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Accounting Degree

Learn how an accounting degree can open the door to a rich variety of career possibilities.

Armed with an accounting degree, a CPA typically works as an auditor for publicly-traded companies. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Armed with an accounting degree, a CPA typically works as an auditor for publicly-traded companies.

Graduates seeking job flexibility should consider getting an accounting degree. Accountants are responsible for tracking money, preparing financial records and carrying out a varied number of job duties related to money management. They also have their choice of positions in government, nonprofits, corporations, retail, law firms and banks.

An Overview of Accounting Positions

Accounting has moved beyond simple "number crunching" -- today's accountants are required to be dynamic and possess a range of financial as well as interpersonal, business and communication skills. The range of skills needed even makes the accounting profession an option for those professionals who do not excel in mathematics. Graduates wondering what to do with their accounting degrees have many options and should not feel compelled to follow stereotypical career paths.

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs)

With certification and on-the-job training, CPAs have the opportunity to gain business experience and steadily work their way up the corporate ladder. Additional training and licensure also create better job opportunities for professionals who pass the exam. To meet the minimum qualifications to take the test, professionals are required to complete at least 150 hours of college coursework, 30 more hours than are required for the standard four-year accounting degree in most states. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CPAs must pass a national exam and meet requirements set forth by their State Board of Accountancy before entering practice.

Jobs in Management and Business

Publicly-traded companies typically employ CPAs as auditors, who prepare annual financial statements. With experience, CPAs can often qualify for positions requiring managerial skills, including the job of Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Because of their strong understanding of financial matters, CFOs are able to oversee a company's finances for regulatory compliance, review financial statements for accuracy and handle other accounting. CPAs who receive their master's degree in accounting increase their chances of finding a job as a CFO.

Professional accountants can also choose to go into business for themselves. By starting their own accounting business, CPAs can handle all the taxes and regulatory requirements for small businesses or become financial advisors to individuals who can afford personalized financial assistance. A professional accountant may also choose to develop entrepreneurial skills and start a business in another field related to accounting or finance.

Jobs in Criminal Investigation

Financial fraud is a serious concern for many big businesses, as technological advances have made it easier for criminals to falsify financial statements and steal money. Sadly, embezzlement, bankruptcy, insurance fraud money laundering and other fraud cases costs billions every year. A forensic investigator is responsible for detecting these crimes and investigating allegations of fraud. Sometimes, an investigator begins working on a case after a crime has been discovered, following a "paper trail" to find the criminals. Experts may be required to work closely with lawyers and law enforcement personnel while investigating a financial crime and may provide expert testimony during trial.

Individuals who choose to become forensic investigators should review the requirements of the job before taking the exam to become a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). A CFE is an accountant who has received specialized training in anti-fraud prevention, investigation, analysis and research. Although private companies do hire CFEs, a growing number of forensic accountants work for the federal government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers accounting a critical skill and often trains special agents with degrees in accounting to investigate financial crimes. Applicants with an accounting degree, CPA certification and three years of experience may receive higher priority under the FBI's Accounting Entry Program.

Jobs in Academia

College graduates with an advanced accounting degree can also return to academia to educate future accounting professionals. Interestingly, even CPAs and professionals with only undergraduate degrees in accounting can find teaching opportunities at the high school level. With a master's degree in accounting, professionals can teach at the undergraduate level and at community college. Professionals with a Ph.D. can teach at the graduate level, pursue tenure-track professorships and conduct academic research, according to the Journal of Accountancy.

Finding Alternative Careers

Creativity and aspirations are all that limit an accountant's choice of careers. Many careers related to accounting share similar characteristics and allow professionals to explore different areas of interest and gain new skills. Start Here, Go Places is a free resource offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and provides information to aid professionals in choosing their ideal accounting careers.

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