Do you have an affinity for numbers and problem solving? If so, you may consider pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Read on to find out what it entails and why you may want to obtain an accounting degree.

Before taking the plunge and choosing a bachelor’s degree in any field, it’s helpful to have an idea of what you may be getting into.

Much like accounting as a career, the education path that will lead you to a future position as a practicing accountant is fairly cut and dry. You’ll have to complete a predetermined number of semester hours, whether you’re looking to stop at a bachelor’s degree or move on to a graduate program and/or CPA licensure.

No matter where your particular path takes you, your accounting career will begin the same way--with a bachelor’s degree.

What is a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting?

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Getting a bachelor’s degree is the first step in the career path you’ll be following if you plan to practice accounting in the future.

You’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree at minimum to be eligible to sit for the CPA exam, which can boost both your salary and your job security. Many employers prefer their accountants and finance consultants to have completed advanced graduate studies in the field, and the bachelor’s degree is the cornerstone on which you’ll build your education.

A bachelor’s degree in accounting consists of 120 semester hours, some of which are spent taking specialized accounting and business courses. At the end of their degree, students are expected to have a working knowledge of the following subjects:

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

A bachelor’s degree in accounting also requires a certain number of credit hours in non-accounting classes. It may be helpful to choose courses that will set you apart from the competition, such as English, computer science, or marketing.

For students who are still in high school, it’s important to prepare for the challenging classes you’ll have to pass by taking honors and/or college level courses whenever possible. Higher-level mathematics classes are especially important when it comes to giving you a leg up on your bachelor’s degree.

Why Would I Want a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting?

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Obtaining a bachelor’s degree is undeniably hard work. However, due to the specialization of the job and the responsibilities it comes with, it’s essential to complete your degree before you can be hired at even an entry-level accounting position within a firm.

Life as an accountant consists of more than just crunching numbers all day long. With an accounting degree, you’ll have the opportunity to play a huge role in a business or firm by keeping finances straight and books in order. You’ll have the background you’ll need to advise in matters of business or finance. You’ll have job security and the knowledge that no matter what, financial records will always need to be kept and taxes will have to be filed.

As technology progresses, so does the job description of many accountants. We now have access to software that can handle many of the tasks that traditionally went to the accountants on a company’s payroll. The job of an accountant widely consists of financial management instead of just running numbers and keeping books. Consulting and analysis are normal parts of the job, and a bachelor’s degree will make sure you’re equipped with the tools of the trade when you need them.

Career Outlook

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that jobs in the accounting and finance sector will increase by ten percent by 2026. This bodes especially well for those who are still in the education stage of the career process.

A bachelor’s degree in accounting can open the door to obtaining jobs in a number of industries, including:

  • Public accounting
  • Education and school systems
  • Healthcare administration
  • Government
  • International trade industries
  • Private companies and firms

Whichever industry you land in, you’ll be qualified for hire in an accounting or finance job. Some of the positions that an accounting degree may qualify you for include:

  • Accountant
  • Actuary
  • Auditor
  • Analyst (budget and finance)
  • Bookkeeper
  • Credit examiner
  • Financial consultant
  • Forensic accountant
  • Payroll administrator
  • Risk assessment advisor
  • Tax advisor
  • Treasurer of an organization

Upon completion of your bachelor’s degree, you may be well on the career track to become a CPA. You’ll need an additional 30 semester hours under your belt before you’re eligible to sit for the exam, but obtaining a bachelor’s degree is the first big step in the right direction. Check with your state’s Accountancy Board for specifics on bachelor’s degree requirements.

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Salary expectations

If you start working as an accountant immediately after completing your degree, you’ll find that entry level pay averages around $40,000 to $50,000 per year. The first five to ten years brings additional pay with experience, but doesn’t increase steadily after that.

If you decide to pursue a graduate degree or certification (such as a CPA license), you can expect to earn five to 15 percent more than accountants with just a bachelor’s degree.

School Curriculum

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After declaring your accounting major, you and your advisor will work together to create a plan that will make your bachelor’s degree attainable.

Your course load will consist not only of accounting classes, but also additional courses designed to round out your bachelor’s degree. Here’s what you can expect to take.

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Core courses

Every bachelor’s degree requires a certain number of core classes to ensure a well-rounded education. These provide a background in subjects that aren’t necessarily directly relevant to your major, but promote diversity and critical thinking as well as other applicable skills you’ll likely need in your career.

Examples of these subjects include:

  • Writing and English composition
  • Fine arts and humanities
  • Social sciences
  • Science and technology
  • History

These classes will allow you to receive a broader education than you would receive if you were only focusing on accounting.

The core curriculum will also include a number of elective credits (depending on the specific requirements of your school). You can choose topics of personal interest, or courses that may benefit you in your chosen career.

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Business core courses

Since so much of your work as an accountant will involve finance and business, your bachelor’s degree will include a focus on classes that provide a solid background in business practices and principles. Here are some examples of the classes you’ll need to fulfill this requirement:

  • Business Law
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Financial Accounting
  • Introduction to Marketing
  • Principles of Finance
  • Business Statistics

These courses will give you the basis of a strong comprehension of business and finance topics. You’ll be able to comfortably perform financial analysis and provide valuable insight to future employers upon completion.

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Accounting major courses

To complete your degree, you’ll need to have accumulated a certain number of credits in your chosen field. You can expect these courses to be more difficult than core classes, and significantly more comprehensive. Examples of these include:

  • Federal Taxation
  • Intermediate and Advanced Accounting
  • Auditing Principles
  • Payroll Accounting
  • Financial Statement Auditing
  • Advanced Business Law

The classes you need to achieve your bachelor’s degree will vary based on your school, so be sure to check with your advisor to find out exactly what requirements you’ll be expected to meet.

When you’re finished with your degree, you should be able to:

  • Prepare tax returns based on a thorough knowledge of current taxation laws
  • Understand the laws and regulations surrounding financial accounting and reporting
  • Audit financial statements and ensure that the proper legal avenues are being followed
  • Create financial records and statements according to local and federal regulations
  • Analyze and explain financial trends and happenings to company stakeholders who may lack comprehensive knowledge of finance
  • Apply proper professional ethics in the finance and accounting field at all times

Though some employers prefer a graduate degree or additional licensing, these credentials should be enough to get you through the door in many accounting firms and get started on your career in finance.

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Choosing a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

Gone are the days of accounting as a monotonous cubicle job. The long-standing stereotype of accountants as boring office drones, wielding calculators and pocket protectors, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Today, accountants are problem solvers and strategists. If you pursue a career as an accountant, you can expect to spend much of your time performing financial and taxation consulting. You’ll need to constantly be able to use sharp critical thinking skills, and no detail should slip past your radar. Numbers shouldn’t be the only thing on your mind--you’ll also need to hone excellent communication skills.

When considering a degree in accounting, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I a good problem solver?
  • Am I detail oriented?
  • Can I break down and explain complicated concepts to people?
  • Am I a logical decision maker?
  • Am I a planner by nature?
  • Am I good at extrapolating data from patterns and records?
  • Do I enjoy working with numbers?

If the answer to most of these questions is “yes”, accounting might be a good fit to match your personality type. People who are well-suited to FAME careers (finance, accounting, management, economics) tend to be logical thinkers who are willing to play by the rulebook. They have above average organizational skills, and are extremely conscious of ethics and integrity.

Many accountants have a Myers-Briggs personality type of ESTJ (extrovert, sensing, thinking, judging). These personalities tend to be logical, clinical thinkers who are well suited to a career in accounting or finance.

Accreditation

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Not just any establishment can open its doors and distribute college degrees. In order for your degree to be taken seriously by the academic world, it needs to come from an accredited college or university.

Accreditation is the process in which universities are verified as a valid educational institution. Schools must be evaluated every three to five years in a peer-review system made up of faculty from other accredited colleges to make sure regulations are being met.

When looking at colleges where you might get your accounting degree, you may encounter schools that are either regionally or nationally accredited. In order to qualify for federal financial aid, you’ll need to make sure the school of your choice is accredited by an organization that’s accepted by the U.S. Department of Education.

National accreditation organizations include:

  • The Association for Advancing Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • The Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • The International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE)
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
  • Council on Occupational Education
  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission
  • New York State Board of Regents, and the Commissioner of Education
  • Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission

Regional accreditation bureaus include:

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Higher Learning Commission
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools

While it may seem like nationally accredited universities would be more widely accepted in the academic world, that’s actually not the case. Regional accreditation is considered to be the gold standard in choosing a college that will truly give you the best education possible.

National accreditation is often associated with for-profit schools and vocational programs. That doesn’t mean you won’t get a good education at a nationally accredited university; however, regionally accredited colleges don’t always accept transfer credits from schools that only have national accreditation. If you’re planning to take the CPA exam and earn licensure, this is particularly important to consider, since you’ll have to complete an additional 30 semester hours to qualify for the exam.

Especially if you’re seeking a degree in a field like accounting that has certain concrete requirements and a clear career path, you’ll want to check with your state to ensure accreditation is accepted. Contact your state’s Accountancy Board for details.