If you love crunching numbers and want to learn how to help businesses balance their books, a career in accounting might be just what you're looking for. Accounting trade schools can prepare you for a wide range of careers in this field, upon which you can build more education later on. For example, you could learn how to work as an internal auditor, or professional who manages an organization's financial matters by starting with an associate degree and continuing on with more education. Furthermore, a vocational education in accounting could prepare you to work as a public accountant, or professional who provides a wide range of financial services to corporations, governments, and individuals, as long as you finish with a bachelor's degree.
Accounting trade schools provide students with the skills to work in a wide range of jobs within the industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), the following specializations are most common:
- Government accountants: Oversee the financial records of government agencies and audit private businesses and individuals in order to ensure compliance with government regulations.
- Information technology auditors: Help manage an organization's computer systems in order to ensure that all financial data is secure.
- Internal auditors: Manage an organization's financial transactions in order to protect them from mismanagement.
- Management accountants: Analyze the financial transactions of their organization in an effort to provide solid data for business purposes.
- Public accountants: Provide a wide range of financial services to individuals, businesses, and corporations including consulting, accounting, and assistance with tax compliance.
Accounting Certification and Licensing
According to the BLS, most accountants and auditors need at least a bachelor's degree in order to gain employment. However, in certain cases, those with an associate degree and on-the-job experience may be able to gain employment as a junior accountant and work his/her way up. Most accountants and auditors have completed formal education in accounting. As the BLS notes, accountants and auditors commonly complete an apprenticeship or internship in order to gain some on-the-job experience.
One of the well-known certifications for accountants is that of the Certified Public Accountant, or CPA. This certification is overseen by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and requires candidates to have a bachelor's degree, pass an exam, and complete one to two years of experience in accounting. While all CPAs are accountants, not all accountants are CPAs. Other related certifications for accountants include:
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA): This certification is offered through the CFA Institute, and requires a bachelor's degree and four years of experience.
- Certified Internal Auditor (CIA): Offered by the Institute of Internal Auditors, this certification requires a four-year degree and experience on the job.
- Certified Management Account (CMA): The Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business offers this certification, which requires a bachelor's education and two consecutive years of experience in the field.
As you can see, a four-year degree is important, but associate degrees and certificates also can provide a way to make a different start.
How to Become an Accountant
There are so many different ways to carving out an accounting career and also many steps to getting there. Below are a few steps to consider if you are thinking about a career in accounting.
- Finish high school or obtain a GED. Nearly all two- or four-year programs in accounting require completion of a high school education or its equivalent to ensure that you have foundational skills and an aptitude for success.
- Enroll for a college-level accounting program. Options from certificates all the way up to two-year and four-year degrees are available. A two-year degree in accounting may allow you to obtain a job right away and enable you to work toward a four-year degree later on. Even with an associate degree, you will be able to take essential foundational classes, such as cost accounting, financial accounting, macro and micro economics and applied statistics.
- Gain experience. Most certifications require you to have at least one to two years of experience on the job, particularly related to the specific field you are thinking about going into, as an example, accounting management for CMA certification.
- (Optional). Finish your bachelor's degree or continue on to master's level education. The BLS does report that a bachelor's degree is usually needed to become an accountant. This is particularly true if you want to seek certification. You can also work on a master's degree, such as a Master of Accountancy or Master of Professional Accountancy, to take your education further.
Expert Q&A on Accounting Schools
To get more information about the importance of education and the path to becoming an accountant, we wanted to speak with an expert. Bryan Eaves, CPA, CPSM, C.P.M., is a partner at the consulting firm Sourcing Business Solutions. He answers some of our frequently asked questions about how to prepare for a career in this field.
Bryan Eaves, CPA, CPSM, C.P.M. is a partner at the consulting firm "Sourcing Business Solutions.
RWM: What types of candidates do employers seek?
Eaves: Employers seek job candidates that have well developed analytical skills. Accounting is loaded full of problems that require using math and applying analytical thinking to solve business problems. Accounting usually also requires excellent communication skills. Both written and verbal communication are important when assessing issues and communicating tax, auditing, or accounting recommendations to management or your clients.
RWM: How long does it typically take to complete education/degree/certification for this job?
Eaves: Education is usually about four years for an accounting degree and another one year to be able to sit for the CPA exam. Sitting for the CPA exam is obviously not a requirement to be an accountant or successful CFO, however, the CPA designation will open doors for you for the rest of your life even if your job deviates away from traditional accounting work.
For my own career, I was initially a CPA in the state of Tennessee after completing two years of auditing experience with an accounting firm. Depending on the state that you work in, the number of years of experience required to become a CPA varies from an average of 2 to 5 years. To maintain your CPA certification, you need to complete 40 hours of CPE (Continuing Professional Education) hours every year.
RWM: Why would you encourage someone to pursue this career? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Eaves: Accounting majors can migrate easily into a variety of jobs and positions. This fact is as true today as it was 30 years ago. While I rely less on my accounting background today, my education in accounting provided fundamental business understandings that allow me to perform consulting services in the supply chain and procurement area at a high level.
RWM: Do you have any advice for new workers just starting out in this career?
Eaves: If you are just starting off in your accounting career and are in a job that you think is not your dream job, stick it out for at least two years. Staying employed at the same company for at least two years early in your career will create a good experience for you and open up future opportunities as well. Also, completing your 40 hours of CPE is valuable to you personally and professionally. Continually improving your knowledge and learning through CPE courses will be critical to your long-term career growth.
Accounting Salary and Career Information
Because the health of the accounting job market is tied in closely with the health of the economy, jobs in accounting are expected to increase at a healthy pace in upcoming years, about as fast as the average for all other occupations combined, reports the BLS. Here is some recent data on nationwide salaries and job opportunities for various accounting careers
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Accountants and Auditors||1,226,910||$75,280||10.7%|
|Accountants and Auditors||1,226,910||$75,280|
|Bill and Account Collectors||318,970||$36,600||-5.6%|
|Bill and Account Collectors||318,970||$36,600|
|Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks||1,580,220||$38,990|
|Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks||1,580,220||$38,990||-8.4%|
|New Accounts Clerks||48,970||$35,820||-8.2%|
|New Accounts Clerks||48,970||$35,820|
- Accountants and Auditors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132011.htm
- Accountants and Auditors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-6
- Accounting, Kelley School of Business, 2014, http://kelley.iupui.edu/undergrad/academics/majors/accounting/
- Accounting and Financial Services Employers Want to See, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, Aug. 4, 2016. https://www.roberthalf.com/finance/blog/accounting-and-financial-certifications-employers-want-to-see
- Become a CPA, American Institute of CPAs, http://www.aicpa.org/BecomeACPA/Pages/BecomeaCPA.aspx
- Long Term Projections, Accountants and Auditors, Projections Central, State Occupational Projections, 2014, http://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
- Online Associate Degree in Accounting, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/associate/as-in-accounting, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/associate/as-in-accounting