How to Become an Accountant or CPA in Alaska

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What is Accounting?

Accounting generally refers to the handling of financial information and transactions as it pertains to businesses and individuals. This includes summarizing, analyzing, and reporting data to various oversight agencies, as well as computing, preparing, and ensuring taxes are paid properly and on time to collection entities. The resulting financial statements concisely summarize a company or person’s activities and monetary position for a specified period of time.

Individuals who enjoy mathematics and find examining financial statements for accuracy and compliance interesting are likely to find this type of work fulfilling. Additionally, there are many different specializations to choose from.

With the right training and education, you could be qualified to perform the following tasks:

  • Cost Estimation
  • Compliance
  • Human Resources
  • Budgeting
  • Analytics
  • Logistics
  • Project Management
  • Investments
  • Risk Management
  • Mergers and Acquisitions

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for accountants and auditors is expected to increase by 4% from 2019 to 2029, which makes the job outlook for this field comparable to most other professions. Maintaining accurate financial records is essential for every type of business. This makes the knowledge and skills possessed by professionals in this field invaluable. The total growth for this sector is, however, closely linked to the overall health of the economy. Continued economic development will sustain the need for professionals capable of preparing and examining financial records.

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Accounting Education in Alaska

While Alaska’s population is relatively low, the state still employed 2,480 accountants in 2020. This is comparable to other locations within the United States. Additionally, the annual mean wage offered to accounting professionals in Alaska was fairly high, coming in at $80,520. This is almost $7,000 higher than the national median.

As a result, it’s not surprising that Alaska has several notable academic programs available for individuals interested in pursuing a career in accounting. If you plan to pursue employment within this state, it’s particularly important to consider earning a degree locally. Local colleges and universities will offer the most relevant education, as they are more familiar with what potential employers in the area expect from graduates.

Accountants are responsible for preparing and examining financial records for businesses and individuals, as well as identifying potential areas of opportunity and risk. They also frequently offer possible solutions for monetary issues. While exact job responsibilities vary depending on the type of services offered and whether or not a specialization has been obtained, many professionals in this field have the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure financial statements are accurate and comply with all laws and regulations. Those working with taxes often calculate the amount owed, prepare forms, and ensure payments are made on time. Other common tasks include inspecting account books, organizing records, assessing financial operations, identifying risks and challenges, and suggesting ways to reduce costs.

The majority of professionals in this field work for accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, or payroll service companies. While they do exist, positions in finance and insurance, government, and management are far less common. Most accountants spend the majority of their time in offices, but some do work from home. Full-time employment is typical, but it’s not uncommon for these individuals to put in more than 40 hours a week during quarterly audits or tax season.

The skills most frequently utilized by accountants include:

  • Math Skills
  • Attention to Detail
  • Organization
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Communication

There are many different types of positions to consider in the accounting field. It’s important to note, however, that nearly all employers require candidates to have, at minimum, a relevant bachelor’s degree. Because some financial services are highly specialized, an advanced degree or certificate may be necessary to qualify for positions that offer them. As you look for the right accounting program, you are likely to find offerings at the associate, bachelor, master, and doctoral levels. Each has benefits and drawbacks that may impact your academic and career goals; take time to consider your options carefully before selecting a program.

Associate Degree in Accounting (AS)

An associate degree in accounting is generally adequate to qualify graduates for some entry-level positions in the field. This includes bookkeepers, account collectors, and financial clerks. While some job growth in this sector is anticipated, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects a decline in financial clerical roles due to an increase in automation. This could make it more difficult for individuals with associate degrees to find employment.

The majority of associate degree programs in accounting focus on introducing students to basic accounting methods and concepts. Every curriculum is different, but it is common to see courses in economics, finance, tax preparation, cost accounting, budgeting, and business management. Students are also likely to learn how to utilize various spreadsheet software programs.

Associate degrees in accounting usually consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately two years to complete.

The most accessible employment opportunities available after graduation include:

  • Bookkeeper
  • Bill and Account Collector
  • Financial Clerk
  • Auditing Clerk

Many people choose to earn an associate degree in accounting as a steppingstone to admittance into an undergraduate program. Course credits from accredited colleges and universities can be transferred to four-year institutions, which can significantly decrease the amount of time it requires to earn a more advanced degree in the field.

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Bachelor's Degree in Accounting (BS)

As previously stated, most employers expect accounting applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. This is because the skills necessary to perform many basic financial services require more time to cultivate. Earning an undergraduate degree will make finding a job in the public sector easier, will lead to more promotion opportunities, and will make gaining certain certifications possible.

While there is no standardized curriculum for undergraduate accounting programs, coursework generally covers fundamental concepts. These frequently include fraud examination, accounting, ethics, and tax reporting. Graduates should have the skills and knowledge necessary to perform the most common financial duties and adhere to legal and professional standards.

Most bachelor’s degree programs in accounting consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately four years to complete.

Job availability will vary, but some of the most common employment opportunities are:

  • Accountant
  • Budget Analyst
  • Cost Estimator
  • Tax Examiner
  • Auditor

Students who desire to pursue advanced positions in accounting will need a bachelor’s degree before they can enroll in an advanced degree or postgraduate certification program.

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Master's Degree in Accounting (MS or MC)

Individuals wishing to have greater responsibilities or to obtain management positions will need a master’s degree in accounting. At this level, students will dive deeper into the theory, practice, and principles of accounting. They will also learn more about various technologies available and further hone their leadership and communication skills. Graduates will be prepared to fill more advanced positions and are likely to earn higher salaries. This type of degree can also lead to more advancement opportunities.

Most master’s degree programs in accounting consist of 30 to 36 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately one to one-and-a-half years to complete. Students are usually given the opportunity to select a concentration, which will lead to specialized training in an area of interest. Options may include public accounting, managerial accounting, and fraud examination.

Graduates often find jobs as:

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Financial Manager
  • Personal Financial Advisor
  • Accounting Manager
  • Finance Director

It is possible to obtain some of the above-mentioned positions with a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) rather than an accounting degree. While MBAs offer some of the same opportunities, this option allows students to choose from a variety of concentrations in addition to finance. Both educational paths can lead to top executive-level jobs.

Individuals planning to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) will need 150 credit hours of coursework. This is more than is necessary to earn a standard bachelor’s degree, which means most certification candidates opt to enroll in a master’s degree programs to complete the application’s education requirements.

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PhD Degree in Accounting (PhD)

While a doctoral degree is not required for most low-to-mid-level jobs in accounting, earning one does provide a significant number of career opportunities. This type of education generally qualifies candidates for the highest-level positions available in academia, research, management, and policy.

In most cases, students working towards a doctorate degree will select a concentration in which to specialize. Every college and university is different, but some common options include public accounting, audit accounting, forensic accounting, managerial accounting, and accounting information systems. Programs usually consist of between 90 and 120 credit hours and take full-time students four to seven years to complete. Significant amounts of research and writing will be necessary.

Some of the most common career options after graduation include:

  • Accounting Professor
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Accountant
  • Financial Manager
  • Auditor

Become an Accountant in Alaska

First and foremost, individuals considering an accounting career in Alaska should seriously consider their professional goals. Establishing attainable outcomes will help direct you to an academic program capable to providing the necessary knowledge, skills, and training to succeed. Knowing your ultimate aspirations ensures you select the correct degree level and concentration.

Once you have completed the necessary educational requirements, you have the option of pursuing certifications and/or licensure. Some popular options include:

  • Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA)
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA)
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
  • Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
  • Financial Risk Manager (FRM)
  • Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM)
  • Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)

The most frequently sought after license is Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Only accountants licensed as CPAs can file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a vital component of most mid-to-high-level positions in the field. This licensure demonstrates professional competence and instills client confidence.

CPA requirements vary slightly by state. In Alaska, first-time applicants must be of good moral characters, be at least 19 years old, and meet one of several academic achievements. All states require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, but an additional 30 semester hours is also necessary. Additionally, CPAs must pass the national, four-part Uniform CPA Examination offered by the American Institute of the Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). All four sections must be completed within an 18 month period.

CPAs, as well as many other professionals with other accounting certifications, are also responsible for completing continuing education (CE) requirements. In order to maintain licensure, candidates must take additional courses on relevant accounting topics, including financial ethics. CE classes may be offered by state and national finance organizations and associations, as well as colleges and universities in Alaska.

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Top College Programs in Alaska for Accounting

While Alaska has one of the smallest state populations in the country, there are still plenty of opportunities to pursue a degree in accounting.

Some of the most prominent options include:

  • University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA)
    The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) offers two accounting degree options: Associate of Applied Science (AAS) and Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA). The institution also offers an Occupational Endorsement Certificate (OEC) in bookkeeping. All three programs are intended to prepare students for careers in business, government, or other types of organizations. Graduates obtain real-world skills in analyzing financial information, computing taxes and preparing tax returns, designing data processing systems, and preparing budget reports/forecasts.
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF)
    The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) offers a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree in accounting for students interested in the fields of general accounting, auditing, managerial accounting, taxation, and government accounting. It is accredited by the Association of Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and seeks to provide a strong business background through an understanding of accounting. Graduates enjoy high CPA pass rates and an almost 100% job placement rate. UAF also offers a minor in accounting.
  • Alaska Pacific University (APU)
    Alaska Pacific University (APU) offers a few degree programs that may be of interest to prospective accounting students. While the school lacks a bachelor’s in accounting, it does have a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Business Administration and anyone can add a minor in accounting. It also offers a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in finance. Alternatively, students interested in completing their education faster can opt for an Associate of Arts (AA) in business administration, or a graduate studies in investment certificate program.
  • University of Alaska Southeast (UAS)
    The University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) offers both online and on-campus programs. The most relevant options available is the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) with an emphasis in accounting. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and seeks to prepare students for successful careers working with companies of every size. The institution also offers an Accounting Technician Certificate program.

Careers for Accounting Graduates

After earning an accounting degree, along with any necessary certifications and licensures, there are a wide variety of positions you may be qualified for. From entry-level jobs to careers in management, it is easy to find ways to apply this type of education in employment settings.

While salaries and responsibilities vary, some of the most common career options include:

  • Financial Analyst
  • Benefits Specialist
  • Certified Professional Accountant (CPA)
  • Accounts Payable / Accounts Receivable Specialist
  • Accountant
  • Budget Analyst
  • Bookkeeper
  • Accounting Manager / Controller
  • Accounting Professor
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Financial Manager
  • Auditor
  • Bill and Account Collector
  • Financial Clerk
  • Auditing Clerk
  • Financial Analyst:
    Financial analysts are responsible carefully studying marketplace trends in order to help corporations and business make smart investments. They often provide advice regarding bonds, stock splits, and other potential areas of concern. According to PayScale, financial analysts make an average base salary of $61,799 per year. Learn more about Financial Analyst Careers
  • Benefits Specialist:
    Benefits specialists administer a company or organization’s health plan, as well as ensure that all employees are properly informed about the associated benefits. They may also help select administrators of employee retirement plans and identify the most stable 401(k)s available. According to PayScale, benefits specialists make an average base salary of $98,205 per year.
  • Certified Professional Accountant (CPA):
    Certified Professional Accountants (CPAs) work with individual clients, corporations, and governments to handle important accounting processes including taxation, reporting, and auditing processes. They also regularly review financial information, prepare documentation, and ensure government regulations are followed. According to PayScale, CPAs make an average base salary of $51,723 per year.
  • Accounts Payable / Accounts Receivable Specialist:
    Accounts payable specialists must be familiar with every facet of a company’s accounting system. They are primarily responsible for validating, processing, and filing invoices. Additional tasks may include coding and paying bills, managing vendor expectations, reconciling financial statements, maintaining files, answering supplier questions, writing checks, and recording company transactions. According to PayScale, accounts payable specialists make an average base salary of $45,071 per year. Learn more about Accounts Payable Careers
  • Accountant:
    Accountants are responsible for performing financial calculations for individuals, companies, and organization. Duties vary depending on the employment setting, but they often create cash flow reports, administer payroll, maintain balance sheets, perform various billing activities, keep inventory, and manage budgets. According to PayScale, accountants make an average base salary of $51,796 per year.
  • Budget Analyst:
    Budget analysts provide assistance and analysis during a business or organization’s budget-development process. Using past performance data, they ensure current and future budgets are effectively and efficiently allocate financial resources. These professionals also regularly present their findings to company management, executives, and other important team members. According to PayScale, budget analysts make an average base salary of $62,520 per year. Learn more about Budget Analyst Careers
  • Bookkeeper:
    Bookkeepers are responsible for ensuring that a company’s finances are kept under tight control. Using various accounting software, they track and record financial transactions and verify that financial decisions are viable and safe. These professionals also calculate, record, and balance payroll reports. According to PayScale, bookkeepers make an average base salary of $43,857 per year.
  • Accounting Manager / Controller:
    Accounting managers develop and implement systems that gather, analyze, verify, and report various types of financial information. They are generally one part of a larger team responsible for ensuring efficient data usage. In many cases, these professional also hire, train, and coach new hires. They may also be responsible for enforcing company policies, rules, and procedures related to finance. According to PayScale, accounting managers make an average base salary of $73,333 per year. Learn more about Managerial Accountants

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