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How to Become an Accountant


By DeVry University

September 30, 2021
7 min read

Becoming an accountant takes more than just being good with numbers. It’s also important to understand the different areas of the accounting profession, and the different types of accountants who do this important work. The accounting field presents a broad variety of career opportunities requiring various degrees of formal education and industry-recognized certifications.           


If you’re looking to carve a new career path and are wondering how to become an accountant, this article will give you a clearer picture of what’s required. To help you navigate, we’ve drawn a roadmap with a few waypoints to help you understand how to prepare to pursue a career in accounting

Steps to Become an Accountant

Any successful trip begins with mapping a route. The same principle applies to your career goals. To help you on your journey to an accounting career, we've created a 4-step roadmap helping you understand how to become an accountant.

We'll guide you through all 4 steps and what it may take to complete them. If you're already part-way through your journey to becoming an accountant, feel free to jump ahead to the step that most applies to your situation.

1. Commit to Advancing Your Education

As with just about any other career path, the journey begins with education. An online accounting degree like the ones offered at DeVry will help to boost your technical skills, provide hands-on experience with accounting software and help you develop the essential workplace skills, like communication, teamwork and collaboration, that will help you excel. At this early stage, it’s important to consider how you will balance your commitment to education with other aspects of your busy life. For example, do you plan to attend classes full time or part time? Will you work a full-time or part-time job while enrolled in your accounting program? Will you choose 100% online learning or opt for hybrid learning, which combines the online and on-campus experiences?

2. Choose a Degree and Specialization

Start by thinking about what type of undergraduate degree you’d like to earn. While a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting may seem like the logical choice, you may also consider earning a more general business degree, such as a Bachelor’s in Business Administration or Management, with a Specialization in Accounting.

It’s important to choose the degree program that fits with your career goals. Different accounting degree programs and specializations may contain different accounting courses that focus on particular areas of study. Remember that coursework in accounting degree programs teaches you the various skills and theories related to the occupation, but it may also prepare you to pursue the various certifications, such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential, that you may need to pursue specific career opportunities.

If you’ve already earned your bachelor’s degree, a Master’s in Accounting may help you to set your sights on more advanced accounting-related job opportunities and prepare for the CPA Exam.1

To help you align your coursework with your career goals, here are 5 common areas of accounting with a brief description of each:

  • Auditing: In accounting, auditing is the practice of thoroughly investigating an entity's financial records for the purpose of confirming accuracy or identifying fraud or areas of inefficiency. Their goal is usually to determine that the bookkeeping is error-free, though an auditor may be called in to find areas where the business could improve its finances.

  • Public Accounting2: In public accounting, accountants provide advice and services based on clients’ needs. They can work in auditing, prepare and file tax returns, consult on procedures related to the installation of technology or computer programs and provide legal advice. Public accountants are sometimes called CPAs because it is common for them to hold Certified Public Accountant certification and licensure.

  • Forensic Accounting: Forensic accounting is a specialty field of accounting that focuses on investigation. Like auditing, forensic accounting looks through a company's books, but this field is specifically interested in discovering wrongdoing, and utilized in conjunction with criminal investigations of fraud, embezzlement or civil litigation, requiring forensic accountants to prepare documents that will be used in court.

  • Governmental Accounting: Government accounting, also known as governmental accounting, records all the transactions made by a government entity. It utilizes unique principles that require a different approach from other fields of accounting due to the high burden of fiscal responsibility borne by governments.

  • Tax Accounting: Tax accounting is focused on the tax laws of the United States. It utilizes different methods from other accounting practices in order to determine the proper amount of taxes that should be paid to the government by a private entity.

3. Identify a Job or Internship that Interests You

As you enter the final phase of your Bachelor's or Master's Degree in Accounting program, you should start looking for specific jobs and internships that interest you. It’s a good idea to identify the type of accounting job you want before you complete your degree because you may need to obtain specific certifications to qualify for the position.  

4. Pursue Industry-Recognized Certifications

Once you've identified the type of accounting job you'd like to pursue, the next step is to determine what industry-specific certifications may be required for the position. Certifications are common in many industries and professions because they verify specific skills. Employers routinely include certifications in job listings because they’re looking for candidates who have specific competencies in addition to the requisite formal education and experience.

Here's a quick overview of some common certifications in the accounting field:

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): The CPA certification is among the most widely known credentials in the accounting occupation, verifying knowledge in taxes, forensic accounting, financial accounting and risk management, among others. To become a CPA you must sit for and pass the CPA Exam and apply for CPA licensure in the state in which you plan to work. CPA requirements in all states stipulate that you must have a bachelor's degree and 150 credit hours of coursework to earn a CPA. Some states allow you to sit for the exam once you have 120 credit hours and then award the certification after you reach 150 credit hours3. At DeVry and our Keller Graduate School of Management, our Graduate Certificate in Accounting Certification Preparation is a stand-alone credential that explores advanced accounting competencies with a curriculum that integrates Becker Professional Education’s CPA Exam Review, and can help you prepare to pursue either the CPA or CMA exams. 

  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA): A CMA credential is awarded by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and confirms that you have a solid understanding of financial management. It can be useful for those who wish to work in managerial accounting. Earning this credential requires a bachelor's degree and 2 years of relevant experience in the field of managerial accounting or financial management.

  • Certified Financial Analyst (CFA): A CFA shows that you are capable of managing portfolios, analyzing investments, understanding economics and following basic ethical standards in accounting. It requires a bachelor's degree and 4 years of experience in a relevant field.

  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA): This international credential demonstrates mastery of risk management, information technology and financial control. You need to have a bachelor's degree and 2 years of relevant experience, though earning a master's degree in accounting will reduce the experience requirement to 1 year.

  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE): A CFE credential is useful if you wish to go into forensic accounting, auditing or government accounting. It demonstrates that you are experienced in financial transactions, fraud schemes, fraud prevention and the law.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Accountant?

The answer depends on you, your personal and professional goals and  on the level of education you have. You may elect to earn a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree and CPA certification and licensure. In that scenario, your journey would take longer to complete than if you pursued a career that only required a bachelor’s, but would also prepare you to pursue more senior-level career opportunities.

If you’re asking, “How long does it take to become an accountant?” it’s likely your biggest concern is the time it takes to complete the academic program you choose. At DeVry, our Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting can be completed in as little as 2 years and 8 months on an accelerated schedule, and 4 years on a regular one.4 Our Master’s Degree in Accounting can be completed in  1 year and 8 months on a normal schedule and in as little as 12 months on an accelerated one.5

4Accelerated schedule is per 12 month period, does not include breaks and assumes year-round, full-time enrollment. Normal schedule is per 12 month period, does not include breaks and assumes 2 semesters of full-time enrollment.
5Accelerated time to complete. Per 12-month period, assumes enrollment in an average of 10 credit hours per semester and continuous, full-time year-round enrollment with no breaks. 

What Do Accountants Do?

Accountants and auditors perform a broad range of tasks related to the finances of  corporations, government agencies and nonprofits, and individuals alike. Here’s a partial list of what they do:

  • Organize, analyze and maintain financial records

  • Examine financial statements to ensure their accuracy and confirm their compliance with applicable laws and regulations

  • Compute taxes owed by individuals or other entities and prepare tax returns, ensuring that returns are filed in a timely manner and that any taxes owed are paid on time

  • Inspect account books and accounting systems for efficiency and use of accepted accounting procedures, and to identify potential risks for fraud

Beyond the basic examination and preparation of financial reports, accountants are routinely called upon to explain their findings in written reports and in-person meetings with managers and clients. Some accountants, such as those specializing in forensic accounting, may be called upon to testify in court in criminal or civil investigations.  

Types of Accountants

It may come as a surprise to learn how many different types of accountants there are, but the complexities of the business and financial world demand qualified professionals with specific training and skills in different areas of the field, like tax preparation, auditing, cost accounting, forensics and others. Read on for a brief description of 5 particular types of accountants.

Certified Public Accountants

Certified Public Accountants have a CPA certification and generally serve in an advisory role helping companies and individuals achieve their financial goals. Depending on your state requirements, you may find that you will need to earn your master’s degree in order to have enough credit hours to earn your CPA credential.

Forensic Accountants

Forensic accountants may work for insurance companies, financial institutions or law enforcement agencies looking for evidence of crimes such as embezzlement, employee theft, identity theft or insurance fraud. To become a forensic accountant, you might consider pursuing the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential.

Management Accountants

Management accountants help companies make business decisions that are financially viable and provide risk assessment to companies. You may consider earning both a bachelor's degree and a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential to prepare to pursue roles in this field.

Staff Accountants

Staff accountants perform general accounting duties within a company. They are typically involved in bookkeeping, light financial analysis and payroll. If you’re interested in working in staff accounting, consider earning a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field.

Cost Accountants

Cost accountants analyze the profitability of an organization and identify areas for improvement. They may have a Certified Cost Accountant (CCA) or a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification in addition to a bachelor's or master's degree in accounting or a related field.

Accountant Job Outlook

A growing economy, the continued globalization of business and technological change are all contributing to the demand for accountants and auditors. So notes the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as they project employment of accountants and auditors to grow 4% from 2022 to 2032, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. The BLS further projects about 126,500 job openings for this occupation each year, on average, over the decade.6 This growth is projected on a national level and local growth will vary by location. This projection is not specific to DeVry University graduates and may include earners at all stages of their careers.

Is Becoming an Accountant Right for You?

If you're interested in becoming an accountant, DeVry can help you get started on the path toward your goals. Our accounting degree programs can be completed 100% online and are designed to help busy students like you gain the skills needed to pursue a variety of accounting career opportunities.

Study on your terms with DeVry. Our 6 academic sessions per year allow you to start when you’re ready and learn at your own pace, finishing on a regular or accelerated schedule that meets your personal and professional goals. Let’s talk about getting you started in our next session.

1Credits and degrees earned from this institution do not automatically qualify the holder to participate in professional licensing exams to practice certain professions. Persons interested in practicing a regulated profession must contact the appropriate state regulatory agency for their field of interest. For instance, typically 150 credit hours or education are required to meet state regulatory agency education requirements for CPA licensure.
2Employment in this occupation may require years of relevant experience.
4 Accelerated schedule is per 12 month period, does not include breaks and assumes year-round, full-time enrollment. Normal schedule is per 12 month period, does not include breaks and assumes 2 semesters of full-time enrollment.
5Accelerated time to complete Requires at least 9 credit hours of Prior Learning Credit. Per 12-month period, assumes enrollment in an average of 10 credit hours per semester and continuous, full-time year-round enrollment with no breaks. Normal time to complete is 2 years 2 months, assuming completion enrollment in an average of 6 credit hours per semester and continuous, year-round enrollment with no breaks.

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