Accounting degrees are sought-after educational and professional achievements. Many industries provide a wealth of opportunities for those with the right accounting skills. From enterprise office buildings to industrial settings and beyond, accounting professionals must keep the books, oversee the budget, ensure taxes are accurately paid, and take part in a whole host of accounting practices that are critical to keeping an organization in business.
According to a report from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, enrollment in both bachelor’s- and master’s-level accounting programs saw record levels during the 2014-2015 school year. Since then, enrollments have maintained this level, with a 5% increase in bachelor’s program enrollment from 2015 and 2016.
As more individuals — including high school graduates and professionals already working in the field — enroll, many professionals wonder how they can use their bachelor’s degree in accounting after graduation.
Today, we’ll take a closer look at the accounting major, how one earns a degree, and how this achievement can be leveraged to further a professional’s career opportunities.
Earning a degree in accounting
A bachelor’s degree program in accounting lays the foundation for many career paths and teaches students critical skills related to finance, income taxation and auditing, information systems, management processes, and more.
A program like the University of Alabama at Birmingham Collat School of Business online Bachelor of Science in Accounting includes required foundational courses, a lower level core curriculum, and upper level core, alongside the accounting core and elective option. Students also take part in an accounting capstone before graduation which brings together the key concepts learned across the program’s courses. This ensures students have gained the skills and expertise they need to succeed in accounting.
Students complete foundational courses that explore concepts including the types of careers in the current job market as well as international business functions. In addition, students learn about financial literacy, covering topics like interest, taxes, consumer finance, retirement planning, insurance and risk management, payroll, and more.
The program’s lower level core includes courses on the principles of accounting, where students expand their skills related to financial reports, recording processes, financial analysis, cost behavior, and allocation, as well as budgeting. The lower level core curriculum includes seven courses overall, and also covers legal aspects of accounting for businesses, quantitative analysis processes (probability, statistical inference, distributions, etc.), and concepts in microeconomics and macroeconomics.
Once students have completed the courses in the lower level core curriculum, they move on to the upper level core. These more advanced courses delve into topics like:
- Information systems, the theory behind them, how they’re used, as well as the processes of planning, designing, developing, and deploying them
- Marketing basics that support modern business, on both the domestic and international scale
- Financial management related to the quantitative and qualitative assessment of time value of money, cash flow analysis, risk/return analysis, capital structure, and more
- Professional management processes, which includes topics like ethical decision-making, leadership, diversity, performance evaluation, and beyond
- Operations management and the processes and strategies used in manufacturing and non-manufacturing organizations, including forecasting, scheduling, and production control
- International accounting and the knowledge needed to perform financial functions for organizations in a global business environment
The upper level core also includes courses in business communications and professional development, which are helpful not only to those looking for accounting-related career opportunities, but also individuals working in any professional setting.
Following the lower level and upper level core, students take part in the accounting core courses. These build upon the concepts explored in previous courses and expand upon processes and strategies unique to the accounting industry. During this part of the program, students attend courses that cover:
- Financial accounting, encompassing the study of accounting cycles and the framework for financial statements, money value, as well as cash and receiving
- Accounting information systems, which expands on the more basic information systems course included in the upper level core and teaches students how accounting systems process transactions and support internal controls
- Cost accounting and the theory behind cost determination, allocation, budgeting, analysis, process and byproduct costing, and other quantitative strategies
- Income taxation, with a special focus on federal taxation of consumers
- Internal auditing and how these practices are applied
Within an online program like that of the Collat School of Business at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, students can take required courses completely online and do not have to physically attend the campus. The program also helps students prepare for professional certifications including those related to CPA, CIA, CFE, and CME exams. Typically, students complete the program and can earn their degree in about four years.
What can I do with my degree?
Once students have graduated and are bachelor’s degree holders, they can look toward several different, high-demand accounting jobs.
There are a range of options for graduates to consider, and it’s best to look into not only the earning potential of possible career paths, but also the employment requirements and responsibilities. Professionals may prefer practicing in certain areas over others, and finding a career that matches their expertise and interests will be more fulfilling and rewarding.
For individuals who have a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, some of the top career opportunities include:
Staff accountant and auditor
Staff accountants and staff auditors are responsible for preparing and assessing financial records and documentation. They work to support accuracy and ensure that all opportunities for financial efficiency are taken, and that taxes are paid in a timely manner.
Other duties include examining financial statements and other records to ensure that documentation aligns with all current industry laws and regulations, and that the organization is compliant. Staff accountants and auditors also compute the amount of taxes owed, help prepare tax returns, and inspect financial bookkeeping and reporting systems. These individuals are responsible for an organization’s financial records not only at tax time, but organize and maintain these records throughout the fiscal year.
Accountants and auditors will assess a business’s financial records to pinpoint any areas in need of improvement and highlight these opportunities to guide management decision-making. This includes recommending cost-cutting and/or profit-boosting measures to enhance an organization’s financial condition.
As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, some accountants and auditors will specialize in key areas, depending upon their working environment. For instance, professionals may specialize in assurance services or risk management, or accounting processes for a certain industry, like healthcare.
Staff accountants and auditors work in a variety of sectors, including in settings like finance and insurance, government agencies, internally within enterprise businesses, or self-employed. The highest percentage — 24% of professionals, according to BLS — operate in accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and/or payroll service firms.
This role often requires full-time employment hours, and depending on the work environment, may also include overtime hours, particularly near the end of the fiscal year and around tax time. Typically, staff accountants and auditors earn a median annual wage of $70,500, but this can increase to as much as $74,690 annually in the insurance, accounting, and finance sectors.
The job outlook for this career role is growing at 6%, about average. BLS researchers predict that there will be around 90,000 positions needing experienced candidates from 2018 to 2028.
Another potential career path for accounting majors is the financial analyst role. These professionals take part in key activities like assessing the performance of certain stocks and bonds, and making recommendations to clients to help guide their investment decisions. Financial analysts can work with both businesses and individuals in a personal financial advisor capacity, and evaluate their current and historical financial records alongside economic and enterprise financial trends to support their expert guidance.
Financial analysts will also evaluate a company’s value by examining financial records and other data, and can also gauge the strength and effectiveness of a company’s management team. These professionals prepare written reports to explain and support their findings and recommendations, and meet with individual clients or company officers to get their insights and go over their findings.
Overall though, one of the most important functions financial analysts take part in is making recommendations for financial investments. This includes using an array of company or consumer data, as well as market and industry financial reports and forecasts to predict the success of certain investments. Financial analysts can help individuals and companies meet their investment and financial goals and receive the best returns possible.
Most financial analysts work in organizations that specialize in securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investment services. Other professionals in this role operate in scientific or technical service companies, as well as credit intermediation service providers and insurance carriers.
Typically, these professionals work full time, although they must occasionally take part in research after hours if their work requires them to communicate and meet with clients outside of business hours.
The current median annual wage for this role sits around $85,660, but dips to $78,870 for individuals working in the insurance carrier industry. However, financial analysts working in companies that provide securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investment services can earn as much as $101,410 annually.
BLS researchers forecast a 6% job growth outlook for the financial analyst role from 2018 to 2028, with about 20,300 positions opening during that period.
Professionals who help businesses and government agencies manage and organize their finances — including to prepare and keep within the organization’s budget — are budget analysts. These individuals work in both public and private institutions, and gather all the proposals and relevant forecasts needed to establish the overall budget.
In addition to creating the budget, these analysts also review any budget proposals to ensure that they are comprehensive and reflect accurate need for suggested obligations. These proposals are also reviewed to check that they are compliant with the current laws and industry regulations that impact the organization.
Budget analysts establish a master budget that takes into account the budgets of the business’s separate departments and entities, and consolidate this information to enable review of the budget as a whole. This process also includes the review and analysis of funding requests and proposals included in each department’s budget.
These professionals work closely with department supervisors and upper management, and will explain funding requests, recommendations, and guidance to higher ups as well as legislators and stockholders where applicable. Budget analysts are responsible for assisting decision-makers with responses to proposals and plans, and may be required to find alternative options if initial plans do not meet company goals.
Individuals in this role also take part in monitoring and tracking the organization’s spending to ensure that it remains on track with the forecasted budget, and will highlight any discrepancies or overspending to upper management. Budget analysts maintain a keen focus on the status and availability of an organization’s current funds, and help forecast funding requirements for the future.
About 20% of all budget analysts work in federal government agencies, but other employment opportunities exist in state, local, and private education institutions; professional, scientific, and technical service providers; and state and local government organizations.
The annual median wage for budget analysts in 2018 was $76,220, according to BLS research. Analysts working in state government institutions are among the lowest earners in this profession, with a median salary of $65,420. Those operating in the professional, scientific, or technical services earn around $83,890.
The job outlook for budget analysts is a bit under the current average, with a 4% change in job outlook forecasted from 2018 to 2028. During this time, about 2,400 roles will become available.
A bachelor’s in accounting degree includes courses in financial and operations management. With the right skills and expertise, graduates will be prepared for entry-level positions as well as management accountant roles. The financial manager position is one such opportunity. The BLS points out that many employers require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, business administration, or a related field for this role.
Financial managers typically work in enterprise settings, and take care of tasks related to preparing financial statements and reports and creating forecasts based on this and other data. They oversee the financial condition of a business, and track accounting practices and details to ensure compliance and legality.
This management-level role often includes supervising the work of other employees taking part in financial reporting and budgeting. Financial managers will also review company reports to identify and recommend cost-reduction strategies, and will analyze market trends to improve the business’s profit generation.
These individuals assist the executive suite in making financial decisions, helping to explain and back their recommendations with current company and industry data.
As the BLS points out, the financial manager role is highly flexible, and there are different subsets within this role, including:
- Controllers, who guide activities related to preparing financial reports and forecasts
- Treasurers and financial officers, who are responsible for maintaining the company budget and overarching financial goals
- Credit or cash managers, who control credit or cash flow assets
- Risk managers, who seek to mitigate any potential financial losses or uncertainty
- Insurance managers, who guide actions around company insurance to lower risk
Most financial managers work directly in the finance and insurance industry, while others operate in sectors including the professional, scientific, and technical service industry, government, enterprise, or manufacturing.
This position offers an attractive median annual wage of $127,990. Those working in government agencies typically earn a median annual wage of $112,830, whereas those working in the professional, scientific, and technical service industries can earn as much as $151,610.
Currently, the job outlook for financial managers is very positive, with 16% growth forecasted from 2018 to 2028.
Begin your journey to an accounting career
In addition to these roles, graduates with a bachelor’s in accounting can also pursue professions like the cost estimator and tax reviewer roles. Overall, the skills earned through a bachelor’s accounting program can be applied to career opportunities and work across nearly every industry, as well as for professional exams like the CPA, CMA, CIA, and CFE certification exams.
A bachelor’s degree in accounting can open doors to numerous opportunities, and is a key educational investment. To find out more on how to get started, connect with one of the expert enrollment advisors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Collat School of Business today.