What Can I Do with an Accounting Degree?

Accounting is the recording of financial transactions, and accountants store, sort, retrieve, summarize and present financial transaction information in various reports and analyses. They also make estimates and projections based on financial data as well as pay taxes. These functions are essential to any organization, regardless of whether the organization is small or large, public or private.

Students who pursue a degree in business with a major in accounting have the opportunity to prepare themselves to practice the profession of accounting by learning how accounting systems are structured and implemented. In this program, the student will be exposed to accounting principles and theory and have the opportunity to learn how to perform core accounting functions in for-profit, non-profit, and public organizations.

By studying accounting, students may acquire skillsets that include knowing how to organize, analyze and interpret business information such as the cost of operations, products and special projects. They will also have the opportunity to learn how to maintain a company’s general ledger and how to prepare profit and loss statements, balance sheets, cost studies and tax reports. Accounting curriculum is designed to teach students how to fine-tune their communication skills, both written as well as verbal, in preparation to advise key stakeholders such as company officers and clients on accounting and tax problems.

What are Possible Career Paths with an Accounting Degree?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for accountants are expected to grow at a steady rate that actually outpaces the average rate of growth for other occupations, meaning now could be an ideal time to pursue an accounting profession.1 Employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) validated this projection, indicating they plan to hire 11 percent more fresh college graduates from the class of 2016 than they did from the class of 2015.2 Dr. Uzell Williams, Lead Instructor of Accounting at Colorado Technical University (CTU) isn’t surprised by the growth in opportunities for accountants. According to Williams, “A variety of organizations need accounting professionals who are abreast of the changing laws and prepared to do the work.” While the following positions are only a sample of the possible careers a student with an accounting degree may pursue, they demonstrate the wide range of industries and organizational roles available in the accounting field.

Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors prepare and ensure the integrity of important business reports, such as profit and loss statements. They also verify an organizations’ bookkeeping practices are in compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations. Furthermore, accountants and auditors analyze trends and make appropriate budget recommendations to management. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, opportunities for accountants and auditors are expected to grow by 11% between now and 2024.3

Cost Estimator

A cost estimator uses data to calculate the labor, time, materials and money necessary to manufacture a product or construct a building, for example. They do a significant amount of research, including analyzing documentation and blueprints and consulting with vendors and clients. A cost estimator’s estimates assist managers in price determination or project bidding. Cost estimators are expected to have knowledge in subject matters such as engineering, technology, accounting, economics and design. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the job market for cost estimators is expected to grow 9% by 2024.4

Budget Analyst

Budget Analysts help public and private organizations develop their budget. They review managers’ budget proposals for completeness and accuracy, and ensure the proposals adhere to laws and other regulations. They also review funding requests to verify they have merit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities are projected to grow at a rate of 3% for budget analysts between now and 2024.5

Financial Analyst

A financial analyst studies macroeconomic and microeconomic conditions in conjunction with a company’s business activity to make recommendations. For example, a financial analyst might recommend buying or selling a company’s stock based on either its current strength or projected growth. Banks, buy- and sell-side investment firms, insurance companies and investment banks typically hire financial analysts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects opportunities for financial analysts will grow 12% between now and 2024.6

Personal Financial Advisor

Just as the title suggests, personal financial advisors advise clients on their finances. They meet with clients, discuss their financial situation, and learn what their long-term financial goals are. Then, they devise a financial plan to help their clients meet those goals. For some clients, a personal financial advisor might be working on a retirement plan and therefore dealing with pensions, retirement packages, and so forth. For other clients, a personal financial advisor might answer questions involving real estate, taxes, and insurance. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of opportunities for personal financial advisors is expected to grow 30% by 2024.7

Financial Manager

Financial managers oversee the monetary concerns of businesses. They decide how to invest money, identify the best way to raise funds for growth, and set short and long-term revenue goals. Financial managers also coordinate accounting and produce financial reports such as cash flow statements and profit projections. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports opportunities for financial managers are expected to grow at a rate of 7% by 2024.8

Management Consultant

Management consultants, often referred to as management analysts, provide guidance to companies on how to surpass obstacles and improve performance. In general, they gather and review a company’s information, make new insights into business activities and trends, and communicate unbiased, objective solutions. Management consultants must be knowledgeable about business development, risk analysis and cost management. They must also be able to think logically and examine things from different angles. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of opportunities for management consultants is expected to grow 14% by 2024.9

Additional Career Paths

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 1.3 million accountants and auditors in the United States, and the outlook for these professionals is good.11 According to the Robert Half 2016 Salary Guide, salaries in accounting and finance are predicted to rise on average by 2.2%, and senior roles will see rises of up to 4%.12

Additional career paths for accountants include:

  • Loan officer
  • Tax examiner, collector and revenue agent
  • Post-secondary teacher
  • Budget Analyst Securities, commodities and financial services sales agent
  • Insurance sales agent
  • Controller13

Certifications

Accounting professionals may choose to build their credentials to create new career opportunities and meet employer requirements through the completion of professional certifications. For example, accountants can become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to enhance their job prospects or to gain clients. A CPA certification provides an advantage in the job market because it shows professional competence in a specialized field of accounting and auditing. Furthermore, every accountant filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is required by law to be a CPA. CPAs are licensed by their state’s Board of Accountancy, and almost all states require CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework to be certified as well as pass a national, four-part exam from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).14

The Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business sponsor the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification. Professionals who hold this accounting certification demonstrate proficiency in financial analysis, budgeting, strategic assessment and other skills. To qualify for a CMA, professionals must have a bachelor’s degree and at least two consecutive years in either financial management or management accounting. In addition, there is a two-part exam that must be passed. Many accounting professionals opt to receive both the CPA and CMA certifications, since there is an overlap in exam material.15

Finally, The CFA Institute confers the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification to investment professionals who have at least a bachelor’s degree, four years of work experience, and pass three exams covering topics such as accounting, economics, ethics, money management and security analysis. The CFA Charter is considered to be one of the most respected designations in finance, often thought of as the gold standard in the field of investment analysis.16

With a career in accounting, motivated professionals can establish their careers not only by earning certifications and pursuing advanced degrees, but also by becoming well versed on the most up-to-date technology. According to a panel of experts, mobile devices and cloud computing are already permeating all aspects of a CPA’s daily duties. In addition, CPAs also have increasing access to more robust business intelligence and data analysis tools that use XML and XBRL tags, large databases and sophisticated algorithms to quickly analyze a company’s financial activity to identify risks, concerns and opportunities.”17

It is also recommended that accountants develop a horizontal rather than a vertical view of accounting. This means becoming well versed in finance as well as in accounting. You will have the opportunity to do this by participating in rotational programs and reaching out to subject matter experts. Understanding all areas of both accounting and finance may help your career immensely and even lead you to a specialty field based on your interests.18

Accounting courses at CTU align to the educational standards of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The student who meets the unique requirements of the State Board of Accounting in their state’s Application for CPA Licensure is qualified to sit for the CPA exam. CTU’s programs are not designed to prepare students for the CPA or CMA examination or any other certification exam, but covers the knowledge areas of the uniform CPA and CMA certification.

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1, 3, 11, 13 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Accountants and Auditors, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm (visited February 15, 2017).
2 O’Neil, Cheri. “Why this is a Good Time to Be a New Accounting Graduate.” Retrieved from: https://www.roberthalf.com/finance/blog/why-this-is-a-good-time-to-be-a-new-accounting-graduate (Visited 3/12/17)
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Cost Estimators, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/cost-estimators.htm (visited February 15,2017).
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Budget Analysts, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/budget-analysts.htm (visited February 15, 2017).
6 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Financial Analysts, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/financial-analysts.htm (visited February 19, 2017).
7 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Personal Financial Advisors, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/personal-financial-advisors.htm (visited February 19, 2017).
8 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Financial Managers, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/financial-managers.htm (visited February 21, 2017).
9 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Management Analysts, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/management-analysts.htm (visited February 20, 2017).
11 “Top Ten Reasons it’s Good to be an Accountant Right Now.” Retrieved from: http://myjobs.cimaglobal.com/article/top-10-reasons-it-s-good-to-be-an-accountant-right-now/ (Visited 3/12/17).
12 “40 Top-Paying Accounting Jobs.” Retrieved from: http://www.accounting-degree.org/top-paying-accounting-jobs/ (Visited 2/21/17).
14 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Accountants and Auditors, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm (visited February 21, 2017).
15 “Accounting and Financial Certifications Employers Want to See.” Retrieved from: https://www.roberthalf.com/finance/blog/accounting-and-financial-certifications-employers-want-to-see (Visited 2/21/17).
16“Chartered Financial Analyst – CFA.” Retrieved from: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/cfa.asp (Visited 2/21/17).
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18 Ursick, Mark. “Ten Career Tips for Young CPAs.” Retrieved from: http://www.aicpastore.com/Content/media/PRODUCER_CONTENT/Newsletters/Articles_2013/CPA/Feb/BuildCareers.jsp (Visited 2/21/17).