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Accounting Degrees & Programs

Question: Can a financial agreement be scribbled on a cocktail napkin and still be considered valid? Conventional wisdom might say no. In actuality, as long as it contains all of the necessary details and is signed, the pledged payment could likely be considered a binding contract under law.

This is just one of the intriguing topics that could be explored at accounting colleges. Students can also learn how and where money can be spent and moved by a company; how to determine if a business is profitable or operating at a loss, and how to prepare and assess a variety of financial statements. Accounting programs may also help students develop business management skills, as some accounting professionals may be responsible for overseeing entire finance departments or auditing teams. Other topics commonly covered include math (accurately calculating financial transactions is an important part of accounting, after all), economics, finance law and ethics, information systems, auditing and taxation.

What Are The Types of Accounting Degrees?

Accounting degree programs can range from associate degrees all the way up to a doctorate with completion times ranging respectively.

  • Associate degrees typically focus on the basics of accounting, such as double-entry bookkeeping, while also incorporating general education courses.
  • Bachelor's degrees expand instruction to include economics, accounting law, taxation, information systems, and the various types of financial documentation.
  • Master's degrees further develop a student's understanding of financial reporting, accounting, and auditing processes -- and the importance they play in business. Common degree types include Master of Business Administration in accounting, Master of Accountancy and a Master of Science in accounting.
  • Doctoral degrees are typically reserved for those who want to advance the field by contributing academic research or assuming executive management positions. Students at this level can pursue a Doctor of Business Administration in accounting or a Ph.D.

Postsecondary certificates and diploma programs are also available to students who want to study accounting without entering a full-fledged degree program. Students may also be able to enroll in a program that specializes in a particular aspect of accounting, including:

  • General Accounting
  • Financial Accounting
  • Auditing
  • Bookkeeping
  • CPA Prep
  • Taxation
  • Forensic Accounting
  • Accounting Technology

What Can You Do With An Accounting Degree?

Based on the type of degree earned, graduating from accounting school could present a range of employment opportunities. Some accounting grads might go on to become public accountants at an international firm, while others could work for the federal government as an IRS agent or as a bookkeeper at a nonprofit. Likewise, accounting careers could entail reviewing and filing taxes during tax season, performing company-wide audits, or managing an entire finance department. Below are a sample of professions that may be available to those with accounting degrees:

  • Bookkeepers
  • Accountants
  • Auditors
  • Budget Analysts
  • Financial Examiners
  • IRS investigators
  • Tax Revenue Collectors
  • Controllers
  • Treasurers
  • Credit, Risk or Insurance Managers
  • Chief Financial Officers (CFO)

Salaries also run the gamut for accounting-related professions. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks earned a national mean annual wage of $36,640 in May 2012 while on the other end of the spectrum, financial managers earned $123,260 on average.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some employers may prefer to hire accounting professionals who have become state licensed as certified public accountants (CPAs). To obtain certification, a prospective CPA typically needs to have a bachelor's degree or higher in accounting or a related subject, pass the Uniform CPA Examination, and gain relevant work experience. Some states require students to earn 150 total credits before taking the Uniform CPA Exam or gaining licensure, in addition to completing a professional ethics exam.

What Are the Requirements to Attend Accounting School?

As with any field of study, admissions requirements for accounting schools vary from program to program. Some accounting programs at the bachelor's level, for example, may require students to complete a pre-business program before starting their accounting coursework, while others may admit students right out of high school. When making their admittance decision, certain accounting schools can be highly concerned with test scores and GPA, but others can place more importance on a student's admissions essay or extracurricular activities. Check with accounting schools of interest to determine any possible prerequisites and how they weigh each admittance component.

Why Earn an Accounting Degree?

It's easy to assume that accounting is only about calculating assets and liabilities, reviewing financial statements, or helping someone with their tax return. However, there's a reason accounting is considered "the language of business." Accounting is at the heart of many organizational functions and can influence decisions far beyond the walls of the accounting department. With that in mind, earning an accounting degree may not only prepare students for traditional accounting careers -- it could also give graduates the flexibility to move into a variety of related finance and business roles during the course of their careers.


Accountants and Auditors, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012


May 2012 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 29, 2013,