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Guide to a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting

a male professional explains a numbers chart on an overhead screen to coworkers seated at a conference table
a male professional explains a numbers chart on an overhead screen to coworkers seated at a conference table

A bachelor's degree in accounting prepares you for a variety of positions that collect, record, and analyze financial transactions and data for businesses, government and individuals. Generally a four-year degree, it offers a variety of career paths and is a good entry point for further specialization and certifications, including certified public accountant (CPA). 

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Bachelor's Degrees

It takes more than strong math skills to succeed as an accountant. You'll also have to know how to apply your abilities to organize financial records, prepare tax returns, and assess operations. 

With a bachelor's degree in accounting, you'll be prepared to advise businesses, organizations, and individuals and help them achieve their goals. There are a variety of accounting degrees, including three common bachelor's degrees:

Bachelor of Science in Accounting
A Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting prepares students for entry-level professional positions in public, private, and government accounting. Some schools call this degree a Bachelor of Accountancy. Upon graduation, students can qualify for placement in graduate or professional schools to prepare for CPA licensure.

Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting
The Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Accounting combines the study of business administration, management, and economics with courses that provide analytical and quantitative skills. This degree can also prepare you to pursue a graduate degree in accounting or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a focus on accounting.

Bachelor of Arts in Accounting
Though not as common, you may come across the Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Accounting. While a BS emphasizes courses related specifically to accounting, a BA has more flexibility in choosing electives, allowing additional options for a minor or double major. 

Prerequisites

Admission requirements for a bachelor's degree in accounting include a high school diploma or GED. If you have an associate degree in accounting, you may be able to transfer some or all of your credits toward your bachelor's degree, depending on your institution's criteria.

Most colleges and universities require a GPA of 2.5 for admission into a bachelor's program. You can expect GPA requirements of 3.0 and higher for competitive programs.

If you have an associate degree in accounting, you may be able to transfer some or all of your credits toward your bachelor's degree.

If your GPA is below these requirements, talk to the school's admissions counselors about your options. You may be able to take prerequisite courses at a community college to build up your GPA before reapplying.

Entrance exam requirements vary by institution and program. Most colleges and universities require SAT or ACT scores, but schools differ regarding how much consideration they give scores in the admissions process. For some schools, the SAT is optional or not required at all.

Curriculum

A bachelor's curriculum includes a wide range of courses that prepare you to analyze financial issues and advise clients at every level of business. While specific courses vary by program, you can expect to study math, business, finance, statistics, and legal and regulatory issues. In addition, most programs include courses to help you develop communication and technology skills so you're prepared to effectively interact in today's business world. 

"Basic math skills are very important," says Angel Chatterton, senior lecturer of accountancy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. "You have to have a love of puzzles. You have to have a strong desire to want to solve problems, and to want to be a part of the solution."

Common classes for a bachelor's in accounting may include:

  • Intermediate and advanced financial accounting
  • Intermediate and advanced managerial accounting
  • Accounting software and information systems
  • Auditing
  • Business law
  • Business statistics
  • Economics
  • Ethics in business
  • Macroeconomics and microeconomics
  • Principles of management
  • Accounting electives

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Bachelor's in Accounting?

A bachelor's degree typically takes four years to complete. However, depending on your program, you may be able to reduce that time by taking summer classes.

Subject to your school's approval, you might also be eligible to earn college credit by taking exams that test your knowledge of the material in college-level courses. The number of credits awarded varies, but typically no more than 30 credits can be applied to your degree.

Find out if you're eligible for college credit from one or more of these sources:

How to Pick a Program

In choosing a bachelor's in accounting program, here are some factors worth considering:

  • Does this program offer an area of concentration I want to study?
  • Is there a part-time or online option for working students?
  • Is there a combined bachelor's and master's degree option that fulfills the 150-credit CPA requirement?
  • What's the average class size?
  • What are the graduation and employment rates for program graduates?
  • How successful are graduates in taking the CPA exam?
  • Can I speak to recent graduates about their experiences?
  • What types of financial aid are offered?

With your accounting degree in hand, you'll be prepared to pursue the CPA designation. This will require additional school credits, but it will give you a credential sought by many employers, and it could boost your salary.


Written and reported by:

M.J. Grenzow
Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Angel Chatterton
Senior Instructor of Accountancy, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign