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What Can You Do With an Accounting Degree?

In 1985, big box retailer Home Depot’s stock dropped 23 percent. The reasons why were complex, and it took a dedicated leadership team to resolve those issues. On the front lines of that team were accountants, who performed cash flow analyses, assessing profit margins, cash burn rate, operating expenses, and other financial factors so they could alert those at the top on some potentially dangerous financial trends. With the information gathered by the accountants, the chain was able to set a new course for success, and move into a period of growth.

Gone are the days when people thought of accountants as “bean counters,” sitting in cubicles and crunching numbers from 9 to 5. Today’s accountants are active business leaders who take their pick of professional accounting degree jobs in business, industry, finance, or the nonprofit world. With their in-depth knowledge of how money flows into, through, and out of an organization, they are likely to play a major role in determining the future of their business.

A degree in accounting opens the door to a wide range of options. Accounting is often called “the language of business,” and once you learn this language, your voice will be essential in your organization, both in making day-to-day decisions as well as in plotting long-term strategies for growth and success.

For accountants in all areas of practice, the future is looking bright. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for jobs with an accounting degree through 2026 indicates a 10 percent rate of growth — faster than average. 

As you plan your educational journey, of course, you are looking for the best college for accounting. Bentley’s undergraduate and graduate level programs in accounting are built on 100 years of experience. In fact, Bentley was founded in 1917 as the Bentley School of Accounting and Finance. Here, you’ll find accounting programs that give you a firm foundation in classic accounting principles and practices, updated and augmented with the technological tools to allow you to apply them in a fast-changing, global business world.

What can you do with an accounting degree?

Accounting degree jobs — both at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels — are varied, challenging, and satisfying. Here are just a few options that will be available to you after you get your degree:

Tax accountant: You’ll work with clients to gather and assess the financial information required on tax forms, and make sure that those forms are filled out and filed properly. You may be required to research the fine points of tax law, and advise the organization’s leadership on the possible outcomes of different financial tax strategies.

Forensic accountant: You’re a key person in a team that examines organizations or companies suspected of fraud or other illegal activity. Like a detective, it will be your job to sift through financial records looking for irregularities and tracing transactions through complex mazes of financial data.

Controller: If you enjoy management, this is a good opportunity for you. A controller manages the accounting department of a company or organization. You’ll work closely with your team to ensure that all financial tasks are done properly and in a timely manner. You may be part of the leadership team of your organization or work closely with those in the upper management team.

Public accountant: This broad term refers to those who provide accounting services to other companies, and is one of the most common jobs with an accounting degree. You may be an entrepreneur with your own firm, charting a financial course for the clients you advise, or you may be an employee of a dedicated accounting firm. Your knowledge base will need to be broad, as you may find yourself auditing clients, preparing tax returns or financial statements, or consulting with leadership teams.

Government accounting: According to the American Institute of CPAs, the U.S. government employs thousands of accountants through the Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury, and even the FBI. State or local governments, meanwhile, hire accountants to work with school districts, prison systems, human resources, and more. Government work can be satisfying and financially beneficial.

Auditor: As an auditor, you may either work for a large corporation, where you’ll do internal auditing, or you may be an external auditor working with clients who come to your firm seeking auditing help. For both of these areas, you’ll be reviewing and verifying financial practices, ferreting out weaknesses, and recommending corrective action.

Non-profit accountancy: Not-for-profit organizations may have different goals than for-profit businesses, but they must maintain clean financial practices just as businesses must. There are roughly 1.2 million nonprofits in the U.S., ranging from animal shelters to cancer centers to universities. If you feel passionate about a cause — anything from cancer research to the environment — you might feel great satisfaction from working with an organization that supports that cause.

The Foundational Degree: A Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

If you are beginning your college career, you will be looking for the best college for accounting. You’ll want a school with great professors who have real-world experience. You’ll want top-notch facilities, a broad range of courses, and solid career services. Bentley offers all of this and more.

You will begin by gaining a firm understanding of accounting principles and practices. Courses like Accounting Information Systems, Federal Taxation, and Financial Statement Auditing open the door for you into the world of accounting and arm you with a solid knowledge of the tools of your trade. You’ll augment these courses with general business classes and liberal arts and sciences classes to broaden your education and help you become an educated citizen of the world.

“My favorite class in accounting so far would probably be Accounting Information Systems,” says Bentley undergrad Michael Hughes. “It’s a blend of computers and accounting and deals with how business processes are being automated. The nice thing about it is the hands-on experience with software packages that can be very expensive. Here at Bentley, we have access to that technology.”

Specialize in an Area You’re Passionate About

You’ll also have the opportunity to focus on an area of accounting that is of particular interest to you, with your specialization options including general accountancy, corporate finance and accounting, and information systems.

A three-course internal audit track leads to a certificate issued by the Institute of Internal Auditors, and offers a foundation for the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam, the globally accepted certification for internal auditors. Your adviser and professors will also guide you toward the appropriate coursework if you wish to work toward eligibility for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam.

Career Services Second to None

Well before you have your diploma in hand, you will be able to benefit from Bentley’s Career Services office, rated by the Princeton Review in 2016 as the best career services office in the nation. More than 95 percent of Bentley’s undergraduates report that they are employed or enrolled in graduate school within six months of graduating. Career Services staff will work with you starting when you are a freshman, to help you explore what career opportunities are available with a degree in accounting. You’ll be assigned a dedicated first-year adviser who will help you start to shape your academic experience in ways that will pay off in the long run.

By the time you graduate, you will be well equipped to work in the accounting degree jobs of your choice. Bentley alumni work for organizations such as Citigroup, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the U.S. Navy. They are employed in positions with the opportunity to advance and the chance to use their Bentley-earned skills every day.

Should You Work Toward Becoming a CPA?

Many accountants study toward advanced certification, most notably the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) designation. To become a CPA, you will take a rigorous test administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Other requirements to earn your CPA differ from state to state, but all require a certain level of education (in most states, a bachelor’s degree is required to sit the exam, with an additional 30 hours of education before you receive your license) and some experience (usually two years) of work in accounting under the supervision of a CPA. Once you have earned your CPA designation, you will be required to take 40 hours of continuing professional education each year and renew your license regularly.

All CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are CPAs. Although you will find many available jobs with an accounting degree, becoming a CPA gives you the additional credentialing and training necessary to earn a higher salary and perform advanced accountancy functions such as auditing a company’s books. According to financial recruiters Robert Half Finance & Accounting, CPAs earn between 5 and 15 percent more than those without this designation and can expect more frequent promotions to leadership positions.

Quoted in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Jobs report (where accounting is noted as the third-best business-related job), Christopher Ekimoff, director of FTI Consulting, a business advisory firm, says, “Those three letters [CPA] really make your career. They will identify you in the marketplace, in the business world and in your career path as a professional willing to hold yourself to a higher standard and operate under a set of guidelines and principles that really set you apart.”

Furthering Your Education With a Master’s Degree in Accounting

The number of jobs with an accounting degree expands greatly when you receive your master’s degree in accounting. Your advanced degree will further hone your critical thinking skills, as well as your ability to analyze the numbers and communicate your findings and suggestions clearly with your organization’s leadership team — all crucial skills for any accountant.

“Bentley’s Master of Science in Accounting program is one of the best MSA programs in the country — I strongly recommend it,” says Michael Lin MSA ’12, now a principal financial analyst at Boston Scientific. “You will not only gain a deep understanding of accounting, but you will also learn the must-have skills in the professional business world.”

The 10-course master’s degree curriculum at Bentley is shaped by the needs of a rapidly changing business world. Foundational classes such as Managerial Statistics and Financial Accounting Problems I and II ensure that you are grounded in a solid knowledge of the building blocks of the profession. Advanced courses like Tax Factors in Business Decisions and Principles of Fraud Investigation give you the freedom to thoroughly explore topics of particular interest to you.

If you are concerned about fitting classes into your busy life, Bentley offers flexible class scheduling and online courses. Because your experiences may differ from other students’, you’ll appreciate the personalized attention that you receive from Bentley advisers and professors, who can customize the curriculum to meet your own professional and personal needs.

Master’s student Franziska Griecci likes the fact that Bentley staff work with her to determine what you can do with an accounting degree. “They actually say to you, ‘There’s taxes, there’s auditing, there’s financial services. Which do YOU want to do?’”

Inside the classroom, your professors offer you the most up-to-the-minute accounting practices. Outside the classroom, Bentley’s dedicated Graduate Career Services (GCS) staff can help give you a well-honed edge with which to tackle the job market. The GCS offers self-assessment tools, workshops, career fairs, online job databases like BentleyLink, and much more.

“Bentley is a great school with amazing educators that will work with you to ensure you are getting the most of this experience,” says Jelena Majkic MSA ’12, how a senior forensics associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “It won’t just give you the tools and skills you need for professional growth, but will give you a family, a strong support system that will be there for you if and when you need it. At Bentley, I became an accountant and part of a family.”

High-Tech Facilities Foster Increased Learning Options

At both the undergrad and graduate levels, you will benefit from the Howard A. Winer Accounting Center for Electronic Learning and Business Measurement (ACELAB). Here, you can work through sophisticated tutorials or gain experience with state-of-the-art software packages, including SAP, ACL, Peachtree, and Great Plains Learning Insights. Integrating technology with accounting isn’t just optional in today’s business world — it’s essential for accounting professionals to understand and use technology, and ACELAB helps you to learn how to do that.

Sarah Lacaillade, a master’s of accounting student, has benefitted from her access to ACELAB. “Going into the job market, they ask me if I have used this program or this tool, and my answer is always YES because Bentley prepared me and the technology Bentley has is just state of the art.”

If you are wondering what career opportunities are available with a degree in accounting, find out more about Bentley’s undergraduate and graduate accounting programs.