A four-year bachelor's degree in accounting is a fantastic launchpad for a stellar career. During your college years you will receive the training necessary to join an accounting firm, a financial team, or any sort of business and gain career advancement. After all, nearly every business needs an accountant. If your program meets your state's standards, you can also attain licensure to work as a certified public accountant (CPA), though some states might require at least some courses from a master's degree program. Certified public accountants can sign off on tax filings and audits. Public accountants and auditors are some of the best paid in the accounting field in general. Accounting students looking to complete a bachelor's in accounting program can expect to see some of the following courses in their accounting curriculum, on top of the expected general education.
- Financial Accounting, including multiple financial accounting topics
- Financial Statements, such as a balance sheet and other financial records
- Cost Accounting
- Tax Accounting, including learning how to prepare tax returns
- Accounting Principles
- Managerial Accounting, including leadership skills that can be used in accounting and financial management
- Accounting Information Systems
- And More
The positive aspects of a Bachelor's degree in Accounting are numerous. The first benefit is that you can start your career above the bookkeeping level, and you might even land a six-figure job straight out of school. After all, you'll have the knowledge and skill to work on audits, land a position as a financial analyst in an investment bank, or even start out in managerial accounting if you already have leadership skills. You should also qualify to sit for the CPA examination in most states.
Even if you don't wish to become a CPA, a bachelor's degree in accounting will open the door to countless other specialty areas. You might wish to pursue forensic accounting, which is a growing field, or you might prefer auditing IT systems instead, or working on accounting and information systems. Beyond that, your baccalaureate degree will pave the way to an MBA. After all, there is no way to apply for a graduate accounting degree program without a four-year diploma.
Though a bachelor's in accounting degree is a tremendous accomplishment, it has limitations. For starters, you may need to one day return to school for an MBA. That is, if you exit college and start your career, you will later need to enroll in a graduate program on a full-time or part-time basis. Without a graduate degree, you are likely to hit a glass ceiling on your career advancement, especially when it comes to accounting and financial management, and your career may begin to stagnate. You should have a plan that allows you to save for your eventual graduate school enrollment, especially as online programs for accountants and auditors become so easily accessible through a variety of colleges and universities.
Further, depending on your state's requirements, you might need additional, graduate-level coursework if you would like to sit for the CPA exam. In fact, regardless of state mandates, you should consider coursework above and beyond your accounting bachelor's degree program to ensure that you are fully prepared for the rigors of the CPA exam. You will also find that many firms require a graduate degree for jobs above a certain level. For instance, it is very rare to rise to the associate level in investment banking without an MBA.
Accounting Certificate Vs. Accounting Bachelor’s Degree
Students who have graduated from a business bachelor's degree program, but did not major in accounting might later consider a certificate. The reasons for this are many. You might need the courses to get a new job at your firm, you could be considering a CPA license, or you might wish some other credentials. While a bachelor's in accounting would be an ideal preparation, a certificate should help you meet the requirements you need to start on this path. However, make sure you double-check the coursework needed to achieve your goals against those needed for the certificate. You should also check to see what, if any, accreditation standards are held for your academic program. AACSB accreditation is the gold standard for accounting coursework.
What Accounting Bachelor’s Degrees are Available?
- Bachelor of Arts in Finance (BA):
Since the study of finance covers both strict mathematical analysis as well as qualitative factors, universities offer a BA in the field. That is, degrees that are strictly mathematical or scientific almost always receive a Bachelor of Science degree. In fact, some schools may offer the BS as an option for finance majors.
- Bachelor of Science in Accounting (BS):
A BS degree indicates that your studies were primarily math and/or science oriented. Colleges and universities often offer you the option of putting either the BS or BA designation on your diploma.
- Bachelor of Accounting (BAcc):
Your BAcc degree is a great foundation for a career in accountancy or business, if not both. This degree is not so different from a BA or BS, but make sure that the program is adequately accredited so that you are prepared for the CPA examination.
- Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting (BBA):
Your BBA degree likely indicates that you have rounded out your accounting courses with other work in economics, finance, or marketing, for example. If your curriculum is rounded out in this way, you are more likely to be granted permission to sit for the CPA exam.
Each accounting department has its own requirements for joining their program. Common requirements include courses such as Calculus for Business, Introduction to Accounting, and Microeconomics. You should expect to be held to a fairly high GPA standard. Often a 3.0 will suffice but consult the department's literature to be certain.
Some Business/Accounting programs are quite competitive, so be prepared to bolster your application with things like internships, community work, or references. You might also find that some Accounting programs have dress codes to ensure that you are acclimated to the cultural rigors of the business world.
How long does it take to earn an Accounting Bachelor's?
While a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting is considered a four-year degree, many students take up to six or more years. However, you should strive to complete your studies in four years if possible. This might entail certain sacrifices to your lifestyle, but it will pay off in the long run. When you have a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting (or the equivalent), your earnings and career outlook will be far more appealing than what you are able to do without those credentials. If you need to free up time for more work, consider taking a few courses online so that you can work a few extra hours when necessary.
Potential Careers in Accounting with a Bachelor’s
- Financial Analyst:
This is a great first job if you intend to pursue investment banking. Many corporate finance teams have analyst programs that will work you very hard for two years, but which will pay very well. Once you complete the two-year program, you can head to graduate school and then a stellar career thereafter.
Average annual salary: $61,400
- Tax Accountant:
In this position you will help individuals, or your company file their tax returns. With a CPA license you can prepare and sign off on tax documents. To succeed, you'll need a thorough working knowledge of the United States tax code and a specialty in either individual or corporate tax accounting.
Average annual salary: $57,400
This profession is not often listed as one for accountants, but it is a perfect fit. In this position, you will need to find the most efficient ways to ship goods around the globe. Accountants are particularly good at auditing systems and finding ways to make them more efficient.
Average annual salary: $58,500
- Forensic Accountant:
If you love accounting but also love detective shows, this might be the job for you. You'll work with investigators or attorneys to uncover white collar crime. In the case of divorce, you might be called in to untangle a complex financial portfolio, or to determine how certain assets were hidden from a former spouse.
Average annual salary: $69,300
- Credit Analyst:
A credit analyst works for banks or other lenders to determine how credit worthy a potential borrower is. While most consumer credit is determined by a credit score, corporate credit is a bit more involved. That is, there are far more hard assets involved as well as a complex equity picture to account for.
Average annual salary: $51,800
Options to Advance
If you wish to advance as an accountant and/or a business person, you will need added credentials. For most, this will involve a Master of Business Administration (MBA.) However, accountants can also opt for a Master of Accounting program. If you wish to work in healthcare, you might apply your business and accounting acumen to a Master of Healthcare Administration. Graduate school is not the only recourse for an ambitious accountant, however.
If you have a bachelor-level degree in accounting, you might first consider achieving a CPA license, or certification. The CPA examination is said to be the hardest professional test in the nation. With a CPA license you can pursue a fruitful career with no pressing need for a graduate degree. Consider, too, that the CPA exam is comprised of four parts. If you only pass one, that is considered a significant accomplishment and can help you advance quite far.
Best Bachelor of Science in Accounting Programs
University of Georgia - Athens
UGA's Terry College of Business is considered one of the top in the state, if not the nation. In fact, their Accounting program is considered the 13th best in the nation. Admission standards are quite high, but if you work hard, get in, and graduate with a bachelor degree in accounting, your career will shine.
- Bachelor of Business in Accounting
- Bachelor in Finance
- Bachelor of Management Information Systems
This small liberal arts college houses on of the top accounting departments in the state of North Carolina. That means they frequently nudge out UNC, Duke, or Wake Forest for top accounting honors. You'll be able to sit for the CPA exam in North Carolina during your final semester, which prepares you for a fantastic first job.
- Bachelor in Accounting
- Bachelor in Forensic Accounting
University of Oregon
University of Oregon's accounting degree is available at the same in-state tuition rates for all students within the area of the Western States Tuition Exchange program. You can choose to graduate with either a BS or BA degree and you are sure to be well-prepared to sit for the CPA examination. The program even insists that you take 24 credits outside of the business realm that relate to your long-term career goals.
- B.A./B.S. Accounting
- Bachelor of Business Administration - BBA
University of Washington
The University of Washington's urban Seattle campus positions you to take advantage of that city's enormous growth. Though Seattle is known for technology, they also need accountants to keep track of all the billions of dollars that flow through the city. If you gain acceptance to the Michael G. Foster School of Business your career will reflect greatness.
- Bachelor of Arts in Business – Accounting
- Bachelor of Arts in Business – Finance
- Bachelor of Arts in Business – Information Systems
University of Illinois Chicago (UIC)
This Chicago campus of the University of Illinois is convenient to the city's Loop area. The Loop is home to the nation’s top financial firms as well as the Chicago Board of Trade. You could do far worse as a budding accountant than land a job there.
- B.S. in Accounting
- B.S. in Finance
- Bachelor of Business Administration
Traditional Schools Offering a BS in Accounting
Purdue is a top public university in Indiana that has made its world-class curriculum available to students worldwide. You can graduate with an accounting degree and then continue on to complete a graduate degree if you choose.
- Bachelor of Science – Accounting
- Bachelor of Science – Business Administration
Southern New Hampshire University
SNHU offers business and accounting degrees that have been accredited by ACBSP, which is a top national accrediting agency. Your resume will be ready for the big leagues once you complete this online accounting bachelor degree.
- Bachelor of Science – Accounting Finance
- Bachelor of Science – Forensic Accounting
University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix is one of the more well-known online universities. Their reputation is well-earned, too. Their ACBSP accredited Accounting Bachelor degree will prepare you for more than a job, you'll be ready for a career. In fact, their national accreditation may help you receive tuition reimbursement from your employer, or help you get into graduate school. In fact, University of Phoenix offers an MBA, which is likewise offered in the convenient online format.
- Bachelor of Science – Accounting
- Bachelor of Science – Business
- Bachelor of Science – Business with certificate (many to choose from)
Penn State World Campus
Penn State is one of the top post secondary institutions in the nation. If you can't move from your hometown, now you can log in to their World Campus servers and receive a world-class education. The program is fully accredited by AACSB, meaning that your degree will be recognized anywhere in the United States, if not the world.
- Bachelor in Accounting
- Bachelor in Finance
Devry offers an online Bachelor of Accounting in both online and hybrid formats. If you love online learning, but feel that you also need a personal touch, the hybrid option may be for you. Their accounting program includes CPA preparation, which will prove vital when it comes time to sit for that all-encompassing examination.
- Bachelor of Accounting
- Accounting Specialization – available in accord with other Business degrees
Business Degrees & Career Paths