For anyone thinking a career in accounting has to be a bookish, nerdy existence spent peering into ledgers – just remember, it was an accountant who took down Al Capone.
The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) says on its website that accounting is the “language of business.” Accountants have to interpret that language so executives understand the financial health of the company.
Accountants are in demand and command a solid paycheck. The path to becoming an accountant starts with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but to progress you’ll likely need further education, especially to become a CPA.
Education Requirements for Accountants & CPAs
Becoming a Certified Public Accountant requires classes in addition to a bachelor’s degree, but not necessarily a master’s degree, the BLS said, although a master’s is definitely helpful.
The need for accountants is expected to increase by 16%, the BLS said, partly in response to corporate scandals and new regulations that focus on accounting. Workers with a CPA or a master’s degree can expect to have an advantage in the expanding field, the BLS said.
Also, a report on the AICPA website said hiring of workers with a master’s degree in accounting is increasing while firms are hiring fewer with only a bachelor’s. Those with a master’s can expect 10% to 20% higher starting pay than workers with a bachelor’s, the website said.
The median accountant salary is $61,000, the BLS said, with the top 10% earning more than $106,000 a year.
More Career Choices with a Master’s Degree in Accounting
While the AICPA said a master’s in accountancy isn’t absolutely necessary, it’s the preferred course for those seeking the top jobs in the field, especially that of certified public accountant (CPA). Also, new regulations, tax laws and technology require more sophisticated approaches to auditing, the group’s website said.
Master’s courses can include statistics for business, federal and business taxes, preparing corporate reports, computer information and analyzing financial statements.
Post-graduate classes are necessary to become a CPA with nearly every state requiring 150 semester hours before you can take the Uniform CPA Exam to become a licensed CPA.
The AICPA said you can meet the requirement by getting a bachelor’s in accounting followed by a master’s degree or use a bachelor’s degree in a related business field combined with a master’s in accounting or an MBA focused on accounting.
Some schools have a five-year program that provides a bachelor’s degree and culminates with a master’s in accounting, the group’s website said.
Also, each state may have specific requirements for the CPA exam that include accounting experience, with most states requiring at least two years in public accounting, the AICPA website said. Some states allow you to take the exam to become licensed before obtaining the necessary experience.
Master’s in Accounting Degree Holders Have More Career Options
Accounting careers can include public accounting, government or corporate accounting, according to the AICPA. Here are some examples of jobs the AICPA lists in those areas:
Public accountants serve clients in a variety of areas, including taxes, auditing and consulting.
Entry level jobs include staff auditor working on details of a financial audit, tax staff preparing returns and researching tax issues, consulting staff advising and reviewing a client’s finances.
With more experience come additional supervisory jobs such as senior auditor, who directs, assigns and reviews work of staff auditors. They also oversee upper level tax accountants who prepare and review returns, offer tax planning and look for tax savings.
In government accounting, CPAs review financial reports, audit performance and finances and evaluate the efficiency of government operations.
The tasks can include investigating white collar crime, often called forensic accounting; auditing government agencies and projects; compliance auditing to ensure programs and agencies follow regulations and the law; performance auditing to track policies and procedures and financial auditing.
Corporate accounting offers many entry-level and management jobs similar to public accounting, including financial reporting, taxes, internal and management auditing and a progression of supervisory roles in those areas.
At the upper level, jobs include controller, or chief accounting executive, and ultimately chief financial officer.