • Quickbooks
  • Microeconomics or Macroeconomics
  • Payroll Accounting

Third Semester:

  • Business Law 1
  • Intermediate Accounting 1

Fourth Semester:

  • Cost Accounting
  • Business Elective

Career Options

Bookkeeper:
In this role, you maintain the company general ledger, recording income, deposits, and daily transactions.

Staff Accountant:
You’ll add entries to the general ledger for your employer. You may also review financial statements and prepare financial reports.

Accounting Paraprofessional:
Complete all bookkeeping responsibilities your employer gives to you.

Bachelor’s Degree

You can start out with a bachelor’s or transfer into this degree program after earning your associate degree in accounting. The bachelor’s degree in accounting is the most common level of education for accounting professionals who are getting started in the field. This is the best way for you to earn the credentials you need to become a certified public accountant (CPA); you will complete the basics, then take your accounting classes. You may need to take a few more classes to earn the 150 credits you need for a CPA, but you are not required to earn a master’s degree. In a bachelor’s degree, you can expect to earn a minimum of 120 credit hours.

If you need it, an online accounting degree is an equally excellent way to move forward with your career. The degrees you may earn include the Bachelor of Science in Accounting (BS-Accounting) or the Bachelor of Arts in Accounting (BA-Accounting), the first of which will give you less freedom in your electives, while the second should let you choose your electives from a wider list of possibilities.

In your accounting courses, you’ll learn about the responsibilities of a public accountant, taxation, statistics, accounting skills, records management, internal and external auditing and auditors, financial statements, and ethics in accounting. During your undergraduate degree program, you should also consider completing an internship in a professional organization and gaining real world experience. As with the associate degree, look for a program that is regionally or nationally accredited.

After you graduate, you may decide to find an accounting position so that you can gain professional experience before you return to school for your master’s in accounting. After you spend a few years becoming more familiar with the actual world of accounting, you’ll be more prepared to apply for admission to a graduate program.

Common Coursework

  • Applying Leadership Principles
  • Business Law
  • Introduction to Marketing
  • Principles of Accounting 1
  • Principles of Finance for the Private Sector
  • Government and Non-profit Accounting
  • Business Intelligence in Taxation
  • Auditing
  • Cost Accounting
  • Forensic Accounting and Business Valuation with Artificial Intelligence
  • Advanced Accounting
  • Information Systems for Accounting

Career Options

Public Accountant:
With this certification, you’ll be able to offer services to a range of clients including large companies, taxpayers, government agencies, educational institutions, or non-profits.

Auditor:
You’ll review your company’s financials and ensure that all transactions are legal, and you may provide reports to the president or CEO of a company if they need to take actions to reduce financial risks.

Forensic Accountant:
In this position, you’ll review financial documents for errors or fraud and analyze financial data for discrepancies, letting the leadership in your company forecast and prevent financial fraud.

Master’s Degree

As you prepare to earn your master’s degree in accounting, you’ll need to be ready to work on and complete higher-level courses so that you can prepare yourself for an important leadership role in your company. You may choose to earn your CPA if you haven’t already—a bachelor’s is a good step toward this goal and a master’s degree helps you to earn the rest of the credits you need for this certification.

If you’re aiming for this degree, you are likely already aware that the job market is becoming ever more diverse, so you’ll need to prepare yourself to work in one of the many roles. In addition, the field of accounting is getting bigger and requiring more cross-disciplinary knowledge.

Whatever your career goals, being able to list a master’s in accounting on your resume will make you even more attractive to future employers.

Accounting is one of those fields that manages to consistently maintain its popularity throughout the US; accountants, finance specialists, managers, and auditors are always sought after. Additionally, you’ll have your pick of where you want to work: government agencies, private companies, and non-profit groups need accountants with master’s degrees and certifications so they can develop a clear picture of their investments and finances. To prove this point, a 2018 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) shows that graduates of accounting and finance programs will be hired at higher levels than graduates from other degree programs.

Common Coursework

  • Ethics for Accounting Professionals
  • Advanced Financial Accounting
  • SEC Reporting
  • Audit Analytics
  • Professional Communications
  • Advanced Finance

General MAcc Track:

  • Advanced International Accounting
  • Individual Income Tax
  • Tax Research

Tax Track:

  • Tax Research
  • Individual Income Tax

Career Options

Information Technology Accountant:
This job role combines accounting with both information systems and software. You may develop, update, and/or maintain a centralized location to store your company’s financial data.

Managerial Accountant:
In this position, you would record and analyze financial information. You might collect, interpret, and prepare financial data reports for the organization’s leadership while acting in a supervisory capacity.

Corporate Controller:
Here, you’ll use your management and analytical skills along with your technology competency to oversee all operations of the accounting department and ensure that the company is running smoothly and producing a profit.

MBA

At the graduate level, you will delve into advanced courses that allow you to specialize in a specific field within accounting. For instance, you may take your certification exam so you can work as a CPA or you may choose to branch off and work as an information and technology accountant. At the master’s level, your experience of accounting will become more and more cross-disciplinary, with a marriage of information technology, business, and accounting.

By the time you take and pass your GMAT or GRE, you will likely already have worked for a few years, either as a part of or leading a small team of accountants. Graduate school will provide you with the opportunity to hone your skills so that you can reach even higher heights. This may lead into working as a managerial accountant or even as a CFO or VP of finance if that is where your interest lies. In short, you will now be using, not only your accounting skills but also management and leadership abilities.

The labor market in the US is pretty diverse, so you will be able to choose just about any sub-specialty in accounting. You may be going back and forth about whether to earn a master of science in accounting or go all the way into an MBA in accounting. With the MBA-Accounting, you’ll also complete business curriculum at the graduate level; with the master’s degree, your program is much more focused on accounting, with fewer business courses.

Common Coursework

MBA Core:

  • Leadership in a Global Environment
  • Financial Management
  • Strategic Management
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Law and Ethics in the Business Environment

MBA Accounting Curriculum:

  • Federal Tax Accounting
  • Advanced Accounting II
  • Auditing Concepts & Applications
  • Accounting Theory
  • Elective

Career Options

Financial Manager:
In this position, you’ll perform financial analysis, reporting, management activities and you’ll review financial data for accuracy, correctness, and completeness.

Business Development Manager:
Here, you’ll meet with and educate clients about your company’s services or products so that you can increase sales. You may also meet directly with potential clients and convince them that your company is the way to go based on your detailed facts and figures.

Chief Financial Officer:
If you work in this position, you’ll manage the financial actions of your employer’s company, track cash flow and perform financial planning, and analyze the company’s financial strengths and weaknesses.

Doctoral/PhD Degree

Before you choose the doctoral degree you want in accounting, read carefully. The biggest difference is the focus of each degree and the work that you’ll be prepared to do after you graduate.

A PhD program is more focused on research, new theories, policy, and teaching. If your plan is to land a tenured position as an accounting professor, this is the degree to earn.

A Doctor of Business Administration or DBA is aimed more at applied theory. Here, you may be working as a researcher, finding ways to increase accounting efficiency or creating new best practices policies. The only thing similar with both degrees is that they hold a focus on either research or teaching. If you plan to stay in a university environment, consider both before you make your decision.

Accounting doctorates come with a few choices:

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Business Management, Accounting Specialization
  • Doctor of Accounting and Financial Management
  • Doctor of Professional Studies in Business, Finance Concentration
  • Doctor of Business Administration, Accounting/Financial Management Specialization

You may want to do some reading about doctoral accounting and DBA programs. This field has a broad foundation which helps you to develop your research skills (analytical and empirical). You’ll focus on developing a framework of concepts and then the skills you need to address the questions that need to be answered.

Choose your degree program based on your areas of interest and the research you’ll do. These include empirical and analytical research that explores the relationship between capital market behavior and accounting information. Or you might explore problems of information asymmetries and the problems this causes for investors, managers, and other specialists. You may choose to research the economic effects of the regulation of accounting information or you may choose to carry out research on productivity measurement on activity-based costing for markets, operations, and strategic costing/pricing.

Common Coursework

Accounting:

  • Accounting Theory Research
  • Empirical Research in Accounting 1 & II
  • Empirical Design in Accounting Research

Economics:

  • Microeconomic Theory
  • Game Theory and Applications

Econometrics/Statistics:

  • Advanced Statistical Inference 1 & II

Finance:

  • Financial Economics

Electives:

  • Empirical Public Policy
  • Economics and Law
  • Financial Economics Under Imperfect Information

Career Options

Financial Counselor:
In this role, you’re an internal check to ensure that you and leadership are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of a company.

Accounting Professor:
Not only can you teach accounting fundamentals to your students, but you may also be able to research new accounting theories and practices.

Accountant Manager:
In this position, you are responsible for an entire financial department and the accountants who work under you.

Certificates/Licensures in Accounting

Certified Public Accountant:
This is often considered one of the highest levels of certification that you can earn in accounting. While the test, broken down into four sections that you must pass within 18 months once you start, is long and difficult, there are plenty of positions for those who hold this credential.

Enrolled Agent:
In this role, you are authorized by the federal government to represent taxpayers before the IRS. You are also eligible to practice in all 50 states without having to take additional licensing.

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA):
This is the only designation that is globally recognized for internal auditors who want to become certified.

Certified Financial Analyst:
This is also a globally recognized credential, which tells everyone in the financial world that you have the required skills and knowledge to work in financial analysis.

Certified Management Accountant:
With this, you’ll have the recognition and skills to work in cost management, forecasting, decision analysis, and internal control auditing. You must have a mastery of several financial management and accounting skills from several perspectives in order to earn this certification.

Certified Financial Services Auditor:
This certification is intended for audit professionals with at least two years of experience. With it, you’ll be able to work in savings and loan companies, banks, credit unions, and other financial service organizations.

Concentrations

Accounting:
This concentration helps you to prepare yourself for one of several careers in the accounting profession. You may choose to work in internal auditing, public accounting, non-profit organizations, private industry, or financial institutions.

Commerce:
This gives you a solid general business foundation and you’ll also develop the conceptual and analytical skills needed for understanding accounting practices. You’ll learn about analyzing and providing quantitative information that helps company leaders to make financial decisions.

Business Administration:
This provides you with an overall knowledge of business, along with the knowledge and skills you need to move into an entry-level accounting position requiring an undergraduate degree. With the leg up in business knowledge, you may even be able to earn a promotion with nothing other than this education.

Accounting Information Systems:
While you degree may be in accounting, you could have a concentration that focused on accounting information systems specifically. Accounting professionals recognize that this is now an international specialization, whether you work on maintaining these information systems, or helping a developer create the software used to assist accountants in daily tasks. With automation taking over the industry, this is incredibly useful knowledge to have.

Online vs. Traditional Options

Online Pros:

  • Convenience:
    If you are raising a family or you work full-time, clearly an on-campus option may not work for you.
  • Affordability:
    Look around and find a sticker price that fits your budget. Once you’ve found something, you’ll also benefit on not having to pay for gas, vehicle maintenance, or other common hidden costs for students.

Online Cons:

  • Time management:
    You’ll need to know how to manage your time well so you that complete assignments on time. This is difficult for some people, so knowing your own strengths and weaknesses might mean that you know attending online won’t work well for you.
  • Technology issues:
    Internet outages and computer glitches are beyond your control, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’ll have deadlines to meet no matter what breakdowns may hit you.
  • Less face-to-face:
    You won’t meet other people in person, which may make the degree seem less tempting. Many students use their time in school to build a network, which is harder in a virtual environment.

On-Campus Pros:

  • Networking:
    Meeting people face to face gives you the chance to develop long-term relationships.
  • On-site facilities:
    On campus, you can take advantage of the student union or gym.
  • See new places:
    If you’re an out-of-state student, you’ll have the chance to become familiar with a new state.

On-Campus Cons:

  • No flexibility in scheduling:
    Your daily class schedule is strictly set.
  • Limited professors’ attention:
    On a large campus, you could be one of dozens of students in a class and have limited access to your professor or other help.
  • Affordability:
    Living on-campus is convenient but comes with additional expenses.

Hybrid learning is a blending of both online and on-campus learning. While most of your classes may be online, a few class sessions take place on-campus, where you are able to meet your fellow students and professors. In this way, you’ll be able to benefit from the advantages of both the online and on-campus formats.

What Should You Consider When Looking for an Accounting Program?

Majors Available

As you are exploring different universities, look closely to see if you can find the accounting major you really want. Read every section carefully as you look for certificates and degrees. If you think you’ve found something you want to check into, call the campus and ask to speak to the accounting department head.

A bachelor’s degree is still important. Just remember that you’ll be one in a crowd of new graduates, so you need to stand out from other candidates in your field. To achieve this, look for a degree that allows you to specialize a little more, such as accounting information systems.

Accreditation

Regional accreditation is one of the most important types of accreditation to look for, while programmatic accreditation is the second.

Regional looks at schools in a specific region of the country. It is academically oriented and focuses on state-owned or not-for-profit universities. Consider this to be the best standard that a school can receive, telling you that the faculty and the degree programs are of high quality. This includes online degree programs as well.

Programmatic accreditation is given to specific degree programs (nursing, accounting, engineering, or others). While these aren’t required, they are still highly attractive, communicating to you and your future employer that the program is of very high quality.

The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) is one programmatic accreditation given to accounting programs from associate up to doctoral degrees. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is another well recognized programmatic accreditation.

Regional accrediting organizations should be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). They accredit colleges and schools in the West, middle states, New England, Northwest, and South. Accreditation of a school or degree program will make you much more attractive to employers.

Program Length

Earning a Bachelor of Science in anything may take about four years. If you come to school from a two-year associate degree program, then the bachelor degree will take closer to two years. You should also consider choosing a concentration so you can specialize your degree and land the job you really want; this may or may not add time to how long it takes to complete your degree.

If you are preparing to earn your master’s degree in accounting, your program and whether or not you are able to attend full-time will dictate how long it takes for you to complete your credits. If you go straight to graduate school from your bachelor’s program, you’ll spend six years in school. Coming back to school after working means you’ll spend about two years, though you will have to have already completed your four-year degree. If you choose an accelerated degree program (bachelor’s and master’s in accounting), you’ll spend about five years in school all together.

What Can You Do with an Accounting Degree?

Entry-Level Staff Accountant:
In this position, your employer will expect you to have a bachelor’s degree, despite its entry-level designation.

  • Average annual salary: $45,000
  • Paraplanner:
    This position will make you a junior member of a team focused on financial planning. You’ll be given tasks that help the team to create a customer’s financial plan.

  • Average annual salary: $46,000
  • Corporate Controller:
    Here, you’ll supervise all accounting and financial functions within your employer’s company.

  • Average annual salary: $100,000
  • Financial Advisor:
    In this position, you may work in a financial institution, which includes insurance companies, or you could start a business of your own and work with individuals or companies who come to you as clients.

  • Average annual salary: $60,000
  • Portfolio Manager:
    Much like a financial advisor, you’ll work with clients, either individuals or companies. However, you’ll be focused on helping them to invest their money wisely rather than creating an overarching plan for how they utilize their monies.

  • Average annual salary: $87,000
  • Senior Accounting Manager:
    You should have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for this position. You’ll likely end up managing a team of accountants and other accounting specialists and may be responsible for reporting accounting information to the upper echelons of your company hierarchy.

  • Average annual salary: $102,000
  • Compliance Officer:
    This position requires at least a bachelor’s degree and will put you in charge of handling issues surrounding compliance with internal or external laws and regulations.

  • Average annual salary: $70,000
  • Tax Accountant:
    You’ll need to hold a bachelor’s degree for this position, which will allow you to prepare and submit taxes for your clients, though you will not be able to represent them to the IRS if they are brought up for audit unless you earn a CPA credential or an enrolled agent designation.

  • Average annual salary: $57,000
  • Certified Public Accountant:
    A bachelor’s degree with a high degree of coursework in business administration and accounting is usually needed for you to earn this certification. However, CPAs are some of the most sought-after accountants in the industry.

  • Average annual salary: $68,000
  • Internal Auditor:
    Depending on your employer, a bachelor’s degree, along with a significant amount of education are required before you can hold this position. You are the internal check for companies to ensure that they are investing wisely and that there is no fraud being perpetrated.

  • Average annual salary: $59,000
  • FAQ

    How much do accountants make?

    Accountants and auditors made $34.40 per hour, which translates to $71,550 annually. The pay is higher for specialists in accounting, and those who have accumulated more experience or gained more credentials to make them worth more to clients or employers.

    Should I get an accounting degree online?

    This is a decision that is yours alone to make. Those who decide to do so, most often do this because of their life situation. However, online degrees are now perceived as being equally as valuable as on-campus degrees, as long as it is accredited properly.

    Sources

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