Accounting ranks among one of the oldest fields in business. Like economics and finance, accounting is at the core of commerce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accounting outpaces the national average for job growth, beating many popular occupations with respect to jobs added and expected in the near future.
The BLS projects faster than average growth for financial managers, budget analysts, and cost estimators.
Part of the reason for accounting's growth and popularity is that it allows people to enter many areas of business. The BLS projects faster than average growth for financial managers, a position for which an accounting degree provides training. The same holds true for budget analysts and cost estimators.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Accounting?
Today's accountants can choose from an array of exciting fields and hold the highest offices in modern workplaces. The information age ushered in profound change to many occupations, including accounting, and highlighted the need for people who can read, interpret, and utilize accurate data. Computers now handle much of the number crunching, allowing accountants to spend most of their time making sense of those numbers. Board members know the value of people who understand finances and financial planning, and accountants often move into executive suites.
The best accounting colleges teach skills that translate to all business professions, including finance, communication, critical thinking, and economics. Enrolling in an on-campus program allows you to network with like-minded peers and professors and learn from people of diverse backgrounds. These programs usually include internships, which give you experience in the field and boast strong career services departments to help you secure a job after graduation. If the world of business appeals to you, an accounting degree provides a great base from which to start.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Accounting?
Accounting schools prepare you to work in many occupations. You might take a job as a traditional accountant for a major corporation, working in an entry-level position in a downtown office. You might also travel the country as a fraud investigator for the government. You can also land a high-level position as a finance manager or find employment in a nonprofit for a cause you support. The point is, an accounting degree gives you a strong foundation on which to build a career tailored to your interests and goals.
Accountants work on financial records for corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies. They generally work in offices and ensure a company stays on top of its fiscal demands. A bachelor's is the entry-level degree for the field. At some corporations, accountants may become part of the administrative team.
Median Annual Salary: $69,350
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Financial Manager
Also known as chief financial officers, financial managers manage the finances of an organization. They make budgets, analyze payments, plan investments, and manage the financial strategy. Many do so with a bachelor's degree, though some corporations require a master's. Financial managers often serve in upper management.
Median Annual Salary: $125,080
Projected Growth Rate: 19%
- Cost Estimator
Cost estimators study the resources needed to produce goods or services, including financial outlay, personnel, and materials. They look for efficiencies, manage growth, create budgets, and prepare reports. Many specialize in industries or types of products, and most start with a bachelor's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $63,110
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Budget Analyst
Like financial managers, budget analysts watch over the spending habits and receivables of public and private corporations, government agencies, and nonprofits. They examine budgets and relay the implications to a company's management team. Sometimes they sit in management themselves. Most have at least a bachelor's in accounting degree.
Median Annual Salary: $75,240
Projected Growth Rate: 7%
- Tax Examiners and Collectors
Cities, states, and the federal government employ tax examiners and collectors to calculate how much businesses and individuals owe in taxes. They study tax returns, perform audits, and analyze data, determining how much to collect. Most of these agencies require a bachelor's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $53,130
Projected Growth Rate: -1%
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Accounting Program
Selecting the right accounting program takes careful thought and research. Many factors come into play that involve a lot of important decisions. For example, do you prefer an online school or an on-campus program? Would you rather study at a big state university or a small private college? Do you want to attend a business school or a liberal arts college? These are just a few of the questions you face, and many of them raise additional questions.
The price of your education is also an important factor to consider. Online programs and state schools tend to cost less than on-campus and private schools. Web-based schools might allow you to proceed faster and continue to work while you attend school, which helps with the bottom line. You also must decide whether you want to attend full time or part time, which will impact the length of your studies.
Once you answer these questions, you can start comparing schools. Carefully review the type of curriculum each offers and its accreditation. Make sure the schools that interest you feature the concentration or specialization you want to study. Find out if you must submit a written thesis, a final project, or do an internship to graduate. Review the number of credits you need to graduate and whether the accounting degree program will allow you to sit for your state's CPA exam, if that interests you.
Accounting schools come in so many varieties that it takes time to sort them all out. However, if you do your homework you can find the perfect school for your needs.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's in Accounting Programs
Accreditation is among the most critical considerations when selecting an accounting school. Make sure prospective schools have appropriate credentials from a reputable agency. Most graduate programs and many employers only honor a degree from an accredited university, and most states require that CPA-exam applicants hold a degree from an accredited accounting program.
Most of the best colleges and universities carry regional accreditation by one of the six main accrediting agencies.
The U.S. Department of Education makes accreditation verification simple thanks to its database of accredited postsecondary institutions, which lists all the accredited schools in the nation. Look for regional or national accreditation status. Most of the best colleges and universities carry regional accreditation by one of the six main accrediting agencies. Some schools, especially vocational colleges and institutions that represent a single industry, may hold accreditation with a national agency.
In the case of accounting, you can also look for programmatic accreditation, which is granted when industry-specific agencies recognize the quality of a particular university's course of study. Look for accounting programs with accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, or the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education.
Bachelor's in Accounting Program Admissions
Once you decide where you want to go, you must submit an application. College admissions are competitive. Many people think online programs offer easier admission, but the admissions process is typically the same regardless of whether it's an online or on-campus program. In general, the internet has made the application process simpler, but it still involves careful thought and preparation.
It's a good idea to apply to at least three schools: a safety school, a mid-range school, and a “reach” school. Regardless of how many schools you apply to, keep in mind that each application costs money, so choose your prospective schools thoughtfully.
- Minimum GPA: To maintain program quality and standards, many schools require applicants to have a certain minimum GPA. The most competitive business colleges require a 3.6-3.8 GPA or better, and the less competitive state schools require about 3.2. Students with a lower GPA can often offset this requirement with high SAT scores.
- Application: Take your time and give careful thought and consideration to your application. Write an essay that highlights the qualities that make you unique. Pay close attention to the application's questions and answer them truthfully. The CommonApp allows students to apply to multiple colleges and universities at once. If you use the CommonApp, visit the school's admissions page to make sure you don't miss additional questions listed there.
- Transcripts: Most schools want a copy of your transcripts from any prior education you received. Often, your alma mater will provide these for free. Some will give them to you online, while others will send them to an address you provide.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most colleges request two or three letters of recommendation. These letters ideally come from teachers who know you well that will speak of you in a positive light. If you're applying to accounting school, consider asking a business teacher or math teacher, and give them as much lead time as you can.
- Test Scores: Most schools require the SAT for accounting programs. Some colleges specify the range they will accept, which varies by school. Most require at least a 1200 score. A score of 1500 is likely to get you into the most competitive schools.
- Application Fee: Application fees vary by school, typically starting around $45 and up to around $90. Some schools waive the application fee for eligible students.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Accounting Program?
Because accounting schools vary so much, students can pick and choose the features they want in a program. Details of each accounting program differ by school, but most schools share some core similarities.
|Financial Analysis||Students in financial analysis learn to read and manage a company's fiscal statements. They study investments, budgeting, and portfolio analysis. They also learn skills in reasoning and strategy, data preparation, decision making, and critical thinking.||Accounting, financial planning, financial management, investment banking|
|Information Systems||In this concentration, degree candidates learn how to work with business systems. They use computers to enter, process, and manage accounts and financial data. They learn how to use accounting software like ERP and AIS and how to design and manage databases.||Data analysis, IT consulting, IT auditing, data security analyst|
|Nonprofit Accounting||This specialization familiarizes students with the financials of government and nonprofit agencies. They explore the ins and outs of nonprofit companies and how to prepare information for public accountability. Though designed for use in nonprofit agencies, the skills degree seekers learn can translate to private business as well.||Budget manager, grant accountant, nonprofit CEO, public auditor|
|Forensic Accounting||Students in this concentration study how to detect and investigate fraud in the financial industry. They learn traditional accounting techniques and examine how individuals and companies conceal illegal activities. Skills like critical thinking, data analysis, and financial strategy are combined with investigative techniques and creative thinking to prepare accountants to identify fraudulent activity.||Auditor, insurance company accountant, criminal investigator, and traditional accountant|
|Tax Accountancy||In this concentration, students study tax code and how tax laws affect public and private corporations and nonprofits. Focus areas include tax planning and preparation, auditing, and researching. Students examine taxes as they relate to investments, estates, trusts, and other entities.||Tax accountants, auditors, financial managers, nonprofit managers|
Courses in a Bachelor's in Accounting Program
Every accounting program takes its own approach to provide education, but most share similar core curricula. Required classes may differ from accounting school to accounting school. Specialties and concentrations may affect requirements, and some programs create curricula to prepare students for the CPA exam, but most schools have the following classes in common.
- Cost Accounting
This three-credit course prepares future accountants to oversee an organization's costs and payments. Students in accounting programs study the use of costs in making decisions and managing finances, and they examine budgeting, job orders, and a variety of other processes on the debit side of the ledger.
- Intermediate Accounting
After a review of basic accounting principles, intermediate accounting takes students through more complex financial statements. They learn accounting for assets, liabilities, and equity in addition to learning about pensions, benefits, leases, and CPA exam material.
- Federal Taxation
This semester-long course teaches learners about tax preparation. They'll become familiar with tax code, tax laws, and federal income tax conventions. They'll also study the methods used, including software, for preparing individual and corporate taxes.
Providing a look at the auditing process from the perspective of both the client and the auditor, this class explores the various types of audits accountants commonly encounter. Students work through the basics of auditing, legal liabilities, ethics, and recording procedures using case studies and practical application.
- Accounting Information Systems
These days, accounting and IT go hand in hand, and accountants must understand the basics of the equipment they use to crunch numbers. This course teaches learners how to use databases and software in accounting positions. Degree candidates learn common trade software for word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and presentation.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Accounting?
Most bachelor's in accounting programs follow the traditional undergraduate pace of four years. However, this is not true of every accounting school. Some allow students to earn their degrees in three years with an accelerated approach, while others stretch the credit load to 150, from the normal 120, to meet state requirements for the CPA exam. Some schools tack another year on to the end of a bachelor's program to create a “master's in five” accounting program.
Many factors can affect the length of a college program. Online students often move faster than their campus-based counterparts because some web programs allow degree seekers to proceed at their own pace, sometimes even doubling the number of credits that a student can earn in a semester. Depending on the school and its tuition structure, this can result in a less expensive course of study. If you continue to work full time while taking courses, then it may take you longer than four years to graduate. Students can select from many quality options, and the amount of time it takes to graduate becomes a matter of preference.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Accounting?
Many factors affect the price of an accounting degree, such as whether you're attending a state university, private college, or taking classes online or on campus.
According to the College Board's Trends in College Pricing report for 2017-2018, the average public school costs about $10,000 per year for in-state students and more than $25,000 for nonresidents. Private schools cost around $35,000 per year.
Many schools offer very attractive prices for their online programs, and they often charge the same flat rate no matter where you live. Add this to commuting and housing savings, and online programs often provide cost-effective options compared to on-campus programs. Furthermore, most web-based accounting programs accommodate work schedules, allowing you to earn while you learn, making school even more affordable.
When pricing accounting degrees, don't forget to include expenses in addition to tuition, such as books, housing, and technology.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Accounting Prepares For
- Certified Public Accountant
The most basic certification for accountants, the Uniform CPA exam shows potential employers your professional status, and many require it for upper-level jobs. The test requires 150 hours of education before you can take it in most states. Many who sit for the exam only hold a bachelor's, and most accounting degree programs provide preparation.
- Certified Management Accountant
An alternative to the CPA, the CMA is the standard for management-level accountants and finance executives. It only requires a bachelor's to get started, but then you must accrue two years of experience and pass the two-part exam. The test typically takes 12-18 months to pass.
- Certified Internal Auditor
Candidates for this credential must hold at least an associate degree. At the bachelor's level, candidates must have two years of experience. The test sets the bar for professionalism in the field of internal auditing, and many companies require it. Overseen by the Institute of Internal Auditors, the exam offers a professional advantage to anyone interested in auditing or risk management.
- Certified Financial Analyst
This exam consists of three levels, and it represents the highest achievement in investment management. Candidates must hold a bachelor's, and most candidates take four years of additional schooling to pass all three exams. The CFA Institute runs the program.
- Enrolled Agent
This credential is an alternative to a CPA for tax preparers, and the program is run by the IRS. The credential tells clients that you have the approval of the federal government for representing taxpayers. Candidates must pass the Special Enrollment Examination, a three-part test.
Resources for Accounting Students
A blog run by accountants for accountants, this site has a lot of useful information, including accounting basics, Q&As, video tutorials, and career advice. Students can also sign up for a free accounting and bookkeeping course.
The AICPA hosts education and career resources on its site, including classroom materials, fellowship opportunities, the University of Mississippi's AICPA library service, textbook guides, and certification information.
Learning the vernacular of any subject makes life easier for students, which holds true for accounting. This handy online accounting dictionary, hosted by the New York Society of CPAs, allows accounting degree students to check word usage and look up terms.
Designed as a teaching site where anyone can learn accounting and finance principles for free, MissCPA works just as well as a resource for students in accounting degree programs. The site features blogs on such topics as bookkeeping, careers, financial accounting, managerial accounting, and accounting basics.
A site devoted to online calculators of all kinds, Calculator.net includes an array of financial calculators ideal for accounting students. These include calculators for investment, amortization, interest, inflation, and finance.
Professional Organizations in Accounting
Professional organizations provide new accountants with invaluable resources. They offer exceptional opportunities to meet colleagues, network, and gather for continuing education and professional development. Many organizations host conferences and seminars, publish journals with the latest information, and provide members with career services, like job boards. Some offer mentor opportunities and coaching while others allow members to advertise for free or provide referrals.