Accountants are responsible for preparing taxes and keeping an accurate record of the financial transactions that occur in a wide variety of organizations, including small businesses, major corporations, non-profits, and government agencies. The four primary accounting fields include public accounting, management accounting, government accounting, and internal auditing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Accounting is a good fit for business-minded individuals who enjoy crunching numbers and helping business leaders make sense of their organization’s finances. Since an accounting degree is almost always essential to break into the field, many students have turned to the top online colleges for accounting to earn their degrees. The best online colleges for accounting are characterized by a rigorous curriculum similar to what is offered at traditional colleges, the availability of internships, and accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
Accounting Course Work Basics
Online colleges for accounting commonly offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting. Bachelor’s degree programs typically include general education requirements, business courses, and major-specific requirements in accounting. General education courses, often referred to as “basics,” are designed to provide a broad education in mathematics, the natural and behavioral sciences, arts and humanities, written communication, computing, and more. Since accounting is often offered as a specialization within a business degree program, students also tend to take business courses in management, finance, and economics. Online accounting programs typically include introductory through advanced accounting principles that are covered in courses such as:
- Accounting Fundamentals: This introductory course teaches students the essential principles and practices of accounting and introduces students to concepts such as accounts receivable and payable, cash transactions, and more.
- Payroll Accounting: In this course students learn methods of keeping accurate records of employee wages and salaries.
- Managerial Accounting: This course exposes students to financial data managers use when making major financial decisions at an organization.
- Income Tax: This class provides an overview of the nation’s income tax structure and the laws that govern it, and gives students an opportunity to get their feet wet preparing tax returns.
- Principles of Auditing: Students learn what auditing is and how to prepare audits.
Master’s programs in accounting, on the other hand, are often for students who already have a solid understanding of accounting but want to acquire the necessary graduate credits to obtain a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. Students may also pursue graduate study to advance their accounting skills in a specific area, such as auditing and assurance, or taxation. Aside from teaching students advanced accounting skills, online classes for accounting at the graduate level introduce students to accounting research, theory, and special topics in accounting. Those who seek doctoral degrees in accounting generally do so in preparation for teaching accounting at the university level or to enter a career in consulting.
Students in undergraduate programs learn how to use tax preparation and accounting software effectively. They also gain valuable experience in preparing tax returns and preparing financial reports. Undergraduate programs may also include an internship program and conclude with a capstone project. Capstone projects vary from school to school but may require students to complete a strategic case study and financial analysis to solve a real-world financial problem. Graduate programs in accounting generally conclude with an independent research project and/or a professional internship directly related to their chosen accounting specialization.
Careers for the Accounting Graduate
Two common careers for individuals with degrees in accounting are accountants and auditors. Most of these financial professionals possess a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, although some employers prefer a master’s degree, according to the BLS. While licensure is not required for all accounting jobs, prospective accountants and auditors can increase their employment prospects by earning a CPA license. The licensure process differs from state to state but it generally requires students to complete 150 semester hours of college course work, pass a national exam, and meet all other state requirements. In addition to state licensure, accountants and auditors may voluntarily seek national certification in their accounting specialization through organizations such as the Institute of Management Accountants, the Institute of Internal Auditors, and others.
Accountants and auditors reported a median yearly salary of $61,690 in May 2010, with the lowest-paid 10% earning less than $38,940 and the highest-paid 10% earning more than $106,880, according to the BLS. Job growth of 16% is expected for these professionals through 2020, which is considered average in comparison to other occupations. While accountants will face stiff competition for jobs with prominent accounting firms, those with CPA licensure and master’s degrees should have a leg up over the competition. Accounting and auditing job titles might include accounting manager, chief cost accountant, budget director, manager of internal auditing, controller, or treasurer, the BLS notes.