Accounting student
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Accounting Degree

Considering an Accounting Degree?

Accounting is one of those majors and professions that consistently remain undisturbed by educational trends, career fads, and economic cycles. It is a perpetually “hot” major at most colleges and universities, and accounting classrooms stay full because there are always people drawn to the unique attributes and benefits of the accounting field.

An accounting degree is not the most exciting or glamorous qualification, and the field is stereotypically known to attract quiet, steady, detail-oriented types. The study of accounting is also recognized as leading to plentiful opportunities to land stable, dependable, and lucrative jobs. As long as business is being carried out and taxes are being collected, accountants will be in demand.

An accounting major holds out a variety of qualification possibilities, and accounting graduates find work across a surprisingly broad range of sectors and industries even beyond business and finance. For example, did you know that earning a degree in accounting is a popular way to prepare for a career with the FBI (U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation)? Accounting is an extremely versatile qualification, and according to numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job formation in accounting is expected to grow at a rate of 10% through 2026. Anyone considering higher education would be wise to look into getting an accounting degree.

What is Accounting?

Accounting is the practice and profession of monitoring financial transactions and maintaining financial records. Accountants take responsibility for recording the movements of money and organizing, analysing, storing, summarizing, and reporting that information. Accounting work is an essential component of business management, and is the source of information that managers need to operate a company profitably. Assuring company compliance with tax law and other financial regulations is another important work area that falls under the umbrella of accounting.

Although typically associated with business organizations and their economic activities, accounting can be carried out wherever money is flowing. Non-profit organizations  such as churches need accountants to manage their funds. Even though they may not run a business or engage in work activities, the wealthy commonly use accounting services as part of management programs for their accounts and investments. Technically, a mother or father who sits at the kitchen table and works through the family finances is doing accounting work.

As an academic major, accounting falls within the larger field of business. Basic coverage of accounting principles and techniques is a common requirement for degrees in business administration, finance, tax law, entrepreneurship, and many other subject areas. Degrees in accounting are offered at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Various types of certification and licensure are also available.

The practice of accounting and the work of accountants have changed significantly with the rise of computer technology and the development of specialized accounting software tools. Yet the essential nature and objectives of the field remain much the same as they have been since the rise of human commerce – calculating and controlling money earned by business activities. Ubiquitous and constant demand, along with near-universal applicability of the skillset, help accounting maintain its popularity as a degree major and occupation.

What are the qualities and skills an accounting student needs?

There is a nearly standardized set of qualities and skills that make a good accounting student and by extension, an outstanding accounting professional. Some characteristics are so consistently present among practitioners in the field of accounting that an accountant stereotype has arisen and is often seen in movies and television shows.

If the stereotypes are to be accepted, the perfect accountant must be a short, balding, somewhat mousy male with thick glasses, a threadbare suit, and a prodigious memory only matched by his impressive math capabilities. The accountant is usually clutching a briefcase and on the run from gangsters whose internal business operations he is too familiar with for his own good.

Of course, such stereotypes are just for fun. However, a strong affinity for numbers and exceptional mental powers of both memory and analysis truly are characteristics of a good candidate for an accounting degree. Other traits of the ideal accounting student are similar to those required for most business majors. No matter what level of accounting degree is in question, accounting students should be highly-organized people and good time managers. Good verbal and written communication skills are a necessity, as is facility with the latest technology.

There are also more specialized characteristics associated with success in accounting. Perhaps the most important are honesty and integrity. The foundation of the accounting profession consists of adherence to the strictest ethical standards, as would be expected of professionals who are constantly entrusted with handling other people’s money and confidential information. The actions (or inactions) of an accountant can easily bring the largest company to ruin – such things have happened many times in the past.

The ability to apply extreme attention to detail is another absolute requirement. The prospective accountant must be the type of person who can work through complex accounting procedures and hack through tangles of mixed-up, error-filled figures hidden in stacks of spreadsheets and paperwork, all without misplacing a single decimal point or zero.

This detail-orientation should be part of a highly-analytical overall mental framework. Excellent problem-solving skills and the ability to make sense of dense yet fluid bodies of regulation as applied to an ever-changing array of circumstances are core qualities required of the accounting professional. Students in any accounting degree program will be trained and tested for these qualities. In contrast to this intensely rational mindset, an accountant working in personal finance also needs to be a sympathetic, empathetic person because many clients look to an accountant for help dealing with frustrating and even devastating financial problems.

What is the best preparation for studying accounting?

Preparation for accounting study is similar to that needed for other business majors, and is also dependant on the level and type of accounting qualification being pursued. For bachelor’s degree programs, strong English literacy skills including the ability to read analytically and write clearly are basics. Advanced work in speech communication, financial literacy, accounting, computer technology, and math will also be very useful.

Prospective accounting students should develop leadership skills and gain real-world experience via active membership in clubs and professional organizations. Volunteer activities, community service opportunities, and internships should be pursued with vigor. Look for chances to gain closely relevant experience. For example, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service[U3]  calls for volunteers to help low-income families complete their annual tax forms. If you are in a school club, work to take up the position of treasurer. Such activities help develop necessary skills and also look good on admissions applications.

For graduate-level accounting study, the best preparation is a 4-year degree in accounting, business, or finance. Work experience is always good, and significant relevant experience can substitute for a related undergraduate major. Most graduate degree programs in accounting do not require scores from the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), but if you have scores, they can be submitted with admissions packages.

Skill at preparing for and taking high-stakes exams can be very helpful for some accounting study programs. The most obvious example would be programs that lead to licensures like the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) qualification. The CPA exam consists of four sections, each 4 hours long. It is the required certification for the practice of public accounting in the United States. Similar exam-based certifications with minor variation in naming are in use in many other countries.

What coursework is required for an accounting degree?

The field of accounting offers a variety of qualifications and many different career paths, so coursework varies significantly according to program, specialty, and personal preference. Accounting is a rigorous major; students can expect to encounter challenging classes in any program. Basic course work focuses on the fundamentals of accounting, computer training, and general business management skills. Students should also plan on studying college algebra, elementary Statistics and business statistics as well as several levels of calculus.

Core courses in a typical 120-150 credit undergraduate accounting program usually cover the following topics among others:

Principles of Accounting – Often presented as a series of courses of advancing complexity, these classes cover the fundamentals of financial and managerial accounting, concepts regarding accounting in business environments, and techniques for identifying, measuring, and reporting on the effects of economic events on business enterprises.

Computer Systems and Applications – Modern accounting practices are technology-driven, so students need to learn how to use word processing, database, spreadsheet, and presentation software along with specialized accounting software programs.

Principles of Macroeconomics – Students learn the basic concepts and terminology of macroeconomics and explore the relationships between large-scale economic phenomena, business operations, and financial accounting practices.

Business Communication – Training and practice in communication, including developing and delivering presentations and reports, in business settings. Additional topics include information management and utilization, collaboration skills, communication ethics, and professional values.

This is a brief example of some of the many subjects available for study in a basic accounting degree program. At the graduate level, students will encounter more specialized accounting topics with courses in areas like auditing, attestation and assurance, financial and managerial accounting, business valuation, cost accounting, corporate and individual taxation, research strategies, and more.

What are the benefits of an accounting degree?

Accounting is a high-demand field, and the work leading to a degree and CPA certification, in particular, is difficult. Many students do a master’s degree in an accounting specialty and the CPA in tandem. A qualification of this type may take seven years of study in total. A bachelor’s degree usually takes four years, an associate’s only two, but accounting program subject matter is challenging regardless of degree objective.

Relatively few students care to meet that challenge, so on top of the prestige associated with a professional qualification in a vital field, accounting school graduates enjoy the benefits of a rich job market and generous salary scale. The pay for accountants is high at the entry level and increases along with qualification, but the variety of degrees and certifications available and the broad range of potential employment situations make it difficult to pin down specific salary figures. Here is a look at some possibilities.

Jobs

Accountants qualified at the CPA level can go into private practice in their own accounting businesses. In the corporate world, accounting career opportunities are most commonly found in the business and finance sectors. Some of the top careers in the field include:

  •       Actuary
  •       Assessor
  •       Budget Analyst
  •       Claims Adjuster
  •       Chief Financial Officer
  •       Financial Analyst
  •       Forensic Accountant
  •    Human Resources Specialist
  •       Insurance Underwriter
  •       Loan Officer
  •       Market Research Analyst
  •       Personal Financial Advisor
  •       Real Estate Appraiser

The BLS estimates that 139,900 accounting jobs will be opening up in the period up to 2026. With U.S. News and World Report ranking accountant at #3 among best business jobs, and a low 2.3% unemployment rate, the occupational outlook for the field is good. In addition, working accountants report high job satisfaction. They rate upward mobility possibilities as high and flexibility in work schedule as above average. Accounting offers jobs with low stress levels, good work/life balance, and solid prospects for improvement.

Salaries

Due to the diverse nature of the accounting profession and the many possible combinations of qualifications available, accounting degree candidates can expect to find wide variation in starting salary. According to the BLS, the 2017 median salary for accountants was $69,350. The top quarter of the profession earned an average of $91,770 while the bottom 25% averaged $54,250.

Looking at particular occupational specialties in accounting, we find accountants and auditors in general earning a median of $68,150 annually in 2016. Bookkeeping and accounting clerks earned $38, 390. Some of the best-paid jobs in the field are personal financial advisor at a median of $81,760 per year and actuary, earning a median of $90,530 in 2016.

Is an accounting degree right for you?

There is no question that attaining an accounting degree can lead to very nice career possibilities even in the tough job market graduates face today. The major offers a good potential return on your higher education investment. Both on-campus and online accounting degree programs are readily available and reasonably priced. But is accounting the right fit for you?

We have explored a few of the characteristics and skills needed for success in an accounting degree program. One to keep uppermost in mind is commitment. Accounting is a challenging major featuring dense curricula, demanding courses, and loads of homework. Accounting students are often found in the library and participating in study groups.

More importantly, success in accounting calls for certain mental capacities. The ability to think analytically and formulate structured, methodical approaches to problem solving is essential. Then, solutions must be clearly communicated to team members, managers, and clients.

From the ability to put in hours of intense, solitary focus on complex financial reports, to engaging public speaking capabilities, study and work in the field of accounting calls for a surprisingly broad skill set. If you have what it takes, and are confident that an accounting degree will help you achieve your personal goals, accounting is a rewarding direction to take on your higher education journey.

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