CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an accountant.

Step 1

Is becoming an accountant right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do accountants do?
Career Satisfaction
Are accountants happy with their careers?
What are accountants like?

Still unsure if becoming an accountant is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become an accountant or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

Step 2

High School

If you want to become an accountant, it's recommended that you take the following classes in high school:

  • Mathematics: Accountants deal with numbers, so taking advanced math classes such as Algebra II, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus can be beneficial.
  • Accounting: If your high school offers accounting classes, take them to get a foundational understanding of the principles and practices of accounting.
  • Business: Business classes such as economics, finance, and management can help you understand the broader context in which accounting operates.
  • Computer Science: With the increasing use of accounting software and technology, computer skills are becoming increasingly important for accountants. Taking classes in computer science, including programming and database management, can help you develop the necessary skills.
  • English: Strong communication skills are essential for accountants, as they often have to explain financial information to clients and colleagues. Taking classes in English, including writing and public speaking, can help you develop these skills.
Step 3

Bachelor’s Degree

Many employers and accounting firms require at least a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting, Finance, or a related field for entry-level accounting positions. Additionally, becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) typically requires a bachelor's degree or higher, as well as meeting specific educational requirements and passing a rigorous exam.

However, there are some accounting positions that may not require a bachelor's degree, such as bookkeeping or accounting clerk positions. These positions may require only a high school diploma or an Associate Degree in Accounting or a related field.

In summary, while a bachelor's degree is typically required to become an accountant and advance in the field, there are some entry-level positions that may not require a degree. However, obtaining a degree and pursuing professional certifications can increase your career opportunities and earning potential in the field of accounting.

Step 4

Master’s Degree

While a bachelor's degree may be sufficient for entry-level accounting positions, a master's degree can enhance your knowledge and skills in accounting and increase your competitiveness in the job market. It can also provide you with more opportunities for advancement within the field of accounting.

Additionally, some employers and accounting firms may prefer or require a master's degree for certain positions, such as in management or executive roles.

Furthermore, obtaining a master's degree in accounting can help you meet the educational requirements to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in some states.

Step 5

Specializations and Certifications

There are several specializations in accounting that require different educational requirements. Here are some of the most common specializations and their corresponding educational requirements:

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): This is the most common specialization in accounting. To become a CPA, you will typically need to have a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting or a related field, complete 150 hours of education, pass the Uniform CPA Exam, and meet the work experience requirements in your state.
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA): To become a CMA, you will typically need to have a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting or a related field, complete a program that focuses on management accounting, pass the CMA exam, and meet the work experience requirements.
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA): To become a CIA, you will typically need to have a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting or a related field, pass the CIA exam, and meet the work experience requirements.
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE): To become a CFE, you will typically need to have a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting or a related field, pass the CFE exam, and meet the work experience requirements.
  • Forensic Accounting: To become a forensic accountant, you will typically need to have a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting or a related field, complete specialized coursework in forensic accounting, and gain relevant work experience.

Overall, a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting or a related field is typically required for most specializations in accounting. However, the specific educational requirements will vary depending on the specialization. It is recommended to research the requirements for your desired specialization in your state.

Step 6

Continuing Education / Resources

Continuing education is important for accountants to stay up-to-date with changes in tax laws, accounting standards, and other industry trends. Here are some resources and options for accountants to pursue continuing education:

  • Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Courses: Many state boards of accountancy require licensed accountants to complete a certain number of CPE hours each year to maintain their licenses. There are many CPE courses available, both online and in-person, covering various accounting topics.
  • Professional Organizations: Many professional organizations, such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), offer webinars, seminars, and other resources for members to keep up with industry developments.
  • Accounting Publications: Subscribing to accounting publications such as the Journal of Accountancy, Accounting Today, and the CPA Journal can provide accountants with valuable insights into industry trends, new regulations, and emerging issues.
  • Online Resources: There are many online resources available to accountants, including blogs, podcasts, and online courses. Some popular websites include the AICPA's online learning center, Coursera, and Udemy.

Overall, there are many resources available for accountants to continue their education and stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the field. It is important for accountants to prioritize continuing education to remain competitive and effective in their roles.

Step 7

Employment Opportunities

Accountants are in demand in many industries, as their skills are essential for managing financial records and ensuring regulatory compliance. Here are some common employment opportunities for accountants:

  • Public accounting firms: These firms offer services such as auditing, tax preparation, and financial consulting to clients in various industries. Accountants can work as associates or partners in these firms.
  • Corporate accounting departments: Many businesses have in-house accounting departments to manage their financial records, prepare financial statements, and ensure regulatory compliance. Accountants can work in various roles within these departments, such as financial analysts, controllers, or accounting managers.
  • Government agencies: Government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels need accountants to manage their budgets, prepare financial reports, and ensure compliance with financial regulations.
  • Nonprofit organizations: Nonprofits often have unique accounting needs, such as managing grants and donations, and ensuring compliance with regulations for tax-exempt organizations. Accountants can work in various roles within these organizations, such as financial managers or grant accountants.
  • Education: Colleges and universities often hire accountants to teach accounting courses and conduct research in accounting-related fields.
  • Self-employment: Some accountants choose to start their own accounting firms or work as freelance consultants, offering services such as tax preparation, bookkeeping, and financial consulting to clients.