A top bachelor's degree in accounting can open doors for a multitude of diverse career options. Graduates with an accounting degree can also look forward to higher than average field growth rates and salaries, which makes this degree an excellent return on its investment.
While many students wonder what they can do with a degree in accounting, the answer shows that many options are available depending on the interests of the student. No matter which career field is personally more interesting, a degree in accounting does prepare students for stable careers. These career opportunities reflect the wide range of possibilities. And with the possibility of earning a top bachelor's in accounting online, the following 8 career options are more achievable than ever.
Where Do You Start With a Bachelor's in Accounting?
You can begin a career in the accounting field as a bookkeeper or clerk with a 2-year associate's, 1-year diploma, or certificate. These lower education levels offer varying degrees of knowledge. A bookkeeping certificate program (which can usually be finished in a few months) can give you some basic courses specifically in the fundamentals of bookkeeping and accounting. A 1-year diploma, on the other hand, will give you most of the basic accounting courses, but not the general education courses you would need to transfer to a bachelor's program. A 2-year accounting associate's degree, though, gives you basic accounting courses, but also all of the transferable general ed courses (such as writing, science, and language) that you would need to transfer to a 4-year college or university.
There are some very good reasons to start your career this way. For one, working in the field at the entry level can give you a good sense of what areas in accounting you're most interested in (such as the specialties covered in this guide). That can make it much easier to choose a specialization when you go back for your bachelor's. Another good reason to start early is that you can be working to pay your way through school instead of taking out student loans. That's a very common approach; in fact, that's one reason there are so many excellent, fully online degree-completion accounting bachelor's programs. What's more, if the company you work for sees potential in you, many firms and corporations have programs to pay their employees' way through school. After all, a better-educated employee is a more valuable employee.
Finding the Right Specialization for You
Today, it's not nearly enough to simply say you want to be an accountant. Certainly, you can earn your bachelor's degree and sit for the CPA exam; in fact, that's what you'll need to do to practice as an accountant. But, just as every other field, accounting has fragmented and become more specialized, more expert, and to differentiate yourself on the job market, a specialization is the way to do it. The best colleges and university business and accounting schools with offer many specializations, including interdisciplinary specializations like forensic accounting, actuarial science, and accounting IT. Double majors, or accounting majors combined with different minors (like computer science or international studies) with also add value to a job application.
Whether you are a working professional going back to school to get a bachelor's degree, or you're a young person just starting on their 4-year journey, have no fear – there are some highly rewarding, and highly in-demand, careers in accounting that you can get with a bachelor's degree.
1. Forensic Accountant
With almost all banking, trading, and other financial transactions going online, there's never been more potential for fraud, embezzlement, identity theft, and scams that make good old-fashioned check kiting look quaint. That's why forensic accounting is one of the most in-demand specialties in accounting today. Forensic accountants produce audits of a company, government or non-profit records to determine liability, fraud, and valuation. These are the people who determine if a company or person falsifies their bookkeeping, provides evidence for court cases, produces calculations for insurance companies to determine amounts owed, and computes estate tax valuations.
With so much demand on the job market, colleges and universities across the nation are adding forensic concentrations to their bachelor's degree programs. An increasing number of these programs are available fully online, from regionally accredited and nationally recognized universities. Although this position does not require a graduate degree to break in, forensic accountants do need to hold a CPA license and be licensed as a Certified Fraud Examiner. The median salary for a mid-career forensic accountant, according to Payscale, is around $79,000.
2. Financial Analyst
An accounting grad with a good head for the stock market may be on their way to becoming a financial analyst. In this position, accountants determine the risks and benefits of investment activities, including both selling and buying investments. Job duties can include examining financial gain and loss of specific stocks, mutual funds, estates and other investment types. Financial analysts prepare reports and make recommendations based on analyzed data and market trends on whether clients should engage in purchasing or selling an investment holding.
For students getting their bachelor's degree in accounting who want to become financial analysts may want to consider a double major, in accounting and finance. Because these specializations go so well together, there are many business schools that combine them as well; if you find success with a bachelor's you may keep going to get an online MBA in Accounting and Finance as well. Most financial analysts must hold a license from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The median salary for financial analysts, from Payscale data, is around $66,000.
3. Environmental Accountant
Accounting majors can combine their passion for numbers with a passion for the environment in a career as an environmental accountant. By analyzing impacts on the environment from company decisions and the overall environmental impacts, environmental accountants produce reports and make recommendations for projects and business or governmental decisions. These accountants can also determine fiscal impacts of new regulations or perform cost-benefit analyses to determine the fiscal strength of a project.
An environmental accountant needs a strong grounding in accounting, obviously, but also in environmental science, government, and public policy. Specializations in environmental accounting are rare, but becoming more common as more companies see the need for environmental accountants. As climate change and environmental regulations make the cost of environmental impacts front-and-center for numerous fields, we will see more demand for accounting experts who can see the big picture of business, environment, and regulation clearly. The exact nature of the job duties depends on the needs of the company, but the median salary for environmental accountants hover around $65,000.
Demand: Very High
4. Personal Financial Advisor
Becoming a personal financial advisor now is a smart investment in the future – people are always going to need someone to help them and their families make the best financial decisions to achieve their goals and prepare for the future. Advisors help set up retirement plans and accounts, such as IRAs, education funds, or other accounts that align with client goals. In the event of major life changes like divorce or the birth of a child, people seek personal financial advisors to analyze their existing financial situation and recommend the products and financial commitments to achieve their goals.
To become a personal financial advisor, you'll need a bachelor's degree in accounting, a CPA license, and, preferably, credentials as a Certified Financial Planner professional.
CFP certification isn't necessary everywhere (though some states require it to practice), but having the credential on your resume helps show potential clients that you are serious, trustworthy, and capable. Personal financial advisors earn a median salary of around $65,000, according to Payscale.
Demand: Very High
Once upon a time, actuaries worked for insurance companies, calculating the potential risks and rewards of various policies. That was then; this is now. Now, an actuary can find work in all kinds of fields, from finance and investment (obviously) to homeland security, public health, and government. Turns out, having a highly applicable skill set, rooted in math and statistics, that can analyze data and make predictions about the most probable outcomes of any situation is pretty darn valuable. And there's an extremely high demand for certified actuaries, because there aren't nearly enough of them.
One of the reasons there aren't enough actuaries to go around, frankly, is because it's tough. The combination of math, statistics, and technical expertise is serious, and not many people have it. However, there are many actuarial science degree programs out there from some of the best colleges and universities in the nation. You also need to pass all of the exams offered by the Society of Actuaries and the Casualty Actuarial Society, which gives you the right to call yourself an actuary. For your trouble, you'll have your pick of jobs, and the median salary (Payscale) is around $63,500 annually.
6. Anti-Money Laundering Officer
The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 determined laws for how banks should record their transactions, particularly in an effort to catch and track signs of money laundering. However, in the 21st century, that role is even more important. Particularly after 9/11, and the passing of the Patriot Act, Anti-Money Laundering Officers play a critical role in stopping money laundering related to international terrorism, including cyber attacks. They are responsible for setting up procedures for how to find and deal with signs of money laundering, and also for making sure that the bank their work for is recording and reporting their transactions according to Bank Secrecy Act regulations.
With financial business going increasingly online, AML Officers must have intensive computer skills, able to analyze data and make sense of any discrepancies or problems. They must also have strength in public policy, as they have to keep up with regulations and coordinate with government agencies like Homeland Security and the Secret Service. All of that means some very specialized education, including a bachelor's degree in an area like forensic accounting or finance. A certification as an Anti-Money Laundering Specialist can also be a big help on the job market. According to Payscale, Financial Examiners such as AML Specialists make nearly $63,700.
7. Management Accountant
The traditional image of an accountant is the solitary nerd crunching numbers silently at their desk. Leadership is not in the job description. That's not the reality of accounting. In reality, the work of management accountants involves completing and compiling computational analysis to define overall business strategy. This includes using information outside of actuarial data to advise on business objectives, including marketing trends or public policy. In many cases, management accountants use leadership skills to supervise other accountants. A career as a management accountant uses both accounting knowledge and business management acumen.
Understanding the need for an accountant with managerial skills, business schools frequently offer a number of choices; you may major in Business Administration with a concentration in accounting, rather than majoring in Accounting alone. Both public and private entities need management accountants across the world, making this a high demand field with a Payscale median average salary of around $63,000 for those who hold a Certification in Management Accounting (CMA).
8. Cost Estimator
In a construction and manufacturing boom, one of the best accounting specializations you can choose is becoming a cost estimator. This is another highly technical career that requires a lot of specialized knowledge, bringing together accounting, mathematics, and business, along with engineering, public policy, and even urban planning. That's because a major construction project, or even relatively small projects like individual homes or buildings, can require a lot of complicated analysis to determine how much materials, labor, licenses, and every other element will cost, and how to make a profit. Cost estimators work in areas like construction, manufacturing, and civil engineering, with the job market growing steadily over the next decade.
To become a cost estimator, you may get a bachelor's degree in accounting with a double major in an area like engineering, construction management, public policy, or something similar. Some accounting bachelor's programs may include specializations in these areas, but double majors or minors will be the most common route. Above all, though, experience will be the charm – if you work in construction or planning, get a convenient online bachelor's degree in accounting to learn to make the most of both your experience, and your education. The BLS reports a median salary of around $59,500 for cost estimators.