Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting
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A bachelor’s degree in accounting is an undergraduate degree offered by four-year colleges and universities that prepares graduates to work in a broad range of business roles. A bachelor’s degree in accounting is a good starting point for those interested in the accounting field, but many graduates choose to continue their education in order to pursue the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation or another licensure like Certified Management Accountant (CMA). In most states, a bachelor’s degree alone is not sufficient to earn these certifications. However, students can enter the workforce after finishing their bachelor’s degree and start in positions in accounting, auditing, and tax preparation. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), over 1,000 not-for-profit colleges and universities in the US offer accounting programs at the bachelor’s level.1
Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting Learning Goals
1. Understand the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).
The Generally Accepted Accounting Principles are an industry standard for financial reporting and accounting and are made up of three basic assumptions, four basic principles, and five basic constraints. Graduates with bachelor’s degrees in accounting should understand GAAP and be able to apply these processes to financial record keeping and accounting methods.
2. Apply accurate accounting methods, analysis, and reporting to business decision-makers.
Graduates must be able to understand, prepare, and maintain financial records in a variety of contexts. Accountants in today’s business world work in a number of roles, including in cash management, cost analysis, maintaining financial statements, auditing, tax preparation, and consulting on financial strategy. As such, graduates should be able to apply their knowledge of accounting to different situations and outlooks, from small companies to multinational corporations.
3. Practice accounting with an understanding of organizational behavior and industry ethics.
Those in the accounting field should have an understanding of how organizations operate, as well as a broad understanding of the common legal and ethical issues in business. Because they are so closely related, most accounting programs can be found in the business school of a university, and many programs are business degrees with emphases in accounting. Accountants need to understand and follow the professional standards and guidelines in the business field.
Bachelor’s in Accounting Program Options
A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete, although students with an associate’s degree or transfer credits may finish the degree in less time. Many programs are full-time, but students can also choose part-time formats or even fully online programs. The most common degrees include a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting, Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), and Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Accounting. Many schools offer a general foundational curriculum that leads to an accounting specialization or major.
Online Degree Formats
Working students or students who need more flexibility for their bachelor’s in accounting degree may choose a program that is offered part-time or partially or fully online. Online accounting programs allow students to complete coursework at their own pace and in the comfort of their own homes. While they are convenient, online programs are not for everyone. Students who learn better in person or in a traditional classroom format may prefer to attend a hybrid or traditional accounting program.
Bachelor’s degree programs in accounting vary in their admission requirements, but all require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED. Typically, Business Schools look for students with a 2.5 GPA or higher, and the most competitive schools require a high GPA and SAT or ACT test scores. Students interested in a bachelor of accounting will need to meet the general requirements for acceptance into the university before entering the accounting program specifically.
Core Concepts and Coursework
Bachelor’s degrees are comprised of about 120 credit hours on average. Most programs start with a general education curriculum, and after completing the core classes, students take specialized accounting courses. Most universities offer a broad curriculum that focuses on different bodies of knowledge and a variety of accounting-related skills, such as how to prepare financial documents, how to examine financial records, and how to report their findings to management. They may also focus on soft skills related to the profession, such as active listening, critical thinking, and reading comprehension. Programs include similar foundational accounting classes, such as:
- Accounting Information Systems
- Auditing Cost Accounting
- Ethics in Accounting
- Financial Accounting
- Financial Reporting
- Financial Statement Analysis
- Fundamentals of Tax
- International Accounting
- Managerial Accounting
Select Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting Programs
The McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas Austin offers a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Accounting. This program focuses on business theory as well as practical accounting skills to prepare students to work in many different professional contexts. Students learn financial analysis tools, business decision-making strategies, and how to understand and prepare tax filings and financial records. The curriculum is a mix of general education courses, business classes such as Business Finance and Organizational Behavior, and specialized accounting classes such as Financial Accounting; Managerial Accounting; Fundamentals of Tax; Auditing and Control; and Financial Statement Analysis. The BBA program emphasizes relevant, applicable skills graduates need to work in leadership roles in the accounting field. Students interested in obtaining a Master in Professional Accounting (MPA) after their BBA can choose an accelerated track through the university.
Undergraduate students at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania can earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting. Students first study mathematics, economics, finance, humanities, and sciences to gain a general education foundation. Those choosing the Accounting Concentration then take specialized courses including Managerial Accounting; Corporate Finance; Taxes and Business Strategy; and Auditing. This comprehensive curriculum mixes financial and economic concepts with broader perspectives on business. Students learn quantitative skills and accounting theory, but the program also emphasizes communication and critical thinking. Those earning a BS in Accounting have the option to take elective courses in different specializations in the accounting field, such as Corporate Valuation or Accounting for Mergers, Acquisitions, and Complex Financial Structures.
At the highly-ranked University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, undergraduate business students can earn their Bachelor of Science (BS) in accountancy. The undergraduate curriculum starts with classes in the liberal arts, science, theology, and other courses. Accounting students then take specialized classes such as Accountancy, Corporate Financial Reporting, Strategic Cost Management, Data Analytics in Accounting, Federal Taxation, and International Accounting. The curriculum focuses on the theory of financial reporting, tax planning, and organizational decision-making, but students also learn how to analyze and communicate in the business world. The Mendoza College of Business emphasizes teamwork, as well as professional responsibility and ethics. Students can consult with an academic advisor to add additional credit hours and work toward the 150 hours necessary to be licensed as a CPA upon graduation.
Hybrid and Online Programs
Colorado State University’s Global Campus offers an online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting. This online degree is a full 120-credit program, and students learn the skills needed to work in the accounting field. Through courses such as Principles of Accounting, Quantitative Business Analysis, Cost Accounting, and Auditing, students learn the fundamentals of accounting as well as leadership and management strategies. The coursework teaches students how to analyze and maintain financial records, prepare taxes, and implement business strategies. The program focuses on the common technology and software tools used in the accounting industry as well as the legal and ethical issues common in leadership roles. An optional degree specialization is offered in areas such as Organizational Leadership, Marketing, or Healthcare Management, with 15 credits being taken in the area of specialization.
At the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University, students can earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting entirely online. This program is ideal for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in a different field but are interested in changing career paths into accounting. If an individual already has an AACSB-accredited business degree, either a bachelor’s in business or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, he or she can complete this program to fulfill the educational requirements for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure. Students can continue to work full-time and complete this degree online in five semesters. The distance-learning curriculum uses recorded lectures, online discussions, and flexible coursework to teach students the skills they need to move into the accounting field. Courses include Cost Accounting, Accounting Information Systems, Auditing and Assurance Services, and Income Tax.
Washington State University offers a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) with an Accounting major that can be completed entirely online. Students learn core concepts in financial management, business strategy, taxation, and auditing, but the program also focuses on innovation and critical thinking skills. All students complete general education requirements in the sciences and humanities before starting courses in their chosen concentration. Accounting major students then complete some business courses, and the curriculum finishes with accounting courses such as Cost Accounting, Introduction to Taxation, Accounting Systems, and Auditing. Students can attend online classes on a full-time or part-time basis, and this degree prepares graduates for positions in public accounting, corporate accounting, and many other roles in business and government.
Jobs with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting
The education requirements for different accounting positions depend on the employer and the scope of the position itself, but those with bachelor’s degrees are qualified to work in some entry- and mid-level accounting positions. For example, according to O*NET OnLine, most tax preparers have a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree, and most entry-level accountants have a bachelor’s degree.2,3 Graduates with bachelor of accounting degrees may enter the workforce in a variety of positions. Many career opportunities are in roles supporting CPAs or other financial analyst positions, such as:
- Budget Analyst
- Cash Manager
- Certified Public Accountant
- Cost Accountant
- Credit Manager
- Financial Manager
- Forensic Accountant
- Management Accountant
- Tax Accountant
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do schools include a core curriculum with non-accounting classes?
Many bachelor’s degrees begin with a broad, general curriculum, which students are required to complete before picking a major or specialization. The core curriculum should focus on skills applicable to the accounting field, even if they are not industry-specific. General education requirements may include classes that emphasize communication and writing skills, mathematical reasoning and problem-solving, and second language skills. This curriculum structure is common in bachelor’s degree programs, particularly those at liberal arts colleges.
Can I become a CPA after I earn my bachelor’s degree in accounting?
In general, individuals need to complete 150 credit hours to become a CPA, and in general, bachelor’s degree programs are not sufficient for this requirement. For most students in most states, further study is required. However, some students choose to overload or take additional certifications to meet the credit hour requirement around the same time as their completed undergraduate degree. Those interested should talk to an academic advisor at their university and consult their state’s CPA requirements.
How much can I make with a bachelor’s degree in accounting?
Tax preparers earn an average annual salary of $49,550, and tax examiners and collectors earn $60,960 on average.4,5 Accountant and auditor positions earn an annual average salary of $71,550, although advancing in many of these positions typically requires a CPA or other professional designation.6 Accounting and auditing positions in the US are projected to grow by 6.4% through 2028, an average of 146,000 openings annually.7
I have an accounting certificate or associate degree in accounting, is this applicable to a bachelor’s degree in accounting?
Previous certificates or degrees may help students gain admission to competitive bachelor’s degree programs. In addition, if students have previously taken academic accounting courses, they may be able to transfer some credits to a bachelor’s degree program. Transfer credit policies vary by school, so students should consult academic advisors and course catalogs before applying.
What can I do with a bachelor’s degree in accounting?
Graduates can start working in the field in entry- or mid-level positions after completing their accounting bachelor’s degree. The qualifications for accounting jobs vary by organization, and many positions are available to those with a bachelor’s degree. However, many of the industry’s most common professional certifications, such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), for example, generally require more credits than a bachelor’s degree offers. Certification requirements vary by state, but most states require a minimum of 150 credit hours, and most bachelor programs are just 120 credit hours. Many students use a bachelor’s degree in accounting as a stepping stone for a master’s degree to gain additional credit hours, but other students complete certificates or additional coursework to qualify for licensure.
Should I choose an online bachelor’s degree in accounting?
For those looking for a more flexible degree, online programs are available. Many online programs are for general accounting degrees, but there are also numerous accelerated or specialized online programs ideal for those with non-accounting undergraduate degrees or those looking to obtain professional certifications. Students interested in a flexible format or a particular program design may find online programs work best for their schedule and goals.
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. O*NET OnLine, Summary Report for Tax Preparers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2082.00
3. O*NET OnLine, Summary Report for Accountants: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2011.00
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019, Tax Preparers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132082.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019 Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132081.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019 Accountants and Auditors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132011.htm
7. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm