Accounting Degree Options

The type of degree you need for an accounting career depends on which types of accounting careers that interest you. You can obtain an associate’s degree in accounting in as little as two years or spend four years earning a bachelor’s degree and then an additional four or five years getting your graduate degree (master’s or doctoral) in accounting.

Accounting Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree is a two-year degree program. You can earn an associate’s degree at most community colleges. While many accounting careers require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting, an associate’s degree in accounting opens the door to some entry-level accounting careers.

To enter an associate’s degree program, you need to have your high school diploma or GED. If you are a high school senior interested in pursuing an associate’s degree in accounting, you may want to see if your high school offers any accounting or economics courses. These could be good preparation for your degree program. Advanced math and statistics courses are good preparation for an accounting degree, too. While pursuing your associate’s degree in accounting, your courses will likely include tax law, general bookkeeping procedures, training in computer software used by accountants, statistics, management, and payroll systems. Your community college may also require you to complete a number of general education credits. Check with your advisor, as these can vary from school to school. You may need to take some elective courses to fulfill your degree as well.

After you complete your associate’s degree in accounting, you will be qualified to work in a number of accounting careers. These include general bookkeeping or being a clerk of accounts payable or accounts receivable. After gaining some experience in an accounting career, you will generally find more career options. However, accounting career options for a graduate of an associate’s degree program are not as numerous as accounting career options for a graduate of a bachelor’s or master’s degree program. Salaries for those who have an associate’s degree in accounting usually range from $25,000 to $35,000. With a higher degree, there is also more room for salary growth.

If you want to finish your degree quickly and start working, an associate’s degree in accounting can be a good way to begin an accounting career. In some cases, you can use the credits you earn for your associate’s degree in accounting to transfer to a four-year school and earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting, opening up more accounting career options. One advantage of pursing an associate’s degree in accounting first is to see how good of a fit the field is for you. Another advantage is that you can start working in only two years, as opposed to waiting four or five years to complete a higher degree program.

Accounting Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in accounting is required for many accounting careers. To enter a bachelor’s degree program, you need either your high school diploma or GED. If you have an associate’s degree in accounting and want to transfer to a four-year school, you may be able to use the credits you earned during your associate’s program toward your bachelor’s degree. Completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting typically takes four years.

The coursework for a bachelor’s degree in accounting includes classes in math, statistics, taxes, and law. You will likely have additional courses in economics, business, finance, marketing, and management. Many colleges also have a general education component. General education classes usually stretch across a wide array of disciplines, ranging from English and writing to social sciences and hard sciences.

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in accounting is a solid foundation for an accounting career. The skills you will gain during your college education will help you learn both the technical and less tangible aspects of successful accounting careers. You will graduate college with in-depth knowledge about taxation and maintaining accurate financial documents. In management courses, you will also learn how to relate well to other people and work effectively with colleagues and clients. Many people find these skills integral to their accounting careers. Some bachelor’s degree programs also offer help finding an internship. An internship is a great way for an accounting student to gain exposure to what life is like working in the field. Internships also give you great experience putting the skills you learn in the classroom to work in your accounting career.

Salaries for accounting careers are usually higher for someone with a bachelor’s degree than for someone with an associate’s degree. There is also a lot of room for salary growth for someone with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Entry-level salaries average in the $50,000 range for people who have bachelor’s degrees in accounting.

A bachelor’s degree in accounting also sets you up for a variety of potential accounting careers. With a bachelor’s degree in accounting, you could work as an auditor, a loan officer, or a financial planner. Many accountants go on to self-employment. Job security is generally high in the accounting field. While some accounting firms may not last forever, businesses and other organizations will still need accountants to prepare and verify their financial records.

Accounting Master’s Degree

In order to pursue a master’s degree in accounting, you first need to obtain your bachelor’s degree. Many candidates for master’s degrees in accounting have bachelor’s degrees in accounting too, although some master’s degree candidates will have bachelor’s degrees in other fields. If you wish to pursue a master’s degree in accounting and do not have an accounting background, be sure to check for any prerequisite courses you need to complete. Different universities will have different requirements when it comes to prerequisites, but some are likely to require courses in business or math.

A master’s degree in accounting has a more specified field of study than a bachelor’s degree. Before you begin a master’s degree in accounting, you should have an idea of what kind of an accounting career you wish to pursue. You should also have a sense of what it is that appeals to you about the particular aspect of accounting you choose.

Two main kinds of master’s degrees in accounting are a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting and a Master’s of Accounting (MAcc). Typically, an MBA provides general management and business skills as well as some advanced coursework focused on accounting. Courses included in an MBA program with a concentration in accounting are likely to include a fusion of managerial and accounting skills as well as financial analytical skills.

A MAcc degree has a stronger emphasis on accounting than an MBA. Usually a MAcc program helps prepare you to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. Courses necessary to complete a MAcc degree can seem like an extension of coursework done during a bachelor’s degree program in accounting. You will likely study taxation and auditing and may have additional courses geared specifically toward taking the CPA exam.

Which master’s degree in accounting is right for you depends on your interests. If the details of taxation and math are what draw you to accounting, you may be more inclined toward the MAcc. If you are more interested in management and financial analysis, then an MBA with a concentration in accounting could be a good fit for you. Both the MBA and MAcc usually take between one and three years to complete, depending on your specific program. Some schools offer a combined bachelor’s degree in accounting and MAcc. Usually, salaries are higher for someone with a master’s degree in accounting than for someone with a bachelor’s degree.

Accounting Doctorate

A doctoral degree in accounting will enable you to teach accounting at the university level. You need at least a bachelor’s degree but may also have a master’s degree before beginning a doctoral program.

The typical PhD program in accounting takes at least four years, but in many cases, it takes five years or more. While you will not have the luxury of an accountant’s salary during these years, nearly all universities provide a stipend that allows PhD students to live modestly without working outside of the university. Your coursework may include economics, psychology, and financial theory. Often, the first two or three years of your PhD in accounting are dedicated to these courses. Then, you will move on to research. Many universities begin the research portion of the PhD with seminars on how to conduct research in the field of accounting. This research leads to a dissertation on a topic of your choice, which can take several years to complete.

Two major kinds of doctoral degrees in accounting are the archival degree and the behavioral degree. An archival degree has a strong emphasis on math and economics, whereas a behavioral degree has a greater emphasis on psychology. Some universities are stronger in either the archival or behavioral sector, so you should gain a sense of which is of greater interest to you before choosing a PhD program.

A doctoral degree would be right for you if you enjoy the intellectual aspect of accountancy. After earning a doctorate in accounting, you will likely work as a professor at a university. This provides opportunities for teaching as well as performing research in areas of accountancy that are of personal interest. Working as a professor is different than other accounting careers in that it offers much more flexibility. Typically, you will have certain duties to fulfill at a university, but you will have leeway in your schedule as to when you complete them.

Salaries for accounting professors are on the rise. In recent years, the demand for accounting professors has increased, meaning that those entering the profession now are likely to have higher earnings than their predecessors.

As you pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting, pay attention to what you enjoy about being in the classroom. If the intellectual challenges of academia appeal to you, then you may wish to become a professor of accountancy rather than pursuing other accounting careers.

Example – Accounting Major Requirements (PDF)