Is an Accounting Degree Worth It Or Worthless?
It takes dedication and hard work to become an accountant. You’ll invest a significant amount of time and money taking classes, earning certification and searching for a job. So, before you commit to all of it, you need to know: Is an Accounting degree worth it in the end?
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. However, we can provide you with as much relevant information as possible for you to make the determination for yourself.
We combined real-time job analysis data and firsthand knowledge from seasoned accountants to give you a better idea of whether or not enrolling in an accounting program makes sense for you. Keep reading to get some answers to your questions and determine whether an accounting degree is worth it or worthless.
How much do accountants make?
The estimated salary is probably the biggest factor in this question. After all, you’re a numbers person—you’re not about to embark on a new career without knowing that your earning potential matches your needs.
Of course, every employer is different—and factors like location, experience and even the strength of the economy can all impact your accountant salary. But, looking at averages can at least give you a ballpark figure.
The median annual salary for accountants in 2017 was $69,350, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1 If you look a little closer into industries, accountants who worked in the finance sector brought home a median annual wage of $74,140 while their counterparts working in the government made $67,100.
If you choose to pursue credentials like the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification or decide to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), your earning potential can be even higher. A salary survey conducted by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) suggests that accountants who earn a CMA or CPA make substantially more than accountants without this certification.2
What jobs are available to accounting graduates?
If you’re thinking ... accountant—spot on! But an Accounting degree can set you up for a much wider variety of careers and job titles.
Out of 1,123,785 online job postings from the last year that sought professionals with Accounting degrees, these were some of the most common job titles:3
- Financial analyst
- Financial advisor
- Accounting manager
- Tax professional
- Payroll specialist
- Loan officer
- Compliance analyst
As you can see, many of these careers are heavy in understanding numbers, but beyond that there are tons of differences between them. Job titles like loan officer or financial advisor often involve lots of interpersonal interaction and the ability to communicate well and understand people.
Other positions like bookkeeper and payroll specialist could be fairly solitary, putting you in regular contact with only a few people or teams. Working as a compliance analyst or financial analyst might require skills in managing people and evaluating existing methods for improvement. In contrast, tax professionals or accountants often have to figure out how to work the best outcome from within a complex system of rules and regulations.
Though accounting may seem like a very specific skill, this field of study prepares you well for all sorts of careers. This can be reassuring if you aren’t sure you are passionate about accounting. For Naresh Vissa, founder and CEO of Krish Media & Marketing, accounting courses were anything but fun. “But I stuck with accounting because I wanted my money’s worth in college, and because I knew down the road, the coursework and experience would help me in some way.”
“I was right,” Vissa says, adding that having accounting on his resume led to important opportunities. “And as a business owner, I use accounting skills to keep my books up to date every month. It’s very easy communicating with my accountant as well.”
How stable is an accounting career?
Another important factor to consider before committing to an Accounting degree is the overall health of the field and your job prospects within it. Fortunately, accounting is fairly steady. Jobs for accountants are expected to grow by 10 percent through 2026, according to the BLS.1 This slightly outpaces the national average for all occupations, suggesting an optimistic future for aspiring accountants.
This is in part because of globalization, a growing economy, and a complex tax and regulatory environment create consistent demand for accountants. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” This is a positive truism for accountants. Barring some disaster scenario, people and businesses will have taxes to pay every year, financial decisions to make and businesses to keep running—which should bode well for the stability of the field.
What can accountants do to advance in their careers?
Most people don’t think about the career ceiling when they are starting their journey—but it’s an important factor to consider when you are wondering whether an Accounting degree is worth it.
After all, you don’t want to break into the field and find out there’s no room to earn more money, change positions or get promoted. Thankfully, the accounting field has several areas you can branch out into or specialize in as you grow professionally.
Management is always a direction to consider in accounting, and there are many different kinds of accountants out there, allowing lots of room if you want to change your situation. Check out our article, “9 Types of Accountants Who Do More Than Just Taxes” for a better idea of the options.
“An Accounting degree can lead to great things. For me, it was a stepping stone to becoming CFO,” says Heidi Pozzo, founder of Pozzo Consulting. “Accounting provides a solid understanding of how the activities of business translate into financial results.” Pozzo explains that many business owners do not sufficiently understand their financial statements. Having accounting as a foundation sets you up to understand some of the most complicated and confusing aspects of running a business.
How long does it take to earn an Accounting degree?
This can be an important ROI factor as well. You want to know as much as you can about how much time and money you need to invest to reach a career as an accountant.
While there are certainly accounting-related positions available to those with a certificate or Associate’s degree, the BLS reports that most accountant positions require at least a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting or a related field.1 Many Bachelor’s degree programs will take four years to complete—though if you already have existing college credits or an Associate’s degree, you might be able to satisfy general education requirements and complete your degree faster.4
But it’s also possible to “double down” on the time you spend in education—building a network and gaining internship opportunities to boost your resume right out of the gate. The BLS notes that many colleges help students gain practical experience through internships with public accounting or business firms. These built-in opportunities can be a great way to step into the accounting world.
So, is an Accounting degree worth it?
As you can see, an Accounting degree can put you on track to a steady, well-paying career. But don’t expect it to be a walk in the park. You’ll need to first earn your degree, and in the case of most accountants, complete a rigorous certification process to be in contention for some of the more prestigious accounting or auditing jobs.
So, is an accounting degree worth it for you? We can’t answer that question for you. But the information above should give you a much better idea. If you’re up for the challenge and love working with numbers, earning an accounting degree is undoubtedly a good option.
Still looking for more information? Check out our article, “10 Must-Know Pros & Cons of an Accounting Career.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [information accessed January 2, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary 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.
2Institute of Management Accountants, The Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business, IMA’s 2018 U.S. Salary Survey, [information accessed January 3, 2019] https://www.imanet.org/career-resources/salary-information
3Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 284,836 accounting job postings, Nov. 01, 2017 - Oct. 31, 2018.)
4 Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in Nov. 2013. It has since been updated to reflect data relevant to 2015.