Accounting Career and Degree Guide
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Bachelor's Degrees in Accounting: Everything You Need to Know
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. A bachelor's degree in accounting can give you the education you need to put your strengths to work so you can advise businesses, organizations, and individuals to help them achieve their goals.
Want to find out more about using accounting to make a difference? Keep reading to learn what you can expect regarding the education, employment, and professional opportunities associated with a bachelor's degree in accounting.
What Is a Bachelor of Accounting Degree?
A bachelor's in accounting is the minimum degree required by many states if you want to qualify to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Holding the CPA credential demonstrates that you've gained the level of education and experience you need to be considered qualified by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. It's earned when you've passed the Uniform CPA Examination, along with state-specific education and on-the-job experience requirements.
While all CPAs are accountants, not all accountants qualify to be CPAs. Only accountants who have earned the CPA credential can give advice, analyze financial statements, and sign off on documentation submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Because of these responsibilities, CPAs commit to upholding high professional ethics as part of their credentialing process.
Depending on your state, holding a bachelor's degree in accounting with 120 credits might qualify you to sit for the exam. However, many states require 150 credits, which means completing advanced education before you're eligible to take the test. No matter the requirements to sit for the exam, you'll need to earn at least a bachelor's degree with one of the following options:
Bachelor of Science in Accounting
A Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting is a 4-year degree that prepares students for entry-level professional positions in public, private, or government accounting. Some schools may also refer to a comparable degree as 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 is a degree that combines the study of business, management, and economics with courses that provide the analytical and quantitative skills essential to a sound accounting education. This can also prepare you to pursue advanced education.
Bachelor of Arts in Accounting
Though not as common, you may come across the Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Accounting. While a BS emphasizes more courses related specifically to the accounting major, a BA has more flexibility in the form of free electives, allowing additional options for a minor or double major.
What Jobs Can You Get With an Accounting Degree?
With a bachelor's degree in accounting, you'll have a wide range of potential career paths available. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth for accountants and auditors will increase by 10% through 2026. Accountants with specialized certification, such as the CPA, are likely to have better job prospects.
Since all different kinds of businesses and organizations require CPA services, you can also qualify for a wide range of nontraditional jobs with a bachelor's accounting degree. Consider some of these popular career options:
Typical Degree Path in Accounting
Regardless of the credit requirements for sitting for the CPA, it's necessary to have a total of 150 credits to earn your license in any state. So even if you took the exam while holding a 120-credit bachelor's degree, additional coursework is needed before you'll be granted your license.
Typical educational options for earning the required credits include:
- Enrolling in an integrated 5-year program that lets you earn your undergraduate and graduate degrees concurrently
- Following your bachelor's degree in accounting with a master's in accounting or an MBA
- Following your undergraduate accounting degree with graduate accounting coursework outside of a degree program
Can I apply bachelor's degree credits to a master's?
Typically, a master's degree is earned separate from a bachelor's, so you may need separate credits to satisfy each requirement. However, some schools offer accelerated master's programs in accounting, which allow you to earn dual course credit for your undergrad and graduate degrees in accounting.
Academic Requirements for a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting
Admission requirements for a bachelor's degree in accounting include a minimum of a high school diploma or GED. If you have an associate's 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.
Are there GPA requirements?
Most colleges and universities require a GPA of 2.5 for admission into a bachelor's in accounting program. You can expect to find GPA requirements of 3.0 and higher for the most competitive programs.
If your GPA is below these requirements, talk to the school's admissions counselors about our options. You may be able to take prerequisite courses at a community college to build up your GPA before reapplying.
Do you need to take the SAT?
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 the score in the admissions process. For some schools, the SAT is optional or not required at all.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting?
A bachelor's degree in accounting typically takes four years to complete. However, depending on your specific program, you may be able to reduce that time frame by taking summer or winter classes in addition to the traditional fall and spring semesters.
Subject to your school's approval, you might also be eligible to earn college credit by taking exams that test your knowledge in comparison to college-level courses. The number of credits awarded varies by program, but typically no more than 30 credits can be applied from these types of programs.
Find out if you're eligible for college credit from one or more of the sources:
- Advanced Placement (AP) exams for AP courses
- International Baccalaureate exams for IB courses
- College Level Exam Program (CLEP) or DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) exams that equate college credit with "life experience"
- American Council on Education College Credit Recommendation Service (CREDIT) college course equivalents for workplace learning or professional credentials
Bachelor's in Accounting Curriculum
A bachelor's in accounting curriculum includes a wide range of courses that prepare you to advise and analyze financial issues at every level of business. While specific courses vary by program, you can expect to study accounting, math, business, finance, and statistics, as well as legal and regulatory issues. In addition, most programs include courses to help you develop communication skills and technological aptitude so that you're prepared to effectively interact in today's business environment.
Common core classes for a bachelor's in accounting can include:
- Intermediate and advanced financial accounting
- Intermediate and advanced managerial accounting
- Accounting software and information systems
- Business law
- Business statistics
- Ethics in business
- Macroeconomics and microeconomics
- Principles of management
- Accounting electives
Bachelor's degree credits
Most bachelor's degrees in accounting require 120 credits. However, many states have their own criteria for the number of credits in specific areas. For example, a state may require 33 semester hours in accounting and 36 semester hours in business.
Check with your state board of accountancy to find out requirements and ensure that you're taking the correct types of courses required to qualify for CPA licensure in your state.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Accounting
If you're trying to balance work or family obligations while you're going to school, an online bachelor's degree in accounting may be right for you. The curriculum is a perfect fit for the online learning model because most programs don't require onsite labs or internships. In fact, some bachelor's in accounting degrees can be earned 100% online.Even if you prefer to attend most of your classes in a traditional classroom, many programs offer the option to combine online and onsite classes in a hybrid program for your convenience.
When considering an online bachelor's degree in accounting, it should offer benefits comparable to those in an onsite program. Look for:
- Proof of accreditation
- Guidance from academic advisors
- Electronic access to the school's library resources
- Computing and IT assistance
- Career guidance and job placement services
- Options to participate in graduation ceremonies
- Access to the same alumni benefits offered to onsite students
How to Pick a Bachelor's Degree Program
When choosing a bachelor's degree program, make sure that the program is accredited by the appropriate regional and specialized accrediting agencies. Accreditation is a guarantee that your program meets quality standards. This will ensure that your degree qualifies for CPA state licensing and meets the requirements for professional certifications. Earning a degree from an accredited program also means that your credits will be more widely accepted should you transfer schools or apply to a graduate degree program.
The following agencies are approved by the U.S. Department of Education to provide accreditation for business programs:
- The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International:AACSB-accredited business administration and accounting degree programs are offered at the undergrad and graduate levels.
- The Accreditation Council for Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP):ACBSP-accredited business, accounting, and business-related programs are offered at the associate's, bachelor's, and graduate levels.
- The International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE): IACBE-accredited business programs lead to associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees.
Institutional accreditation is provided by 6 regional agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. You can verify an institution's accreditation on the database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education or on the website of the appropriate regional accreditation agency.
The regional accrediting agencies for colleges and universities include:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission (previously North Central Association of Colleges and Schools)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Choosing a bachelor's in accounting program also involves exploring its structure, curriculum, and cost to find one that matches your resources and goals. Consider:
- Does this program offer the areas 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?
- 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?
Financial Aid for Accounting Students
The cost of earning a bachelor's degree in accounting varies depending on the type of school you attend. The College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2020 reported the following annual tuition costs for a bachelor's degree for the 2020 school year. These figures don't include additional fees for room and board:
- Public, in-state: $10,560
- Public, out-of-state: $27,020
- Private, nonprofit: $37,650
Since CPA licensure requires 150 credits, you'll also have to pay for graduate coursework or earn an advanced degree in addition to your bachelor's to become a CPA.
But don't worry if your financial resources are limited. You can apply for many types of financial aid as a bachelor of accounting student. The first step is to determine your eligibility for need-based assistance by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you qualify for financial assistance in the form of loans or grants, you also may be eligible to work part-time in positions funded by the Federal Work-Study program.
It's important to exhaust all potential sources of funding. In addition to financial eligibility, some scholarships and grants consider academic merit or other specific criteria. Some potential sources include:
- Financial awards from your school or program
- State incentive programs
- Private businesses
- National and local chapters of accounting associations
- Professional or community organizations
- Nontraditional student scholarships
- Employer tuition reimbursement
- Military or other government service scholarships
- Student loans
Student loan forgiveness
Graduates of accredited accounting degree programs may qualify for loan forgiveness if they have direct student loans. Additional requirements include making at least 120 qualifying repayments and working full-time in a government agency or nonprofit organization. This type of loan forgiveness is funded by the U.S. government under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.
Because CPAs are in such demand, employers are becoming more creative in offering incentives to attract the best talent. Employer contributions toward student loan repayment are one of the fastest growing employee benefits, according to Forbes magazine. For employers who offered this benefit in 2020, the average annual contribution was between $1,300 and $2,000.
Professional Accounting Associations
Being a member of a professional accounting association can help you stay current on industry news and best practices while gaining opportunities for professional development, networking, and job leads. Some accounting organizations include:
- American Institute of CPAs (AICPA): The AICPA is the world's largest member association for the accounting profession. It works to establish industry standards and advocate for the profession. The AICPA also develops and grades the Uniform CPA Examination.
- American Accounting Association (AAA): The AAA is the professional organization for accountants in academia. It emphasizes teaching, research, and professional publication.
- Institute of Management Accountants (IMA): The IMA is a worldwide association of accountants and financial professionals in business. The IMA offers the CMA credential and establishes standards for internal financial management practices.
- National Society of Accountants (NSA): The NSA works to preserve the practice rights of the independent accounting practitioner. The group also offers continuing education other professional resources.
- Professional Association of Small Business Accountants (PASBA): The PASBA includes CPAs, public accountants, and others who provide accounting services to small businesses in the U.S.
- Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance (AFWA): The AFWA works to empower women in all accounting and finance fields by supporting opportunities for leadership and professional growth.