Accounting Careers

Discover the benefits of pursuing a job in accounting. Learn more about job outlook, relevant skills, and how to advance your career.
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Portions of the following article were drafted using an in-house natural language generation platform. The article was then reviewed, fact-checked, and edited by multiple members of our editorial team prior to publishing.

There are many different careers in accounting, many of which offer lucrative salaries. For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for accountants and auditors was $78,000 in May 2022.

Additionally, the high demand for these professionals typically leads to strong job prospects for those pursuing entry-level rolesl; however, the amount of graduate students entering the workforce often makes jobs with the best firms much more competitive.

This guide outlines how to start your accounting career, including which degrees can land you the position you want and what your salary potential could be.

Why Pursue a Career in Accounting?

Pursuing a career in accounting offers many benefits, including job security, high salaries, and potential for advancement. Accounting professionals play critical roles in the management of financial systems and can find opportunities in virtually every industry. With the right qualifications and experience, accountants can also rapidly rise through the ranks to secure senior positions that can offer double the salary of entry-level roles.

The skills acquired in accounting are transferable to other business-related areas, providing career flexibility. The field is also evolving with technology, enabling professionals to work remotely while managing finances. Accountants play a vital role in the success of businesses and have the potential to make a meaningful impact on people's lives, which can add a sense of purpose to the profession.

Featured Online Accounting Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Accounting Career Outlook

The BLS projects jobs for accountants and auditors to grow 4% between 2022 and 2032, or as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is partly due to globalization, a growing economy, and a complex tax and regulatory environment, leading to a strong demand for accountants and auditors.

The BLS expects about 126,500 openings for accountants and auditors each year, on average, over the decade. Many of these openings are anticipated due to the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or retire. The median annual wage for accountants and auditors was $78,000 in May 2022.

Skills Gained With an Accounting Degree

While earning your degree in accounting, you can develop skills that can benefit you in the field as well as in other roles. These include the ability to examine and interpret complex financial data, communicate findings clearly, and work well with others. Accountants should also have strong organizational skills to manage documentation and meet deadlines, critical thinking to address errors and discrepancies, and adaptability to keep up with the evolving accounting landscape and technological advances.

Depending on your specialization, you may also gain a firm understanding of budgeting and corporate finance or comprehensive knowledge of government regulations.

Accounting Career Paths

Those who earn degrees in accounting can pursue a variety of careers, with many specializations and work environments to choose from. The two main paths in accounting are public accounting and private accounting. Public accountants provide a range of services related to advising, taxes, and auditing for multiple clients. Private accountants typically work within a single organization's finance department.

Specializations in accounting include:

  • Tax Accountant
  • Financial Accountant
  • Government Accountant
  • Management Accountant
  • Auditor
  • Fraud Investigator
  • Entrepreneur
  • Accounting Professor
  • Fundraising Director
  • Business Consultant
  • Purchasing Manager

Each of these paths and specializations comes with its own set of responsibilities, work environment, and unique potential for advancement.

How to Start Your Career in Accounting

Starting a career in accounting involves several key steps. First, you should earn a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field to build foundational knowledge of accounting principles and theories. Some students pursue an associate degree first, however, and use that degree as a stepping stone in their career journey. During your studies, you can also gain hands-on experience through internships, which can lead to full-time positions.

After obtaining your degree, you can decide whether to become a certified public accountant (CPA) by fulfilling state requirements, which typically include additional education, an exam, and supervised work experience. Becoming a CPA can significantly increase job opportunities and earning potential.

You may also consider pursuing a master's degree in accounting, which can further enhance your expertise and hireability. Lastly, obtaining accounting certifications, such as certified management accountant (CMA) or enrolled agent (EA), can propel your career by showcasing your specialized skills and commitment to the profession.

Associate Degree in Accounting

An associate degree in accounting can serve as a stepping stone into the field. This degree typically takes two years to complete and provides foundational knowledge in accounting principles, financial reporting, taxation, and auditing.

It also covers basic business topics, such as microeconomics and business law. This level of education can lead to entry-level roles in accounting, such as accounting clerk or bookkeeper, where you'll handle tasks like maintaining financial records, processing transactions, and producing basic financial reports.

What Can You Do With an Associate in Accounting?


Bookkeepers help organizations manage accounts and record financial transactions. These professionals create financial statements and reports, prepare bank deposits, and create invoices. They may also oversee payroll. An associate degree meets the requirements for most bookkeeping positions.

Bill and Account Collector

Bill and account collectors recover payments on overdue bills. They locate consumers or businesses with overdue bills and negotiate payment plans with debtors. Bill and account collectors may also offer credit advice or refer consumers to a debt counselor.

Financial Clerk

Financial clerks perform administrative tasks. Their responsibilities may include keeping records, helping customers, and carrying out financial transactions. Financial clerks also compute bills, provide customer assistance, and update financial records. They may work in billing, payroll, procurement, insurance, or new accounts.

Source: BLS (March 2024)

Featured Online Associate in Accounting Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Bachelor's Degree in Accounting

A bachelor's degree in accounting is the most common educational requirement for accounting jobs. This degree provides a deeper understanding of accounting principles and practices, equipping students with the skills necessary to analyze, interpret, and communicate financial information effectively.

Curricula typically cover areas like:

  • Financial accounting
  • Managerial accounting
  • Cost accounting
  • Auditing
  • Taxation
  • Accounting information systems

A bachelor's program in accounting may also include business-related topics such as economics, business law, and business communications. This degree usually takes four years to earn and can lead to various entry-level and mid-level accounting positions.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Accounting?


Accountants prepare financial records, ensuring accuracy and compliance with U.S. tax laws. They also assess financial operations, prepare tax returns, and organize financial records. Accountants work in several subfields, including public accounting, management accounting, and government accounting. Many entry-level accounting positions require a bachelor's degree.

  • Median Annual Salary: $78,000

Budget Analyst

Budget analysts advise organizations on their finances. They work for businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, where they prepare reports and evaluate budget proposals. Budget analysts also review financial data to determine the cost and benefit of different programs, recommend funding levels, and research economic and financial developments. Entry-level positions require a bachelor's degree.

Cost Estimator

Cost estimators collect and analyze data to produce an estimate of the time, money, and materials required to complete a project. They calculate financial estimates by factoring in production times and labor and recommend cost reduction measures. Cost estimators also maintain records of estimated and actual costs.

Tax Examiner

Tax examiners review tax returns, identify taxes owed, and conduct audits. They work for government agencies, including the IRS and state tax departments, to review the tax returns of individual taxpayers and businesses. Tax examiners ensure that taxpayers correctly claim tax credits and deductions.


Auditors examine tax records to ensure compliance with regulations and laws. They may check for mismanagement of organizational funds, identify ways to find and eliminate waste and fraud, and conduct internal and external audits.

  • Median Annual Salary: $78,000
Source: BLS (March 2024)

Featured Online Bachelor's in Accounting Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Master's Degree in Accounting

A master's degree in accounting can further enhance your expertise and appeal to top firms. Master's degree programs provide advanced knowledge and skills in financial reporting, auditing, taxation, and business law, preparing students for leadership roles in accounting.

Curricula often include specialized courses in areas like:

  • Forensic accounting
  • International taxation
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Corporate governance

This degree typically takes 1-2 years to earn, depending on the program's design and the student's enrollment status. Many programs also prepare students for the CPA exam.

Prospective students can learn more about the most affordable online master's programs in accounting.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Accounting?

Certified Public Accountant

CPAs manage accounting, tax reporting, and auditing for individual clients, corporations, and government agencies. They review financial information; prepare documentation on finances, taxes, and audits; and monitor government regulations.

  • Median Annual Salary: $78,000 (median, 2022)

Financial Manager

Financial managers oversee the financial health of an organization. They create financial reports, direct investment activities, and develop strategies to meet an organization's long-term goals. Financial managers also review financial reports to identify ways to reduce expenses, analyze market trends, and advise management on financial decisions.

  • Median Annual Salary: $139,790 (median, 2022)

Personal Financial Advisor

Personal financial advisors help individual clients make decisions related to investments, insurance, and tax law. They also provide advice on financial planning, including saving for retirement. These professionals may specialize in retirement, risk management, or other areas. A master's degree can help personal financial advisors advance their careers.

  • Median Annual Salary: $95,390 (median, 2022)

Accounting Manager

Accounting managers create and implement systems for collecting, verifying, and reporting an organization's financial information. They hire and train employees, oversee teams, and enforce company policies and procedures. They may also prepare and regulate annual budgets, monitor revenue and expenses, and recommend financial improvements.

  • Median Annual Salary: $81,710 (average, 2024)

Finance Director

Finance directors oversee finance teams. They design strategic plans to meet a company's financial goals, implement financial plans, and conduct performance evaluations. These professionals may also identify areas of improvement for a company to increase efficiency. Most positions require a master's degree and finance experience.

  • Median Annual Salary: $120,050 (average, 2024)
Source: BLS, Payscale (March 2024)

Featured Online Master's in Accounting Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Doctoral Degree in Accounting

A doctoral degree in accounting is the highest level of education you can achieve in the field. This degree is typically pursued by those who wish to conduct research in accounting or teach at a college or university level.

The curriculum usually involves the in-depth study of accounting theory and research methods, as well as courses in specialized areas of accounting, such as auditing, taxation, or financial accounting.

Doctoral students also complete a dissertation, which involves original research in a specific area of accounting. This degree program generally takes 4-5 years to complete.

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Accounting?

Accounting Professor

Accounting professors work at colleges and universities, teaching accounting courses in their specialty. They give lectures, assess student learning through examinations, and mentor accounting students. Accounting professors often conduct research and publish their findings in scholarly journals.

Chief Financial Officer

CFOs oversee the financial operations of a business. They manage budgets, project profits and expenses, provide advice to CEOs about company goals, and manage an organization's financial health. CFOs may also oversee the finance department at an organization.

Chief Executive Officer

CEOs act as the highest manager of an organization. They oversee company operations, create and implement policies, and report to the board of directors on company goals. CEOs also collaborate with other top executives to ensure an organization meets its goals.

Source: BLS, Payscale (*as of March 2024)

Featured Online Doctorate in Accounting Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Certificates in Accounting

Accountants can also opt to pursue certificates to advance their careers. Prospective accountants without a bachelor's degree can pursue undergraduate certificates, while those with a bachelor's can earn graduate certificates in accounting.

Certificates generally require less time and money than a degree. Certificates provide specialized training in fields like bookkeeping, financial accounting, and forensic accounting.

Undergraduate Certificate in Accounting

While earning an undergraduate certificate in accounting, students usually complete 20-30 credits of coursework. Accounting students can typically complete these programs in under a year. Graduates are prepared for specialized roles, such as bookkeepers.

Students can learn more about the top online accounting certificate programs.

Graduate Certificate in Accounting

A graduate certificate in accounting can help accountants earn the 150 postsecondary credits required to sit for the CPA exam. Most graduate certificate programs take under a year to complete.

Aspiring accountants can learn more about the top online accounting graduate certificate programs.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is crucial for accountants as it enables them to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in finance, taxation, and auditing, which are rapidly evolving. It provides opportunities to improve their technical skills, particularly as technology automates routine tasks, allowing accountants to focus on higher-value activities.

Furthermore, continuing education ensures accountants are aware of and can adapt to legal changes, including new tax laws and financial reporting standards, which is essential for compliance and avoiding legal complications. It also enhances their career opportunities by demonstrating their commitment to self-improvement and professional development, making them more attractive candidates for promotions and higher-paying positions.

Additionally, participation in continuing education events offers valuable opportunities for networking and professional growth, enabling accountants to connect with peers and industry experts, gain insights into best practices, and enhance their standing in the accounting community.

How to Advance Your Career in Accounting

The next steps for advancing a career in accounting depend on your current position and career goals. If you are an entry-level accountant, consider pursuing a master's degree or additional education to enhance your skillset and increase your marketability.

If you are a mid-level accountant, think about specializing in a specific area of accounting, such as taxation or auditing, to differentiate yourself in the job market. For senior-level accountants, consider pursuing leadership roles within your organization or a doctoral degree to transition into academia or high-level consulting roles. Regardless of your level, continuously updating your skills through professional development courses and staying informed about changes in accounting rules and regulations are crucial for career advancement.

Professional Organizations

The field of accounting features many different professional organizations. These groups can help new graduates prepare for credentialing exams, network with accountants and other professionals who work in finance, and learn about seminars and conferences in their city or state.

AFWA represents women working in accounting and finance. The alliance offers a directory of accounting and finance professionals, career development tools, and events through 70 local chapters. AFWA also offers scholarship opportunities for women pursuing accounting degrees. An association that brings together academic and professional accountants, the AAA was founded in 1916. The association publishes scholarly research, promotes collaboration, and grants awards. Doctoral students can also access a career center to find accounting positions in academia. AAFA maintains professional affiliations with many finance and accounting search firms, helping accountants identify job opportunities. This national network connects accounting professionals with recruitment firms and job openings. Founded in 1887, AICPA represents certified public accountants. The organization manages certifications related to accounting, auditing, risk management, and forensic accounting. AICPA also offers educational resources, career guidance, and scholarships. The ACFE provides CFE exam preparation materials and administers the examination, which tests fraud examiners on knowledge related to financial transactions, fraud schemes, fraud prevention, and deterrence. The association also provides continuing education opportunities, hosts events, and offers professional development resources. A professional organization for management accountants, IMA offers career guidance, educational resources, and current research. IMA also awards the certified management accountant and certified in strategy and competitive analysis credentials. Based in New York, this global organization consists of more than 170 permanent member organizations representing roughly 2.5 million accountants across 130 different countries and jurisdictions. IFAC's main goal is to standardize the profession of accounting on a worldwide scale through ethical review and international collaboration. A professional association focused on tax accounting, NSA offers tax and accounting credentials and grants scholarships to accounting students. The society also hosts educational events, runs a career center, and provides tax resources and other professional development tools.

Frequently Asked Questions About Accounting Careers

What are the three basics of accounting?

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The three basic principles of accounting, known as the golden rules, include debiting the receiver and crediting the giver for personal accounts, debiting what comes into the business and crediting what goes out for real accounts, and debiting expenses and losses while crediting income and gains for nominal accounts.

What is the best career in accounting?

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The best career in accounting depends on your career aspirations, but roles like chief financial officer, finance director, and corporate controller rank highly for their earning potential. These positions demand extensive experience, advanced education, and certifications, with average salaries in the six figures.

What is the hardest part of being an accountant?

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The most challenging aspects of being an accountant include handling repetitive tasks, long working hours, stiff competition, and pressure to meet tight deadlines. Continuous learning is required to keep up with changes in accounting standards and technology. Precision is also critical, as small errors can have significant consequences. Accountants also need to stay technically proficient with tools like SAP, Oracle, and spreadsheets to maintain efficiency and a competitive edge.

What is the highest-paid type of accountant?

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The highest-paid accountants are chief financial officers (CFOs), earning an average salary of $147,880 annually, according to Payscale. They are responsible for managing an organization's financial operations, forecasting and analyzing risks, setting financial goals, guiding financial decisions, and supervising financial record-keeping and reporting.

What is the life cycle of accounting?

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The accounting cycle is an eight-step process for managing a company's financial transactions. It starts with identifying and recording transactions, posting them to ledgers, and ensuring debit and credit balances. Adjustments are made if necessary, followed by the preparation of financial statements. The cycle concludes with closing the books and readying the company for the next accounting period.

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed March 17, 2024. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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