- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- Mission, Atlanta Technical College, Accessed May 2019, https://www.atlantatech.edu/about-atc/history-mission-values/
- About GNTC, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, Accessed May 2019, http://www.gntc.edu/about/
- History, Mission, Vision, and Values, Central Georgia Technical College, Accessed May 2019, http://www.centralgatech.edu/about-cgtc/history-mission-vision-and-philosophy/
- About Us, Chattahoochee Technical College, Accessed May 2019, https://www.chattahoocheetech.edu/about-us/
- About the District IECC 529, Olney Central College, Accessed May 2019, https://www.iecc.edu/page.php?page=OCCH&nest=DOBM_HOME
- A Brief History, Ogeechee Technical College, Accessed May 2019, http://www.ogeecheetech.edu/about-otc/a-brief-history
- Our Mission, West Georgia Technical College, Accessed May 2019, https://www.westgatech.edu/our-mission/
- About Us, Lanier Technical College, Accessed May 2019, https://www.laniertech.edu/About/AboutUs-main.aspx
- Promise+ Plus Program, Mt. San Antonio College, Accessed May 2019, https://www.mtsac.edu/promise/
- 8 Reasons to Choose Albany Technical College, Accessed May 2019, http://www.albanytech.edu/images/stories/PDFS/Reasons_to_Choose_ATC_Flyer.pdf
Accountants are hired by companies large and small to manage bookkeeping, oversee tax payments and assess financial operations. These finance professionals may be employed directly by one company, work for an accounting firm that serves multiple clients or be self-employed. Regardless of whether they work at home or have an office, an accountant's typical day may include the following:
- Recording and organizing financial data.
- Examining financial records to ensure accuracy and compliance with state and federal laws.
- Preparing tax forms and filing paperwork on behalf of clients.
- Assessing a firm's financial health and flagging areas of concern.
- Recommending methods to reduce costs, improve revenues or otherwise increase profitability.
Accounting programs can prepare you to work in several specializations. Here's a look at three major categories of accountants:
- Government accountants oversee the financial records of government agencies as well as audit private businesses and individuals in order to ensure compliance with government regulations.
- Management accountants analyze the financial transactions of organizations to provide data used by company managers to make business decisions.
- Public accountants provide a wide range of financial services to individuals, businesses, and corporations including consulting, accounting and assistance with tax compliance.
How to Become an Accountant
If you want to work as an accountant, you should prepare to spend some time in college. Consider the following steps to becoming an accountant:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
- Complete postsecondary training, whether it be an undergraduate certificate, associate degree, or beyond -- more of which you can learn about below.
- Gain experience in the field. Consider working in a firm or office as an assistant to a certified accountant to learn the ropes.
While not every professional in the field needs a four-year degree, you will need to become familiar with the following subjects while in school:
- Business finance
- Business law
Accounting degree programs
If you're wondering how long it takes to become an accountant, the answer depends on the level of education you choose to pursue:
- Certificate: An undergraduate certificate in accounting provides the basic skills needed to work in the field. You may be able to complete a certificate in as little as one semester and then be ready to work as a bookkeeper or accounting clerk.
- Associate Degree: An associate degree is a step up from a certificate. It can usually be earned in two years and may include courses in marketing, business math and managerial accounting. Graduates may go on to work in entry-level positions in accounting, payroll and auditing.
- Bachelor's Degree: A four-year degree in accounting takes students into greater depth on subjects such as the tax code and accounting principles. It may also include a senior or capstone project in which students can demonstrate their knowledge in real-world applications.
- Graduate Certificate or Degree: A graduate education is really only necessary if you want to become a Certified Public Accountant. Most states require CPAs have 150 hours of instruction which means additional classes beyond a bachelor's degree are needed. We'll talk more about CPAs shortly.
Schools for accounting
If you're not sure how you'll fit classes into your busy schedule, the good news is there are many accounting schools online. These institutions offer a full range of online accounting programs, from undergraduate certificates to graduate degrees.
Regardless of whether you're interested in traditional or online accounting schools, look for an institution that is accredited. Regional accrediting bodies are the standard level of accreditation earned by colleges and universities. However, if you want to become a CPA, look for one accredited by The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Accounting licensure and certification
You don't have to be licensed by the government to work as an accountant. That is, unless you want to be able to file client reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In that case, you'll need to become a CPA.
To become a CPA, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree and usually 150 total hours of instruction. Plus, CPAs must pass a four-part exam administered by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). It's a rigorous process, but one that can be lucrative. When it comes to how much do accountants make, CPAs can charge up to 15 percent more than their non-certified counterparts, according to the AICPA.
However, a CPA isn't the only certification option within the accounting industry. You could also pursue one of the following designations:
- 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 don't think you can't also advance a career that starts with a certificate or associate degree.
Career advancement for accountants
Depending on your specialization, it may be possible to move up in rank from an entry-level position to an executive role simply by gaining work experience. For instance, a management accountant may start as a cost accountant, move to the position of budget director and eventually become a financial vice president.
However, some companies may want CPAs to fill their top positions, such as that of chief financial officers. So while work experience is crucial, gaining additional education and certifications can be equally important for some career goals.
Top Vocational Programs for Accounting
We analyzed the accounting programs at over 400 community colleges and vocational schools to determine which provide a top-notch education. Our rankings are based on factors such as cost of attendance, graduation rate and student support services, using data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard. Based on our findings, these are the top vocational schools for accounting.
Atlanta Technical College in Georgia has a proven track record of excellence. In 2012, it received the Perdue Award for Technical College of the Year from the Technical College System in Georgia. What's more, its graduates have won seven state GOAL (Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership) awards and four state PRIDE (Performance Recognition Indicating Demonstrated Excellence) awards.
Accounting programs at ATC: You can earn a technical certificate, diploma or degree in accounting at Atlanta Technical College. The accounting associate degree can be completed in five semesters while certificates can be earned in as few as two semesters. A number of online accounting courses are offered, and night and weekend classes may also be available.
As one of the largest technical colleges in its state, Georgia Northwestern Technical College has six campus locations. The school, which is part of the Technical College System in Georgia, is committed to providing student-oriented learning in programs that meet the needs of area communities.
Accounting programs at GNTC: Students can earn either a diploma or an Associate of Applied Science in accounting degree from GNTC. Both programs can be earned entirely online or at one of three college campuses. The curriculum at Georgia Northwestern Technical College is designed to prepare students to use the widely used technology found in many workplaces today.
Georgia is a hot spot for top accounting programs, and Central Georgia Technical College is another school to consider. Established in 2012, the college serves 11 counties through its 3 campus locations.
Accounting programs at CGTC: The accounting curriculum at CGTC is intended to prepare students to meet the demands of today's businesses. The school offers specialized technical certificates in areas such as computerized accounting specialist and payroll accounting specialist. There are also general programs that result in an accounting diploma or associate degree. While Central Georgia Technical College doesn't offer fully online programs, some accounting coursework may be completed online.
Affordable degree programs, flexible scheduling options and a dynamic learning environment are all hallmarks of Chattahoochee Technical College. Formed in 2009, the school has eight campuses that serve a six-county region.
Accounting programs at CTC: Students can receive either a specialized or general accounting education at Chattahoochee Technical College. Technical Certificates of Credit teach expertise in specific accounting areas such as tax preparation or auditing. Meanwhile, the accounting diploma and associate degree at CTC offer a well-rounded education that covers all the basics, including instruction for Sage 50 Accounting and QuickBooks software. CTC accounting programs can be completed on campus or 100 percent online.
Olney Central College has a reputation for being one of the best community colleges in Illinois. It's one of four schools that make up the Illinois Eastern Community Colleges. The system is focused on providing an affordable education that will allow students to meet their career goals.
Accounting programs at OCC: You can earn an associate degree in accounting either on campus or online at Olney Central College. Both options provide students with the knowledge needed to enter the workforce after graduation. For those who want to go on to earn a bachelor's degree, OCC has a 2+2 program with McKendree University that makes it easy to transfer credits.
Georgia's Ogeechee Technical College was established in 1986 to provide a range of educational services to both recent high school graduates and adult learners. Over the years, the school become known for innovation and excellence. In recent years, one OTC instructor has received the Rick Perkins Award for Excellence in Technical Instruction and three students have won the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL).
Accounting programs at OTC: The accounting programs at OTC are designed to cover academic, technical and professional instruction. Students can choose from an associate degree, diploma or specialist certificate. Both the diploma and associate degree can be earned online.
As a part of the Technical College System in Georgia, West Georgia Technical College offers degree and diploma programs for career-minded students. It operates under the core values of integrity, professionalism, student success and academic excellence.
Accounting programs at WGTC: You'll find technical certificates, a diploma and an associate degree in accounting at West Georgia Technical College. Offered within the School of Business and Public Services, these programs are available on three campuses or 100 percent online. All are intended to provide the skills and knowledge needed to work in the field. For instance, students enrolled in the associate degree program have the option of completing an accounting simulation or other elective.
Lanier Technical College likes to say that great careers begin here. Based in Gainesville, Georgia, the school is focused on workforce development and offers education programs that will lead to in-demand jobs. It even offers partnering businesses a guarantee that graduates meet a certain standard of competency.
Accounting programs at LTC: The accounting options at Lanier Technical College include a two-semester certificate, four-semester diploma and five-semester associate degree. The curriculum at LTC teaches a blend of accounting theory with practical applications. If you can't study on campus, the school's office accounting specialist certificate can be earned entirely online.
If you're a first-time college student, you may be able to enroll for free at Mt. San Antonio College. The Promise+ Plus Program offers free enrollment, free fees and a number of other perks such as a free loaned laptop, bus pass, food card and book grant. That makes the California college an attractive choice regardless of your major.
Accounting programs at Mt. SAC: Students at Mt. SAC are taught how to use programs like QuickBooks and Excel for accounting. They also have the opportunity to learn about a variety of accounting practices such as payroll, financial reporting, tax preparation and inventory management. Working students can even get credit for job experience. Graduates can walk away with either an accounting degree or certificate.
As a two-year college in Georgia, Albany Technical College seeks to meet the needs of many different people. It offers a variety of learning options, including online courses, and guarantees its graduates will meet certain standards. The school also employs expert faculty who help students reach their career goals.
Accounting programs at ATC: There is an accounting diploma and degree offered at ATC. The diploma program can be completed in 18 months by a full-time student while the degree may be earned in 24 months. Both are available through the school's distance education program and can be earned entirely online.
Skills and Qualities for Accountants
Accounting programs can help you gain some of the skills needed for a successful career, but others are natural attributes you may have to work to develop on your own.
- Mathematics: Not surprisingly, accountants must understand math to do their job well. It's a skill they use on a daily basis to balance books, create budgets and calculate taxes.
- Monitoring: Accountants are responsible for overseeing how money is spent, and being able to monitor data accurately and efficiently is an important skill in this profession.
- Time management: Whether they are working for one company or multiple clients, accountants must be able to manage their time well to ensure all their tasks are completed properly and on schedule.
- Deductive reasoning: Accountants must make sense of many numbers. They need to be able to categorize and calculate them correctly. Deductive reasoning is the skill that helps make that possible.
- Problem Sensitivity: Corporations rely on accountants to alert them to potential problems in their finances. Problem sensitivity refers to the ability of workers to recognize when an issue may arise.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Accountants
Undoubtedly, you're wondering what is an accountant salary like. While national data is listed below, keep in mind that actual incomes depend on many factors. For example, an entry-level accountant working from home won't command the same salary as a CPA employed by a top financial firm. What's more, accountants have a career that will probably always be needed by businesses, but career outlook can vary depending on your skills and education. Here's a look at estimated job growth and accountant salaries in the field for the coming years:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Accountants and Auditors||1,259,930||$78,820||10%|
|Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks||1,530,430||$42,110||-1.4%|
Professional Resources for Accountants
If you want more information on the accounting profession, check out these three resources:
- American Institute of Certified Public Accountants - AICPA is considered one of the premier accounting industry organizations. The group's This Way to CPA website has a wealth of information for anyone interested in becoming a CPA.
- American Accounting Association - Founded in 1916, AAA is the largest organization of accountants working in academia.
- National Society of Accountants - The NSA works to promote professional ethics as well as the accounting industry as a whole. Its scholarship fund provides support to accounting students.
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".|
What types of candidates do employers seek?
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.
Why would you encourage someone to pursue this career? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
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.
Do you have any advice for new workers just starting out in this career?
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.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- The school must offer at least 1 program for the subject in question
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following variables:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificates conferred for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates