How to Become an Accountant: Mom and Pop Shops to the Fortune 500

Broadly speaking, accountants help businesses run efficiently, keep and audit financial records, ensure that incomes, profits and losses, and tax liability are assessed properly, and make certain that critical information about the firms they work for is communicated accurately and ethically. Becoming an accountant offers stability, high hourly wages, professional challenges, and a gateway towards involvement in higher business functions and entrepreneurship. By 2018, the number of positions available for accountants is expected to rise by 22% (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), making education in the field an excellent practical pursuit.

Accountant Education Degree Requirements

At whatever level you want to work in accountancy, you are likely going to need a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related discipline. But there are also plenty of practical opportunities to get into the field, particularly as a bookkeeper’s assistant, and experience of this kind is also a significant plus when applying to an academic program. In terms of accountant education degree requirements, you can expect to study basic business functions and ways to assess the value of a business, financial operations, and the intricacies of tax code. Increasingly, accounting programs also place a premium on ethics, a response to scandals stretching back to the days of Enron, and more recently, the Lehman collapse and the Great Recession.

The program you choose will depend in large measure on what you want to do with your degree. Studying accounting can be an excellent choice if you want to formalize your work experience, but you should be realistic about what your goals are in pursuing a given academic program. Offering tax advice to private individuals, evaluating the profit potential of the tech sector in India, and positioning yourself for a management position at an automotive manufacturer will all demand different program emphases. Research counts, and as you look at programs you should be sure to figure out what career tracks alumni can look forward to.

For some entry-level positions as an in-house accountant or accountant assistant, work experience and a degree may be enough, but for most jobs entailing independent responsibility, you will need some level of certification, as well. The most important and most widely accepted of the credentials is recognition as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Requirements vary from state to state, but always require passing the Uniform CPA Examination, a massive four-section two-day test of accounting knowledge. After achieving this certification, you may also choose to pursue a two-year master’s or MBA program in order to improve your chances for a supervisory position.