Is an Accounting Degree Worth It? [2021 Guide]

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Is an accounting degree worth it? With high earning potential and a wide variety of career options, there are many great benefits to an accounting degree.

Is an Accounting Degree Worth It

As you consider whether an accounting degree is right for you, it’s helpful to  look at the potential jobs, salaries, and academic requirements associated with the degree.

Is an Accounting Degree Worth It?

accountant working in her office

Yes, an accounting degree is worth it for many students. With an average salary of $71,550 per year and 4% job growth (Bureau of Labor Statistics), a degree in accounting can help you launch a career in this finance-driven field.

Common accounting careers include:

  • Accountant
  • Bookkeeper
  • Budget analyst
  • Financial manager
  • Loan officer
  • Claims adjuster

Another benefit of an accounting degree is the way that you can customize it.

Depending on your interests, you can specialize in any number of concentrations, including:

  • Tax auditing
  • Payroll processing
  • Forensic accounting
  • Cost accounting
  • Government accounting
  • Accounting information systems

Accounting degrees are available at every level of education. You can start with an associate degree and work your way up to a bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate. In many cases, your credits will transfer with you.

In the accounting industry, different careers often require different levels of education. For example, a two year degree might qualify you for entry-level bookkeeping jobs, but to become a senior controller or appraiser, you’ll need a four year degree or more.

How to Decide Whether an Accounting Degree is Right for You

Accounting degree student studying in a café

Trying to decide if a traditional or online degree in accounting is right for you? Here are some of the qualities that can help you succeed in an accounting degree program.

1. You’re good with numbers.

Mathematics is the foundation of accounting, however, it is one of the fundamentals that makes accounting a hard major. So, if math is your strong suit, it will make an accounting program much easier for you. Your curriculum will probably have required classes like algebra, calculus, statistics, derivatives, and economics.

You might also be encouraged or required to complete practicums or internships where you work directly with numbers in a supervised setting. And if you pursue an accounting career, you’ll have to deal with statistics and figures on an everyday basis.

In other words, an accounting degree is the best match for students who work well with numbers. You should be familiar with the basic skills and concepts of the field, and you should be comfortable learning new ones as they appear.

2. You’re okay with continuing your education throughout your life.

accountant working at home

As an accountant, your education likely won’t stop when you graduate from your degree program. Many careers will ask for additional licenses or certifications like a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure. These certifications can require special learning programs or exams.

Some programs will also ask you to renew your license every few years. Depending on the specifics, this might require re-testing to ensure that you’re up to date with contemporary standards and practices.

3. You want to work in a finance related field.

Financial Analysts working together

Accounting degrees don’t entirely limit you to the world of finance. For example, you might be able to earn an accounting degree and apply it to a business job, or use it as a springboard for further education in data or technology.

However, most accounting degrees lead to accounting careers. These can include finance, economics, human resources, and business intelligence.

Accounting is considered a “specialist” degree. This means that it prepares you for a specific type of work. It’s different from a “generalist” degree that can be applied to a broad range of jobs and industries.

Top 5 Things You Can Do with an Accounting Degree

Senior Accountant helping a colleague

There are many opportunities for accounting graduates. It’s just a matter of figuring out where your interests lie and how you can apply your skills and specializations to a relevant career.

Here are just a few of the many careers that can result from an accounting degree:

1. Accountant

Accountants deal with finances. Whether it’s crunching numbers, creating spreadsheets, tracking statistics, calculating risks, or auditing financial records, their primary responsibilities revolve around the upkeep of financial data for a specific purpose or organization.

They need a good sense for numbers and a strong attention to detail. They can have different specialties and sub-specialties like cost accounting, forensic accounting, and tax accounting.

2. Financial Analyst

Financial Analysts in a meeting

Financial analysts work with investments. They can advise individuals and businesses who want to invest, or assume management positions overseeing a company’s ongoing investments.

They are expected to know their way around things like stocks and bonds.

3. Bookkeeper

Bookkeeper reviewing documents in his office

Bookkeepers are responsible for the “books” or “ledgers” of a company. This can include everyday expenses as well as overarching credits, debits, profits, margins and more. Depending on their level of education, bookkeepers can play a variety of roles within an organization.

A senior-level bookkeeper might be a highly-qualified finance professional with a master’s degree, while an entry-level bookkeeper might be a college intern working towards an associate degree.

4. Human Resources Specialist

Human Resources Specialists interviewing a job applicant

The human resources (HR) department deals with the management of a company’s employees.

For accountants, this usually involves payroll, benefits, insurance, and other forms of compensation. However, it can also cross over into recruitment or labor relations when contracts or salaries are involved.

5. Payroll Clerk

Payroll Clerk working on his table in an office

Payroll clerking is an entry-level position for accounting students. It can usually be obtained with an associate degree or less.

Duties includes tracking paychecks, organizing time sheets, performing basic data entry, and managing account information for employees.

Accounting Degree Alternatives

Financial Managers reviewing financial documents

Accounting isn’t the only major that can prepare you for jobs in the financial sector. There are several alternatives, including:

  1. Bachelor’s in Finance. This is a broad, wide-ranging field that can launch many different careers such as analyst, actuary, investor, trader, or portfolio manager. This degree is much more “generalist” than an accounting degree.
  2. Bachelor’s in Data analytics. A degree in data analytics will train you to glean useful information by inspecting and modeling data. Graduates in data analytics also often go on to become financial analysts.
  3. Bachelor’s in Economics. Accounting topics often overlap with economic ones. If you’re already taking college classes, your core subjects might fulfill a lot of the same prerequisites, whether you decide to go with accounting or economics.

If you don’t want to leave your accounting program, you can also consider switching specializations. You might be able to narrow in on your area of interest by shifting your concentration.

Accounting Careers & Salaries

Accounting Careers & Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants and auditors make a median salary of $71,550 per year. The highest-paid accountants are in the finance and insurance industries. Other industries include business, management, government, tax preparation, and payroll services.

Here are a few common career paths for accounting students, with their median annual salaries:

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Financial Manager $129,890
Budget Analyst $76,540
Logistician $74,750
Accountant or Auditor $71,550
Claims Adjuster, Appraiser, Examiner, or Investigator $66,540
Compensation, Benefits or Job Analysis Specialist $64,560
Market Research Analyst $63,790
Loan Officer $63,270
Fundraiser $57,970
Tax Examiner or Collector $54,890

Keep in mind that all of these figures are median rates. Your exact salary will depend on things like age, experience, industry, seniority, educational level, job title, job demand, and more. Even your geographic location can have an impact on your wages.

How Much Does an Accounting Major Make Out of College?

Accountants make a salary of anywhere from $44,480 to $124,450 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lower end of that range usually belongs to entry-level jobs, but earning potentials vary by industry, educational level, and more.

For example, rare and in-demand specializations might have higher salaries than commonplace ones. Master’s degree holders might make more than bachelor’s degree holders.

Is It Hard to Get a Job With an Accounting Degree?

Accountant working in his office

The difficulty of getting an accounting job can depend on many different factors, including your location, certification, degree level, and previous experience within the field.

There can also be fluctuating demand for accounting professionals in different places or within different fields. Speaking very generally, however, the outlook is positive for accounting students entering this growing field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the occupational growth rate for accountants and auditors is 4%. The growth rate for financial jobs in general is 5%. This translates to over 476,000 new jobs within the next decade.

Getting Your Accounting Degree Online

Accounting Degree student studying online

An accounting degree can be the first step to a successful career in finance. Whether you’re interested in accounting, appraising, bookkeeping, fundraising, or payroll clerking, the skills that you learn in an accounting program can qualify you for these and other jobs in finance.

An accounting degree may also open the door to high salaries and in-demand specializations with lots of opportunities for growth. The first step, however, is to find and enroll in a degree program that is right for you. With countless online accounting programs available, a degree in accounting is within reach.