When you decided to go to school for accounting, you were thinking of the career that would await you once you graduate. As you consider different education options, you might wonder how long you will have to go to school for before you have the education you need for the job you want. Though there are career options for graduates of accounting degree programs at every level, from associate’s degree to master’s degree, you may need to go to school a little longer to get your dream job in accounting. Generally, the more advanced your degree, the better your career prospects, salary, preparation for prestigious credentials and likelihood of being promoted.
Associate’s Degrees in Accounting
For many students, an accounting education begins at a community college. You can earn an associate’s degree in accounting in just two years. Your coursework in an associate’s degree program would include a lot of the same introductory accounting classes as you would take early on if you studied accounting at a four-year college. Some fundamental accounting classes you might complete include principles of financial accounting, principles of managerial accounting, introduction to computerized accounting. You would continue to build on the concepts and practices you learn from these coursework as you study topics such as computerized accounting applications, macroeconomics, microeconomics, accounting for the federal government, federal income tax for individuals or for corporations, cost accounting, intermediate accounting and payroll and business tax.
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However, the jobs you can get with such a degree are limited. Generally, you need a bachelor’s degree if you want to work as an accountant, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. If you use your associate’s degree as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s in accounting program at a four-year college, you will eventually have this opportunity open to you. Otherwise, your two-year degree will most likely qualify you only for junior paraprofessional positions such as bookkeeper, timekeeper, financial clerk, accounting clerk, payroll clerk or auditing clerk. These office and administrative support positions are usually full-time, but they don’t rival the occupation of accounting in terms of either salary potential or job outlook. Bookkeepers and accounting clerks earn a median wage of $39,240, well below the $69,350 median salary for accountants. While the BLS predicts a faster than average job growth of 10 percent for accountants and auditors, it expects opportunities for bookkeepers and accounting clerks to decrease by one percent.
To gain practical experience while earning your associate’s degree, you may complete an accounting capstone course that allows you to work on projects that simulate workplace scenarios. You may also gain work experience through a cooperative education program.
Bachelor’s Degrees in Accounting
If you chose the field of accounting for its prestige, salary potential or booming job outlook, going on to earn your bachelor’s degree might be well worth you while. A typical bachelor’s degree program in accounting takes four years of study. Throughout your bachelor’s degree program, you will cover the field of accounting in greater depth, take coursework in a breadth of business topics and complete general education courses that round out your skills and knowledge in a variety of subjects. Your business classes might include marketing, business finance, management of organizations, business laws and ethics, financial planning, supply chain management, international business and strategic management. In addition to what you would learn in an associate’s degree program, you might study auditing, accounting for nonprofits, taxation of business entities and transactions and advanced issues in financial accounting.
With a bachelor’s degree, you can get started in an entry-level role in accounting and move into more experienced staff accountant roles. You can work in a variety of positions, from public accountant to corporate accountant and from internal auditor to external auditor. Even many government accountant jobs are open to candidates with an undergraduate degree.
Some bachelor’s degree programs in accounting allow students to complete an area of emphasis in a specialized subject of interest, such as internal auditing, financial accounting or tax.
Master’s Degrees in Accounting
There are some careers in the field of accounting that you usually cannot do with only a bachelor’s degree. Because these careers tend to be some of the most financially rewarding and prestigious, many accountants do decide to go to graduate school.
Earning your master’s degree can help you develop skills that are too specialized to be covered in much depth in an undergraduate program. For example, most internal auditing programs are offered at the graduate level, as are many degrees in forensic accounting. Since students already know the basics of accounting by the time they get to graduate school, master’s degree programs in accounting tend to focus narrowly on advanced and specialized coursework.
A master’s degree can also help you move into leadership roles. Some accountants who want to work in management decide to pursue a broader Master of Business Administration (MBA), while others stick with a more focused Master of Accountancy or similar degree program.
Finally, graduate school is popular among accountants working toward their Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. You don’t need a master’s degree to become a CPA, but in most states, you do need at least one year of college education beyond what a traditional bachelor’s degree requires, the BLS reported. In fact, some master’s degree programs include coursework focused on helping students pass the challenging CPA examination.
For students who are already considering going for their CPA license before they have finished earning their bachelor’s degree, a five-year dual degree program can be smart choice.