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

Public Accountant

Job Description:

Certified public accountants, or CPAs, examine financial records, perform bookkeeping tasks, prepare financial reports, reconcile accounts, perform audits, and file taxes for individuals, governmental agencies, and businesses. Approximately 24% of public accountants work for accounting and tax preperation agencies, and 8% are employed by finance and insurance companies, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most accountants work full time, and one in five reported working more than 40 hours per week in 2010, the BLS reports.

For entry level work, a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field is typically required. However, some employers prefer to hire candidates who have a master's degree in accounting or an MBA with a concentration in accounting, according to the BLS. A certain amount of work experience, such as in internship, can be helpful for getting hired. This experience can help an accountant qualify to sit for the CPA exam, which if passed will give them a state-issued accounting license. This is important because every accountant who files a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission must have be a CPA. To qualify for the CPA exam candidates are typically required to have completed 150 semester hours of college coursework, although the requirements vary by state.
Median Salary:
Entry-level salaries will be quite a bit lower than the mean, as compensation varies widely in this field. Specialization, client base, and location will play a role in job outlook and salary expectations. Top-paying states for public accountants include: District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and California. Accountants are always in demand, and growth in the field should remain healthy through 2020.
Job Outlook:

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

Public accountants are in-demand in nearly every sector of the business world. Accounting professionals who choose to pursue certified public accountant (CPA) status may find they have enhanced job opportunities, as employers tend to expect this credential. Twenty-four percent of workers in accounting and auditing occupations perform accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services, according to the BLS. Work experience is an asset in this industry, as introductory experience is typically required to obtain certification, and entry-level positions may provide on-the-job training and emphasize a wide range of skills. Over the next seven years, public accountants should continue to see a steady increase in job prospects, assuming more and more CPAs will be needed to assist with the influx of financial scandals and corporate crises as seen in recent years.

Continuing Education:

Public accountants with the CPA designation may find increased opportunities in their field of choice. In addition to the CPA standard, each state has its own licensure regulations for accounting occupations. To maintain these credentials, public accountants are required to complete a minimum number of continuing education credits, in subjects like cost accounting, business law, taxations for corporations, and financial statement analysis. The American Institute of CPAs website offers information on requirements and course credit offerings, per state and for varying specialty areas of accounting. Students with maximum professional education credits, along with an advanced degree and work experience, may find they are eligible for top jobs in public accounting, as well as holding an advantage over other candidates in an extremely competitive job market.