The Complete Guide to Accounting Degrees

What is accounting? Is Accounting a good major? Looking to choose one of the top accounting schools in the US?

Take a look at this comprehensive and frank examination of the profession of accountancy, the complexities of professional development in the accounting occupation, and what you ought to look for when selecting from the best accounting schools.

Divided into five major sections, this College Choice Guide to Accounting you will provide you with:

What is Accounting?

Accounting is the measurement, processing, and communication of financial information concerning a business or organization.

Sometimes referred to as the “language of business,” accounting measures and assesses the economic activities and information of a given organization for several different parties and users, such as creditors, auditors, managers, regulators, the public, and investors.

Divided into several fields, including financial accounting, management accounting, auditing, and tax accounting, accountancy is both diverse and challenging, providing an array of interesting specializations to help individuals and companies manage their financial resources and capital assets.

Whether you are interested in pursuing an online accounting degree, a Bachelors in Accounting, or a Masters in Accounting from one of the best accounting schools in the country or locally at a regionally-accredited college or university, the accounting field is a necessity for every kind of business and will remain so for as long as people have money to count.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic, Accountants and Auditors with the minimum requirement of a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting make a median income of $67,000 in an industry experiencing a faster than average growth rate.

But is accounting a good major? Statistics like these make it clear that obtaining an accounting degree will deliver both professional and financial satisfaction; a worker with an accounting degree is an asset for a corporation, large or small.

Career Path Overview

Unsurprisingly, accountants are indispensable for any business venture, making the field of accountancy a solid choice for any student interested in choosing a discipline of study that will provide stability, job security, and upward mobility.

While the accounting industry is not known for risky innovation, that doesn’t mean that the industry is not without change.

In recent decades, the areas of forensic accounting and global finance have set new trends and offer exciting opportunities to would-be accountants interested in the cutting-edge of their field.

Mainstays, like traditional public accounting or management accounting, are necessary and maintain their relevance as the industry adapts to changes in money management.

If you are interested in becoming an accountant, there is a tried and true career path to follow that should result in landing a well-paying job with options for career advancement, like certifications in field-specific areas that will focus your professional endeavors.

It is extremely unlikely that you will be able to land an accounting job without the necessary schooling for understanding the nuances of the industry and practices in accounting. Whether you are looking to get an accounting degree online or looking to attend one of the top accounting schools, an accounting degree is considered to be an entry-level requirement for employment and will help you gain access to an exciting disciplines of auditing, financial reporting, and taxation.

Below, you will find information about the most popular type of accounting: The CPA. Other kinds of accountancy have a similar professional progression, but we are going to use the CPA as an example.

Get a Degree

Typically, people interested in accountancy earn a Bachelor’s degree in accounting, which provides them the 150 cumulative credit hours needed to graduate; this amount of school typically takes four years of business school, where accounting programs are housed in a university’s class structure.

Advanced degrees in accounting, like a Master’s in Accounting or a PhD, also exist but are reserved for individuals who wish to work in academia, researching and teaching accounting.

Most importantly, you should decide if you want to be a public accountant or a corporate/business accountant.

Within these two distinct specializations are myriad of concentrations that will allow you to focus your accounting degree toward an industry need, like internal auditing, taxation, managerial accounting and many others which are covered in the next section of this guide.

It should also be noted that online accounting degrees have become rather popular in recent years. If you’re interested in flexibility, affordability, and independence, then an online degree might be right for you. If you decide to get an online degree, be sure that your school is accredited and provides parity resources you might receive at an onsite institution.

Industry Access

If you are simply wanting to be an accountant, a Bachelor’s in Accounting will grant you access to the industry, but it will be severely limiting for your future in the trade, as you will only be able to perform limited tasks like financial record maintenance and preparation.

As an accountant at this level (without any specialization, certification, or licensure) you can also prepare tax returns after passing an examination and being issued a Preparer Identification number from the IRS.

Again, it is important to note that completing an accounting degree is the minimal requirement for work as an entry-level accounting employee; without obtaining CPA certification you will be strictly limited concerning professional growth as an accountant.

Beginning to Work

After becoming an Accounting major but before completing an accounting degree, it is recommended that students work as interns to bolster their résumés and professionally prepare for life in the accounting workforce.

Such opportunities are not rare: many corporations, large and small, offer competitive internships, often with pay. After graduation, you may consider returning to school for a Master’s in Accounting or pursuing certification as a CPA, as both will open professional doors for you.

In accounting, continuing education in the form of one of many kinds of certification is paramount to maintaining professional relevance and job security. See the next section of this guide for information about the various fields of study and the numerous certification options.

Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

To become a CPA is an investment of time, money, and energy. Many people who get a Bachelor’s in Accounting go on to pass the Certified Public Account (CPA) exam which enables them to be upwardly mobile in the industry as a CPA.

Along with at least 40 hours of continuing education in a specific area of accounting and working under the supervision of an actively licensed CPA for a set number of hours, a new CPA can then begin to move beyond accountancy’s menial tasks and into more meaningful activity, like auditing and client representation.

Taking the Exams

The CPA exam is a major hurdle for anyone entering the accounting industry and is a requirement for advancement within professional accounting. The exam, which is a requirement in every state, has four distinct parts which can be taken in any order offered during the first two months of every quarter.

The four exams are: Regulation; Auditing and Attestation; Business Environment and Concepts; and Financial Accounting and Reporting. All four exams must be completed in 18 months. It is recommended that students prepare for these tests in advance by taking test-prep classes and studying independently, as the tests are complex, intricate, and challenging.

Types of Accounting & Certification

After completing a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, it is important to discern what type of accountant you would like to become and the best accounting specialization for you. All average salaries linked below are generalized starting points to give you an idea of a base salary, as the field specializations vary widely. The top accounting schools will offer you—the student—guidance about which specializations are right for your skills and interests.

A Career in Corporate, Banking, and Financial Accounting

In this field of accounting, professionals deal with the capital assets of businesses, corporations, and banking institutions.

Whether an appraisal of the state of assets concern investments or cash on hand, a financial, corporate, or banking accountant performs tasks related to the internal and public uses of an institution’s money including appraisal, compensation, bookkeeping, auditing, analysis, and financial management.

This information is then translated into a public financial record to be reviewed by banks, stockholders, government agencies, or anyone interested in evaluating the company’s financial practices for reasons of investment or partnership. There are several related certifications in this field, each dealing with a particular focus of asset management.

Further Certifications

1

Accredited Senior Appraiser

Abbreviation: ASA

Accrediting Organization

Candidates for this designation must have five full years of appraisal experience, a college degree (or equivalent), and complete course exam requirements for all four of 27-hour discipline-specific valuation courses as well as two appraisals for peer review and approval. Evidence of professional growth via continuing education and professional activity is mandatory for remaining accredited.

2

Certificate in Loan Review

Abbreviation: CLR

Accrediting Organization

Designed for commercial loan review and lending personnel, this certificate is for accountants interested in loan review and its procedures. With this certification, professionals learn about the state and national standards of the lending financial services industry.

3

Certified Bank Auditor

Abbreviation: CBA

Accrediting Organization

Designed to give accountants expertise in the four bank-specific areas of accounting (accounting, auditing and bank law, regulation, and auditing practices for business), this certification requires a CBA exam (three-year completion period), a Bachelor’s degree, and two years of bank auditing experience.

4

Certified Financial Services Auditor

Abbreviation: CFA

Accrediting Organization

For accountants interested in investment management and portfolio analysis, this certification includes three examinations to test the candidate’s ability in investment decision-making.  Each candidate must pass all three exams to earn this certificate.

5

Certified Accounts Payable Associate

Abbreviation: CAPA

Accrediting Organization

For accountants interested in careers in business financial management, this certification offers comprehensive training in the accounts payable profession. To be approved for the exam, candidates must demonstrate employment and affirm the IAPP ethical code. Certification requirements vary depending on education experience. There are certification completion plans and requirements for accountants with bachelor’s degrees, associates degrees, and for non-degree holding personnel. Recertification is necessary and is obtained by continuing education or retaking the exam.

6

Certified Accounts Payable Professional

Abbreviation: CAPP

Accrediting Organization

For International Accounts Payable Professionals (IAPP) members, this is a comprehensive certification for individuals interested in the accounts payable profession. With similar educational requirements as above regarding exams, education, and continuing education, this professional credential is required for personnel working in the field. Employees of federal agencies may be exempt from membership requirements

7

Certified Bookkeeper

For accountants with two years of bookkeeping experience, the exam for this certification covers details of organizational financial management including payroll, depreciation, internal controls, entry adjustment, error correction, and merchandise inventory. Candidates must follow the AIPB code of ethics and pass the national examination.

8

Certified Management Accountant

Abbreviation: CMA

Accrediting Organization

Focused on the connection between financial performance and strategy, this certification offers comprehensive curriculum in accounting and finance-related fields. To achieve this certification, accountants must pass a skills-based, critical thinking and decision making examination.

9

Certified Treasury Professional

Abbreviation: CTP

Accrediting Organization

For treasury and finance professionals, this certification is awarded to people who demonstrate comprehensive mastery in mergers and acquisitions, risk management, corporate governance, capital structure, and cash management. Candidates must have at least two years of work experience in finance-related fields, or in equivalent fields as defined by the AFP to take the computer examination.

A Career in Credit Accounting

In this field of accounting, professionals work to manage credit in ways that will improve revenue and reduce financial burden and risk.

Credit accountants manage access to credit by controlling and collecting payments from customers as well as internally limiting a company’s access to credit so as to keep the financially solvent.

Credit accountants assess risk, maintain cash flow by efficiently collecting money, balancing good and bad debt, set credit criteria, and initiate legal actions to recover money lost from organizations and individuals delinquent on debt payments to the organization.

Further Certifications

1

Certified Credit Executive

Abbreviation: CCE

Accrediting Organization

This executive-level designation credentials accountants capable of managing credit function at the executive level. Education, experience, and industry participation are standard requirements, as is a comprehensive examination over the areas of accounting, finance, management, domestic and international credit models, and law. Recertification is required every three years.

2

Credit Business Associate

Abbreviation: CBA

Accrediting Organization

This introductory academic designation demonstrates mastery over three credit-related disciplines of study: financial accounting, financial statement analysis and business credit principles. With two plans for completing coursework, this designation has no minimum work experience requirements, but does have a comprehensive examination.

3

Credit Business Fellow

Abbreviation: CBF

Accrediting Organization

This participation-based designation is for CBA accredited accountants who demonstrate knowledge in business law, financial statements, credit law, and risk assessment within the aforementioned categories. Passing a comprehensive examination is a requirement.

A Career in Government Accounting

In this field of accounting, professionals ensure that private companies maintain fiscal accountability to the public (the taxpayer) and comply with federal regulations and standards; for example, accountants in this field might review the records of governmental agencies or audit private companies concerning the provision of goods and services or the validity of publicly traded capital. Government accountants audit, set public standards for state and local governments, and create financial reports that are clear, reliable, and relevant to the public so as to keep private companies accountable to their constituents.

Government accountants audit, set public standards for state and local governments, and create financial reports that are clear, reliable, and relevant to the public so as to keep private companies accountable to their constituents.

Further Certifications

1

Certified Defense Financial Manager

Abbreviation: CDFM

Accrediting Organization

This specialization ensures that an accountant has extensive knowledge concerning competencies related to the Department of Defense and financial management. Requiring three comprehensive exams and ethics requirements, persons earning this certification must have 80 hours of continuing professional education every 24 months.

2

Certified Government Auditing Professional

Abbreviation: CGAP

Accrediting Organization

Designed to equip auditors working in the public sector with knowledge of fund accounting, legislative oversight, confidentiality rights, and grants, this certification requires a character reference and at least two years of auditing practice in a government setting.

3

Certified Government Financial Manager

Abbreviation: CGFM

Accrediting Organization

This certification assesses the knowledge and skills for individuals working in government positions—federal, state, and local. Candidates applying for this certification must meet the educational, ethical, and experiential requirements.

4

Certified Public Finance Officer

Abbreviation: CPFO

Accrediting Organization

Designed to assess the knowledge of individuals working in government finance, this certification requires five exams which cover government finance.

A Career in Information Technology Accounting

In this field of accounting, specialists help to integrate new technologies into an organization’s accounting process to help to streamline, update, and systematize accounting practices for digital consumption and use. Often working collaboratively with IT departments, these accountants ensure that equipment and software related to a company’s accounting practices run smoothly and perform accounting tasks efficiently with maximum attention to user-friendly performance and security.

Further Certifications

1

Certified Information Security Manager

Abbreviation: CISM

Accrediting Organization

For accountants with information security management experience and responsibility, this designation provides executive managers with practice and knowledge to be an effective security management consultant or adviser.

2

Certified Information Systems Auditor

Abbreviation: CISA

Accrediting Organization

With international acclaim, this credential signifies expertise in controls, security, and information systems auditing. This is the preferred designation for systems auditors from around the world and is considered a serious career advancement in the field of systems auditing.

3

Certified Information Technology Professional

Abbreviation: CITP

Accrediting Organization

This certification, held by an array of individuals in technology, academia, and business, is for candidates who demonstrate a broad range of technology skills to applied business solutions. To achieve this certification, individuals must complete 200 hours of technology education in a designated period of time.

A Career in Operations Management Accounting

This field of accountancy concerns the delivery of essential financial and non-financial administrative information to managers within a company. Accountants working in this field are in charge of preparing concise and accessible information concerning finances for employees who make strategic performance decisions for companies as well as assess risk by identifying and measuring the organization’s financial state against its objectives.

Further Certifications

1

Certified in Integrated Resource Management

Abbreviation: CIRM

Accrediting Organization

Designed to enhance collaboration among business functions including marketing and sales, human resources, product development, and finance, this certification includes five modules that must be completed. Modules cover enterprise concepts and fundamentals, identifying and creating demand, designing products and processes, delivering products and services, and integrated enterprise management.

2

Certified in Production and Inventory Management

Abbreviation: CPIM

Accrediting Organization

This certification is for accountants interested in production and inventory management, operations, supply chain management, procurement, materials management, and purchasing. This designation is primarily focused on manufacturing, providing a detailed understanding of scheduling, production planning, quality improvement, and forecasting. This certification is a precursor for more advanced certifications concerning management, production, and inventory.

3

Certified Supply Chain Professional

Abbreviation: CSCP

Accrediting Organization

For accountants interested in supply chain management, this designation offers a comprehensive and integrated examination of supply chain business theory and all those working with enterprise resource planning systems, from supplier to customer.

A Career in Payroll and Compensation Accounting

In this specialization of accountancy, employees engage in recording, organizing, and maintaining an organization’s employee compensation. Accountants working in this area keep track of gross wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses as well as attend to and help employees understand the federal income taxes, state/local taxes, Medicare taxes, and Social Security taxes removed from their paychecks.

Further Certifications

1

Certified Payroll Professional

Abbreviation: CPP

Accrediting Organization

With the successful completion of an examination covering payroll processes and systems, accounting, and compensation management and administration, this designation lasts for five years, which can be renewed by retaking the exam or through continuing education. This certification indicates mastery of all payroll-related practices and concepts.

2

Fundamental Payroll Certification

Abbreviation: FPC

Accrediting Organization

For accountants interested in receiving entry-level payroll positions, this designation demonstrates beginner competency in payroll practice. With the completion of an exam, this certification offers its recipient a basic understanding of the payroll industry, systems analysis, and payroll service. Recertification compliance comes from retaking the examination or completing approved continuing education hours.

A Career in Personal Financial Accounting

Personal finance accountants work with individual clients and families to help them manage wealth. A personal finance accountant helps people understand the ways money works, teaching them how to budget and save, generate wealth over time, and plan for future life circumstances that require substantial amounts of money, such as retirement or saving for college.

Further Certifications

1

Certified Financial Planner

Abbreviation: CFP

Accrediting Organization

Accountants earning this certification must meet rigorous professional standards and adhere to ethical and professional standards of responsibility in client interactions. After passing an exam, this certification must be renewed every two years.

2

Elder Care Specialist

Abbreviation: ECS

Accrediting Organization

This credential is for accountants who prepare clients for the financial challenges of retirement, estate and trust planning, and financial planning for seniors. Ideal candidates must demonstrate customer sensitivity and communication skills in dealing with the elderly, pass an examination with a 70% score, and complete relevant training.

3

Personal Finance Specialist

Abbreviation: PFS

Accrediting Organization

This accounting credential is awarded to individuals who blend together business insight with personal integrity through experience with one of the six financial planning disciplines (cash flow, risk management, investment, tax, retirement, and estate).

A Career in Public Accounting

In this specialization of accounting, employees serve clients like businesses, governments, non-profits, and individuals to provide audits of financial records, tax preparation, and consultation concerning the financial implications of large-scale monetary risks, like acquisitions and mergers. Typically, when people think of the accounting profession, this is the kind of employee they have in mind.

Further Certifications

1

Accredited Business Accountant

Abbreviation: ABA

Accrediting Organization

For accountants specializing business law and ethic, finance, reporting, and tax prep for midsize businesses and financial advisement for individuals and families, candidates for this certification must have at least three years of work experience and achieve at least a 70% on the ABA exam.

2

Accredited in Business Valuation

Abbreviation: ABV

Accrediting Organization

For accountants with comprehensive skills in business valuation services, this credential allows competent accountants with certifications in bank auditing, valuation analysis, or chartered financial analysis to advance after completing 75 hours of lifelong learning activity, an exam, and ten business valuation engagements.

3

Certified Public Accountant

Abbreviation: CPA

Accrediting Organization

This popular certification covers a broad spectrum of accounting practices including attestation and auditing, financial accounting and reporting, regulation, and business environment and concepts. Accountants can earn this certification by passing the Uniform CPA Examination and meeting the requirements of the state board where the accountant intends to practice.

4

Certified Valuation Analyst

Abbreviation: CVA

Accrediting Organization

Accountants with this certification perform business and intangible asset valuations. To achieve this certification, the candidate must have a valid CPA license, complete a two-part exam, submit six references (three business, three personal), and be a NACVA member in good standing as well as complete an extensive multi-day training.

A Career in Risk Management, Fraud, and Audit Accounting

In this field, accountants help clients examine business practices and assess the risk of such practices, investigate fraudulent financial practices, and independently audit the finances of institutions. People who work in this field help corporations and individuals minimize or eliminate risk in its myriad forms, including fraud, money laundering, and poor investing.

Further Certifications

1

Accredited Valuation Analyst

Abbreviation: AVA

Accrediting Organization

For accountants interested in performing intangible asset valuations for corporations, community consultation, and user service, this designation requires a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in business administration from a nationally accredited college or university. Applicants must submit proof of substantive business valuation experience, letters of reference (both character and professional) and pass an examination.

2

Anti-Money Laundering Professional

Abbreviation: AMLP

Accrediting Organization

With a minimum of 10 years of experience required for grandfathering rights, or the completion of a proficiency exam for candidates with less than 10 years of experience, this designation is for those with interests in bank securities and anti-money laundering efforts. Three years of work experience and a bachelor’s degree from a nationally accredited college or university are requirements.

3

Certification in Control Self-Assessment

Abbreviation: CCSA

Accrediting Organization

Earned by successfully completing the CCSA exam, this specialty certification is for control self-assessment personnel who meet the eligibility requirements of training, facilitation experience, work experience, education, and character.

4

Certified Forensic Financial Analyst

Abbreviation: CFFA

Accrediting Organization

Specialists with this certification provide competent, professional forensic financial support service to legal communities. Candidates must have business valuation credentials, a master’s degree, and be serving as a practitioner member NACVA in good standing with extensive experience in litigation consultation. Candidates must complete a five-day training program and submit two legal references as well as pass a comprehensive exam.