One of the positive aspects about the field of accounting is it offers opportunities and career growth for those with different educational backgrounds. The educational requirements for jobs in accounting run the full spectrum from high school diploma to PhD. Those with a 4- year degree will have more opportunities than those without.
Certification and licensure is another way to advance an accounting career and salary. The educational requirements for the same job can vary depending upon the employer, the economy and the geography.
Types of Degrees
The following are degrees for accounting professionals:
- High School diploma or General Educational Development (GED)
- Associates degrees from 2-year junior colleges
- Bachelors degrees from a 4- year college or university
- Masters Degree:
- Master of Accountancy (MACC)
- Master of Business Administration (MBA) with concentration in accounting
- Master of Science in Taxation (MST)
- Doctorate – PhD in Accounting is good for teaching at the college level
Getting Your Degree – Online vs. Offline Education
Accounting degrees can be earned by attending a traditional college or university or through an online degree program. Online learning can be compared to the “old-fashioned” correspondence course where everything was done through the mail. Technology has replaced this process. One can get a certificate, associates, bachelors, or masters degree from an online program. If you have a demanding career, have a growing family, live in a remote area or travel a lot for work it is difficult to go to a traditional college. But doing coursework 24/7 sounds very appealing.
Some schools are exclusively online and many traditional colleges and universities offer some, if not all of their courses online. Online degrees might not be as respected as offline degrees by prospective employers. But as they have become more accepted and legitimate their acceptance rate is improving.
Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Online Learning
There are 2 different types of online, distance learning methods:
- Asynchronous learning is when you take an online course and do not attend classes at a specified time. You choose the time of day to do the coursework. Communication between the school and student is done via email, forums and discussion boards.
- Synchronous learning is when the student has to attend the class in “real time”. If the instructor is teaching the class at 10:00 a.m. then students log-in at that time and participate in the class with their instructor and classmates.
Doing Your Homework
Thoroughly research any educational institution prior to enrolling. Find out the following:
Is the school accredited?
Accreditation – Some online schools have earned the reputation of being diploma mills pumping out degrees. If accredited the school has been evaluated by an accrediting organization and is performing up to the claims it makes. Accredited schools show that students are being offered quality, organized and formal education. Students are meeting the goals of the program, graduating and benefitting by participating.
Accreditation is a public stamp of approval that recognizes the school has competent instructors, is financially sound, effective in their admissions process and has a reputable program of study. The U.S. Department of Education presents information on accreditation and has the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation also has information about accreditation and a Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized United States Accrediting Organizations. The Distance Education and Training Council database has information particularly about distance learning schools and programs.
What is the school’s ranking?
School Ranking – U.S. News and World Report magazine has built a good reputation when it comes to ranking higher education institutions. Basic information is online and free but for a nominal fee you can get more in-depth information. Their rankings also come out in magazine and book format. Another good source is The Princeton Review. They interview students to come up with their rankings. They have a book titled The Best 376 Colleges that is worth purchasing.
Whether online or offline, many of the requirements for admission are the same. You will need an SAT or ACT score for an undergraduate degree and a GRE® or GMAT® score for a masters level degree for online or traditional schools. If you are interviewing or working, check with human resources to find out if they have tuition reimbursement benefits.
After conducting research and you have a short list of schools make plans to visit them and meet with a college representative. Walk around campus, talk to students and see if you can sit in on an accounting class. For online schools make contact with admissions, see if you can talk to some graduates and visit their campuses, if they have any near you.
Licensure and Certification
Accounting professionals can advance their careers, increase their employment opportunities, earn more money and gain respect when they become licensed or certified. There are different types of certifications available for accounting professionals:
The most common certification is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA). A CPA is an accountant who has been certified by the state(s) where they practice. If an accountant is going to file any report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) they are required to be a CPA. Each state has specific requirements for becoming a CPA. However, all states require the accountant to pass a national exam. This exam is called the Uniform CPA Examination and is divided into four parts. The test is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
The Board of Accountancy is the state entity responsible for the licensing process. Although the requirements vary by state most require a 4-year college degree; 150 semester units from a state approved college or university; a specific number of accounting and finance courses; and passing the 4-part national exam. To learn more about how to become a CPA and access your state’s Board of Accountancy visit the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s website.
The Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
The CMA designation is for accounting and financial professionals in business. It provides a determination that you have achieved an expertise in control, analysis, decisions support, financial planning and business ethics.
The requirement for certification is passing a 2-part exam. The exam needs to be taken and passed within 3 years of registering for the program. You need to be a member of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), have a 4-year bachelors degree from an accredited college or university and 2 years of continuous experience in accounting or financial management.
The Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
The CIA is the certification given by the Institute of Internal Auditors. It is a similar to the CPA, but is granted to auditors who have a 4-year degree (or higher) from an accredited college or university. Experience cannot substitute for education. Auditors must have 2 years of experience as an internal auditor and must pass a 4-part exam. If an applicant has a master’s degree then they only need 1 year of experience. Once a professional has earned the CIA they are required to take continuing education courses and abide by the Code of Ethics established by the Institute of Internal Auditors.
The Certified Public Bookkeeper License (CPB)
The CPB license is available to bookkeepers and shows they have a certain skill level, experience and set of ethics. Bookkeepers can apply once they have one year (or 2,000 hours) of bookkeeping or accounting experience, pass the Uniform Certified Public Bookkeeper Examination and agree to abide by the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers Code of Professional Conduct. To maintain the license the bookkeeper must receive 24 hours of continuing education/year.