How Do I Become an Accountant?

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By DeVry University

September 30, 2021
7 min read

To become an accountant, you typically need to gain a strong understanding of budgets and accounting principles. Many jobs may also require a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field1, whereas other positions may prefer you also hold a master's degree or an industry certification.

If you're considering a career in accounting, we're here to help you work toward your goals. With the right amount of dedication and planning, you can pursue the education and certifications needed to pursue opportunities in accounting.

To help you as you work toward your goals, we've constructed a sample roadmap to a career in accounting. Keep reading to better understand some basic steps you may need to take in order to pursue a future as an accountant.

Roadmap: Becoming an Account

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

We'll guide you through each step and what it may take to complete them. If you're already part-way through your accounting journey, feel free to jump ahead to the step that most applies to your current situation.

  1. Commit to Advancing Your Education
  2. Choose a Degree and Specialization
  3. Identify a Job or Internship That Interests You
  4. Earn the Certifications and Degrees Required for Your Accounting Specialization

1. Commit to Advancing Your Education

Before you can pursue the accounting career of your dreams, you need to meet the job criteria. Do you have the required knowledge and skills? Do you have hands-on experience with the software used in the industry?

If you’ve yet to earn your degree or you have some gaps in your skillset, consider enrolling in an accounting degree program. It’s not only a great way to boost your technical skills, but can also help you brush up on essential business soft skills like communication, teamwork and collaboration.

2. Choose a Degree and Specialization

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

Choosing the right degree for you is important, as it can help you prepare for the unique certifications, such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential, that you may need to earn in order to pursue specific positions. It's also worth keeping in mind that different accounting degree programs and specializations may contain different accounting courses that focus on a particular area of study.

To help you align your coursework to your career goals, here are five common areas of focus and a brief description of what they entail:

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

  • Environmental Accounting: Environmental accounting is an area of accounting that focuses on both the financial considerations of a company and environmental concerns. They create books that identify a company’s or nation's impact on the environment in addition to its regular finances.

  • 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 foul play such as tax or securities fraud.

  • Government 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 job you want before you conclude your degree because there may be specific certifications that you need to earn in order to qualify for the position.

Some jobs that you might consider include:

  • Auditor: Auditors work within the auditing field investigating the books of a private entity. Auditing positions may have a minimum requirement of a bachelor's degree or master's degree. Some roles might require a CPA or Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification.

  • Certified Public Accountant: 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.

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

  • Forensic Accountant: Forensic accountants investigate a company's books to ensure that there has not been any fraud committed. To become a forensic accountant, you might consider pursuing a bachelor's degree as well as the CPA credential.

  • Government Accountant: Government accountants track the expenditures of government entities. They may work for a specific government agency or for the IRS, where they audit businesses and individuals. You might consider pursuing a master’s degree in accounting in order to qualify for positions within this field.

  • Investment Accountant: Investment accountants work within the world of investments and can often be found at brokerage and asset management firms. A bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field (such as finance or economics), and a CPA credential might be helpful when qualifying for this type of role.

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

  • Project Accountant: Project accountants work on individual projects within a business to ensure their profitability. Consider earning your bachelor's degree, CPA or CMA if you choose to pursue project accountant jobs.

  • Staff Accountant: 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.

4. Pursue Industry-Recognized Certifications

Once you've identified the type of accounting job you'd like to have, you may need to earn specific certifications typically required for the position. Some positions may require a Bachelor's or Master's Degree in Accounting, whereas others may require a shorter credential, such as a Graduate Certificate in Accounting. Whatever the case, you'll need to earn the minimum credentials before applying to the position.

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

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA): The CPA credential proves your knowledge in taxes, forensic accounting and risk management, among others. All states require you to have a bachelor's degree and 150 credit hours of coursework to earn a CPA2. 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 hours2.

  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA): A CMA credential is awarded by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and confirms that you have mastered financial management. It can be useful for those who wish to work in managerial accounting. Earning this credential requires a bachelor's degree and two 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 four 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 two years of relevant experience, though earning a master's degree in accounting will reduce the experience requirement to one 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, law and fraud prevention.

Interested in Becoming an Accountant?

If you're interested in becoming an accountant, our accounting programs may help you get started on the path toward your goals. Our 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.

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