How to Become an Accountant

How to Become an Accountant

If you’re drawn to numbers and have an analytical mindset, a career as an accountant might be the perfect fit for you. Accountants play a crucial role in businesses and organizations of all sizes, ensuring that accurate financial records are generated and that taxes are prepared and filed properly. As a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), you’d have the opportunity to work with a wide range of clients, from individuals to large corporations, and provide them with the financial information they need to make informed decisions.

Before you can become an accountant, there are a few steps you’ll need to take. First, you’ll want to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. This will provide you with the foundation of knowledge and skills you’ll need to succeed in this profession. Once you’ve completed your undergraduate education, you can choose between two routes: you could either begin working in an entry-level accounting position to gain hands-on experience, or you could continue your education by pursuing a master’s degree in accounting or a related area.

If you decide to gain work experience first, you’ll likely start out as an accounting clerk or a bookkeeper. These roles will give you the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of accounting while working under the guidance of experienced professionals. As you gain more experience and demonstrate your skills, you’ll have the opportunity to take on more responsibilities and move up in your career.

On the other hand, if you choose to pursue a master’s degree, you’ll dive deeper into the world of accounting and gain a more in-depth understanding of complex financial topics. This advanced degree can open up doors to higher-level positions and may allow you to specialize in a specific area of accounting, such as auditing or tax preparation.

Once you’ve completed your education, there are still a few more steps you’ll need to take before you can become a fully licensed accountant. The most important step is to pass the CPA exam. This exam is administered by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and consists of four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). Each section of the exam must be passed with a score of 75 or higher.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Accountant

Are you interested in becoming an accountant? If so, there are several steps you need to take in order to pursue a career in this field. Below, we will outline the necessary education, skills, and professional requirements to become an accountant.

Step 1: Get the Right Education

In order to become an accountant, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. This degree will provide you with the foundational knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the profession. Look for accredited programs that offer courses in subjects such as financial accounting, managerial accounting, taxation, auditing, and business law.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

While a degree is important, having practical experience is also crucial for becoming an accountant. Consider applying for internships or entry-level positions at accounting firms, businesses, or government agencies. These opportunities will give you valuable insight into the day-to-day responsibilities of an accountant and allow you to gain experience working with clients and financial data.

Step 3: Prepare for the CPA Exam

If you want to become a certified public accountant (CPA), you must pass the Uniform CPA Exam. This exam is a comprehensive test that includes multiple sections covering different areas of accounting. To prepare for the exam, you can take CPA review courses or use self-study materials. Make sure to check the specific requirements and guidelines set by your state’s board of accountancy.

Step 4: Meet Additional Requirements

In addition to passing the CPA Exam, some states have additional requirements that aspiring accountants must meet in order to become licensed. These requirements may include gaining a certain number of years of work experience, completing additional education or coursework, or participating in continuing professional education. It is important to research and understand the specific requirements in the state where you plan to practice as an accountant.

Step 5: Consider Advanced Degrees or Certifications

In summary, becoming an accountant requires a bachelor’s degree in accounting, gaining work experience, passing the CPA Exam, meeting additional state requirements, and potentially earning advanced degrees or certifications. By following these steps, you can start your journey towards a successful career in accounting.

Accounting Degrees and Career Paths

When it comes to pursuing a career in accounting, there are various routes you can take depending on your interests and goals. In this section, we will explore different types of accounting degrees as well as potential career paths.

1. Entry-Level Accounting Careers

One of the most common paths for individuals looking to enter the accounting profession is to obtain an associate’s degree in accounting or a related field. Associate degree programs typically take around two years to complete and provide students with a solid foundation in basic accounting principles and skills. With an associate degree, you can apply for entry-level positions such as bookkeeper, accounting clerk, or payroll assistant.

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2. Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

If you are looking for more in-depth knowledge and better career prospects, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting is the way to go. A bachelor’s degree program typically takes four years to complete and offers a comprehensive curriculum covering various accounting subjects. With a bachelor’s degree, you can find job opportunities as a staff accountant, financial analyst, or budget analyst, among others.

In addition to the traditional bachelor’s degree in accounting, some universities also offer specialized accounting programs. For example, Northeastern University offers a program in accounting and business analytics, which focuses on using data analytics to inform financial decision-making.

3. Master’s Degree in Accounting

A master’s degree in accounting is a step further in your education and can open doors to more advanced career opportunities. With a master’s degree, you can find job roles such as tax accountant, forensic accountant, or internal auditor. In addition to advanced coursework, many master’s programs also provide opportunities for internships, which can give you hands-on experience in the field.

4. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

If you aspire to become a certified public accountant (CPA), you must meet specific education and experience requirements. While the exact requirements vary by state, they generally involve completing 150 credit hours of education, passing the CPA exam, and gaining relevant work experience. CPA accreditation allows you to work in public accounting, providing services such as auditing and preparing financial statements for clients.

5. Other Accounting Certificates

In addition to pursuing a degree, there are alternative routes to consider. Some professionals choose to earn certificates in specialized areas of accounting, such as Certified Management Accountant (CMA) or Certified Internal Auditor (CIA). These certifications can enhance your skills and provide you with a competitive advantage in the job market.

Remember that different accounting career paths come with different responsibilities and salary expectations. For example, a financial accountant focuses on managing and analyzing financial data, while a tax accountant specializes in tax planning and compliance. It is always a good idea to do some research and compare the different types of accountants to find the right fit for you.

Public Finance Accountant

A public finance accountant is a specialized type of accountant who works in the public sector, specifically with government agencies and organizations. This career path requires a master’s degree in accounting or a related field, although some positions may accept a bachelor’s degree with additional relevant experience.

The responsibilities of a public finance accountant can vary depending on the specific role and organization, but generally involve managing and analyzing financial statements, budgeting, conducting audits, and ensuring compliance with government regulations. Public finance accountants often work directly with government authorities and may have direct involvement in the budgeting and financial planning for their respective jurisdiction.

In terms of career progression, public finance accountants can advance to more senior positions or move into leadership roles within government agencies. Some may also choose to work for national or state-level organizations that specialize in public finance. Furthering your education or obtaining additional certifications can also enhance career opportunities.

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The average salary for public finance accountants can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and the size of the organization. According to the latest data, the median annual salary for a financial accountant in the public sector in the United States is around $64,000, although salaries can range from $45,000 to $95,000 or more.

In summary, becoming a public finance accountant requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting, passing the CPA exam, and obtaining relevant experience. The path to success in this field involves gaining in-depth knowledge of financial accounting and government regulations, as well as developing strong analytical and communication skills. If you’re interested in working in the public sector and want a career that combines finance, accounting, and public service, becoming a public finance accountant may be the right choice for you.


What degree do I need to become an accountant?

To become an accountant, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Some employers may also require a master’s degree in accounting or a related area.

What are the career paths available for accountants?

There are several career paths available for accountants. Some common options include working in public accounting firms, government agencies, corporations, or as self-employed accountants. Accountants can also specialize in areas such as tax accounting, audit accounting, or managerial accounting.

What are the responsibilities of an accountant?

The responsibilities of an accountant can vary depending on their job position and the industry they work in. Generally, accountants are responsible for preparing and maintaining financial records, ensuring accuracy and compliance with regulations, analyzing financial data, and providing financial reports to stakeholders. They may also provide tax planning and filing services, participate in audits, and offer financial advice to clients or organizations.

Can I become an accountant without a degree?

While it is possible to become an accountant without a degree, it is more common and advantageous to have a formal education in accounting. Many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting, as it provides a strong foundation of knowledge and skills required for the profession. However, some individuals may choose to pursue professional certifications or gain relevant work experience to compensate for the lack of a degree.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.