Considered by some to be the second-oldest profession worldwide, there will always be a need for accountants. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that job prospects for accountants will grow by 11% through 2024. While there is some degree of specialization within the field, the broad description of accountants is as individuals who prepare and examine financial records. The average accountant or auditor is employed full time and typically works a 40-hour week; additional hours are common during high-volume time periods, such as tax season.
An accountant’s duties revolve entirely around numbers and financial records. The nature of the financial records is somewhat dictated by the specialization of the accountant, be they a tax accountant, auditor, or management analyst, among other professions within the industry. With few exceptions, accountants are expected to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. Professional titles, such as “Certified Public Accountant”, are awarded when certain criteria — a bachelor’s degree, a minimum number of years of experience, and the passing of a standardized CPA exam — are met. The median annual income of accountants is $68,150, with the top 10% earning $120,910, and the bottom 10% earning $42,140.
As previously mentioned, the accounting profession has a growth rate of approximately 11%, which is faster than most other professions in the U.S. This growth is closely tied to the health of the overall economy, and as long as it continues to grow, so too will the demand for workers that are able to deal with increasingly complex tax codes, new industry standards, and detailed financial documentation. However, accountants are not generally trained to work for someone else, but gain the knowledge required to, perhaps, run their own business in the growing economy.
Salaries in Accounting
With entry-level median salaries at nearly double the total average for all occupations, accountants are well paid for their work and their time. Accountants can expect a median salary of $42,000 to $50,000 during their first one to four years of work, $60,000 for five to nine years of work, $72,000 for 10 to 19 years, and will likely reach $100,000+ after 20 years in the business. Top industries include finance and insurance, with financial specialists earning the highest salary.
Careers in Accounting
Accounting, like many careers, holds a variety of possible specializations and career options. Some common entry-level positions could include working at a tax shop or as a bookkeeper. Other options include:
- Cost Estimators: Cost estimators collect and analyze data in order to estimate the time, money, materials, and labor required to manufacture a product, construct a building, or provide a service. They generally specialize in a particular product or industry.
- Financial Analysts: Financial analysts provide guidance to businesses and individuals making investment decisions. They assess the performance of stocks, bonds, and other types of investments.
- Personal Finance Advisors: Personal financial advisors provide advice on investments, insurance, mortgages, college savings, estate planning, taxes, and retirement to help individuals manage their finances.
Advanced Degrees and Certifications
While a bachelor’s degree is required for entry-level positions in an accounting career, those that desire a senior or executive position will benefit from having graduated from a master’s program and obtaining some common certifications. Certifications such as the CPA, CGMA, CISA, and CFE all require extensive study and experience in order to acquire. When preparing for certifications, a master’s program will, most likely, provide the educational base and the two years experience needed to be eligible to sit for the exam. Certifications can cover general accounting or focus on a highly specialized role. Some of the more specialized certifications are:
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Following the successful completion of education hours, work experience, and a comprehensive exam, being awarded this designation denotes a student’s skills in compliance, forensic accounting, and other areas.
- Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)
The CGMA license is a globally recognized certification for management accountants. Offered since 2012, the requirements for this certification depend on which of the sponsoring institutions the student belongs to.
- Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
Like the CPA designation, the CMA license affords more flexibility than some other accounting certifications. This globally recognized license is earned by accounting professionals demonstrating competency in strategic assessment, budgeting, and other skills.
- Certified Informations Systems Auditor (CISA)
The CISA license is among the more specialized accounting certifications. Accountants who receive this designation from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association are skilled in information systems control, auditing, and security.
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
CFEs focus their career on tasks related to fraud, including identification, prevention, and investigation. As instances of fraud increase and companies become more susceptible, demand for CFEs has risen in recent years.
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
The CFA designation is another targeted license among accounting certifications. CFAs are involved in investment analysis and portfolio management. The exam for this certification comprises three levels relating to topics such as ethics, economics, and money management, and must be completed sequentially before the CFA license can be earned. CFAs are globally recognized, and earning this certification specifically enhances the skills used by portfolio managers. Some CFAs also become research analysts or consultants.
There are many different professional associations to join as an accountant, many of which provide excellent networking opportunities and informational resources. While some organizations focus on specific aspects of accounting, others cater to a more general accounting community. Joining an organization that fits your needs can help you to advance your career as well as gain valuable insight into the profession. Some professional associations include:
- American Association of Finance and Accounting
- The Institute of Internal Auditors
- Institute of Management Accountants
- Professional Association of Small Business Accountants
- Young CPA Network
To determine the best online Accounting programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 7 best online Accounting programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.