Accounting Career Guide – Jobs, Salary and Degree Information

Accounting Career Guide

Accounting is a crucial part of every organization. It is essential for the smooth financial operation of businesses. Examining financial records, preparing financial audits, identifying opportunities, assessing risks, computing taxes, and making financial management recommendations are some of the responsibilities and obligations of an accountant

With the advancement in modern technology, some of the routine tasks involved in accounting can be left to computers and applications, allowing professionals to concentrate on other duties that require human intelligence. Salary in this line of work more than makes up for the output expected of those who want to pursue an accounting career.

Accounting Career Guide

Several factors, such as a growing economy, global development, and complex and ever-changing tax laws and regulations, positively affect the need for accountants in various industries. Different levels of accounting degrees and specializations are required for several industries and career accounting paths. 

Table of Contents

Why Earning an Accounting Degree Pays Off

There are currently 1,440,000+ accounting jobs in the United States. The number is only expected to go up, even considering those employees who will retire. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected that the job outlook for accountants and auditors for 2021 to 2031 will grow by 6%.

There will be around 81,800 job openings yearly for those interested in pursuing an accounting career. The demand is so high that numerous companies even recruit graduating students straight off from universities and colleges. 

Accountants have busy seasons throughout the year, specifically during tax seasons and quarterly audits. Most in the accounting profession work in offices and usually have a team that works with them on several accounts, while some go to private practice and even work from home. Official travels to their client’s business establishments are also part of the job. 

Degrees to Launch an Accounting Career

Accounting Career Guide

The degree you hold forms part of the qualifications for any job opening in the accounting field. Employers prefer a degree in Accounting or other business-related degrees such as Business administration.

The good news is that learning and earning a degree are no longer confined to the four corners of the classroom. You can take courses through online degree programs that most universities and colleges offer. Another option is blended learning which includes both traditional learning and online learning.

Those interested in shifting or furthering their education are now afforded the flexibility to manage their time following their lifestyle. It must be noted that taking up courses and completing degrees from accredited educational institutions is advisable. 

Associate Degree in Accounting 

An associate degree comprises two years of introduction and foundational learning about accounting principles, mathematics, business, and economics. Some colleges offer one-year accelerated programs for those who want to finish the degree in a shorter period.

There are also different associate degrees to choose from: Associate of Arts, Science, or Applied Science in Accounting. If you want more choices in electives, an A.A. in accounting is more suitable. An AS in accounting is the perfect choice for focused learning and pursuing a bachelor’s degree. At the same time, an AAS in accounting is the best preparation for seeking employment after completing the program.

An associate degree will equip aspirants with the basic knowledge needed for entering the workforce or proceeding to a bachelor’s program. After the program, students earn up to 65 units of coursework. 

Some of the positions available to associate degree graduates are accounting assistant, bookkeeper, and payroll clerk. In some instances, associate degree holders are given entry-level accounting positions depending on the internships and experiences they have acquired. 

Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

Most employers require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum educational requirement for a career in accounting. A more intensive and in-depth discussion of accounting, business, and finance principles, as well as practical applications, can be expected from the 120 credits included in the programs under this degree. Associate degree graduates who decide to proceed may have the units they have earned credited and finish the bachelor’s degree in less than four years. 

This 4-year program can either be a bachelor of arts, science, or business administration. Although focusing on different aspects of accounting, any of these curricula paves the way for a career in accounting and business. 

Bachelor’s degree holders can apply to be financial analysts, tax examiners, cost estimators, or corporate accountants. Other options for graduates aside from joining the workforce are to complete the requirement to take the CPA examination or pursue a master’s degree. 

accounting career guide

Master’s Degree in Accounting

Generally, a master’s degree is the highest educational requirement most employers demand from applicants for top positions. Applicants with a master’s degree are sought after by big accounting firms and businesses. Master degree holders in accounting also earn higher wages than their counterparts in business administration and finance.  

Bachelor’s degree graduates who want to be credentialed as Certified Public Accountants (CPA) will earn a master’s degree to meet the 150-credit requirement before taking the examination. It also prepares them to get certified as management accountants, internal auditors, or public bookkeepers.

Completion of a master’s degree usually takes a maximum of two years. This includes advanced courses on accounting information systems, accounting and auditing theories, international accounting, professional ethics, and other specialized electives. The different types of master’s degrees are master’s in accounting, master of science in accounting, master of professional accountancy, and master of business administration in accounting. 

Master degree holders most likely become financial, management, forensic, public accountants, budget analysts, staff accountants, or auditors. 

Doctoral Degree in Accounting

Accountants specializing in a particular area of the profession may pursue a doctoral degree. Graduate management admission test (GMAT) or graduate record examination (GRE) scores are considered for admission. Although not mandatory, a master’s degree in accounting is typically required for admission to a Ph.D. program. 

A candidate must comply with the research requirement before being conferred with a Ph.D. title. The research topic must concentrate on the accounting area the candidate aims to specialize in. Excellent writing skills are also a must.

With a Ph.D. and completion of up to 120 credits, professionals become highly qualified for top positions in leading industries. This means greater chances for career advancement and salary increase. Those with a Ph.D. often become financial managers, college professors, or public policy researchers. The BLS projects that the demand for these positions will increase further in the coming years. 

This is another option aside from obtaining certifications from recognized associations, and one can be considered an expert in the area of specialization after completing the same. 

accounting career guide

Accounting Specializations for Career Advancement

Forensic Accounting. If you have a knack for investigating, consider Forensic Accounting! Going through loads of information and data to look for evidence of financial fraud, securities fraud, and embezzlement is the main description of this job. Forensic accountants thoroughly understand laws, investigative methods, and technological knowledge. 

Managerial Accounting. Some accountants are born leaders, and some work hard to become one. Specializing in managerial accounting prepares professionals to lead an organization through budgeting and performance evaluation. Taking time to focus on this study hones decision-making, critical thinking, and strategies regarding the financial aspect of a business or institution. 

Public Accounting. Those looking to work in the local, state, or federal government may concentrate on this area. It primarily involves the study of taxation laws and material preparations for different institutions. Part of the job description is auditing, accounting, and consulting, and public accountants usually work for accounting firms or hold their own private offices.

Internal Auditing. This specialization focuses on an in-depth and comprehensive evaluation of corporations’ and agencies’ financial records.

Scholarships and Programs to Make your Way Through an Accounting Degree

Accounting Career Guide

A good education does not come cheap. The National Center for Education Statistics has reported that a two-year associate degree costs around $20,200. On the other hand, the cost of a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree greatly varies depending on the educational institution, type of learning, and other factors. 

Some may afford the tuition on their account or be fully supported by their parents, but other aspiring accountant students have several options, such as scholarships, grants, loans, work-study arrangements, and employer financing programs. 

Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid covers different types of financial aid, from grants, scholarships, work-study jobs, loans, aid for military families, and aid for international study. To be eligible, minimum requirements include a valid Social Security number, acceptance for enrollment as a regular student, and maintaining satisfactory academic performance, among others. There are different criteria for special situations, like non-U.S. citizens and those with criminal convictions.

Scholarships. Various private and public or government organizations, foundations, and agencies offer accounting scholarship programs. Educational institutions themselves provide scholarship opportunities for their enrollees. Most of these scholarships only require students to maintain a high-grade point average (GPA). Some available scholarships for accounting majors are AICPA, Business Advisor, Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting (EFWA), and Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). 

Grants. These are aids given to students based on their economic status and need for financial help with their studies. It usually doesn’t have a pre-condition and does not require a grade to be maintained. 

Loans. There are several loan options for students. The U.S. Department of Education has the William. D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program is the country’s largest federal loan program. There is also the Federal Perkins Loan Program, state loans, and other private student loan options.  

Sectors Where Accounting is in High Demand

The demand for employees and professionals in the accounting field here in the U.S. and on the international scene has constantly increased over the years. Varying industries require specific types of accountants depending on the nature of their organization or business. Some have higher demands and hire a greater number of accountants than others. If you are fresh from university, having a career change, or simply looking for a new work environment, you may want to consider the following options: 

Government. The local, state, and federal governments require accountants’ expertise in examining their records and that of private entities under their jurisdiction. Interested applicants must possess in-depth knowledge of government and tax laws and regulations.

Finance and Insurance. There are around 6,000 insurance companies in the U.S., and all of these companies require an accountant’s expertise. Accountants in this sector are involved in asset valuation and assessing risks for the company or institution they work for. It is also no question that the finance sector, which includes banks, real estate firms, and investment companies, requires a professional to handle its financial aspect. 

Management. This sector serves private businesses and organizations. It encompasses other subsectors, including industrial, corporate, cost, and private accounting careers. The primary responsibility of management accountants is to help private institutions make decisions regarding the financial aspect of doing business.

Healthcare. Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare institutions require a professional for bookkeeping, budgeting, auditing, and managing finances. These are necessary to ensure that the institution runs efficiently within its financial capacity and assets. 

accounting career guide

What You Should Do to Jumpstart an Accounting Career

Get Licensed. Taking the national exam to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) enhances your prospect for a high-paying job and attracts more clients. To qualify for the CPA examination, students must complete at least 150 hours of related college courses. It must be noted that finishing a bachelor’s degree only guarantees 120 hours of coursework. The additional 30 hours can be met by several years of accounting experience. 

All states utilize the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants or AICPA’s Uniform CPA Examination. It comprises four parts, and candidates are given 18 months to pass all parts after passing one. 

Obtain Certifications. Some different organizations and associations provide certifications for accountants depending on the sector or specialization they belong in. The following are some of the recognized institutions that offer examinations for additional credentials:

1. Association of Government Accountants. AGA is a member organization for financial management professionals in the government. Whether at the local, state, or federal level, those working in the government may take the Certified Government Financial Manager certification. This certification establishes accounting competency and auditing, financial reporting, budgeting, and internal controls. 

2. Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. To be internationally recognized and designated as a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA), students must complete CIMA’s program either for business accounting or professional qualification. After that, an examination will be given, and a minimum of work experience is required before being given the designation. 

3. Institute of Management Accountants. IMA is another institute that offers Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credentials to holders of a bachelor’s degree who have met the required minimum work experience in management accounting. The CMA consists of a two-part examination. Passers are then given the option to further enhance their knowledge and skills through the Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis (CSCA) credential. 

4. American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. CPAs may choose a more specialized credential offered by AICPA. The different certifications provided by the institutions include Personal Financial Specialist (PFS), Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF), Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP), Certified in Entity and Intangible Valuations (CEIV), and Certified in the Valuation of Financial Instruments (CVFI). Credentialed members will be equipped with the tools and resources necessary for their chosen field of specialization. 

Complete Continuing Education Units. Most of the certifications mentioned above, aside from passing an examination, require the completion of continuing professional education (CPE). This is not just merely to comply with the conditions set forth by concerned agencies. It also keeps professionals abreast of the recent developments and amendments in the field of accounting. 


accounting career guide

5 High Paying Accounting Careers

The median yearly wage for auditors and accountants in 2021 was $77,250, with 6% highest-paid professionals making $128,680. The following are some accounting careers with great pay:

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Annual Salary: $318,590 to $535,464

Sometimes referred to as director or vice president of finance, chief financial officers are considered top-level executives or C-suite. They are responsible for supervising the overall financial and accounting aspect of the company. Submitting reports and presentations to the board of directors and chief executive officer about financial matters and discussing plausible solutions and possible investments is the primary role of a chief financial officer

A CFO maintains relationships within the company and sees that the company has good relations with external institutions like banks. Financial planning, taxation matters, cash flow, and analysis of strengths and weaknesses are the areas of concern for a CFO. 

No accountant instantly becomes a CFO. It takes years of dedication to the field, relevant work experience, advanced degrees, and certifications. CFOs are also called Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) who have a mastery of accounting, analysis, investment, and banking skills. 

CFOs can be promoted to CEOs, chief operating officers, and even presidents of companies they work for. Sometimes in the absence of these superior officers, they can serve as officers in charge.


Financial Controller

Annual Salary: $199,200 to $284,100

A financial controller is considered the lead accountant of a company or organization. They oversee the overall financial operation and ensure that the company books are accurate. It is quite a diverse job. It includes project management, regulatory compliance, debt management, payroll, and administrative duties. They work closely with the company’s chief financial and accounting officers, treasurers, and finance managers, if any, in decision-making. 

Senior executives rely on the financial data financial controllers provide to make business decisions. The focus of the job is more on the company’s internal financial processes rather than external transactions. It may require in-depth knowledge of accounting systems and software. 

This is a technical role and requires expertise paired with experience in a similar line of work. Although not a requirement, passing the CPA examination would show a professional’s accounting acumen and increase the chances of promotion. Getting certified as a financial controller, analyst, or chartered management accountant is also an alternative to passing the CPA examination. 


Management Accountant

Annual Salary: $66,802 to $77,903

Management accountants, also known as managerial or corporate accountants, analyze financial data to help senior executives make sound decisions regarding the company’s investment and profitability. They also develop strategies to minimize costs and expenses by pinpointing where operational costs can be reduced. Examining past trends to anticipate the company’s future demands is management accountants’ primary goal. 

The main concern of management accountants is the company’s general operations. In-depth knowledge of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), strategic planning, and budget planning are some of the competencies required for the job. The accountant also prepares balance sheets and income and cash flow statements. However, some of these tasks are designated to other lower-level accountants in bigger firms or departments. 

Most management accountants start as staff accountants. They get certified or designated as a chartered global management accountant to advance in the field. A big part of the job includes budgeting, but some also specialize in taxation. With enough experience, accountants can start to climb up the career ladder. 


Information Technology Accountant

Annual Salary: $67,250 to $84,757

Accountants who are tech-savvy and knowledgeable about computer systems are fitting for this career path. Finding errors in terabytes of information, looking for ways to correct the same, and problem-solving summarize the job description of an I.T. accountant. 

Information technology accountants are in charge of selecting and maintaining the information systems utilized by the company’s accounting department. This means that the company’s financial data, storage, and integrity are all managed by I.T. accountants. Their task is to simplify going through and analyzing loads of financial data and other information. 

Taking computer science or engineering courses keeps professionals qualified for positions in departments that utilize modern, digital technology. 


Forensic Accountant

Salary: $62,000 to $87,000

When leaning into the legal aspect of the practice, forensic accounting is an excellent option. This career path involves examining financial records and books to look for evidence that can be used in legal proceedings such as personal injury or insurance claims. Forensic accountants can be involved in fraud, business disputes, divorces, computers, white-collar crimes, embezzlement, money laundering, tax evasion, and other criminal cases. 

The job requires meticulous investigative skills and testifying in court as an expert witness. Knowledge of taxation, criminal, and related laws is a basic requirement. Hence, extensive training and learning must be undergone by an aspiring applicant. Being a Certified Public Accountant or taking a master’s degree also increases students’ prospects to work in this area of specialization. 

Strong writing skills and good communication skills are also a must in this field as written reports are to be submitted, and communications with clients, law enforcement, attorneys, and other interested parties are part of the job. 

Private institutions may hire forensic accountants to investigate internal matters, work with private investigators, or assist public agencies. 


accounting career guide

Professional Competencies you Sharpen over your Accounting Career

Attention to Detail. Accountants examine hundreds and thousands of financial records that require great attention to detail. They must possess this crucial quality, as a single entry or detail can affect an entire record. 

Critical Thinking Skills. An accounting job requires analysis of data, risk assessment, identifying present and possible future issues, and recommending solutions. As an accountant, you can expect your organization or business to turn to you to solve its problems, specifically in the financial aspect. 

Decision Making. There will come a time when professionals must come up with sensible decisions to resolve difficult situations within a short period. Accountants need sharp decision-making skills. 

Interpersonal Skills. Reading and analyzing financial records is not the accountants’ only source of information. They often communicate with clients, managers, senior officers, and the board of directors to fully assess and identify the institution or business’ goal and capacity. It must be noted that accountants likewise submit written and present oral reports to these same people. Accountants also work in teams and coordinate with other departments, which demands effective communication.

Mathematical Skills. It is a fact that most data involved and utilized in finance is in numerals. Analyzing this type of data requires basic and advanced mathematical skills, including statistics and calculus. 

Organizational Skills. Aside from the basic organizing skills demanded by multiple projects and clients, accountants must be adept in delegation, project, and time management skills. As mentioned earlier, tax season and quarterly audits are busy seasons for an accountant. It is during these times that excellent time management skills would come in handy. Prioritizing which projects to work on first and which tasks to delegate to other team members would be more efficient in producing outputs and meeting deadlines.  

Work Ethic. It entails a sense of responsibility, reliability, productivity, and dedication to doing accounting work. The more extensive the experience, the more you realize the magnitude of the task at hand.

A degree in Accounting presents many opportunities and great pay for professionals. Now that you have seen the path to an accounting career, the salary you can potentially earn, the degrees best suited to your chosen specialization, and the skills needed as an accountant, you can now make a well-informed decision and make the first step towards a brighter accounting career.


accounting career guide

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