What is Accounting?
An accountant is an individual that works with a business’s finances and generates reports that reflect the financial health of a business. These reports are done on daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual periods. Daily work for an accountant consists of making sure that transactions that occur on that day have been recorded properly. Accountants also oversee the payments of certain bills, such as a company's tax obligation. Some companies use an accounting department or single accountant for all of their financial needs, while others send their accounting needs to a CPA firm on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Every business uses some form of accounting services at one point or another. Whether the company has an in-house accounting department, has retained an accountant or CPA firm to do their accounting work, or simply uses a tax preparer when it's time to pay taxes accounting, this is a vital part of doing business. For anyone who enjoys working with numbers, solving puzzles, and has a knack for knowing how numbers work, a career in accounting is a viable option. There are many elements of an accounting career and many options, you don't have to become a CPA.
In some cases, you may be able to start your accounting career without a formal education. However, if you want to progress in the industry, a formal education will be required. How much education you will need depends on how far you want to go in the field. Clerks often have lower-level degrees, while CPAs and accounting managers often have higher degrees, licenses, and certifications.
Accounting Education in Iowa
In the accounting industry, there are several levels in which a person with an accounting background can work. In many cases, the positions a person can take are dictated by their experience and educational level. Below are the four most common degree levels a person working in accounting can strive to achieve.
In the state of Iowa, there are 10,000 people employed as accountants, auditors, or accounting professionals. The average salary for a person working in the accounting field is $72,000 per year. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for accountants is expected to increase by 7% between now and 2030. So, if a career in accounting is something that you think might be of interest, now is the time to get started. Below you will find information you need to get started on your career path. There's educational guidance, career guidance, and a rough guide as to how to progress in an accounting career.
Associate Degree in Accounting (AAS)
With an associate accounting degree, an individual can take on the tasks of a bookkeeper or an accounting clerk in a payroll, accounts receivable, or accounts payable position. This two-year degree provides a person with a base knowledge of accounting.
Some of the courses that a student in this program could take include the following:
- Accounting I & II
- Payroll Accounting
- Computerized Accounting
- Business Ethics
- Other general business courses and general electives needed to complete a program
Associate degrees typically take two to three years, or four to six semesters, to complete. Upon completion, an individual has the educational ability to take on a position as a bookkeeper, accounts receivable clerk, or accounts payable clerk. Most career opportunities will be with smaller businesses, but some corporations might hire a clerk with a two-year degree.
Bachelor's Degree in Accounting (BAcc)
A bachelor’s in accounting is usually the first step for someone who wants to become a certified public accountant (CPA). These four-year programs consist of accounting courses as well as general business courses in areas such as management, marketing, and business law.
Some of the courses students will take include:
- Accounting I & II
- Computerized Accounting or Accounting Information Systems
- Corporate Accounting
- Cost Accounting
- Managerial Accounting
- And other courses required to complete a four-year program
Bachelor degree programs are designed to be completed in four years or eight semesters. Some people complete their program in less than four years while others need longer, especially those that also have family and work obligations and must attend part-time. After completing a bachelor’s degree, a person is ready to prepare themselves to take the CPA exam.
Master's Degree in Accounting (MAcc)
A Master of Accountancy, also known as a MAcc, is for individuals who want to take their education in accounting to the next level. Many who attain this degree are considering specializing in a particular area of accounting. For many, a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) is more practical. Although a person holding a MAcc is valuable in the field, a person with an MBA is often considered more versatile and, therefore, may have better success at landing jobs, including accounting positions.
Typical courses for this program include:
- Audit Theory Review and Practice
- Business Process Integration
- Data Analytics and Data Management
- Federal Taxation
- Financial Accounting Regulation
- Financial Accounting Theory Review and Practice
PhD Degree in Accounting (Ph.D.)
Most doctorate programs used for accounting are actually part of a doctorate program in business administration. These programs vary from school to school and are customized by the student to create the programs that suits their needs and career goals.
Some courses covered in the program include:
- Advanced Statistics and Analysis
- Business Law
- Business Psychology
- Organizational Leadership
Doctorate programs require a dissertation to be completed. Upon completion of the dissertation, as well as the successful defense of the dissertation, a student will be rewarded with a PhD designation. Most doctorate programs are required to be completed in seven years but can be finished in five. Accountants with doctorate degrees can set themselves up as subject matter experts or explore the possibilities of entering academia and teaching at colleges or universities.
Become a CPA in Iowa
Becoming an accounting professional in Iowa follows a linear course, especially if you are looking to obtain specific licensure in the state, such as a CPA license. The first step is to gain the required education level for the position you seek. For example, if you want to work as a full charge bookkeeper, then an associate degree in accounting or business is often a requirement. If you want to work as a full-fledged accountant, then a business degree with a specialization in accounting is normally required. You’ll also need to take the certified public accountant examination to work as an accountant for many businesses and organizations, especially if the company is required to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The CPA exam consists of four sections. Most people take each part individually, and the process of taking and passing the complete CPA exam can take over a year. Prior to taking the exam, many people partake in study sessions, which can be 7-to-10-week courses or review programs that they can work on in their own time. These classes help students to review what they learned while in undergraduate school, but also add additional education specifically tailored for the CPA exam.
For those who want to work in the accounting field but are not sure they want to become accountants, with a bachelor’s degree, positions such as accounts receivable clerk and accounts payable clerk are options. A person can also work as a full charge bookkeeper, tax preparers, or in another accounting capacity that does not require the position to hold a CPA.
In the state of Iowa, to work as an accountant with high-level duties such as signing off on reports to the SEC or representing their clients to the IRS (in other words, as a CPA), a person must hold a CPA license as well as a license from the Iowa Board of Accountancy. There is an entire application process, and the information needed includes transcripts from all schools attended, proof of a CPA license, an application fee, and a background check. Once a person has been granted a license to work as a CPA in Iowa, a person can pursue accounting positions in the state.
Anyone who is planning to progress into management in accounting will need to attain either a Master’s in Business Administration or a Master of Accountancy. Companies like to ensure that their managers and supervisors are not only proficient in accounting, but also have a solid general business base to go with it.
Careers for Accounting Graduates
There are many different roles that an accounting professional can fill. Below are some of the more common positions found in the accounting industry. This is by far not an exhaustive list but does provide an idea of the types of jobs available in Iowa as well as in other parts of the United States and beyond.
- Senior Accountant
Senior accountants are often referred to as accounting managers. They usually hold a CPA and have several years’ experience working as a full accountant. They often have several accountants that report to them, and the financial work is often divided between the accountants, either by departments if working on internal numbers, or by clients if it's an actual CPA firm. Senior accountants report to the chief financial officer, also known as a CFO.
- Staff Accountant
A staff accountant is part of an accounting team. In an accounting firm, these workers will have their own list of clients, usually small to midsize businesses. A senior staff accountant will be in charge of larger businesses and some corporations, depending on their education and experience. If it’s an internal accounting department for a business, a staff accountant could be tasked with completing a particular part of the accounting process. They could be the lead for the accounts receivable department, the accounts payable department, or payroll. Depending on the organization, a staff accountant may or may not be required to hold a CPA license but, if they want to move into more senior roles, a CPA license will be required.
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
The chief financial officer (CFO) is the head of the financial department for a business, normally a corporation. All financial matters go through the CFO and, usually, the entire accounting department reports to this person. Some organization CFOs hold a vice presidential position, while others consider it a senior management level position. Regardless of where it's placed in the organizational chain, CFOs are required to have at least a CPA license and generally have a graduate level degree. They also have a minimum of five years’ work experience as a CPA. Management experience is also desired.
- Accounts Payable/Accounts Receivable Specialist
These workers deal with either paying the bills or collecting debts to the company. An accounts payable specialist oversees ensuring that a business is paying their financial obligations to other businesses on time. This may include overhead costs for rent or utilities or it may mean paying vendors and other third parties, which may change every month. An accounts receivable specialist ensures that those that owe the company money are paying in a timely fashion. Both specialists report to a senior accountant so that the financial reports for the business can be accurately completed. Specialists generally hold a minimum of an associate degree, but many have four-year degrees.