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5 Accounting Career Paths for Accounting Majors

Written by: Wilson College   •  Jan 18, 2024
An accountant sitting at a desk and working on a computer.

5 Accounting Career Paths for Accounting Majors

Accounting is a stable and rewarding profession; it also offers individuals an opportunity to have a well-rounded life. When asked about balancing their professional and personal lives, 90% of accountants surveyed felt they had achieved a positive balance between their careers and their lives outside of work, according to a 2023 report by accounting practice management software firm Canopy. 

People with expertise in accounting can choose from an array of accounting career paths. Anyone who is considering enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree program should learn about the various career paths in accounting so they can pursue a career that aligns with their preferences.

The Fields in Which Accountants Work

Organizations of many kinds benefit from the services that accountants provide. This means that accountants have the opportunity to launch their careers in any of a variety of fields. Following are some examples.

Public Accounting

Public accounting firms are hired by multiple clients to perform work such as preparing their financial statements and tax forms. Public accounting firms range in size from small one-person accounting practices to large international firms.

Corporate Accounting

Corporate accountants perform a variety of types of accounting work for the companies that employ them. For instance, they maintain the company’s financial records, monitor and report on its cash flow, and create budgets.

Government Accounting

Accountants working in the public sector handle duties in areas such as preparing budgets, investigating financial crimes, and maintaining financial accounts in accordance with requirements that are unique to government agencies.

Auditing

Auditing is an accounting career path in which individuals use their expertise to provide assurances about an organization’s activities. For example, auditing can involve determining whether an organization is following financial laws and accounting standards and has complied with regulations specific to their industry.

Nonprofit Accounting

Accountants who work for nonprofit organizations ensure that the organizations comply with tax requirements regarding their nonprofit status, account for donations and grants, and make the most of their sometimes limited funds.

5 Examples of Accounting Career Paths

Looking into specific accounting careers paths can help aspiring accountants identify the types of positions for which they could be suited. Examples of those careers are highlighted below.

1. Accountant

Accountants’ responsibilities include tracking, analyzing, and reporting on an organization’s finances. They record financial transactions, reconcile financial accounts, and prepare financial reports. Accountants also analyze the organization’s financial status in areas such as cash flow and report the results of their analysis to others in the organization. Making recommendations about various options related to accounting also can be within an accountant’s responsibilities.

Accountants had a median annual salary of $78,000 as of May 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

2. Forensic Accountant

Forensic accountants investigate financial impropriety. They comb through financial records and identify potential acts of fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, or money laundering. Forensic accountants also use their expertise to resolve disputes about financial valuations or financial damages. Their work can be critical in litigation involving financial matters.

According to the compensation website Payscale, forensic accountants had a median annual salary of about $74,700 as of November 2023.

3. Internal or External Auditor

Internal auditors are employees of the organizations at which they conduct auditing work. Their responsibilities include identifying ways to strengthen operations, assessing internal financial controls, and managing risk. Internal auditors typically report directly to their organization’s board.

External auditors are independent of the organizations where they perform auditing work. Their responsibilities include expressing formal opinions on an organization’s financial statements and determining whether the organization is in compliance with accounting principles. 

The BLS reported that auditors had a median annual salary of $78,000 as of May 2022.

4. Financial Analyst

For individuals who may be weighing accounting vs. finance for a career, becoming a financial analyst could be a good way to apply accounting expertise to financial operations. Working as a financial analyst for an organization involves identifying trends in its financial data, assessing the meaning of financial ratios in its financial reports, and calculating important measures of its performance such as its earnings per share. The work that financial analysts conduct can be vital to the organization’s decision-making.

As of May 2022, the median annual salary for financial analysts was $96,220, according to the BLS.

5. Controller

After working in accounting for at least five years, individuals interested in advancing further on their accounting career path can pursue higher level positions such as that of controller. The role of a controller is to oversee all of the functions within an organization’s financial operations. Controllers also can oversee the organization’s regulatory compliance, financial planning, and risk management.

The BLS reported that financial managers such as controllers had a median annual salary of $139,790 as of May 2022.

Skills That Can Lead to Accounting Career Success

Regardless of the specific career path in accounting that an individual pursues, building skills in the following areas can help them achieve success in the field.

  • Technical accounting skills. Anyone who works in accounting needs to have sound technical skills in areas such as financial reporting, financial record-keeping, and compliance with accounting principles.

  • Skills in automated systems. Accountants must have a good understanding of the technology and accounting systems they use to perform their work. They also should be well versed in using accounting software to create spreadsheets and make financial projections.

  • Time management skills. Accountants can have multiple responsibilities, so they need to be able to manage their time efficiently. Managing their time well also helps accountants meet their due dates for the completion of certain tasks, such as the preparation of financial statements or tax returns.

  • Communication skills. Strong oral and written communication skills can help accountants explain their work and its significance to others in an organization. Good communication skills also are vital when accountants coordinate with other departments to obtain or share information. 

  • Attention to detail. Paying attention to details is a key component of accountants’ work. For example, accountants must be able to detect errors, discrepancies, or inconsistencies in financial information.

The Wide Variety of Potential Careers Makes Accounting an Attractive Field

Individuals have many options when it comes to choosing the accounting career path that best suits their goals and interests. Every organization that needs to account for its finances can benefit from the expertise that accountants have to offer.

Aspiring accountants can explore Wilson College Online’s Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree program to learn how it can help them pursue their goals. With coursework that provides the accounting skills and knowledge needed in the modern business world, the program helps students set themselves up for a rewarding career. Start on your path to an accounting career today.

Sources:

Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, Accounting for a Cause

Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, Career Options

Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, Positions in Public Accounting

Canopy, “2023 Accounting Practice Management Survey”

Controllers Council, Controller Job Descriptions, Types, and Salary Ranges

Corporate Finance Institute, “Forensic Accounting”

Corporate Finance Institute, “What Does a Financial Analyst Do?”

Indeed, “9 Types of Government Accounting Jobs (Plus Salaries and Duties)”

Indeed, “Learn About Being an Accountant”

Indeed, “What Does an Auditor Do? A Complete Guide”

Indeed, “What Does a Corporate Accountant Do? (And How to Become One)”

The Institute of Internal Auditors, About the Profession Frequently Asked Questions

Payscale, Average Forensic Accountant Salary

TechJournal, “10 Hard Skills for Accountants Needs to Succeed in 2023—[Updated]”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accountants and Auditors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Financial Analysts

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Financial Managers

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