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What is an accounting degree?
Degree programs in accounting prepare students for the work of gathering, recording, analyzing, interpreting, evaluating, and communicating financial information. This includes examining accounting records, reconciling accounts, preparing financial reports, and completing tax returns. The typical curriculum includes classes in mathematics, business management, business communication, business research, finance, and economics.
These are some of the core accounting courses:
Associate Degree in Accounting
A bachelor’s degree is generally the minimum educational requirement for the majority of entry-level accounting positions. However, an associate degree program covers the foundational subjects of math and statistics, business law and ethics, accounting information systems, and management principles; and may prepare students for some junior roles in the field.
Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting
With a bachelor’s degree, graduates typically qualify for a variety of positions within the accounting sector, including accountant, financial manager, cost estimator, budget analyst, and government tax estimator/collector. At this degree level, students may select a concentration, such as financial analysis, accounting information systems, non-profit accounting, forensic accounting/fraud investigation, or tax accountancy. Here are some examples of coursework typically offered in a bachelor’s degree program:
- Cost Accounting – how to oversee an organization’s costs and payment by examining budgets and job orders
- Intermediate Accounting – accounting for assets, liabilities, and equity; study of pensions, benefits, leases; exam material for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam
- Federal Taxation – tax preparation, tax code, tax laws, related software
- Auditing – the auditing process, different kinds of audits, legal liabilities, ethics
- Accounting Information Systems – accounting-related IT databases and software
Master’s Degree in Accounting
Graduates with a Master’s Degree in Accounting expand their career options significantly. In addition to positions as accountants and auditors, they generally qualify for many roles as budget analysts, tax analysts, financial analysts, personal financial/investment advisors, and financial managers. Possible concentrations at this level include accounting information systems, auditing, corporate accounting, forensic accounting, and taxation regulation. Master’s programs commonly cover the following:
- Financial Policy – capital and risk management, financial statement analysis, financial planning, international financial management
- Taxes and Business Strategy – the impact of tax regulations on investment and financing strategies, compensation planning, and mergers and acquisitions
- Information Technology for Accounting – IT systems, networking databases, digital/internet security, accounting control systems
- Property and Negotiable Instruments – negotiable instruments (checks, promissory notes, etc.), laws that affect different kinds of businesses (proprietorships, limited liability companies, corporations)
- Principles of Investment – portfolios, stocks, bonds, derivatives, asset pricing
Doctoral Degree in Accounting
With this advanced degree, graduates are qualified for high-level roles in accounting, financial management, and auditing. Common positions for holders of a Ph.D. in Accounting are: chief financial officer for a large corporation, and accounting professor/researcher with a university. Doctoral level concentrations cover public accounting, auditing accounting, forensic accounting, managerial accounting, and accounting information systems. Here are some examples of courses in a doctoral program in accounting:
- Theory of Accounting – the relationship between accounting theory and practice; case studies
- Advanced Topics in Accounting – managerial accounting, auditing, accounting information systems
- Quantitative Methods for Accounting – accounting research methods to prepare for the writing of a dissertation
- Accounting Literature Survey – a review of scholarly literature/academic research in the student’s chosen area of research
- Dissertation – research, writing, and defending of a doctoral thesis on original research
Degrees similar to accounting
Without question, accounting and business are closely related. Therefore, a business administration degree program typically has some accounting coursework as part of its requirements. However, its focus is wider. It teaches how to plan, organize, direct, and control an organization’s activities; that is, how to operate a business from the perspectives of marketing, accounting, human resources, and operations.
Economics asks wide questions about world economies, how governments should respond to financial crises, how stock prices and exchange rates are set, and how to help people living in poverty. The degree field of business and managerial economics is focused on how to use the concepts and theories of economics to study and solve problems in business.
The finance field is concerned with how individuals, businesses, and organizations raise, distribute, and use money. Majors in this field learn how to make financial decisions concerning raising funds, investments, and cost control for organizations. Topics covered include budgets, stocks and bonds, and interest rates.
Students of international business study business from a global perspective. They learn how to work cross-culturally, how to manage multinational businesses, and how to turn local and national companies into international corporations. Coursework often includes some foreign language studies, as well.
Management Information Systems
This degree field is focused on information systems and how they are used by businesses and organizations to improve their operations. Classes cover computer databases, networks, and computer security, and related project management.
This degree program provides students with in-depth training in mathematics, statistics, and probability. It teaches the use of models in analyzing and solving financial problems and includes coursework in economics, finance, accounting, and computer science.
Skills you'll learn
The demands of completing an accounting degree program leave graduates with a diverse set of transferable skills:
Attention to Detail
A misplaced decimal point can have very significant consequences
Prioritizing responsibilities and keeping documents in order is vital in the accounting field
Adaptability and Time Management
In accounting, projects vary and schedules and deadlines change
An integral part of accounting is being able to explain recommendations
Modern accounting involves using sophisticated software
Analytical and Problem-Solving Skills
The work of interpreting and evaluating financial information is seldom straightforward
Accounting is about analyzing large amounts of information and presenting it in an organized way
Accountants are expected to adhere to strict ethical standards
What can you do with an accounting degree?
The fact that every industry and every business needs accountants to keep the books and analyze financial data makes the field a very broad one, with broad career options for qualified professionals. Here are some examples:
Accountants that work for these firms, instead of in a specific sector, can apply their knowledge in the various businesses that look to these firms for professional advice and consulting services.
Universities and colleges hire accountants to manage their complex financial systems. Components include funding that must be spread among various departments, staff salaries and benefits, investment in campus facilities, research, and scholarships.
Engineering / Construction
Accountants in the engineering and construction fields are tasked with keeping track of cash flow and of when projects are due to be completed. They ensure that invoices clearly lay out payment terms and instructions. And, of course, they are responsible for corporate tax planning and filing.
Bank accountants are often responsible for maintaining the institution’s general ledger, which contains information on every account, every transaction, revenue, and expenses.
Agencies at all levels of government – city, state, and federal – need precision accounting of revenue and expenditures. Work in this sector typically involves balancing the financial records for different government programs and initiatives.
In this sector, accountants work with healthcare providers and insurance companies to make sure that revenue coming in exceeds expenses going out.
Every sector of the retail industry performs a huge number of transactions on a daily basis. The industry, therefore, needs accounting professionals to manage expenses and revenue and prepare tax returns.
Transportation, Hospitality, and Entertainment
These businesses, which perform hundreds of thousands of transactions every day – are massive employers of accountants. Every airline, railway, bus service, hotel, motel, cruise line, and entertainment venture needs an in-house staff of accountants, bookkeepers, and auditors.
The career trajectory of people with an Accounting degree appears to be focused around a few careers. The most common career that users with Accounting degrees have experience in is Accountant, followed by Auditor, Tax Preparer, Bookkeeper, Financial Analyst, Financial Manager, Controller, Bill and Account Collector, Financial Clerk, and Teller.
|Career||% of graduates||% of population||Multiple|
|Bill and Account Collector||2.1%||0.1%||16.9×|
Accounting graduates earn on average $45k, putting them in the 70th percentile of earners with a degree.
|Percentile||Earnings after graduation ($1000s USD)|
|25th (bottom earners)||$34k|
|Median (average earners)||$45k|
|75th (top earners)||$56k|
Accounting graduates are moderately employed compared to other graduates. We have collected data on three types of underemployment. Part-time refers to work that is less than 30 hours per week. Non-college refers to work that does not require a college degree. Low-paying includes a list of low-wage service jobs such as janitorial work, serving, or dishwashing.
|Employment Type||Proportion of graduates|
|Jobs that don't require college||77%|