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The role of accountant has been around for at least 7,000 years, although 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 and 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. 

Accounting practices have become more refined and standardized in the 200 years since the inception of modern accounting, but 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 with 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 and open up a small accounting office with private clients. Accounting students won’t have to worry about demand for accountants in the future as individuals and businesses will always have a need for 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, just what does an accountant do? An accountants job description is, at its most basic, the keeping of financial records and tracking money and ensuring that the financial records are kept in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, laws, and regulations. The accountant compiles all of the necessary financial records, organizes them according to importance and category, then enters the information into balance sheets and ledgers. However, that’s not all there is to the job description of an accountant. An accountants job description can also include obtaining tax licenses, organizing and incorporating businesses under the correct IRS definition, provide financial advice, and handle payroll for employers or clients. 

An accountants job description may include the word “bookkeeper” because accountants are sometimes referred to as such. However, an accountant is more than someone who makes sure financial records are correctly kept and maintained. The job description of an accountant can lack the words “CPA” due to the fact that 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, but their job prospects are limited unless they earn a degree or pass the CPA exam. 

How Do I Become an Accountant?

The path of how to become an accountant consists of earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting, passing the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Exam, and find employment as an entry-level accountant. However, 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 that comes in the form of deciding what type of an accountant you want to become. You also have to take a look at how long does it take to become an accountant to determine how much schooling you’ll need to work in your chosen field of accounting. Many states require an aspiring accountant to earn a total of 150 credit hours before being allowed to get their license after passing the CPA exam. 

Even though an accountant has to take more credit hours than the average degree program, 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 degree program in order to enable a student to start their career upon graduation. However, a student who does not pass the CPA exam can still work as an accountant, but they won’t be able to practice as an accountant without restrictions unless they get their license.

What Can You Do with an Accounting Degree?

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 due to the fact that 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 along with getting 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
  • Government positions 

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 for someone who has an analytical mindset and has a knack for solving puzzles of all kinds. The best entry level accounting jobs are ones that provide you with the opportunity to practice the skills you learned in school and help you decide if the work is the right accounting career path for you.  

Accredited Online Accounting Degree Types: Associates, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral 

Accounting educational opportunities range from earning an associates degree all the way to a doctorate. An associates degree provides basic accounting education while a doctorate in accounting opens up the opportunity to work at the highest level of accounting and find employment in the educational arena. Following is a look at the different types of degrees and what kind of education they provide.

Associates Degree

An associate’s degree gives a student the opportunity to learn 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, but 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 online. 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 associate’s in accounting online degree is the fact that many online associate’s degree in accounting programs are flexible and offered at an accelerated pace. 

Bachelor’s Degree

The bachelors in accounting degree requires, as previously mentioned, 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. However, if a student has already started their career, or wants to attend a school that’s in another state, their best option is to get their bachelor of accounting degree online. An online bachelors degree in accounting carries the same validity as attending classes on campus. And many prestigious schools offer a bachelors degree in accounting online which can open more employment doors for a graduate. 

Master’s Degree

A masters degree in accounting builds upon the undergraduate accounting education. The graduate student can refine their career focus to engage in forensic accounting, auditing, accounting management and enhance their knowledge as a CPA. Because many accountants who return for their masters degree are already in the workforce, getting their masters in accounting online makes a lot of sense. Online masters of accounting degrees are available as accelerated programs or offer the flexibility to attend classes when it’s convenient for the student as long as classwork is completed on time. 

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, however, and offer access to jobs that are otherwise difficult to attain. Getting a doctorate in accounting online is possible, but most doctorate programs tend to require in-person learning and visits to a campus to work with educators. 

Accreditation

There are two accrediting bodies for accounting programs: Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). When comparing ACBSP vs AACSB, you’ll find that the AACSB is a more prestigious accreditation whereas the ACBSP is a broad accreditation that provides legitimacy to schools with two-year programs. 

The AACSB is over 100 years old and has accredited some of the most well-known and highly regarded schools in the U.S. and around the world. Even though 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 which ensures that students can access the same quality of accounting education online as students who attend the best schools in person. Overall, students who attend an AACSB accredited school online or in person can be assured that they’re being taught practices and standards that the public and employers recognize. 

ACBSP was founded in 1988 and accredits business programs at all levels from associates to doctoral. AACSB starts accreditation at the bachelors 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 issue 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. 

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