What is Accounting?
An accountant takes care of the daily financial obligations of a business. They are in charge of keeping accurate accounting records, such as the general journal and the general ledger, and they complete the monthly financial reports, such as the balance sheet and income statement. They are also in charge of ensuring that all taxes are filed in a timely manner. There could be one accountant for a business or a team of accountants with each taking charge of an accounting process. Many businesses have a CPA that works as the head of the accounting department, but smaller businesses might use an accountant that's not a CPA or a full charge bookkeeper. Accountants can work in-house for a single business or as part of an accounting firm that has several different clients.
When some people think of accountants, they visualize a little man with a pencil protector punching numbers into a calculator from a spreadsheet. This is not only an antiquated image, but also it’s just a small fraction of what an accountant actually does. The role of an accountant is an important one for any business, and accounting professionals are as diverse as any other professionals in an industry. In the state of Kentucky, there are over 11,000 people in the accounting and auditing field and they earn, on average, $71,000 a year. It is a career that technically can be started right out of high school and a person can progress in the field by gaining additional education and experience.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for accountants is expected to increase between now and 2030, so there are and will be jobs available for newcomers during this time. If you are a person who likes numbers, enjoys puzzles, and would like to help a business have a clear financial vision, then a career in accounting could be a good option. Below is information to get you started, from the education required to some of the careers that could be available to you in the accounting field. Here’s a hint: pocket protectors and calculators aren’t generally required, but computer skills and excellent analytical skills are.
Accounting Education in Kentucky
Many people believe that you are required to be good at math to be an accountant. This isn’t true. The best accountants can see the big picture and see how current actions could affect a business later. They are also interested in how the government regulates an industry and where tax savings and benefits can be found. In other words, math could be one of the least important part of an accountant’s daily operations. However, if a person has basic math skills, a career in accounting is still an excellent opportunity and an option worth pursuing, and understanding the concepts of math is still an important part of the job, though you will have calculators and programs to help make sure you do everything correctly.
Associate Degree in Accounting (AA)
For those interested in accounting as a possible career choice but are not sure what direction they want to take, a two-year degree in accounting is a good place to start. With an associate degree, graduates can gain entry-level positions at accounting firms or small businesses or become bookkeepers. Associate degrees typically take two years to complete.
Some of the classes an accounting major might take include:
- Accounting I & II
- Computerized Accounting
- Business Management
- Business Ethics
If, after working in this field for a period of time, a person decides that they want to pursue an accounting career further, continuing their education would be the next step. This will be required for those who want an accounting position with more responsibility.Learn more about an AS in Accounting
Bachelor's Degree in Accounting (B.Acy.)
For those who are serious about pursuing a career in accounting, a bachelor’s degree is the first step. Students studying accounting will take a combination of accounting courses and general business courses. A four-year degree will prepare a student to work as an accountant for small to midsize businesses. The degree also lays the groundwork for a graduate to take the certified public accountant exam, also known as the CPA exam. This certification is required to work for many businesses as a full charge accountant.
Some of the courses included in an accounting program include:
- Accounting I & II
- Managerial Accounting
- Cost Accounting
- Accounting Information Systems
- Business Management
- Business Law
- Business Ethics
- Corporate Finance
- Quantitative Business Analysis
Bachelor’s degrees take eight semesters normally completed over a four- to five-year period. Some people need less time while others require additional time due to family and work obligations.Learn more about a BS in Accounting
Master's Degree in Accounting (M.Acy.)
Accountants who are interested in pursuing managerial or supervisory roles often earn a graduate degree. The two most popular degrees are a master’s in accountancy and master’s in business administration (MBA). Those who want to narrow their focus and stick with accounting will pursue the master’s in accountancy, while others who want a broader degree may pursue a masters of business administration. Neither degree is better than the other; the right one depends on the student’s ultimate goals.
The curriculum of both programs are similar and some of the courses taken can include:
- Federal Taxation
- Financial Accounting Regulation
- Business Process Integration
- Data Analytics and Data Management
- Audit Theory Review and Practice
- Financial Accounting Theory Review and Practice
The program typically takes three to five years to complete. At the end of the program, either a capstone or a comprehensive examination must usually be completed. For those who have not taken the CPA exam, the graduate degree serves as a study guide.Learn more about a MS in Accounting
PhD Degree in Doctorate (D.Acy.)
Doctorate programs in accounting are often part of either a general business or organizational leadership program. This is because most people who pursue terminal degrees are seeking to either become subject matter experts, executives, or enter academia as an instructor. For this reason, many programs are customized by the student to create the program that best suits their needs.
However, most programs still include certain core subjects, some of which may include:
- Organizational Leadership
- Business Law
- Business Psychology
- Advanced Statistics and Analysis
Doctorate programs typically take five to seven years to complete. A large research paper called the dissertation is usually required at the end, as well as the successful defense of that dissertation. Accountants with doctorate degrees can also pursue work in academia and enter the teaching profession at colleges and universities. Many accountants have both accounting and teaching careers.
Become an Accountant in Kentucky
For those who want to become an accountant in the bluegrass state, the first step is to attain the education needed to work in the industry. Not everyone wants to become a CPA, so getting an associate degree first and working as an accounting clerk is a good start. Many people, after getting an associate degree, choose to become bookkeepers and are perfectly happy in that position, therefore additional education may not be required. Those who are interested and becoming full-charge accountants or CPAs will need to pursue additional education, such as a bachelor’s degree in accounting, along with business coursework. To work in management, a graduate degree in either business or accounting is often required.
The next step is to take the CPA exam if CPA is your ultimate goal. The certified public accounting exam consists of four different sections. Many people who plan to take the exams first complete a study course, which can vary from four to 10 weeks in length. Another option is to wait until after a person has completed a graduate degree because graduate courses can serve as a refresher course for the CPA exam. Students can take all four sections or one section at a time, but they will not be considered a CPA until all four sections of the exam have been passed within a certain timeframe. Once a person has passed the exam and has become a CPA, their license must be renewed every two years and continuing education credits of 150 hours are required over that two-year period. In the state of Kentucky, the exam costs roughly $1,000. This includes the cost of all four exam sections as well as taxes and fees.
Once a person has their CPA and has worked in the accounting field for some time, they might be ready to narrow their area of accounting focus. There are several avenues that can be considered; for example a person may choose to focus on tax accounting above all else. Others may decide that they would like to pursue forensic accounting, or a specialized field of accounting in a certain industry, such as manufacturing or research. These accountants can earn a master’s if they have not, or they can start working toward certain certifications that will provide them with expertise in their new field of interest.
Careers for Accounting Graduates
An accounting professional has many different career avenues available to them. Below is a small sampling of the positions a person with an accounting degree could opt to pursue.
- Senior Accountant
Senior accountants are individuals who have worked in the accounting field for a minimum of five years. They often have a team of accountants they manage and they often take supervisory roles and work on large client projects as well as supervise accountants that report directly to them. Senior accountants generally work for larger firms and corporations, but any company with a hierarchy of accountants might hire a senior accountant as a department manager.
- Staff Accountant
A staff accountant does most of the same tasks as other accountants but generally does not have CPA certification. They are tasked with all accounting functions but work under the direction of a manager. This is generally an entry-level accounting position that is attained by new graduates. Once a staff accountant has gained experience and passed the CPA exam, they can make the move up to higher ranks.
- Financial Controller
Financial controllers are the heads of accounting and finance departments for businesses. They ensure that all financial records are accurate and that required financial reports are completed and filed properly. Financial controllers report to chief financial officers and are considered part of the senior management team. When a financial issue comes up or a deal is being brokered the financial controller examines the transaction and reports whether it's financially viable.
- Tax Manager
Tax managers are in charge of ensuring the business files its taxes when required. Some businesses only file once a year, during the regular tax season, while other companies opt for quarterly filing. They are also in charge of making sure that a business’ tax strategy is in alignment with local, state, and federal laws. Finally, they monitor a company's tax situation to make sure they are paying what they need to pay but are also taking advantage of any discounts or deductions a company could take to lower their tax debt.
- Business Manager
Business managers are just as the name implies; they manage a business. If the business manager understands accounting, part of their responsibilities might include handling daily accounting duties. Business managers may or may not be CPAs; therefore, their responsibilities regarding accounting could vary but they usually have some experience working with the accounting process.
- Business Intelligence Manager
A business intelligence manager uses data analysis to help a business meet its needs. They analyze the businesses’ current situation, identify areas that need improvement, and then use data analysis to find a solution to the company's problem. The solution could be internal or external and the data studied helps the business intelligence manager best pinpoint the method and processes needed to make required improvements. An accountant is a good fit for this position because they have the ability to examine a company's financial position and make decisions accordingly.
- Accounts Payable/Accounts Receivable Specialist
Accounts payable or receivable specialists handle either the accounts payable, the money a business owes to others, or the accounts receivable, the money owed to the business by others. Both report to the CPA or general manager and are tasked with ensuring those accounts are current and accurate.