What to expect: Pursuing a career as an accountant

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If you’re a prospective student considering an online Bachelor of Science in Accounting, you may already have some ideas about what your career as an accountant could look like. For instance, you might have a specific interest in becoming a certified public accountant (CPA) and working with individual clients at an accounting firm or joining an in-house accounting department at a multinational corporation. But there’s a good chance you may have a strong interest in accounting principles and workflows without knowing exactly where you want your career path to lead after graduating.

No matter where you are along your journey, learning what to expect from an accounting career — and from an online accounting degree at UAB — will help you prepare for the professional world.

An accountant works in an office.

Accounting Education and Skill Requirements

To pursue a career as an accountant, you will need to commit to earning a degree in the field and obtaining the necessary professional certifications. Here’s a closer look at what to expect as you prepare to enter the accounting occupation.

What Degree Does an Accountant Need?

As explained by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some accounting roles require only a bachelor’s degree. This means graduates will have entry-level employment opportunities immediately following graduation. However, some employers will require a master’s degree in accounting.

In general, aspiring accountants will need to earn an undergraduate degree in accounting or a closely related field. For instance, options include an online Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree from UAB, or a degree in a related field like business administration with an accounting concentration. At the graduate level, it’s possible to specialize in a certain facet of the field through a program focusing on management accounting, forensic accounting, tax accounting, or another niche.

What License Does an Accountant Need?

If you need to file reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, you must become licensed as a certified public accountant (CPA). Once you have met the educational qualifications and other state requirements, you will need to pass the CPA exam. To keep your public accounting credentials active, some continuing education will be required as well.

There are other professional designations you can earn in accounting. Although these may not be required by employers, they can prove your professional expertise and dedication to a specific niche within accounting. Possible designations include Certified Internal Auditor, Personal Financial Specialist, Certified Management Accountant, and others.

What Are the Top Skills You Need for a Career as an Accountant?

The educational base provided by an accounting degree from UAB will prepare aspiring accountants with the knowledge they will need on the job, but emerging professionals will also have to hone certain hard and soft skills and develop new ones as time goes on.

Some of the most common skills required of accountants include analytical and critical thinking abilities, communication skills, mathematical skills, and strong attention to detail, according to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). Important technical skills for this role include proficiency in various accounting software programs and other business intelligence tools. A combination of these skills enables accountants to successfully gather, synthesize, and communicate critical and often complex financial information to clients.

Work Environment for Accountants

Accounting is a traditional desk job. O*NET explains that 91% of professionals in this field work indoors, typically in office environments, where they will use computers, communicate via phone and email, and also attend meetings with colleagues and clients on a daily basis.

Can Accountants Work from Home?

With the rise in popularity of remote work, and the shift from paper-based financial records and ledgers to cloud-based file storage and digital technologies, more and more accountants will have opportunities to work from home in the coming years. Some professionals will be fully remote, whereas others may have the option to work from the office on certain days and telecommute on other days. Global Workplace Analytics forecasts that at least one-quarter of professionals, including accountants, will work from home several days a week by the end of 2021. But no matter the work site, the responsibilities associated with a career as an accountant will remain the same.

What Kind of Schedule Can You Expect in a Career in Accounting?

Accounting is typically a full-time job. During tax season — January through April of every year — accountants will often work longer hours to help their clients or employers prepare and file tax returns and related financial statements in accordance with all applicable tax laws. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) notes that professionals in the field can expect 60-hour, six-day workweeks during tax season. The end of each quarter may also be a busier time than usual for accountants who are involved in conducting quarterly estimates and audits.

Job Outlook for Accountants

Although accounting is one of the oldest professions — predating international commerce and most of the tools used in the industry today — accountancy still plays a significant role in the modern business world. Accountants must change with the times by learning new processes and technologies and successfully adapting to the evolving business landscape. However, the profession’s place in the global economy will be secure for some time to come.

In fact, it is positioned to grow over the next decade. The BLS forecasts that the number of accounting and auditing jobs will increase by 4% between 2019 and 2029, which will result in 61,700 new jobs in the field. This will bring the total projected employment up to nearly 1.5 million accounting jobs at the end of the decade.

How Much Do Accountants Make?

Accounting is a specialized occupation requiring postsecondary education and on-the-job experience, and the widespread demand for qualified professionals means total employment in the field and pay rates remain high.

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for accountants and auditors was $71,550 in May 2019. Professionals working in finance and insurance saw the highest compensation on average ($76,440), whereas government accountants had median earnings slightly below the cumulative average ($70,180).

However, actual earnings will vary based on location, experience level, industry, and other factors. Many accountants earn six-figure salaries. As the BLS data shows, the top 10% of earners made more than $124,450 per year in May 2019.

Finding Entry-Level Employment in Accounting

Accounting professionals fill many roles and work in a variety of different environments, meaning entry-level workers will have plenty of opportunities to find the setting and role that best fits their interests.

What Types of Organizations Employ Accountants?

In terms of career expectations, an accounting education can lead to a number of professional paths. Some accountants operate their own businesses and support clients ranging from individuals to small and large organizations. Some are employed by accounting firms, and others hold positions inside accounting or finance departments at companies across different industries.

They all focus primarily on interacting with financial information, although the day-to-day specifics of various jobs vary from one position to another. According to the BLS:

  • Roughly one in four (24%) professionals in the field are employed by accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services companies
  • 9% work in finance and insurance
  • 8% are employed by the government
  • 7% work for companies that specialize in the management of companies and enterprises
  • 6% of accountants are self-employed

What Jobs Can You Get as an Accounting Graduate?

When you’re just starting out in the professional world, you may find employment as a bookkeeper or clerk. But, with an online bachelor’s in accounting, it’s possible to seek out entry-level accounting jobs. With sufficient experience and preparation, you can qualify for higher-level positions and may even manage other accounting professionals.

Throughout your career, you can choose to specialize in a subset of the field, such as forensic accounting, management accounting, or internal auditing. You may choose to serve individual clients, ecommerce companies, nonprofit organizations, or any other target customer. Or, you might join a company’s in-house team, where you will have the chance to deeply understand the ins and outs of that industry. Your career as an accountant can be whatever you make it.

Pros and Cons of a Career as an Accountant

Now that you know more of what to expect in a career as an accountant, it’s worth exploring the top benefits and potential cons of this occupation to see if it’s right for you.

The positive job outlook and competitive pay make accounting an attractive career choice. A strong background in accounting and business finance can also open up opportunities to advance your career. For instance, it’s not unusual for business savvy accounting managers to move up to a chief financial officer position.

Plus, no matter what you’re doing, you will be able to develop a keen business acumen and gain mastery over nuanced but critical concerns like tax law and financial management. This can translate well into starting your own business or even taking good care of your personal finances.

However, the long hours during tax time and the need to stay in an office setting may not appeal to some people. Working with an organization’s finances can also be stressful, given its importance, and the level of organization and detail required for success in an accounting role can be tiring at times. As with any occupation, accounting has its ups and downs — but it can be an excellent choice for the right person.

How Can an Online Degree from UAB Prepare You for a Career as an Accountant?

The online business degree programs offered through UAB’s Collat School of Business help position students for success in the business economy of today and tomorrow. Perfect for aspiring accountants seeking a comprehensive education conveniently delivered through an online platform, UAB’s online Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree augments a foundational business curriculum with rigorous accounting courses.

An accountant’s ultimate job is compiling, reviewing, and providing analysis of an organization’s or client’s financial activities. As such, Accounting Core classes such as Cost Accounting, Accounting Information Systems, and the three-part Financial Accounting sequence provide insight into these foundational functions and place them in a real-world business context.

The Accounting Core classes include 24 credit hours focused on the nuances of the accounting profession. These address a range of topics — from the advanced information systems and technologies used by modern professionals to income taxation and internal auditing essentials.

In addition, Upper Level Core courses such as Business Communications and Management Processes and Behavior help equip students with the skills they need for positive professional interactions with managers, colleagues, and clients.

As an online student at UAB, you will be exposed to many facets of the accounting world, offering you varied perspectives on the responsibilities of different roles in the field. Whether you discover a niche that is a good fit for your career goals or your experiences reinforce your prior plans, the online bachelor’s in accounting program can prepare you to enter the workforce.

To start your journey into the world of accounting, speak to an enrollment advisor at UAB today.

Recommended Readings:

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

Accounting Principles You Can Learn in the UAB Bachelor of Science in Accounting Program

A Career in Auditing: What It Could Look Like for You


BLS, Accountants and Auditors

O*NET, Summary Report for Accountants and Auditors

Global Workplace Analytics, Work-At-Home After COVID-19 — Our Forecast

AICPA, 8 Tips for Surviving Busy Season