If you are thinking of majoring in accounting, you should first have an idea of what your college curriculum will look like. Having this knowledge allows you to prepare yourself for your future studies. In addition to the university-wide general education requirements that students in all majors must take, accounting students complete a breadth of coursework in core business subjects and major classes in the many fields of financial reporting.
General Education Requirements and Accounting Required Classes
Many programs have general education requirements that all students must fulfill, and accounting is no exception. Therefore, you should still expect to take an English Composition I and Composition II course to work on your writing abilities. Depending on your program of study, you will typically have to take a math course, one or two science courses, a history course, and possibly a social science.
For accounting degree majors, meeting general education math requirements isn’t too difficult. Unlike students in some other majors, who might be overwhelmed by the breadth of math courses to choose from, accounting students usually have set mathematics courses plugged into their program of study. For example, many schools’ undergraduate accounting curricula include math courses in topics such as calculus, statistics or introductory analysis.
The coursework that community college students complete to earn an associate’s degree in accounting might help them meet the general education requirements for a bachelor’s degree. However, you should make sure your credits and classes will transfer, so you don’t delay your education.
The Business Core Component of Accounting Degree Classes
A Bachelor of Accounting, Bachelor of Accountancy or Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree program is usually a part of a business school. As such, part of the curriculum of an undergraduate accounting degree program is typically dedicated to learning the fundamentals of a variety of subjects within the field of business. This focus is less prevalent in bachelor’s degree programs in accounting programs than in bachelor’s in business administration programs with only a concentration in accounting, but core business coursework is still part of the curriculum nonetheless.
Business coursework often includes introductory classes in marketing, economics, human resources, basic finance, supply chain management and other more specialized topics. Studies in management are common, including classes such as operations management, financial management and management skills. Other business courses are more general in focus. These classes include business policy, business strategy, business ethics, business law and statistical methods in business.
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If you are wondering about the rationale for the strong focus on business, it is due to the fact that, while not every accountant works in the business sector, every business needs accounting on some level. A business organization’s accounting needs can take many different forms, including:
- Assistance with taxes
- Help managing the budgets and financial operations of the business
- Assistance with planning investments
- Legal guidance on taxation, compliance with financial regulations and other matters pertaining to financial reporting and operations
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most accountants find occupations in offices, with 7 percent actually employed in the management of said companies. With such a close relationship between accounting and business, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of your elective course options as an accounting major might include Introduction to Business and Analytics for Financial information, Taxation of Business Entities or Business Ethics.
If you want your education to encompass a broader range of business studies, rather than delving deeper into the field of accounting, then a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree program with a concentration in accounting may be a better fit.
Introductory Through Intermediate Accounting Courses
Until you really start exploring the field of accounting, you may think that all accountants do the same work. In reality, there are many different fields within accounting, and accounting majors tend to take coursework that covers the foundation of a variety of accounting specializations and tasks. The concepts learned in a basic principles of accounting course are applicable to each type of accounting class and field of employment. Those concepts often include the use of ledgers and accounting standards, the meaning of assets and liabilities, basic financial statements and bank reconciliation methods.
After gaining this foundational knowledge, students take accounting courses with narrower areas of focus, such as financial accounting, cost accounting, auditing, managerial accounting, corporate accounting and taxation. Students often take general accounting courses at two or more levels of difficulty. For example, the curriculum might include Financial Accounting I, II and III, or Intermediate Accounting I and II.
Not every course an accounting student will take to earn a bachelor’s degree is prescribed as part of a rigid curriculum. Many accounting programs build into the curriculum electives, courses that students can choose based on their personal or professional interests. Undergraduate accounting students can often use their free or program electives to choose classes that sound interesting or valuable to them, such as controllership, international accounting or fraud examination.
Because the field of accounting is so broad, some undergraduate degree programs allow students to pursue an accounting concentration or area of focus. These specializations may include tax, auditing, corporate accounting, financial accounting, forensic accounting, government and nonprofit accounting and accounting information systems. Specializing in a topic of interest allows you to begin focusing your accounting education early on so that you can make strategic moves into a career path that will help you achieve your professional goals.
Students should make sure that their school’s accounting curriculum meets the minimum number of semester hours and course content requirements needed to become a certified public accountant (CPA) in their state – even if they haven’t yet decided to pursue this credential.
Advancing Your Accounting Education
Once you earn your bachelor’s degree, you can go on to secure your first entry-level accountant role. As you gain experience in the occupation, you can work your way up to more advanced and profitable staff accountant positions. You can even attain a CPA license without having a graduate degree.
However, there are many reasons why accounting majors often choose to study beyond what’s required for a bachelor’s degree. For one thing, graduate studies in accounting can equip students with more advanced and specialized skills than they could learn from an undergraduate education alone. This knowledge can help accounting professionals find their way into niche roles that interest them. A master’s degree can also prepare graduates for leadership roles, as some employers prefer or even require candidates for promotions to have an advanced degree.
Finally, if you want to become a CPA, you may need a more extensive education even if you don’t technically need a degree higher than a bachelor’s. In most states, you can only become a CPA if you have completed a minimum of 150 semester hours of college-level study, though a traditional bachelor’s degree requires just 120 semester hours. That leaves aspiring CPAs with 30 semester hours, or the equivalent of one year of full-time study, to complete beyond the bachelor’s degree. It stands to reason that many accounting students decide to use that extra year of study to work toward a graduate degree.
Master’s degrees are so popular among accounting students that many schools now offer an accelerated program that awards both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree after five years of total studies, according to the BLS.
Accounting Major Classes
While it is typically beneficial to have your bachelor’s degree in accounting when going for a graduate-level degree in the accounting field, it is not a requirement. Many graduate programs just require a bachelor’s degree without specifying a particular major. Even if applicants are accepted to graduate school without an undergraduate accounting background, they may still have to complete prerequisite courses in accounting and finance.
When moving on to the graduate level of accounting, your courses start to become a lot more focused. Many programs require 30 credits of study, with around 21 of those credits being made up of required courses. Instead of taking the broader accounting, business, and finance courses that commonly make up an undergraduate curriculum, you will be able to take courses such as:
- Data Analytics for Accountants
- Financial Accounting Theory, Policy and Research
- Advanced Managerial Accounting
- Issues in Auditing and Assurance Services
- Fraud Prevention and Forensic Accounting
- Federal Taxation, Policy and Research
- International Accounting and Taxation
These courses still cover a range of topics under accounting, but the subject matter of each class is more specialized, allowing you to really dig into the topics during your studies.
If your bachelor’s is not in accounting, you might have some additional core courses in your accounting program. For instance, a Master of Accountancy in Governmental Accounting may require you to take courses such as Accounting for Managers and Concepts in Auditing to help round out your accounting education. While these may be graduate-level courses, they do burn through your elective credits.
Accounting electives are the graduate courses in your curriculum that allow you to customize your education. Through your electives, you can dig into what you want to specialize in, with options such as:
- International Accounting
- Tax Research
- Financial Statement Analysis
- Forensic Accounting
- Government and Not-for-profit Accounting
- Applied Public Finance
- Federal Financial Management
- Public Sector Forensic Accounting
Earning a graduate degree, whether it be a Master of Science in Accounting, Master of Accountancy in Governmental Accounting, or just a Master of Accountancy, is a great way to earn the additional 30 credits on top of the 120 credits from your bachelor’s degree you will need to sit for the CPA exam.
Preparing for the CPA Exam
One way to advance your career is to become a Certified Public Accountant. While a CPA is still an accountant, not everyone that works in the accounting field is a CPA. CPAs are able and qualified to perform all duties that fall under the field of accounting, which makes them a huge benefit to businesses. Instead of having numerous people oversee tasks such as tax preparation, preparing financial statements and conducting internal auditing, a CPA can perform all of these duties.
If you want to become a CPA, you will have to pass the CPA Exam. While there aren’t specific courses you need to take, you should consider having your course selection help prepare you for this exam, especially if you are unsure about what electives you want to take.
The CPA Exam is made up of testlets that cover different aspects of accounting. Some of these testlets are Multiple-Choice Question (MCQ) testlets, while others are Task-Based Simulations. These testlets are the only ones used for the Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG) sections. In addition to the MCQ and Task-Based Simulation (TBS) testlests, there is even a testlet containing three Written Communication Tasks for the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section.
For the AUD, FAR, and REG sections, the MCQ and Task-Based Simulations are weighed evenly. For the BEC section, the MCQ testlets make up 50 percent of the section, the TBS testlets make up 35 percent and the Written Communication Tasks make the remaining 15 percent of your score. The good news is that you don’t have to pass all four exam sections at once. However, you must pass all four sections in an 18-month period.
Aspiring CPAs can take courses in both their undergraduate and graduate programs that will help them prepare for this grueling exam. The auditing courses you take during your undergraduate and graduate career will help set you up for the AID section. The BEC section is a little more about general business concepts. Courses in your undergraduate program that go over general business structure and aspects of finance will come in handy, as will your graduate electives like Management Control in Nonprofit Organizations.
Your finance course will also help with the FAR section, though courses about government accounting, such as Government and Not-for-Profit Accounting, will also be useful. The REG section is also related to the government, though with a focus on regulations. However, this section also emphasizes taxation and tax procedures, so courses in areas like tax research will aid you here.
In addition to passing the CPA exam, which only about 50 percent of candidates pass, you will also need to get licensed to be a CPA. Certification requirements can vary state by state and may include public accounting experience, work experience more generally and residency requirements.