If you are thinking of majoring in accounting, you should first have an idea what your college curriculum will look like. Accounting students complete the same college- or university-wide general education requirements as students in other majors as well as a breadth of coursework in core business subjects and major classes in the many fields of financial reporting.
Core Business Courses
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. 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, such as business policy, business strategy, business ethics, business law and statistical methods in business.
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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 degree program with a concentration in accounting might be a better fit for you.
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 principles of accounting course are applicable to each type of accounting class. Those concepts often include the use of ledgers and accounting standards, the meaning of assets and liabilities, basic financial statements and bank reconciliation methods.
Then students take accounting courses with narrower focuses, 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. In addition to meeting the minimum requirements, undergraduate 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 licensed as a certified public accountant (CPA) in their state.
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 specifically 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. 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 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.