Many people know precisely what they wish to be when they grow up, perhaps following in the footsteps of a family member or having been inspired by some experience. But for others, just choosing what to study at college was hard enough, never mind what to do upon earning their degree. If you majored in accounting, for example, you have many career options to explore.

You’ll be glad you completed this degree, since the earnings gap between those with and without four-year college degrees in accounting has widened in recent decades, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that holders of bachelor degrees earned 63 percent more than those with high school diplomas and 35 percent more than those with associate degrees.

This article is going to focus on various options you have at your disposal once you’ve obtain a degree in accounting.

What Accountants Do

First, let’s cover the basics and find out exactly what an account does. Many people are unclear as to what accountants actually do. This is essentially score keeping for business activity. Accountants reduce costs and suggest ways to improve financial efficiency; they examine financial statements for accuracy; they organize and store financial documents; they ensure that taxes are paid on time; they keep all accounting systems and books up-to-date; they ensure that financial records comply with local and federal regulations; and they audit financial systems and particular documents.

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.3 million accountants in the United States, with a median annual salary of $66,000; partners in the Big Four accounting firms of Deloitte, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG can be paid more than $2 million a year. Accountant came out as #3 Best Business Job in the 2016 U.S. News & World Report Ranking. A retirement wave is sweeping through the baby boom generation, and these places must be filled. It’s little surprise that accounting is a field where more than 80 percent of graduates find work within six months of graduation.

Public or Certified Public Accountant?

The first path is that of public or certified public accountant (CPA), the most obvious for people with this major. Public accountants provide a wide selection of financial advisory services for their clients, who can be private individuals, companies, non-profit organizations, or government bodies. Services include assurance (audit), estate and financial planning, mergers and acquisitions due diligence, and tax compliance. You could even find yourself working for a big-name actor, musician, or author.

Special mention is warranted for financial forensics, which is investigation of embezzlement, insurance claims, money laundering, and other forms of fraud; this might lead to your being called as an expert witness in court. It is a forensic accountant who will examine criminal enterprises to recover ill-gotten cash or identify money laundering. Or, they might scrutinize the financial affairs of individuals undergoing divorce or bankruptcy or under suspicion of fraud. Financial forensics can require additional qualifications as a CPA or Certified Fraud Examiner. Starting salaries range from $30,000 to $60,000.

The most frequently-requested certification asked of accountants by employers is a CPA certificate. To be a certified CPA it is necessary to work in the field for at least two years and pass exams. In most states, 150 semester hours are called for. All accountants must pass the four parts of the Uniform CPA Exam of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants in an 18-month period. Certification is required to be able to submit filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Employment is expected to grow by 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, more than the average. The median salary for CPAs was $65,080 in 2013.

Private or Industry Accountant?

A private or industry accountant works for a company. One avenue is that of internal auditor, reviewing and verifying the company’s financial results, policies, and internal controls. Others are those of staff accountant and financial analyst. Experience in a corporate structure can be most valuable, as evidenced by the number of high-level executives and political leaders with backgrounds in accounting and particularly internal auditing.


While it may not be the most glaringly obvious career choice for holders of an accounting degree, many agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation are CPAs. Most are in fact either attorneys or CPAs. It’s possible to work as an internal accountant or Special Agent. It’s necessary to pass a physical fitness test, but, in its favor, the FBI was once named as one of the 10 most desired places of employment for undergraduate business majors. The starting salary was $47,297 in 2013.


Stockbrokers facilitate the trade of bonds, stocks, or other securities. They can also provide investment advice or education. While a degree is not formally required, most stockbrokers will have one in the field, if not accounting then business management, economics, finance, or mathematics. Stockbrokers must acquire four months of experience at a brokerage firm and pass the General Securities Registered Representative Examination. The median salary in 2013 was $72,640.


Another available option is teaching college level courses. This might not be suitable for recent graduates lacking work experience, but it’s great if you have a few years of accounting practice under your belt. This skill is marketable on account of the ever-increasing demand for CPAs. Additional certification would be required to teach at elementary or high school in most states.

Accounting Information Technology

Accounting information technology is a career field rather than a specific job. Serious companies shouldn’t be using pen and paper to track their finances, and such software as QuickBooks has made accounting considerably less time consuming. In addition to programmers, companies require accountants to come up with this.

Other Job Options

Some options are non-traditional. Environmental accountants possess a degree in accounting and a knowledge of environmental law. They work with businesses that must comply with environmental regulations. Entertainment accounting encompasses copyright law and royalties. Possible clients include organizations such as film studios, production companies, radio stations, and television networks and individuals who include actors, musicians, and writers. Agricultural business and economics examines the relationship between economics and industrial practices in agricultural production, which extends from harvest to consumption. This discipline oversees the management of farms, ranches, and farm-related industry.

If you specialized in accounting but desire to use your degree in some other area of business, you will have acquired transferable skills, including self-management, teamwork, relationship management, ethics, IT, attention to detail, organizing, and problem solving. Skill with words as well as numbers is called for in order to read business documents critically and make compelling presentations. Bear in mind that employers hire people, not degrees, and accounting teaches you what many people term the language of business. You could end up as a real estate broker or in some other sales-related position.

With an accounting degree, you could become a loan officer, interviewing applicants and determining their creditworthiness then negotiating borrowing terms and monitoring loan repayments.  Or you could be a personal financial adviser, helping clients to understand their investments and plan for such things as retirement, paying for college education, or divorce. Claims adjusters evaluate insurance claims. Other choices are those of actuary, bank examiner, commercial banker, estate planner, or consumer credit officer.

Joining a professional association can be a fantastic way to enhance your career, giving you the opportunity to grow your professional network, participate in educational opportunities, or volunteer to gain leadership experience. The leading options to hand are the American Accounting Association, the American Institute of CPAs, and the Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business.

These are just some of the choices open to anyone with a degree in accounting. Every business needs employees proficient in money management. You could work in finance departments, education, sales, production management, client management, product development, banking or financial planning. You’re spoiled for choice.

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