Your Step-by-Step Guide on How to Become an Accountant

 accountant working on laptop checking numbers on printed chart

Rarely will you come across a large, successfully run business that hasn’t invested in the necessity that is an accountant. Touted as “the language of business,” accounting is a big part of what makes the business world go ‘round. Small corporations and booming enterprises alike need accountants to ensure their finances are in good shape.

From managerial accounting and financial reporting to payroll and bookkeeping, accountants are the ones who give organizations and businesses the ability to pay their employees, balance dues, stay up to date on recent laws and tax changes, as well as help guide major business decisions.

If you’ve always been someone who loves numbers, possesses impeccable attention-to-detail and always has a perfectly-balanced checkbook, then a career in accounting might be up your alley. With a higher-than-average salary and the security of a stable career, it’s a great line of work that comes with a healthy dose of professionalism and responsibility.1

But how do you get from point A to point B? We know you appreciate having all of the details upfront, so we did the research for you. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to become an accountant.

6 straight-forward steps to becoming an accountant

1. Find a program that suits you

As you consider the type of program to pursue, consider what type of degree you want—an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree—and then take into account the type of specialty you’re interested in, if any, after you graduate. There’s nothing saying you can’t complete your degree or further your education at a multiple schools, but it’s important to look toward the future so you can streamline your studies if possible.

You should also consider what type of modality suits you best. Are you looking for an online program or would you prefer being on campus? Some blended programs offer the best of both worlds. Certain colleges even have self-paced options that allow you to earn your degree your way. Either way, it’s important to find the best option for you.

2. Choose a degree

Most employers require their accountants to have at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 185,000 accounting jobs posted over the past year.2 The data revealed that 99 percent of employers are looking for candidates with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Some colleges and universities offer specialized programs, such as a bachelor’s degree in information technology auditing. As you choose a degree, consider if you want a specialized program or if you’d rather wait to pursue credentials after you graduate. The data is pretty clear that you’ll need a degree to get started, so if you’re unsure on a specialty, enroll in a general accounting program and make that decision later.

3. Determine what type of accountant you’d like to be

There are a few different types of accounting credentials you can pursue once you’ve earned your degree. They all require undergoing rigorous certification exams, but in the end, the payoff is worth it. Choosing a direction really depends on what you want out of a job and how much education and experience you’re willing to obtain before you’re certified.

Most aspiring accountants find themselves contemplating between becoming a public accountant or a private accountant. There are pros and cons to both, but it really comes down to your personal preferences and career goals.

Public accountants work with a variety of clients to prepare financial documents, such as taxes. Private accountants work for a specific organization, preparing and analyzing reports for internal executives. The difference may seem simple, but there is a pretty dramatic difference in work environments. So it’s important to decide which option you prefer. (Check out this article to help make your decision!)

4. Get through school and gain some experience

This is the part where you get to buckle down and learn! You’ll be learning best practices and industry requirements from passionate professors, and while the homework may seem daunting at times, it’s all preparing you for a successful future in the accounting world.

It’s also a good idea to consider pursuing an internship or externship while in school. While some programs may not require them, it’s never a bad thing to gather some real-world experience. There are also entry-level positions in accounts payable/receivable or tax preparation that may be available to you as your work your way through school. Any of these opportunities will help your accounting resume stand out to future employers!

5. Pass certification exams

The accounting certification exams will require you to have a deep understanding of accounting practices, as well as practical work experience. Yes, these tests can be challenging and meticulous, but they also prepare you for accounting work and ensure that you’re qualified for certification.

The CPA certification, in particular, consists of four exams. Studying for these tests usually requires months of hitting the books, memorizing terms and learning the ropes of the accounting world. On the bright side, there’s a multitude of resources, tutorials, and sample tests that can help prepare you for the exams.

6. Land a job

Once you’ve earned your degree and have a certification under your belt, you’re ready to start working! The good news is that the BLS predicts accounting jobs will grow at the faster-than-average rate of 11 percent through 2024. This means there is ample opportunity for qualified accounting candidates.

First things first

Now that you know all the ins and outs of how to become an accountant, you can make a calculated decision on if this career path is right for you! The demand for accounting professionals is only rising, and if you’re passionate about the field, you’re a necessary commodity for a host of organizations.

As mentioned above, earning an accounting degree is pretty much an essential piece of the puzzle. Learn more about the advantages in our article: Is an Accounting Degree Worth it or Worthless?


1Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary. (analysis of 185,804 accounting job postings, Aug. 01, 2015 – Jul. 31, 2016)

Lauren Elrick

Lauren is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys helping current and potential students choose the path that helps them achieve their educational goals.

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