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“The accounts of money, supplies and provisions should then be considered. The overseer should report what wine and oil has been sold, what price he got, what is on hand, and what remains for sale. Security should be taken for such accounts as ought to be secured. All other unsettled matters should be agreed upon. If any thing is needed for the coming year, it should be bought; every thing which is not needed should be sold. Whatever there is for lease should be leased.”

-Cato the Elder, De Agri Cultura, c. 160 BC

Needless to say, accounting has a long history. Forget Cato’s commentary: ancient Mesopotamian stone tablets record wine transactions, and there’s evidence that bookkeeping occasioned the earliest forms of written communication.

Today accounting is more complex and no less important. Businesses, organizations, and individuals need diligent records of all financial activities, and because of 21st century trade and commerce, those activities can add up quickly. Further, because of the labyrinth of tax loopholes, credits, deductions, and other conditions, even a meticulous attention to detail isn’t enough to guarantee you’ve got it right. Millions of Americans overlook crucial accounting laws; millions more overlook crucial accounting opportunities. The result is an inefficient system.

The answer is more accounting literacy and education.

Why Study Accounting?

Consider a few benefits to a degree in accounting.

  • Accounting graduates have some of the best job statistics in the United States. The unemployment rate is just 2.5%, compared with 4.1% nationally, and US News ranks accounting as the third best job in business. Upward mobility and job flexibility are strong, and accountants’ stress level is considered average. (More on that next.) For individuals with a CPA, job security is high, and the sector is largely market proof.
  • Accountants have great work-life balance. Tax season is a slog, but the rest of the year is great. In 2016 only 1 in 5 accountants worked over 40 hours per week, and a lot of that time is spent outside of the office. For those willing to trade four intense months for eight modest ones, accounting is an obvious potential career choice.
  • Accounting degrees are highly customizable. Especially at the master’s level: specialize in public accounting, corporate accounting, fraud management, forensic accounting, information systems, and more. Contrary to a common misperception – accounting as dry, dusty, and dull – accounting majors study a wide range of subjects and must be proficient in multiple areas, both in accounting, business, policy, and more. To that point….
  • Accounting graduates pursue a variety of careers. Because of in-demand skill sets, accounting grads are recruited into business, finance, consulting, healthcare, government, tech, and nonprofits, often in non-accounting roles that require accounting competencies: critical thinking, analytical expertise, due diligence, and accounting law. On a similar note, accounting graduates have greater career flexibility: transferrable skills mean more professional freedom.

Job Prospects and Salaries for Accounting Graduates

“You have to understand accounting and you have to understand the nuances of accounting. It’s the language of business and it’s an imperfect language, but unless you are willing to put in the effort to learn accounting – how to read and interpret financial statements – you really shouldn’t select stocks yourself.”

-Warren Buffett

U.S. revenue for accounting services, tax preparation, and payroll services projects to reach $160 billion by 2018, a 30% increase since 2010.

Accounting graduates enjoy some of the best employment prospects in the economy. After experiencing record hiring for four consecutive years, the spree has slowed but remains strong. Sixteen of the twenty largest accounting firms expect to add the same amount or more new hires as previous years, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountant and auditor occupations are projected to grow 10% through 2026: faster than average and making up 140,000 new jobs. The annual median salary for accountants and auditors is $68,150, while upper-level accountants can earn between $90k (75th percentile) and $120 (90th percentile). In particular, taxation specialists are an emphasis: new hires assigned to the sector increased 9% in 2016.

Still, as mentioned, not all accounting graduates are accountants. Let’s review a few alternative careers for accounting graduates, both bachelor’s and master’s, from entry-level to senior roles.

Types of Jobs for Accounting Graduates

  • Bookkeeper: Record financial transactions, update statements, and review statements for accuracy
    • Median Annual Salary: $38,390
  • Budget Analyst: Prepare budget reports, monitor spending, analyze data, and offer general financial support for private and public organizations
    • Median Annual Salary: $73,840
  • Financial Examiner: Ensure business compliance, review balance sheets, evaluate risk, and assess bank management
    • Median Annual Salary: $79,280
  • Management Consultant: Develop organization’s efficiency strategy, including cost reduction and revenue increase
    • Median Annual Salary: $81,330
  • Financial Analyst: Provide strategic guidance to individuals, businesses, and organizations on investments decisions
    • Median Annual Salary: $81,760
  • Personal Financial Advisor: Provide financial guidance to individual and families, including advice on investments, mortgages, insurance plans, college savings, estate planning, taxes, and retirement
    • Median Salary: $81,760
  • Financial Manager: Oversees all aspects of an organization’s financial operations, including long-term investment strategy, auditing and budgeting, financial reports, direct investments, day-to-day activities, and more.
    • Median Salary: $121,750
  • Financial Planning and Analysis Director: Leads a finance team’s budgeting, forecasting, long-term strategy, and planning; reviews financial analysis and offers innovative business ideas and investments
    • Median Pay: $154,748

Undergraduate Degrees in Accounting

If you know you want to pursue a career in accounting, a BS in Accounting is the first degree to consider. If you’re interested in accounting but want a broader curriculum, check out our rankings for the best bachelor’s in business programs, several of which include Accounting minors or emphases.Traditionally students pursuing their CPA or other common accounting certifications begin with their bachelor’s in accounting and then take at least some graduate courses in order to fulfill the entry requirements for professional examinations.

Graduate Degrees in Accounting

If you’re pursuing a graduate degree – particularly if you’re considering becoming a CPA – there are two main tracks to consider.

First, the MS in Accounting, which typically takes less than two years and covers all advanced accounting disciplines. Upon graduation, you will be eligible to sit for the CPA examination.

Second, the MBA track, which takes one to two years and incorporates accounting course work into the program. Of particular use are Online Course Report’s Top 50 Best Online MBAs, including accounting specialization options. From there, check out our rankings for best online Executive MBAs, master’s in Finance, master’s in Nonprofit Management, master’s in Supply Chain Management, and master’s in Entrepreneurship.

Popular Online Schools Offering Accounting Degrees

Find the Right Accounting Degree

Peruse the most popular online accounting programs as well as our rankings of the best accounting schools above.

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