Career Guide: What Can I Do With An Accounting Degree?

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Job Description:

CPAs are licensed accountants who provide a wide range of services, including accounting, auditing, tax, personal financial planning, financial reporting, technology consulting, and other business and financial management duties. CPAs typically work in public accounting and other professional services firms, such as business and industry, government, and education. Only CPAs are qualified to perform the mandatory audits of all publicly traded U.S. companies. Earning a CPA certificate is one of the greatest achievements in the accounting field, and it opens up the door for more job opportunities, promotions, and salary raises.

Obtaining CPA licensure is a challenging, yet rewarding process. To sit for the Uniform CPA Exam, most states/jurisdictions require 150 semester hours of education that includes a bachelor's degree and an accounting concentration. Candidates typically need at least two years of public accounting experience, or more years of experience for non-public accounting work (e.g., industry, government). Contact your state board for specific educational and experience requirements.
Median Salary:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants and auditors had a mean annual wage of $71,040 as of May 2012. Those who have a graduate degree and the CPA license can expect to make 10-15% more than the average starting salaries for accountants and auditors, according to the American Institute of CPAs. The BLS states that accountants and auditors working in the District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and California earned the highest salaries in 2012.
Job Outlook:

Projected to grow 16% between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.

As the number of high-profile financial scandals seems to be on the rise, opportunities for qualified certified public accountants (CPAs) are also increasing. A career in accounting may seem like an appealing prospect for many adult students, however the BLS reports that CPAs, or those public accountants with professional certification, have the best job prospects. Nearly a quarter of all accountants and auditors in the industry perform accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services, according to the BLS. For CPAs over the next decade, the job market will be greatly affected by new stricter laws and regulations, which may require companies and organizations to hire additional CPAs with up-to-date credentials in order to comply with these new mandates.

Continuing Education:

CPAs with the highest-possible level of education tend to have enhanced career options in this field. Students must pass the CPA exam in order to qualify them to practice as certified, and not simply a public accountant. Each state also has separate individual licensure requirements. Once a student has obtained a license to practice in their state, they must complete a minimum of continuing study credit hours at a frequency determined by that state, to maintain their status, as reported by the American Institute of CPAs. Students with above-average continuing education credits or with extra credits under their belt may find they have an advantage in an over-saturated job market, and increased education and experience among highly-educated candidates in the field may create a higher-quality employee base.