How To Become An Accountant: Steps And Requirements
Career Opportunities

How To Become An Accountant: Steps And Requirements

Among the many professions out there, accountancy stands out as a promising career path. The field offers not only a stable career path but also an array of opportunities for career advancement and specialization. 

This article explains the steps and requirements for becoming an accountant. Learn about salary trends and job prospects to start your career.

Education Requirements

Businesses and individuals globally depend on accounting for their operations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 11 percent growth in accountant positions from 2014 to 2024. This growth indicates a promising future for aspiring accountants.

High School Preparation

It’s generally understood that a strong foundation in mathematics and business-related subjects can be beneficial for those looking to pursue a career in accounting.

Associate Degree In Accounting

It’s worth noting that some individuals might start with an associate degree before transitioning to a bachelor’s program.

Bachelor’s Degree In Accounting

Steps to Becoming an Accountant:

  1. Enroll In A Degree Program: Begin with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. This program will cover subjects like financial recordkeeping, ethics, statistics, management, personal and business tax, auditing, and international finance. Communication skills are also vital as they help in forming strong working relationships.

  2. Choose Your Career Path: Decide on a specialization within accounting, such as managerial accounting, financial accounting, or tax accounting. Alternatively, work towards becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or obtaining an MBA.

  3. Find an internship: Internships, whether paid or unpaid, offer valuable experience and can sometimes lead to job offers post-graduation.

  4. Complete Your degree: Finish your degree program and any additional coursework if you’re aiming for an advanced degree.

  5. Find A Job: After obtaining your degree, you can start looking for entry-level positions in the accounting field.

  6. Get Certified: Depending on your chosen specialty, you might want to pursue additional certifications to enhance your marketability and professional credibility. Some of these certifications include:

  • Certified Public Accountants (CPA)

  • Certified Information Systems Auditors

  • Certified Management Accountants

  • Certified Internal Auditors

Accounting Degrees and Requirements:

When choosing a university, it’s essential to opt for an accredited institution. The accounting education requirements will vary based on the specialty field chosen. Some concentrations include:

  • Management Concentrations: Covering subjects like statistics, finance, management, marketing, law, and ethics.

  • Accounting Concentrations: Including business and personal taxation, investments, cost accounting, fraud auditing, and general accounting courses.

  • CPA Preparatory: Focusing on international finance, information systems, investments, and operations management, among other required courses.

Typically, students need to complete 120-125 credit hours to receive a bachelor of science in accounting. The exact requirements might vary based on the program and chosen concentration.

How Long Does It Take To Become An Accountant?

The duration to become an accountant can vary. Generally, it takes four years of study to earn a degree in accounting. For those pursuing CPA certification, additional coursework is required, which might extend the duration. Some institutions offer simultaneous programs allowing students to complete their CPA requirements during their four-year degree program.

A potential timeline could be:

  • Year 1: Research, apply, and enroll in a university program.

  • Years 2 – 4: Complete coursework, decide on a concentration, and pursue internships.

  • Year 5: Seek employment and complete any additional coursework or degrees.

  • Year 6 and beyond: Gain experience, pursue continuing education, and further your career.

Gwynedd Mercy University offers a CPA preparatory track and a unique 4+1 MBA option, allowing students to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in just five years.

Master’s Degree In Accounting

A master’s degree in accounting is designed to prepare candidates for specialized positions and leadership roles within the accounting profession. Those with advanced accounting master’s degrees are highly sought after in the job market. These graduates are eligible for a variety of career options, including:

  • Financial Controllers: Oversee accounts receivable, accounts payable, budgeting, and payroll functions.

  • Senior Financial Analysts: Analyze financial data to assist businesses in making informed decisions.

  • Senior Auditors: Examine financial statements to ensure they are accurate and comply with laws and regulations.

According to Payscale salary data as of April 2022, professionals with master’s degrees in accounting can expect average annual salaries ranging from $71,000 to $87,000. Additionally, completing a master’s degree in accounting may qualify students to sit for the state’s certified public accountant (CPA) exam.

Duration And Coursework

Students typically complete their master’s degree in accounting within 1-2 years. The curriculum covers advanced accounting theory and practice, including topics like cost accounting, financial reporting, ethics, and taxation. Admission to graduate school often requires prerequisite coursework, which might include a specific number of credit hours, a bachelor’s degree in accounting, or a related specialization.

Semester Hours Needed For Degrees

While a bachelor’s degree in accounting usually comprises 120 credit hours, those aiming to sit for the CPA exam often need to meet a 150-credit hour requirement. This is where a master’s degree in accounting becomes invaluable. Earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s in accounting typically fulfills this 150-credit requirement. The CPA exam itself consists of four sections: auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation. It’s recommended to allocate 8-12 weeks of preparation for each section.

Specialized Programs And Certifications

Master’s in accounting programs often offer specialized concentrations, allowing students to tailor their studies to specific areas of interest. Some of the common concentrations include:

  • Forensic Accounting: Focuses on investigating financial crimes and identifying fraudulent accounting practices.

  • Tax Accounting: Specializes in preparing and filing tax returns and researching tax laws.

  • Budget Analysis: Involves formulating company budgets, analyzing costs and benefits, and managing organizational spending.

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO): A top executive role overseeing operations affecting financial performance, including cash flow, capital outlays, and regulatory compliance.

In addition to the CPA certification, there are other accounting certifications that graduates might consider, such as the certified public bookkeeper, certified management accountant, and certified internal auditor.

For those interested in academic or research careers, pursuing a Ph.D. in accounting or a related field after their master’s might be a suitable path. Many Ph.D. graduates opt for roles as professors, public policy researchers, consultants, or analysts.

CPA Certification Requirements

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an esteemed accounting professional who meets standardized requirements and can perform specific professional functions that uncertified accountants cannot legally offer. The National Association of State Boards of Accounting (NASBA) reported over 665,000 active CPAs in the United States as of August 2022.

Exam Requirement

The Uniformf CPA Examination is a comprehensive test that candidates must pass to earn their CPA certification. It consists of four sections, each lasting four hours:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)

  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)

  • Regulation (REG)

Candidates can sit for each section individually and in any order. The exam format includes multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, and written response questions. The CPA exam is not an open-book test, and candidates must obtain passing scores on all four individual sections to qualify for CPA certification.

Education Requirements For CPA Exam Eligibility

To qualify for CPA certification, candidates need at least a bachelor’s degree and the equivalent of 150 semester hours of college credit. While many states do not mandate an accounting degree, they typically require a certain number of upper-level accounting courses. As such, an accounting bachelor’s degree can be beneficial. Some states even allow candidates to sit for the CPA exam before completing their degree.

Work Experience Requirement For CPA Certification

Most states require CPA candidates to have at least one year of relevant experience, typically ranging from 1,800 to 2,000 hours of work. This experience must encompass one or more of the following duties:

  • Attestation

  • Auditing

  • Compilation

  • Financial or management advisory services

  • Preparation of financial statements

Some states, like California, also recognize teaching accounting courses at the postsecondary level as valid professional experience.

State Licensure Requirements For CPAS

Government-aligned state agencies issue CPA credentials in the United States, and the exact path to CPA licensure can vary depending on the state. Some states, for instance, require candidates to pass an additional professional ethics exam to qualify for licensure. Additionally, certain states have specific requirements related to U.S. citizenship, state residency, or the possession of a U.S. Social Security number.

The registration process for the CPA exam begins when a candidate applies to NASBA. Once approved, candidates receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS) that provides details on available dates, times, and locations for the exam.

It’s essential for aspiring CPAs to consult state-specific eligibility information and NASBA’s CPA exam portal to understand the precise requirements for their jurisdiction.

Benefits Of Being An Accountant

The accounting profession is diverse, inclusive, and in high demand. As traditional stereotypes about accountants fade away, individuals from various backgrounds, genders, and age groups are increasingly attracted to this field. Here are some of the top advantages of becoming an accountant:

  1. Job Security

The accounting field is projected to grow by 6 percent from 2021 to 2031. With over 136,000+ job openings expected in the coming decade and a decline in students enrolling in accounting programs, those with accounting degrees are in a prime position to secure stable employment. Earning additional certifications, such as the CPA license, further enhances job prospects.

  1. Tons of Industry Opportunities

Accountants are not limited to the finance sector. They can work in diverse industries, from fashion to tech and from healthcare to higher education. Whether you’re interested in government accounting, forensic accounting, or even niche roles like entertainment or art accounting, there’s a place for you in the accounting world.

  1. High Salary

The median annual salary for accountants and auditors is $77,250. Those working for top accounting firms or holding certifications can even earn six-figure incomes. The accounting industry is also among the top ten highest-salary professions for women.

  1. Fringe Benefits

Full-time accountants often enjoy benefits such as health care, pensions, and sometimes even partnership opportunities. Benefits may include 401K plans, short-term disability coverage, life insurance, and COBRA access.

  1. Opportunities for Advancement

The accounting field offers significant career progression. With experience and additional certifications, senior accountants can earn substantially more than their entry-level counterparts. The demand for accountants is widespread, allowing professionals to work in various locations.

  1. A Great Professional Network

Joining professional organizations, attending networking events, and participating in social networking groups can help accountants build a robust professional network, opening doors to various opportunities.

  1. Career Diversity

An accounting degree offers flexibility. Many accountants have transitioned to roles as CEOs of successful companies. With a foundation in accounting, you can explore careers in finance, auditing, taxation, and more.

  1. Travel and Tech

Modern accountants benefit from technological advancements that simplify their tasks and allow for remote work. This flexibility means that accountants can work from anywhere, even while traveling.

  1. A Rewarding Role

Accountants play a pivotal role in guiding business decisions. Their work, though centered around numbers, has a profound impact on people and organizations.

  1. Prestige

Accountants are respected professionals. Holding a CPA license, in particular, adds to one’s credibility and opens doors to numerous opportunities.

Career Options With An Accounting Degree

An accounting degree is not just about crunching numbers. It equips individuals with a comprehensive understanding of financial principles, business operations, and analytical skills. Renowned billionaire investor Warren Buffet once described accounting as the language of business. With such a degree, you’re prepared to speak and understand this language, opening doors to a plethora of career opportunities. Here are some of the prominent roles you can pursue with an accounting degree:

  1. Accountant

  • Median Annual Salary: $77,250

  • Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 6%

  • Job Description: Accountants maintain and organize financial records for individuals, organizations, or the government. They ensure records are accurate, oversee tax returns, and offer strategies to improve financial operations.

  1. Auditor

  • Median Annual Salary: $77,250

  • Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 6%

  • Job Description: Auditors review financial records to ensure accuracy and compliance with regulations. They can work internally within an organization or externally for third-party firms.

  1. Bookkeeping, Accounting or Auditing Clerk

  • Median Annual Salary: $45,560

  • Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): -5%

  • Job Description: These professionals record financial transactions, update financial statements, and ensure financial records are accurate.

  1. Budget Analyst

  • Median Annual Salary: $79,940

  • Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 3%

  • Job Description: Budget analysts assist in the preparation of budgets and review budget proposals for accuracy.

  1. Financial Analyst

  • Median Annual Salary: $77,300

  • Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 6%

  • Job Description: Financial analysts assess investment opportunities and provide guidance to businesses and individuals on investment decisions.

  1. Financial Examiner

  • Median Annual Salary: $81,410

  • Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 21%

  • Job Description: Financial examiners ensure compliance with financial regulations, assess financial risks, and ensure that financial institutions offer fair loans to consumers.

  1. Financial Manager

  • Median Annual Salary: $131,710

  • Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 17%

  • Job Description: Financial managers oversee the financial health of an organization, produce financial reports, and guide investment activities.

  1. Management Analyst

  • Median Annual Salary: $93,000

  • Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 11%

  • Job Description: Management analysts, also known as consultants, propose ways to improve an organization’s efficiency.

  1. Personal Financial Advisor

  • Median Annual Salary: $94,170

  • Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 15%

  • Job Description: Personal financial advisors offer advice on investments, insurance, and financial planning.

  1. Sales Manager

  • Median Annual Salary: $127,490

  • Projected Job Growth (2021-2031): 7%

  • Job Description: Sales managers oversee sales teams, set sales goals, and analyze sales data.

While the above roles are directly related to accounting, the skills acquired from an accounting degree are transferable and can be applied in various other sectors, from entrepreneurship to consultancy and beyond.

Becoming An Accountant

An accounting career offers stability, growth, and a chance to make a significant impact in the business world. Whether you’re just starting your journey or considering a shift in your career, accounting is a field worth exploring.

Find out how much can a certified public accountant save you by checking out our detailed guide. Visit Go Degree and browse through the available resources to learn more.