What Are the Requirements for a Career in Accounting?

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Written by: Holland Webb

Accountants help businesses create viable financial plans. These professionals keep fastidious records, apply knowledge of complex financial procedures, and help companies maintain legal compliance. Accountants solve problems, provide financial advice, and build rapport with clients.

Professionals in the accounting field are typically detail-oriented, with a strong sense of ethics and an eye for financial structures. Many accountants are also passionate about entrepreneurship and business development. These professionals work to balance human diplomacy with financial accuracy.

Accounting job requirements usually include a bachelor’s degree in the field. However, some advanced positions require a master’s degree. Accounting professionals with the certified professional accountant (CPA) credential typically earn the highest salaries.

Professional Certification and Licensure

Most non-licensed accountants perform basic functions such as bookkeeping and general account maintenance. They may also handle simple tax matters. CPAs deal with more complex accounting tasks.

To obtain the CPA credential, individuals must meet state certification requirements and pass the uniform CPA examination. Requirements vary by state, but CPA candidates must generally have a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a certain amount of experience in the field. Most states require CPAs to complete continuing education requirements to maintain their certification.

Accountants often pursue the CPA credential to qualify for higher salaries. According to PayScale, accountants earn an average annual salary of about $51,000 while certified professional accountants earn an average of about $66,000 per year. In addition to CPA certification, accountants can pursue specialized credentials to qualify for high-level positions. The list below includes credentials that accountants can earn to advance professionally.

  • Chartered global management accountant (CGMA)
  • Certified management accountant (CMA)
  • Certified internal auditor (CIA)
  • Certified fraud examiner (CFE)
  • Certified financial planner (CFP)
  • Chartered financial analyst (CFA)
  • Certified information systems advisor (CISA)

High School Courses of Study

High school students who aspire to accounting careers should take advanced math and computer science classes, particularly precalculus and calculus. Coursework in business, economics, statistics, and computer coding can also help students prepare for college-level accounting work. Students can reduce the length and expense of their college education by taking AP math courses in high school.

To gain practical experience, high school students can also join an accounting or business club and volunteer with organizations that help individuals prepare tax returns.

College Courses of Study

Bachelor’s-level accounting degree requirements typically include 120 credits of general education coursework, business classes, and accounting courses. Students earning a master’s degree in the field generally complete three to 36 credits, which focus exclusively on accounting. Ph.D. programs typically require 60 credits and culminate in a final project or dissertation.

Business Law

In this course, students investigate legal aspects of business. Learners explore legal issues and regulations that apply to businesses and study their impact on organizational decision-making. Course topics include contracts, employment law, internet law, and tort and product liability. Learners also consider the ethical and legal responsibilities of U.S. companies that conduct business internationally.

Money and Banking

Students learn about the regulations and internal operations of the banking industry. The course explores the industry’s role in the national economy and provides an overview of international banking. Learners consider the effects of monetary policy on employment, prices, and growth. This class prepares students for careers in banking and corporate finance.

Estate and Gift Taxation

Students learn about the federal taxation applied to gratuitous transfers made during a taxpayer’s lifetime. The course also examines property transfers following an individual’s death. Learners consider regulations, case law, and relevant statutes. Students develop strategies to plan estates and gift exchanges.

Detection and Prevention of Fraudulent Financial Statements

This graduate-level course introduces students to the fields of forensic accounting and fraud examination. Learners examine the impact of various types of fraud, along with common scams and fraud schemes. Students develop techniques to detect, review, and investigate possible financial statement fraud.

Advanced Auditing

Students in this course explore advanced auditing topics, such as ethical and behavioral concerns for auditors and what happens when audits go wrong. Learners deliver presentations, review case studies, and study current auditing research. This course typically requires an undergraduate background in business and accounting.

Graduate Degrees in Accounting

Graduate students can pursue a master’s in accounting, an MBA with an emphasis in accounting, or a master’s in accountancy. These master’s-level options feature similar curricula, and each program prepares accountants to pass the uniform CPA exam.

A master’s in accounting can lead to a position as a financial controller, financial analyst, tax manager, or chief financial officer. According to PayScale, accountants with a master’s-level education earn an average salary of about $70,000 per year.

A Ph.D. program is ideal for accountants who want to teach at the college level or study accounting theory. Most doctorate-holders in the field teach at a college or university. According to PayScale, accounting professors earn an average salary of about $77,500 per year.

Continuing Education

Some accountant licenses require ongoing education. To qualify for renewal, CPAs must complete a certain number of continuing professional education units. Specific continuing education requirements vary by state. For example, California requires CPAs to complete 20 continuing education hours each year. Accounting education requirements for professionals in the state include coursework in ethics and regulatory review, along with at least 40 continuing education hours in technical subjects.

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