In general, coursework within an accounting program will cover financial statement analysis, income tax guidelines, accounting regulations, and auditing procedures. However, in many states, traditional 120-credit bachelor's programs don't meet the 150-credit requirement to sit for the Certified Public Accountant exam--both post-bachelor's certificates and master's degrees help students obtain the necessary credits. Master's programs in accountancy are primarily designed for applicants who majored in an accounting-related field, while post-bachelor's certificate programs may admit both accounting majors and students who majored in a non-finance area.
Bachelor of Science in Accounting
A bachelor's degree program in accounting focuses upon developing accounting and financial reporting skills, as well as developing a base of knowledge on taxes and various accounting information systems. Programs generally require four years to complete, and some are offered in flexible formats. Students enrolled in a baccalaureate degree in accounting must complete general education and liberal arts courses in addition to the professional curriculum. Students explore the following core topics through the coursework:
- Financial accounting
- Managerial accounting
- Financial reporting
- Accounting information systems
- Income taxes
- Accounting regulations
Graduate Certificate in Accounting
Another educational option for a career in professional accounting is a graduate certificate. Many schools that offer these programs have two different tracks: one for those whose undergraduate degree is in accounting and one for those who majored in other areas. Programs usually require 7 to 10 courses, and they can be completed in a year or two, depending on the student's undergraduate background. Among the subjects studied are the ones noted below:
- Cost accounting
- Corporate finance
- Business valuation
- Basic business law
Master of Accountancy
Many master's degree programs in accounting can be completed in one year of graduate study, if combined with a bachelor's degree program. However, if the program is pursued following undergrad degree completion, a satisfactory undergraduate grade point average and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores are key components of the admissions review process. Master's degree-level coursework provides students with in-depth knowledge in core accounting principles through courses, such as these:
- Financial reporting
- Financial statement analysis
- Business taxation
- Research methodology
- Accounting policy
Career Outlook and Salary Information
Bachelor's degrees in accounting can qualify individuals to become accountants; further training and experience is needed to become an accounting controller. Average employment growth, at the rate of 4%, was expected for accountants and auditors between the years of 2019 and 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those with their CPA credentials were expected to have the best opportunities. The average salary for accountants and auditors was $81,660 according to 2020 BLS estimates.
Accountants can work in a number of settings, and salaries can vary based on those settings. For example, the BLS reports that accountants working for school and employee bus transportation made the most in 2020, with an average annual salary of $105,060. By contrast, those working for state governments made significantly less, with 2020 averages falling at $68,460. Management departments of companies - where many accounting controllers also work - offered salaries in between these two figures, with workers bringing in an average of $82,770 in 2020.
Jobs in accounting controlling are generally considered executive positions and require several years of experience to obtain. Therefore, those professionals earned much higher salaries than accountants, with the 2020 average - which also factors in the salaries of other financial managers - coming in at $151,510. A much faster than average rate of growth and high job competition for financial management positions was expected from 2019 to 2029, although job seekers with accounting and finance experience, along with master's degrees, should have good prospects, notes the BLS.
A bachelor's degree in accounting is sufficient to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination. However, most states require that students complete 30 credit hours of coursework beyond the length of a typical bachelor's degree program. This requirement can be met by taking additional undergraduate coursework or by pursuing a post-baccalaureate certificate or master's degree in the field.
In order to achieve certification as a CPA, requirements for education and professional experience must be met, and students must pass an exam. Each state determines its requirements for certification, which is required to be eligible for licensure.
An accounting controller certificate or degree does not specifically exist, but graduates of accounting or accountancy programs can pursue a career as an accounting controller with experience in financial oversight. Students learn a variety of financial skills during accounting and accountancy programs, including taxes for businesses and policies of accounting.