Your Guide to the Accounting Field

Posted by learninghouse on September 16, 2015  /   Posted in Accounting

Now is a great time to pursue a career in accounting. As the business world becomes more diverse and global than ever, accounting firms are looking for qualified candidates to help them keep pace with both demand and competition. Traditional approaches to accounting are merging with new methods like principles-based accounting and International Financial Reporting Standards. It’s important for accountants to develop a wide range of skills — they are integral to the decision-making process. Business leaders rely on well-trained accountants to provide a strategic perspective on the financial health of their companies and guide them toward a fiscally promising future.

Industry Overview

The accounting industry continues to be a stable choice for students because businesses and other organizations always need financial experts like accountants. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the accounting field to grow 13 percent by 2022. Employment growth of accountants and auditors is closely tied to the health of the economy overall. So as the economy grows, accountants and auditors will continue to be in demand because they are the specialists who prepare and examine financial records. With a median salary of $63,550 per year, careers in accounting are the right choice for many students.

Careers in Accounting

A common misconception about the accounting field is that there are limited options in terms of careers. However, there are several roles that professionals can fill.

Accountants are divided into two main groups: public and private. Public accountants provide auditing, tax, advisory and consulting services. They interact with a wide variety of clients and are generally licensed certified public accountants (CPAs).

Private accounting focuses on the inner workings of businesses, government agencies and other types of organizations. This type of accountant works for specific companies and is an important part of the success of any organization. For this reason, many public accountants eventually work in the private sector.

Every company employs internal accountants who set budgets, manage assets and track payroll, along with handling other financial matters. In medium and large accounting firms, the internal staff works closely with public auditors at the end of the fiscal year and with senior management throughout the year. Some businesses outsource their internal audit functions to third parties as well.

Tax accountants collect tax-related information for companies and report to taxation authorities at the federal, state, county and local levels. They also advise business leaders about the tax implications of corporate strategies. Some of their other responsibilities include developing tax strategies to defer or eliminate tax payments, creating tax data collection systems, preparing tax provision schedules and coordinating audits by taxation authorities. They also advise management about the impact of new laws on tax liabilities, along with identifying tax savings in acquisition situations.

Auditors are trained to review and verify that the accounting data provided by a company aligns with the financial activity that it reports it has completed over the course of a year. Auditors complete reports at the end of each audit that attest to the accuracy and clarity of the organization’s accounting data.

Auditors can be external or internal, depending on whether they audit their own company or others. External auditors are independent accounting professionals hired by companies that are being audited. They formulate their own opinions on whether a company’s financial statements are free of significant fraud or errors. When an organization is publicly traded, it relies on external auditors for their opinions on the effectiveness of internal controls and financial reporting.

Conversely, internal auditors are employed by the company they audit. This means that they are primarily providing audits related to internal finances and fiscal behavior. Since Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, internal auditors have also been responsible for assessing the effectiveness of business leaders in terms of internal controls over financial reporting. These professionals are not independent of the company for which they perform audits, but they usually do not report directly to management. This reduces the risk of providing biased assessments.

Management accountants, also known as corporate accountants, work for one company. They analyze financial information and use the conclusions to strategically plan for growth. Management accountants prepare budgets, evaluate performance and provide asset management. Accountants in this role are also required to prepare financial reports specifically for the executive team. Essentially, these professionals handle all the financial matters involved in a business. This makes them a vital part of the overall business strategy. Unlike tax accountants, management accounting roles focus more on cost accounting, financial planning and management issues. Depending on the needs of the company, management accountants also perform budgeting and the managing of assets to help determine compensation and benefits packages for employees.

The CPA Exam

For many accounting careers, the starting point is sitting for the CPA exam. This test is designed to protect public interest by ensuring that only qualified individuals are licensed as U.S. certified public accountants. The CPA exam is the only licensing qualification in the accounting industry. Requirements for taking the CPA exam vary from state to state. Each state has its own board of accountancy that is responsible for licensing the CPAs who practice in that state. These boards issue the rules that govern what an individual must do in order to become a licensed CPA. Find a state’s requirements here.

According to, state boards usually require the following:

  • A total of 150 credits from a college or university whose accreditation is accepted by the state
  • A minimum of a bachelor’s degree
  • A specified number of accounting courses
  • A specified number of business courses

As a general rule, graduates should sit for the CPA exam as soon as they meet their state’s requirements. Because the test is based on academics, recollection of course material is considered far more valuable than on-the-job experience.

After passing the CPA exam but before the license is issued, applicants must also fulfill an ethics requirement in some states, such as completion of an ethics course or exam. They then apply for a CPA license through their state’s board of accountancy or designated licensing agency. In some states, CPA licenses must be renewed annually or biannually.

Accounting Degree Programs at Russell Sage Online

A successful accounting career begins with the right education. The Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Russell Sage Online is accredited by the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education. This undergraduate program prepares students for professional accounting careers in auditing, fiscal analysis, accountancy and more. With a curriculum based in accounting principles, economics, financial management and other topics, the program provides real-world skills that students can directly apply to the workplace. Electives are built into coursework so that students can specialize their degree for their future career goals.

To meet the coursework requirements for the CPA exam, students can enroll in one of the graduate degrees from Russell Sage Online, such as the Master of Business Administration or Master of Science in Organizational Management. These programs provide advanced education for continued career success.

To learn more about these degree programs, visit the online campus.

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