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The role of accountant has been around for at least 7,000 years. Modern accounting wasn’t organized into what we know it today until the early 19th century. The earliest known accounting records date back to ancient Mesopotamia. They were used to keep records of the growth of crops and animal herds.

At the end of the 15th century, Luca Pacioli wrote a 27-page booklet titled the Details of Calculation and Recording. It covered the topic of bookkeeping and double-entry accounting. During the 19th century, the Scots turned accounting into its own profession and refined the keeping of financial records.

An Accounting Career

Accounting practices have become more refined and standardized in the 200 years since the inception of modern accounting. The basics of the profession have changed little. The need to keep track of money, goods, inventories, taxes and more is at the core of our lives and businesses. The demand for accountants in the future is strong and solid as it’s a need for people at most levels of income.

Becoming an accountant can be a rewarding and lifelong career. There are plenty of opportunities for advancement. When asking “what can I do with a bachelors in accounting?”, the future is quite bright. The field also offers the opportunity for an enterprising individual to become their own boss. She can open up a small accounting office with private clients. Accounting students won’t have to worry about demand for accountants in the future. Individuals and businesses will always need someone to keep their financials sorted.

Most Popular Schools with Online Accounting Degree Programs

CareerU.S. EmploymentAverage SalaryProjected Job Growth
Accountants and Auditors1,280,700$79,5206.4%
Financial and Investment Analysts, Financial Risk Specialists, and Financial Specialists, All Other458,510$94,1606.2%
Credit Analysts73,930$84,9304.9%
Budget Analysts51,460$80,3004.2%
Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks1,512,660$42,960-3.9%
Insurance Underwriters100,050$77,640-4.9%
New Accounts Clerks43,420$38,490-7.2%
Bill and Account Collectors235,870$39,300-7.5%
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Most Affordable Online Accounting Degree Programs

What Do Accountants Do?

So, what does an accountant do? An accountant’s job description is, at its most basic, the keeping of financial records and tracking money. They ensure that financial records coordinate with accounting principles, laws, and regulations.

The accountant compiles all the necessary financial records. She organizes them according to importance and category. She then enters the information into balance sheets and ledgers. That’s not all there is to the job description of an accountant. An accountant’s job description includes obtaining tax licenses and organizing and incorporating businesses under the correct IRS definition. They provide financial advice, and handle payroll for employers or clients. 

An accountant’s job description may include the word “bookkeeper.” Accountants are sometimes referred to as such. An accountant is more than someone who makes sure financial records are kept and maintained.

The job description of an accountant can lack the words “CPA.” An accountant can work as an accountant without taking the CPA exam. But they cannot use the CPA designation next to their name because they haven’t taken or passed the CPA exam. Just about anyone can do the work of an accountant as long as they have undergone the training to do so. Their job prospects are limited unless they earn online accounting degrees or pass the CPA exam. 

How Do I Become an Accountant?

Bachelors in Accounting

Becoming an accountant includes earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting and passing the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Exam. Then you can find employment as an entry-level accountant. That’s an overview of how to become an accountant.

There is some nuance involved when it comes to learning how to become an accountant. This comes in the form of deciding what type of an accountant you want to become. There is a question of time to determine how much schooling you’ll need to work in your chosen field of accounting. Many states need an aspiring accountant to earn a total of 150 credit hours before getting their license after passing the CPA exam. 

An accountant has to take more credit hours than the average accounting program offers. It’s still a four-year course and undergraduates will depart their school the same time as all other programs. When asking “how long does it take to become an accountant?”, the answer will always be four years. The extra credit hours required by the state are included in the accounting program to enable a student to start their career upon graduation. A student who does not pass the CPA exam can still work as an accountant. They won’t be able to practice as an accountant without restrictions unless they get their license.

What Can You Do with an Online Accounting Degree Program?

The accounting career path is not fixed solely on the keeping of books for an employer or client. You may want to work in the field of financial record keeping and tracking, but not necessarily as a CPA. Careers in accounting and finance are plentiful. Employers need people trained to keep financial records properly and aren’t in need of a CPA.

Entry-level accounting jobs offer the opportunity to put a foot in the door of the accounting field. They get an idea of what the profession involves. You’re probably asking “what are some entry-level accounting jobs?” The accounting jobs list includes:

  • Bank tellers
  • Commercial credit analysis
  • Asset management
  • Healthcare billing or payroll
  • Managing funds for nonprofits
  • Financial Analysts
  • Government positions
  • Personal Financial Advisors

Entry level accounting jobs can act as a career springboard for someone who’s interested in pursuing a specific accounting career path. Careers in accounting and finance offer a lot of satisfaction. People with analytical mindsets and a knack for solving puzzles thrive. The best entry level accounting jobs are ones that provide you with the opportunity to practice the skills you learned in school. They help you decide if the work is the right accounting career path for you.  

Degree Types: Associates, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral 

choose degree

Accounting educational opportunities range from earning an associates degree all the way to a doctorate. An associates degree provides basic accounting education. A doctorate in accounting opens up the opportunity to work at the highest level of accounting. Graduates find employment in the educational arena. Within degree programs, students can learn about:

  • financial accounting
  • managerial accounting
  • accounting principles
  • financial statements
  • business administration
  • tax accounting
  • business law
  • financial analysis
  • accounting ethics
  • accounting information systems
  • forensic accounting
  • financial reporting
  • business operations
  • corporate accounting
  • cost accounting
  • financial planning

Following is a look at the different types of online accounting degrees and what kind of education they provide.

Associates Degree

An associate’s degree gives a student the basics of accounting and makes it easier to find entry-level accounting jobs. There are not enough credit hours offered in the associate’s degree for someone to obtain a state license as a CPA. It does offer more job opportunities than being a bookkeeper. Someone who’s been working as a bookkeeper can benefit from getting an associate’s accounting degree as an online program.

An online associate’s degree in accounting can help a working professional earn a degree while maintaining their day job. Another benefit to obtaining an online associate’s accounting degree is that many programs are flexible. They are offered at an accelerated pace. 

Bachelor’s Degree

The accounting bachelor’s degree requires 150 credit hours to become licensed in most states. It is also the minimum amount of schooling that makes someone eligible for the CPA exam. A student who wants to become a licensed CPA in their state has to complete the required hours.

Some students have already started their career or want to attend a school that’s in another state. Their best option is to get their bachelor of accounting degree online. An online bachelor degree in accounting carries the same validity as attending classes on campus. Many prestigious schools offer an online bachelor’s in accounting degree program. These can open more employment doors for a graduate. 

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in accounting builds upon the undergraduate accounting education. The graduate student can refine their career focus to engage in forensic accounting, auditing, financial accounting, accounting management and enhance their knowledge as a CPA. Many accountants returning for their masters accounting degree are already in the workforce. Getting their masters in accounting online makes a lot of sense.

Online masters of accounting programs can be available as accelerated programs. They offer the flexibility to attend accounting courses when it’s convenient for the student as long as classwork is completed on time. Some online students pursue a Master’s in Accounting or a Master’s of Business Administration in Accounting. These advanced online accounting degrees help students reach more advanced careers.

Doctorate in Accounting

Getting a doctorate in accounting consists of a rigorous application process and high barriers for entry. The rewards for students who want to pursue their doctorate in accounting can be great. They offer access to jobs that are otherwise difficult to meet. Getting a doctorate in accounting online is possible. Most doctorate programs include in-person learning and visits to a campus. 

Accreditation

quality ribbon smaller

There are two accrediting bodies for accounting programs within business schools: Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The AACSB is a more prestigious accreditation. The ACBSP is a broad accreditation that provides legitimacy to schools with two-year programs. 

AACSB

The AACSB is over 100 years old. It has accredited some of the most well-known and highly regarded schools in the U.S. and around the world. The AACSB has its origins in the early part of the 20th century. It has stayed abreast of changes and is a thoroughly modern accrediting body. There are many AACSB accredited online schools. They ensure that students can access the same quality of accounting education online as students who attend the best schools in person. Online students who attend an AACSB accredited school can trust they are receiving standards that the public and employers recognize.

ACBSP

ACBSP was founded in 1988 and accredits business programs at all levels from associates to doctoral. AACSB starts accreditation at the bachelor’s degree level only. Schools with associates programs for accounting that are also ACBSP accredited schools means that students who are looking for an intro to accounting are learning at accepted standards. 

Certifications

The most common certification for accounting is the Certified Public Accountant certificate, but it’s not the only one. There are multiple certifications for accounting that denote an accountant has a focus in a specific area of accounting. Just as there are multiple certifications for accounting, an accountant can hold as many certificates in accounting as they wish. In fact, the more accounting certificates an accountant has, the more jobs they’re qualified to perform.

Another appealing aspect of accounting certifications is that not all of them require a bachelors degree which means someone with an associates degree in accounting can get accounting certificates. Accounting certifications also help increase earning potential due to the specialized knowledge needed for each type of accounting certification. Here’s a look at the most popular certifications in accounting:

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

The CPA certification is the oldest type of certification and the most well-known. The CPA enables accountants to perform a wide variety of tasks that include auditing, representing clients in front of the IRS for tax issues, and issuing an opinion on financial statements that have been audited, reviewed or compiled. The latter is important for investors as they need to be able to evaluate the value of a given stock. A non-CPA accountant can’t provide the same services. 

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

An accountant that has a CMA is someone who can specialize in accounting management for businesses. The CPA does not cover financial management for corporations which makes the CMA a valuable certification for accountants who want to be able to effectively work with businesses and corporations. It can also help an accountant climb the corporate ladder and potentially reach the C-suite level.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The CFA prepares an accountant for work in the financial and investment fields. Many CFAs work as hedge fund managers or for investment funds. Their job is to analyze financial decisions, research and make decisions on investments, provide wealth management services to clients, and manage portfolios. The CFA is the gold standard for accounting certifications and prepares accountants for a lifelong career in the world of finance.

Enrolled Agent (EA)

The EA is a certification from the IRS that enables an accountant to demonstrate their knowledge of the U.S. tax code and ability to apply the code on behalf of clients. The certification only covers taxes for individuals and businesses and does not provide any other kind of knowledge. However, if an accountant wants to work exclusively in the field of taxation, earning an EA certification is the way to go. An EA can also represent clients in front of the IRS and defend the decisions made on their clients tax returns the same as a lawyer. 

Scholarships

Scholarships help students spend less money out of their own pockets on earning an accounting degree. Taking the time to apply for scholarships for accounting students is a worthwhile endeavor as it can pay off in the form of getting financial aid that covers some or all of the cost of tuition for a semester, year, or even the full four years. Scholarships for accounting students encompass a wide range of needs including minority students. The AICPA scholarship for minority accounting students is one example while the FWSF Scholarship awards money to women who live in the San Francisco Bay area and studying accounting. 

If an accounting program is in your future, now is the time to take action. There is a program out there for you. You just have to find it. Good luck!

Other Accounting Degree Rankings:

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Best Online Master’s in Accounting Programs
Best Online Accounting MBA Programs
Business School Scholarships
Guide for Financial Managers

Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?