Accounting can be considered one of the most essential functions in an organization. Regardless of whether a company is small or large, public or private, its management team must perform baseline business functions such as recording financial transactions, presenting financial information in various formats, making estimates and projections based on financial data, and paying taxes.
Accountants, in turn, prepare and examine financial records. They ensure that these records are accurate and that the business runs smoothly. The fact that accounting touches nearly every business matter may explain the growing number of accounting professionals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there were approximately 1.3 million accountants and auditors in the United States in 2014, and employment for these professionals is projected to grow by 11% through 2024.1
Accounting can be flexible and may lead to a career in a specialized field. According to Dr. Uzell Williams, Lead Instructor of Accounting at Colorado Technical University (CTU), “With accounting, you can do so many different things. It’s a broad subject matter with many niches. Accounting majors find their niche and may go on to have a fulfilling career in an area they love.”
Accountants can play a critical role in a company’s day-to-day operations. Also, the field of accounting may change rapidly due to advancements in technology, increases in government regulations, tax law changes or the globalization of business.
Skills and Characteristics of Accountants
Students who gravitate toward numbers may choose to major in accounting. These types of individuals might enjoy logic, routine, discipline and structure. CTU’s Dr. Williams stresses the math skills required for accounting are not especially difficult. Rather, it’s the thoroughness, problem-solving ability and research skills that students may find challenging. Dr. Williams explains, “Accounting is like a puzzle, and accounting majors should enjoy taking the puzzle apart and putting it back together.”
Accountants should be good communicators. Most accountants are part of an accounting team or department, and they interact with other departments and customers on a routine basis. For example, an accountant might find him or herself discussing a budget with marketing or writing a concise memo to a company officer or a customer.2 Since many of the people whom accountants communicate with may not be as familiar with the numbers as they are, accountants need to be able to present the information in a way that’s easy for others to understand.3
Additionally, accounting and technology go hand-in-hand today. The use of Excel along with a number of accounting-specific software programs such as Hyperion and QuickBooks are the norm. Also, large enterprises will most likely have corporate-wide Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems such as Oracle and SAP in use, so a comfort level with sophisticated software applications is critical.4
Accounting in the Classroom
Business degree programs that concentrate in accounting can offer students the opportunity to become well-versed in accounting principles and theory, plus learn how to perform core accounting functions in for-profit, nonprofit and public organizations. Students may also expect to encounter a significant amount of terminology, structure and calculations.
Types of Accounting Degrees
There are numerous levels of accounting degrees that students can pursue, such as:
Associate’s Degree in Accounting
An Associate of Science in Accounting degree may provide students with the opportunity to prepare for a number of entry-level positions. Coursework can be structured to give a solid foundation in career-specific accounting skills and knowledge such as General Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP), preparing financial statements, and applying appropriate concepts of finance, accounting and statistics to make effective decisions. Students may also have the opportunity to become proficient in accounting technology.
Upon completion of an associate’s degree, students may be able to pursue careers including bookkeeping, accounting or auditing clerk.5 An associate’s degree in accounting can be a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree. Earning an associate’s may offer a student the opportunity to apply some general education requirements to a bachelor’s degree.
Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting
A Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree can offer a business education that helps graduates prepare to pursue a number of positions upon completion. With the bachelor’s degree, a student should be able to apply the knowledge of accounting to identify accounting concepts and principles as well as interpret financial statements and manage a complete set of accounts for a small to moderate-sized organization.
It’s important to note, in addition to a bachelor’s degree in accounting, many accounting professionals build credentials to create new career opportunities and meet employer requirements through the completion of professional certifications. Some certifications available include the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Certified Financial Manager (CFM).3
After a student has graduated with a bachelor’s degree and spent some time in the workforce, he or she may choose to seek an advanced degree such as a master’s degree.
Master’s Degree in Accounting
The Master of Science in Accounting is designed for students with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. These programs are aimed to develop strong theoretical foundations and professional skills in accounting, such as financial reporting and assurance, management control and auditing, taxation, and forensic accounting. A master’s degree may be a pragmatic path to take to help graduates prepare to offer financial management and consulting services while taking on a more significant advisory role.
With a master’s degree in accounting, students may have the opportunity to fine-tune knowledge of financial laws and regulations and offer financial management or consulting services. Professionals holding a master’s degree in accounting may pursue careers such as accounting manager, budget director, or manager of internal auditing.3
Careers in Accounting
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for accountants and auditors are projected to grow faster than average through 2024.1 In 2015, Joanne Fiore, the American Institute of CPAs Vice President – Professional Media, Pathways and Inclusion, reaffirmed this projection, commenting, "Coming out of the economic recession, firms are working to grow their staff and are finding increased competition to hire top talent. Firms are hiring to both help fuel their growth and replace turnover."6 CTU’s Dr. Williams agrees stating, “There’s job stability and opportunity for growth in accounting. The person who understands the money, understands the business.”
Professions in accounting may include:
Accountants and Auditors
Accountants and auditors prepare and analyze financial records. They verify the accuracy of these records and ensure taxes are prepared correctly and filed on time. Furthermore, accountants and auditors typically examine financial statements to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, inspect accounting books and systems for efficiency, and assess financial operations and make best-practice recommendations.7Cost Estimator
Cost estimators collect and analyze data to estimate the time, money, materials and labor required to manufacture a product, construct a building or provide a service. These estimates can assist managers in price determination or project bidding. Most cost estimators specialize in a particular area like construction and often collaborate with engineers, architects, clients and contractors.8
Budget analysts help public and private companies organize their finances. They prepare budget reports and monitor spending within an organization, such as governments, universities and other businesses in need of financial advising. Budget analysts also sometimes use cost-benefit analyses to review financial requests, assess program tradeoffs, and explore alternative funding methods.9
Study Accounting at Colorado Technical University
U.S. News & World Report ranked Colorado Technical University’s online bachelor degree programs among the Best Online Programs for 2017. CTU’s programs are designed to balance business fundamentals with real-world accounting principles including corporate accounting, taxation, governmental and nonprofit accounting and auditing. Learn about CTU’s BSBA – Accounting program.