Accounting degrees can be one of the best ways to kick off your career - assuming you've got a good head for numbers, a driving interest in business and a keen eye for detail.
While some universities do offer undergraduate courses focusing just on accounting, it’s common to find accounting paired with other related subjects (such as finance) or included under a broader title, such as business and management. This reflects the multidisciplinary nature of accounting, which intersects with fields including information technology, law, statistics and economics.
Generally, however, you can expect accounting degrees to have a strong focus on quantitative methods and data analysis, including descriptive statistics, probability, statistical inference and hypothesis testing.
Other topics covered within accounting degrees may include: preparing and interpreting financial reports; budgeting, costing and performance management; national and international regulations and standards; market structures and business cycles; the use of accounting data in planning and decision making.
Within accounting degrees, possible accounting specializations include:
Audit involves analyzing and assessing a company or organization’s financial statements. Auditors may be called upon to check for errors or inconsistencies, but also to provide feedback on the effectiveness and efficiency of the systems being used.
Specialists in this field prepare tax statements for organizations and/or individuals, and give advice on tax-related issues – for example, helping companies assess the tax implications of various cash flow or investment options.
Risk assessment is the use of accounting data to make informed decisions, based on the probability of particular outcomes, and the possibility of offsetting risks.
Prospects for those embarking on accounting careers are strong even compared to other sectors of business and finance.
In the US, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts an additional 190,700 accountancy and auditing jobs will be generated between 2010 and 2020, largely as a result of increases to financial regulations and growing demand for business accountability.
Combined with management analysts – 157,200 new jobs forecast in the same period – these roles are predicted to account for some 30% of jobs creation in the US business and finance sector.
Accounting salaries & employers
The financial rewards are also promising. In 2010, the median salary for accountants and auditors in the US was US$61,690 per year – slightly higher than the overall median for the business and finance sector, and almost double the overall national median of US$33,840.
Accounting careers don’t just pay well; they also offer challenging and stimulating work. Accountants are involved in developing systems for tracking companies’ financial performance, advising on mergers and acquisitions, and calculating the costs and rewards of new technologies, ventures and strategies. Many go on to become Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) of large companies.
As well as working within businesses or government agencies, accountants may also work as part of a public accounting firm – of which the best-known are the so-called ‘Big Four’: Ernst & Young, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and KPMG.
It’s also possible to go solo, as a self-employed accountant, which may appeal if you like the sound of being your own boss and interacting personally with a range of smaller clients.
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