If you have an aptitude for accounting and business, the field of accounting can offer you a variety of job opportunities.
With a high school diploma or a two-year associate degree earned at a community or technical college, you could find employment as an accounting clerk. An associate degree could also land you a job as a bookkeeper for a local business. Becoming knowledgeable in QuickBooks and electronic spreadsheets can also lead to employment.
To be an accountant, however, you will need a minimum of a four-year bachelor's (or baccalaureate) degree in accounting. With this degree, you will have more job opportunities open to you and may earn twice the salary of a person with an associate degree. The bachelor's degree in accounting is likely to include 36 credits of difficult accounting courses plus 20 credits in other business courses.
If you want to become a certified public accountant, you must pass the Uniform CPA Examination (CPA Exam). To qualify to take the exam, you will need to earn a 150-credit accounting degree as required by your state board of accountancy. You should be aware that this is a challenging goal. Relatively few individuals complete the 150-credit degree program. Of those who take the CPA Exam, less than half will be successful.
To become familiar with the type of material that is covered in beginning or introductory college accounting courses, browse through the 30+ topics we present on our free website AccountingCoach.com. Be aware that the subsequent college accounting courses will be much more difficult than what is presented on AccountingCoach.com.
If you decide to pursue an accounting degree, make certain that you enroll in a college or university with a well-respected program. One indicator of a quality accounting program is the ability of its graduates to find employment through the campus placement office. In short, if an accounting program is excellent, employers will actively recruit the graduates of that program. Find out the job placement rate for the college or university that you are considering.
Many two-year colleges, community colleges, and technical schools offer an associate degree in accounting. With an associate degree, you will most likely find a job as an accounting clerk at a large company, or as a bookkeeper at a smaller company. You will be somewhat limited as far as opportunities and pay, earning perhaps only 50% of what an accountant with a four-year bachelor's degree may earn.
If your goal is to obtain an associate degree in accounting, be certain that there is a demand for this skill in the geographic area where you want to live. Before enrolling in an associate degree program, do the following:
Visit the career services or placement offices of the schools you are considering to learn the percentage of graduates getting placed in positions sought by the graduates.
Visit the human resources departments of the companies where you'd like to work. Inquire about the opportunities available for people with an associate degree in accounting.
Visit several temporary staffing firms to see if they have clients in need of temporary employees with associate degrees in accounting.
Be certain that your school's curriculum includes hands-on experience with popular accounting and business software. Technology keeps getting more efficient and employers want to hire bookkeepers who know how to use the latest in business and accounting software.
Find out if your course credits will transfer to a four-year college or university in the event you decide to pursue a bachelor's degree in accounting.
If you choose to major in accounting, there are many colleges and universities that offer a bachelor's degree program in accounting. These degree programs typically require a minimum of 120 semester-credits that include the following:
Approximately 30-36 credits of accounting courses in areas such as financial accounting, cost accounting, income tax, consolidations, auditing, and accounting systems.
Approximately 20-30 credits of other business courses such as organizational behavior, human resources, marketing, business statistics, information technology, business law, economics, and administrative policy.
A minimum of 61 credits of courses outside of business, such as social science, physical science, languages, and other liberal arts courses.
Keep in mind that a 120-credit bachelor's degree in accounting is no longer sufficient for you to sit for the CPA Exam. See our discussion below on the 150-credit degree.
Each state in the U.S. has a state board of accountancy that is responsible for licensing certified public accountants (CPAs) to practice in that state. Each board issues the requirements for becoming a licensed CPA. In the past, a 120-credit bachelor’s degree in accounting was sufficient to qualify a person to sit for the CPA Exam. Today, most states require that candidates complete a 150-credit college accounting degree program (or a master's degree containing the required accounting credits). Exact rules vary from state to state.
Colleges and universities with respected accounting degree programs will offer both a bachelor’s degree in accounting as well as the more ambitious 150-credit degree or an appropriate masters degree. If you want to become a CPA, choose the 150-credit or masters degree program that meets the state’s requirements for taking the CPA Exam.
You should know from the outset that college accounting courses are difficult—they demand an ability to understand and manipulate complex financial concepts. You will be expected to attain above average grades in an environment with high grading standards.
Less than half of the students who enroll in a college accounting degree program will graduate with an accounting degree. Of the students with the necessary accounting degree that take the CPA Exam, on average only half will earn a passing score in each section.
If your goal is to become a CPA, you should prepare early. While still in high school, enroll in courses that are part of the "college track." Completing advanced placement (AP) or post-secondary enrollment option (PSEO) courses in high school will give you an advantage in college.
Meeting the Educational Requirements in Different Ways
Generally, colleges and universities will design an accounting program that guides students through the college credits required to sit for the CPA Exam. That being said, state boards of accountancy allow some flexibility. Here are examples of how people met the education requirement for taking the CPA Exam:
Judy earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from a college or university noted for its outstanding undergraduate program. Judy then earned an MBA degree from another graduate business school.
Mike earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from a college or university noted for its outstanding accounting program. Mike then attended another exceptional university and earned a graduate degree in taxation.
James graduated from college in only four years with the 150-credit accounting degree. This was possible because James came to college with AP (or PSEO) credits earned in high school.
Beginning in 2024, the CPA Exam will consist of three core exams plus one of three discipline exams. Be certain that your accounting education between now and 2024 prepares you for the new CPA Exam.
Since the cost of tuition, books, housing, and your time will be significant, be certain that your education is worthy of your investment. Select a college or university with an accounting program that is well respected by employers and that will prepare you for a successful career in accounting.
Here is some advice as to what you should look for:
In summary, make certain that you are enrolled in an accounting program that has demonstrated success with its students passing the CPA Exam and has updated its curriculum for the new CPA Exam starting in 2024. A weak accounting program staffed by undemanding professors who give easy exams and high grades may give you a false sense of your accounting abilities.