Any business that is moving serious money needs an accountant, and in spite of its dry reputation, the field of accounting holds diverse career options and learning opportunities. Accountants can balance the books at small businesses, manage accounts for Wall Street hedge funds, or keep track of donations at a non-profit organization. A degree in accounting can be the key to a secure a lucrative career.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Accounting Degree
There are several degrees that qualify you to practice accounting, some of which are more business management and administration oriented, and some of which focus entirely on accounting. A typical bachelor’s in accountancy or business with an emphasis on accounting is 120 credit hours, which will take three to four years, depending on how many classes you can take per term.
- An Associate of Applied Sciences Degree in accounting is the quickest way to earn an accounting credential. This degree can be completed in two years of full time classes, and requires between 60-70 credit hours. This degree will likely only prepare you for entry-level accounting jobs such as a bookkeeper or an accounting clerk, but the credits may transfer to a Bachelor of Accountancy program if you want to go back to school later.
- A Bachelor of Accountancy degree focuses entirely on accounting, and will prepare you for many types of accounting career. With a Bachelor of Accountancy you can be a bookkeeper, auditor, financial analyst, or tax specialist, among other options.
- A Bachelor of Business Accounting (B.B.A.) is a more general degree that incorporates business practice and management classes as well as accounting classes. A B.B.A. can prepare you to take on diverse roles in management, budgeting, and bookkeeping in small, new companies or huge corporations. A B.B.A. could prepare you to start and manage your own business as well.
- A Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) offers similar preparation to the B.B.A. You can choose to focus on accounting or other aspects of business. If you wish to enter accounting at a higher level, you can pursue an advanced accounting degree after finishing your B.Com.
After getting a degree, most accountants need to pass a licensure test to become a Certified Public Accountant. This is a national standard for public accountants, and many states require local certification as well. In spite of their designation, Certified Public Accountants can also be hired in the private sector. Maintaining your accounting credentials may require taking continuing education classes and being re-tested every three years.
What Are Some Career Options for Accountants
The basic traits required for being a good accountant include: detail orientation, focus, and the ability to make sense of large amounts of data at once. These skills are widely applicable in the world of business. The type of organization you work in will also affect the type of work you do, and whether you are strictly an accountant, or a manager with accounting duties, or the chief financial officer of your own company.
- Bookkeeper: This job will require you to keep track of all the money that goes in and out of your company. From employee paychecks to the gas bill for the company jet, you’ll keep track of every cent, and your attention to detail is crucial. One mistake will have ripple effects throughout the company budget. This is an entry-level position, and if you handle it well you will likely move up in the company.
- Clerk: This job is similar to a bookkeeper, but a little less exciting. Balancing the books and preparing financial presentations will be your main duties, but again, this position likely has room for growth for the right candidate.
- Auditor: Most companies need their finances to be audited every year or every two years, either because of regulations or just to make sure that everything is running smoothly. An auditor casts fresh eyes on the accounting records and checks that necessary accounting practices are being implemented, regulations followed, and safeguards against financial mismanagement are in place. All types of financial records need to be audited sometimes, from individual tax papers to huge investment banks’ records. Companies often maintain internal auditors, so that when the IRS or other regulatory agency comes knocking, they can rest easy knowing their books are in order.
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO): This is the top of the finance pyramid at a given organization. The CFO manages all financial aspects of a company, and is in charge of the accountants and other financial workers in the organization. CFOs manage financial risk and make strategic decisions regarding the company’s investments. CFOs are typically well paid, and may have to work long hours and be deeply involved in the operation of a company.
The many job titles available to accountants can have different implications depending on the type of company they work at. The CFO at a non-profit will likely have different duties than the CFO at an investment bank or a chain of retail stores.
Job Market for Accountants
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics asserts that “[e]mployment of accountants and auditors is expected to grow by 22 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.”
In a time when job growth is stagnant or even negative in most quarters, a degree in a field that the U.S. government predicts will grow rapidly can offer rare peace of mind. The incomes for various segments of the accountant population are encouraging as well. The median annual salary of accountants and auditors was $59,430 in May, 2008. Bachelor’s degree candidates in accounting in July, 2009 were offered an average $48,993 per year salary.
Entry level accounting jobs offer slightly less tantalizing salaries, but since these jobs are typically a foot in the door, which can lead to a higher-level position, don’t let the lesser salaries turn you off. In May 2008 the median annual wages of bookkeepers, accounting clerks, and auditing clerks were $32,510.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Learning Accounting Online
Accounting is data-centric and most of the required duties for accountants are done on a computer, so online universities provide a fairly comprehensive education in this field. However, having your work carefully checked is crucial. There is little room for personal expression. There is a right way to do the work, and there is a wrong way. For some students, not having a professor present to answer questions about the minute details of an assignment may make it harder to absorb the important parts.
Accounting requires intense record keeping skills, so the nature of online classes may actually benefit accounting students. Since everything you submit is automatically archived, whether in your email or through class management software like Coursekit or Moodle, it is easy to go back and double check your work, review class materials, or even review a chat you had with your professor. People with a knack for accounting may appreciate the automatic archiving of all electronic communication that is such an integral part of online education.
More Resources for Accounting Info
There is a wealth of information about accounting on the Internet for people just getting started in the field and veterans looking to learn new technology or just amp up their skills.
From the outside, it is hard to see how varied and fulfilling a degree and career in accounting can be, but with excellent job growth projections and desirable paychecks, the field of accounting is worth a second look for anyone who is interested.