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Accounting has always been a solid, stable career choice. Unfortunately, it is sometimes falsely stereotyped as one-dimensional or boring. That’s not the case. In reality, there are various academic options for a future accounting major to choose from — and multiple career paths that allow you to play a critical role at any organization.
Even at the undergraduate level, there are several different degree program options for prospective accountants. These different academic tracks have a lot to do with personal interests and future goals, both academic and professional.
This is the most common undergraduate degree option for individuals looking to become accountants. It is a traditional four-year program that is designed to impart the foundational knowledge associated with accounting. Generally, these programs offer introductory courses in business, marketing, and accounting, along with some more specialized courses in accounting. Undergraduate accounting programs also offer courses in specific branches of the field, like forensic accounting, auditing, or accounting information systems.
A BS in accounting can be helpful for individuals looking to go directly into the field after graduation and individuals looking to continue their academic career to the graduate level. Prospective accountants that successfully complete this degree program have sufficient knowledge to prepare for CPA exams or other accounting certifications, and they can be sure to have the foundational knowledge necessary to successfully pursue higher-level graduate degrees.
(Interested in learning to invest, manage, and capitalize on financial opportunities instead? Those are skills a finance major develops.)
The BS in accounting with a focus on CPA preparation is a very interesting option for individuals looking to enter into the field. If a student enrolls in a program like this, they can expect a slightly higher credit requirement as opposed to the traditional BS, and there may even be a required public accounting internship involved. The supplemental credits are all geared toward covering topics in public accounting, giving students a leg up when it comes to preparing for CPA certifications.
Due to this program’s focus on CPA specific knowledge and certification preparation, it seems to be geared toward individuals looking to enter the workforce directly after their time as an undergraduate. The program is designed around public accounting and accompanying topics that may be part of certification examinations. That being said, taking this academic path would not exclude students from pursuing a graduate-level degree. Individuals who successfully complete this program would have the accounting knowledge to enter the workforce or continue their education. Much like students who go through the traditional BS in accounting, the next step has to do with their personal interest and goals. It’s simply more common with this academic track for students to become successfully certified public accountants directly after the program’s completion.
A third popular undergraduate accounting track is the BS in accounting with an MBA option. What this means is, students take four years of courses in the accounting program, just like the general BS in accounting. During their senior year, if the students are in good academic standing (minimum GPA varies by university and program), they are given the option to take additional graduate level business classes. If students manage to maintain academic success, they can then continue pursuing their MBA through a fifth year of business courses. Upon successful completion, students would leave this degree program with an undergraduate degree in accounting and a master’s degree in business administration.
Clearly, this degree option could be chosen by students with many different academic or professional goals in mind. Much like the first two degree options, it’s equally viable for a student to complete this program and begin finding open positions in the field, or for a student to complete this program and continue their graduate education. The MBA is going to make them more marketable in both situations.
The most common graduate degree for accounting would be the Master’s in Accounting. It’s specifically designed for individuals that majored in accounting during their undergraduate experience. This would be the next academic step after successfully earning a Bachelor of Science in accounting. In a graduate program like this one, students can expect a much more in-depth look at accounting that does not stop at the foundational level. There will be coursework options on specializations of accounting, and there will be highly detailed courses on common topics that may not have been fully covered during undergraduate studies.
Individuals who pursue a master’s degree in accounting could be doing so for many different professional reasons. In accounting, a graduate level degree is a huge advantage that can set you far apart from the others in the employment pool. For professionals looking to get into accounting roles, this is just about the highest degree out there. On the other hand, for individuals looking to teach accounting at the collegiate level, this can be a necessary step on your academic journey.
Generally, this is the most common, traditional graduate degree offered in accounting. Unlike the Master’s in Accounting, it’s not specifically designed for students that have studied accounting. A degree program like this one may be helpful for any successful undergraduate student looking to further their education and learn about accounting. Like the Master’s of Accounting (or Master of Accountancy), scholars in this program can expect to earn a comprehensive knowledge of specialized accounting best practices. Also, upon successful completion of this program, students can expect to put themselves in a great position to score well on the CPA exam. The Master of Science in accounting is just as practical as the Master’s in Accounting. It can afford a lot of the same opportunities in the professional world of accounting. It’s a very similar academic qualification, and it can really give students and prospective professionals a leg up in their next venture.
The MBA with an accounting specialization is a bit different from the previously mentioned degree options in that it is not specifically focused on accounting. At its core, an MBA is a business management degree. In this program, you can expect to learn all of the business techniques and theories that you would learn in a traditional MBA program. The only difference is, some of the coursework (not all of the coursework) is focused on accounting and how to effectively monitor professional finances.
Obviously, an MBA is extremely useful. Many employers look specifically for candidates with graduate degree certifications, and the knowledge earned in these programs can be helpful for any sort of professional. This specific kind of business and accounting degree would be very beneficial to entrepreneurs and even career accountants with their bachelor’s degree.
This is one of the two highest academic certifications you can possibly earn in the accounting field. The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is a professional degree option, meaning that the degree is designed for professionals in the field that intend to continue working in the field after earning the new degree. These professionals have no interest in doing research or teaching, they want to further their career in accounting.
The best candidates for this high-level certification would be top accounting executives looking to move their career forward. Coursework in this program would be geared toward leadership techniques, management techniques, and using preexisting accounting expertise in a managerial role. Having a DBA is also a very effective way to separate yourself from other prospective employment candidates.
The Doctor of Philosophy in Accounting (PhD) is another doctoral-level degree option for scholars interested in accounting. This program leans heavily on mathematic, economic, and financial theory associated with the field of accounting. Students going for their PhD in accounting can expect less focus on lessons in the field, and much more focus on looking at accounting through an academic lens.
This degree program is really designed for individuals who want to eventually impart their knowledge of accounting onto higher education students, or individuals who’d like to conduct their own original research. Prospective college professors and university researchers would benefit the most from this education certification. In fact, many higher education institutions require a PhD in professorial candidates and even some research roles.
The CPA exam, issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, is the most common licensing exam when it comes to the field of accounting. To pass this test, prospective accountants must work through four parts over the course of several days. Upon completion, Certified Public Accountants are given much more responsibilities than other accountants due to their institutional qualifications.
While an executive payroll position may not technically be referred to as “accounting”, individuals educated in accounting frequently enter this line of work. It’s a very similar role with a necessary skillset that frequently overlaps with that of an accountant. Large firms with high-volume work may require upper-level payroll employees to earn their CPP from the American Payroll Association.
Actuaries, similar to payroll professionals, share a lot of the same job responsibilities and foundational skills as accountants. The main organizations behind examinations and regulations are the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA), and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). To find more information on coursework and tests surrounding the licensing process, the two best places to go are the CAS and the SOA.
The job opportunities for prospective accounting professionals are just as diverse as the academic tracks available to become an accountant. Try to look for roles that cater to your personal goals or the coursework you find particularly interesting.
This specific role, usually undertaken by a CPA, is probably the role that most people think of when they think of accounting. These professionals work for accounting firms, large corporations, governments, or private individuals to help out with taxes, public financial documents, and other legal financial matters. Public accountants also have the ability to pursue more specialized roles in accounting that they may have been interested in during their academic career, like forensic accounting.
In the US, the median annual wages for accountants is $70,500.
Auditors (internal or external) are financial experts, just like accountants. The skillset for both of these occupations have a lot of overlap, but they are vastly different as well. Accountants are tasked with keeping track of financial records and keeping them organized, while auditors generally look for discrepancies or fund mismanagement in those records. Auditors can be hired by private companies to help with their own books, and auditors can also be hired by third party companies for investigative purposes.
Across all auditors employed in the US, the median annual wage is $70,500.
Tax examiners tend to come from an academic background in accounting, and they are well-versed in personal finance. Specifically, tax examiners are experts in personal taxes and personal tax regulation. Much of their professional responsibility has to do with ensuring that individuals have submitted the correct claims and deductions for their situation. If not, tax examiners are tasked with calculating adjustments based on incorrect tax claims. Overall, tax examiners are personal tax experts.
Tax examiners in the US make a median annual wage of $54,440.
The academic accounting track can also open the door to opportunities in budget analytics. These financial professionals are tasked with keeping track of, proposing, and clearing different budget proposals. Budget analysts are cost-benefit analysis experts, well-versed in planning future financial maneuvers. Successful budget analysts are also able to keep track of current financial situations while simultaneously looking ahead at future obstacles or opportunities.
In the US, the median annual wage across all budget analysts is $76,220.
As you can see, prospective accountants really have a lot to consider. There are so many accountancy degree options at every level of higher-education, and the professional opportunities are even more varied than the academic opportunities. With the specialized knowledge that accompanies accounting, prospective professionals can become involved in plethora of different industries in many different roles. They all rely on the mathematic and financial foundational knowledge of accounting, but they day-to-day responsibilities can vary greatly. Accounting professionals can be an invaluable asset to any number of different public or private organizations.
Interested in further exploring the field of accounting, academically or professionally? Get some assistance to see if GMercyU's Accounting Program is right for you.