The profession of accounting goes well beyond the realm of tracking credits and debits. It’s a field of service; one that can potentially foster financial improvement for others. An accounting degree can also give graduates the opportunity to develop and refine a host of professional and personal skills. These skills can provide the foundation for meaningful interaction with clients across various industries.
So, what can you do with an accounting degree? It can provide students a foundational skill set that is ideal for a wide range employment opportunities in both the public and private sectors. The accounting field is growing, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting job growth for accountants at 6% from 2018 to 2028.
What Jobs Can You Get with an Accounting Degree?
The primary role of an accountant is to ensure financial systems and recordkeeping operate efficiently and ethically. Accountants analyze financial data and present information to their clients, helping them make informed short-term and long-term decisions. These types of activities require that, in addition to their math competencies, accountants have strong analytical and communication skills.
The skills developed through an accounting curriculum may help prepare students for multiple types of accounting roles, from corporate auditors, to management analysts, to personal finance managers, and beyond. These and other potential career paths can have a positive impact on all types of clients, from large-scale businesses looking to improve profitability to families seeking a more secure future.
Graduates most often fill three primary types of accounting roles after earning a degree.
- Management Consultant
- Financial Advisor
An auditor’s core responsibility is to prepare and analyze financial records. Auditors conduct this analysis for several reasons. A proper audit can ensure the accuracy of a company’s or individual’s financial records. In business, auditors can help make sure a company pays its taxes in a timely and proper fashion. They can also assess a company’s financial operations to make sure they are running as efficiently as possible.
- Education: Most auditor positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
- Certification: Obtaining the title of Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can improve an auditor’s chances of landing an auditing position. Most reputable advanced accounting degree programs include courses specifically designed to prepare enrollees to take the CPA exam.
- Salary: According to the BLS, the annual median wage for an auditor is $71,550 as of May 2019. However, auditors with the CPA credential can earn roughly 10% to 15% more, according to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.
- Work environment: While most auditors work more than 40 hours a week, overtime is typical at busy times, such as tax season or the end of a company’s fiscal year.
The chief role of a management consultant, also known as a management analyst, is to find ways to make companies more profitable. One way to achieve this is by gathering information through staff interviews, financial analysis, and data scrutiny. Management consultants may create and propose solutions to improve a business’s financial and operational efficiency, which could lead to higher profitability.
- Education: A bachelor’s degree is typically required for entry-level positions in the management consulting field. However, some employers set a master’s degree in accounting or business administration (MBA) as the minimum qualification for employment.
- Certification: Management consultants can earn the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation to enhance their resumes and professional profile.
- Salary: The median annual pay for management consultants, per the BLS, is approximately $81,000.
- Work environment: While most professionals in this field can work about 40 hours a week, the tight deadlines often associated with management consulting can occasionally demand long hours.
In this branch of accounting, professionals work directly with individuals on their personal financial needs and goals. Through interview and analysis, financial advisors develop short-term and long-term financial strategies on a wide range of individual finance topics. These may include investments, estate planning, tax planning, college saving, and retirement. Because of the broad scope associated with this profession, some financial advisors focus on a specific concentration, such as tax planning or risk management.
- Education: Typically, financial advisors possess a bachelor’s degree.
- Certification: Because of the delicate nature of some of the advisory roles in this position, professionals in this field may be required to obtain additional licenses. Furthermore, financial advisors may be required to register with state regulators or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) depending on the size of their firm.
- Salary: According to BLS, the median annual wage for financial advisors is $87,850 as of May 2019.
- Work environment: The work commitment for this position tends to be more demanding than other fields, particularly for self-employed financial advisors — a category that represents 24% of professionals in the field, according to the BLS. In addition to advising their clients, financial advisors can travel to attend conferences and meet with prospective clients on weekends and in the evening.
Public, Private, and Nonprofit Accounting: What You Need to Know
While all accounting careers deal with some facet of finance, the field can be broken down into three distinct employment types:
- Public accounting
- Private accounting
- Nonprofit/government accounting
There are several potential career paths in accounting, each offering unique opportunities and experiences. Each accounting environment also carries its own pros and cons that should be considered by future professionals.
Private Accountant Career Path and Responsibilities
Generally speaking, earning at least a bachelor’s degree is required for private accountants. Some advanced positions may require completion of extra coursework or a master’s degree. There are no specific certification requirements associated with the private accounting field.
Private accountants focus on the inner financial workings of a business. They are not independent third parties but are typically employees on the payroll of a business or agency.
Private accountants oversee a company’s internal financials and specific transactions, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, and billing. Since they work for a single entity, their work environment features regular hours, a fixed work location, and little to no travel.
It is not uncommon for accountants to jump between public and private accounting roles during their careers, particularly if they possess an advanced degree.
Public Accountant Career Path and Responsibilities
After completing their accounting degree, public accountants can become licensed as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). Schools typically offer CPA preparation courses as part of their accounting degree curricula. CPA requirements vary from state to state.
At its core, public accounting is built around the accountant being an independent third party for numerous clients of various types. An accountant’s clientele can consist of individual taxpayers, large businesses, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.
Typically, a public accountant has skills in data analysis to verify the accuracy of a client’s financial claims. Because public accountants may have an eclectic group of clients, they may become associated with numerous industries. While public accounting provides the excitement of exploring several industries, the position may also include regular travel, long work hours, and tight deadlines.
Nonprofit Accountant Career Path and Responsibilities
Nonprofit accountants typically work with government agencies, educational institutions, or charitable organizations. They oversee a nonprofit’s adherence to financial rules that can sometimes be markedly different from the rules that apply to for-profit businesses.
Nonprofit accountants chiefly track the flow of business transactions made by a specific organization. The elements that are monitored, such as net assets and donor restrictions, are unique to the field. The work environment of a nonprofit accountant is similar to that of a private accountant.
Working for a nonprofit requires understanding the unique rules applied to these organizations, which may seem like a completely different language to some. A certification explicitly designed for this field — the Certified Nonprofit Accounting Professional, or CNAP certification — can help a candidate master the rules of this position.
Top Industries for Accounting
What can you do with an accounting degree? According to the BLS, the top industries for accountants include the following.
- Finance and insurance
- Management of companies and enterprises
- Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services
As this list demonstrates, becoming a professional accountant can open the opportunity to participate in a dynamic field, one that you may find to be rather intriguing.
Pursuing a Career in Accounting
Accounting graduates can choose from many different career paths. While plenty of differentiation exists among the various fields, they are all tied together by a common bond of service brought about through clear communication and engagement. Even though numbers sit at the heart of accounting, the profession emphasizes other core competencies, including communication skills, analytical thinking, and problem solving.
Explore how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Accounting can help prepare you with the skills, experience, and expertise to succeed in the field of accounting.
Going Back to School for Accounting
Blockchain – the Future of Accounting
Integrity Is an Important Asset for Accounting Job Seekers
This Way to CPA, “Is the Grass Greener in the Private Industry?”
This Way to CPA, “Should You Become a CPA?”
Accounting Tools, “The Difference Between Public and Private Accounting”
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Accountants and Auditors
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Management Analysts
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Personal Financial Advisors
National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, “Top 5 Reasons to be a CPA”
Robert Half, Look At What You Can Do With an Accounting Degree
Robert Half, Public Accounting or Private Accounting: What’s Right for You?
Internal Revenue Service, PTIN Requirements for Tax Return Preparers