Going Back to School for Accounting

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Accounting is an important aspect of running a business, big or small. It is often considered the language of business, providing a measure of how well a company is doing. Both for-profit companies and non-profit organizations can benefit from accountants to help make their operations more cost-effective, manage their budgets and provide financial reporting.

If you’re thinking about going back to school for accounting, you’re setting yourself for potential success in a variety of industries. Accounting can provide you with the educational foundation from which you can work to develop your career in many different directions.

accounting expert at desk

Why choose to go back to school for accounting?

The best place to start when considering a career in accounting is to examine the reasons why others have chosen this profession and made a success of it. As outlined below, there are several major benefits to choosing this career path. In addition, if you are considering going back to school for accounting, you should also be aware of the skills that are required for success in this field.

What are the benefits of an accounting degree?

The global demand for accountants is growing, providing many career opportunities for graduates of an accounting program. Here are some of the reasons why you may benefit from earning your degree in this field.

  • Job prospects. Whatever the state of the economy, there will always be a demand for accountants. Companies need accountants to analyze their financial performance and develop strategic financial plans that will help them in good times and bad.
  • Many chances to specialize. An accounting degree provides prospects to develop your career and specialize in many different branches of accounting, including investment, tax, management, financial or public accounting, or auditing. By becoming an expert in your field of specialization, you can also demand a much higher salary.
  • Job stimulation. Accountants are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of a business. Each day will bring on new challenges!
  • Stability. Accounting can provide a stable career, with many opportunities to improve your education or explore other professional avenues.

Types of accounting degrees

If you’re considering going back to school for accounting, you have a variety of degree options available to you. If you are looking to secure an entry-level position in the accounting profession, you should consider enrolling in an associate or a bachelor’s degree program. Postgraduate degrees are available for qualifying graduates who want to advance their careers. Here is a brief overview of the different degrees available within this field.

Associate degree in accounting

This is equivalent to a certificate in accounting and does not carry the same weight as a bachelor’s degree. It can be completed in two years and prepares you for an entry-level position as a bookkeeper or junior accountant for a small business.

A typical program for this qualification includes courses in cost accounting, payroll, accounts payable/receivable, financial reporting, business administration, and business management.

Bachelor’s degree in accounting

Graduates of this degree program can gain entry- or mid-level employment as an accountant in an organization. This program takes four years of study to complete, and you can pursue different types of undergraduate accounting degrees:

  • Bachelor of Science in AccountingThis degree enables you to report to financial managers in businesses while analyzing financial records and making financial recommendations.
  • Bachelor of Science in Financial Services. You can opt for this degree if you intend to enter the financial sector, including investment banking, financial analysis, and government auditing.
  • Bachelor of Science in Auditing. If you want to pursue a career in auditing, this degree program will prepare you for work as a forensic or internal auditor. Companies employ internal auditors to examine financial records for accuracy and to report any financial mismanagement or fraudulent activity to management. Internal auditors also make recommendations for improving financial performance and reducing inefficiency. Forensic auditors generally conduct the same work, but they are employed by outside firms that conduct audits for client companies.

Master’s degree in accounting

Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in accounting are eligible for this degree program, which takes an additional year to complete. This qualification can improve your chances for promotion and career advancement to management or senior management positions.

Students of this program elect to concentrate in a specific area of accounting, such as financial accounting, auditing, or taxation. Coursework includes accounting principles, budgeting, business economics, financial reporting, cost analysis, and financial management. A Master of Science in accounting qualifies you to take exams for a professional certification, including the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certifications.

Doctorate in accounting.

Only graduates of a master’s degree program are allowed to enroll in a program for a PhD in accounting. A typical program includes courses in economics, business accounting, and accounting research. In addition to passing exams in these subjects, you are required to submit a thesis. Graduates of this program can apply for senior or executive management positions.

Careers in accounting

Working as an accountant presents many challenges and demands good performance. It can also be highly rewarding from a career prospective. In addition, if you’re thinking of going back to school for accounting, the salary makes it all worthwhile.

You will need a certain amount of training and certification, however, before you can become a licensed accountant. To become certified in your special area of accounting, you need to pass an exam as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), or Certified Management Accountant (CMA). To be eligible to take these exams, you need to meet the degree qualification requirements and have the mandatory amount of practical experience in the accounting field.

Career opportunities with an accounting degree

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 11 percent annual growth rate in the demand for accountants through 2024. After graduation and certification as an accountant, you may have the option of applying for a wide range of positions:

  • Accountant and Auditor. Median salary: $67,190. Best Business Jobs ranks this job No. 7.
  • Budget Analyst. Median salary: $71,590. Forbes ranks this as the fifth-highest-paying job and lists it among the fastest-growing jobs.
  • Financial Analyst. Median salary: $80,310. Best Business Jobs ranks this at No.15.
  • Financial Adviser. Median salary: $89,160. Best Business Jobs ranks this occupation at No. 8.
  • Chief Financial Officer. Median salary: $102,690. Currently, there are approximately 147,000 jobs for this role.
  • Financial Manager. Median salary: $117,990. Around 556,000 jobs are available for this role.

Skills required for a career in accounting

You may have the misperception that you have to be an expert in math to major in accounting. That is not true! A good head for numbers and a basic understanding of algebra and calculus are vital. There are other skills, however, that you will need to ensure success in this field:

  • Time management. Accountants are constantly working to meet deadlines. On top of that, priorities change all the time, and you must be able to manage and re-prioritize them with each new day. Time management goes hand in hand with task management.
  • Task management. You need strong organizational abilities to keep track of the many responsibilities that you are required to handle. This is essential to ensure that no task is missed and that you are able to meet deadlines.
  • Attention to detail. Accountants are expected to be accurate in everything they do, which demands that you pay attention to detail. By developing this skill, you will be able to detect discrepancies and identify potential problems. This will enable you to be proactive and take steps to prevent a potential calamity.
  • Adaptability. Accounting is a dynamic profession, with things changing constantly. This requires you to be adaptable and have the ability to manage every curveball that comes your way.
  • Communication. A lot of your work as an accountant involves reporting, which requires good oral and written communication skills. You may be included in management meetings, where you will be expected to communicate effectively with peers and executive management.
  • Resilience. The accounting profession demands hard work, and you may be expected to put in long hours when necessary to meet deadlines. You need to be resilient enough to handle these challenges positively.
  • Honesty and integrity. It goes without saying that openness is highly valued in the accounting profession. Accountants are expected to adhere to the highest ethical standards. Your conduct can have a huge impact on all stakeholders in a business, including shareholders, suppliers, and customers.
  • Leadership. You may be in charge of an accounting team, which requires good management and leadership skills to get the job done efficiently and on time. This often involves the ability to delegate work effectively.
  • Business knowledge. As an accountant, you’ll require a broad understanding of economics, tax, and finance. An accounting degree program teaches you how businesses operate and about the laws governing accounting practice. It also provides you with a solid foundation to pursue a career in senior or executive management or to branch out on your own as a financial consultant.

Scholarships and grants for accounting students

If you are looking to go back to school for accounting and require financial aid, there are many opportunities out there. You can search the internet for these opportunities or approach someone in the financial aid office of the university or college where you intend to study for help.

These scholarship programs include the following examples:

  • The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Scholarships. The GFOA awards numerous scholarships each academic year. They all have different eligibility requirements, but applicants must plan to advance their careers in state or local government finance departments. The awards for the 2018 academic year range in value from $5,000 to $15,000.
  • The AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship. This $5,000 scholarship is awarded to five qualifying students each year. It is available to undergraduates in liberal arts or business who would like to pursue a graduate degree in accounting or CPA certification.
  • The Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) sponsors this scholarship, which is open to full-time graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in accounting, finance, business administration, or criminal justice programs. Award amounts range from $1,000 to $10,000.
  • Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting (EFWA) Scholarship. Women pursuing accounting degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels may apply for this scholarship. The award amount ranges from $1,000 to $16,000.

Dare to take that first step toward pursuing a degree in accounting

You can’t go wrong by going back to school for accounting. The accounting profession can offer high pay and career stability, as well as a platform to launch your career in an entirely different direction at a later stage.

Dare to take that first step. Learn more about how you can start the process of going back to school for a bachelor’s or master’s, then contact an enrollment advisor today.

Here are some other resources to consider when going back to school:

Student Loan and Tax Information

FAQs for Adult students guide

Scholarships and Grants for Adults


Chron.com, “Traits, Skills, and Personal Characteristics for an Accountant”

Forbes, “The Highest Paying, Fastest Growing Jobs (Guess Which Business Gigs Pay Most)”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook – Accountants and Auditors”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook – Budget Analysts”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook – Financial Managers”

U.S. News & World Report, “Accountant Overview”

U.S. News & World Report, “Financial Analyst Overview”

U.S. News & World Report, “Financial Advisor Overview”