Our guide on “how to become an accountant” provides a step by step process for becoming an accountant. Use this as you’re starting to think about accounting school and a future in the accounting field.
Understand the various accounting career paths
The term “accountant” can include everything from bookkeepers to Chief Financial Officers. If you want to become an accountant, it’s best to start with an idea of how all of these career paths relate. It will give you much greater focus as you start applying for accounting schools. Take a look at our career guide to get a head start on understanding these roles. Alternatively, use resources like Robert Half to see what accounting roles are in demand.
Find an accounting school that suits you
To become an accountant, you need to get technical training from an accredited institution. This generally means going to a college or university. Programs can be studied online or in-person, and you will generally attend classes for 2 – 5 years. The shorter degrees (e.g., Associate’s Degrees) can give you an opportunity to start your career as a bookkeeper or similar entry level positions. To become a full accountant, you should target a longer 4-5 year program that gives you a full Bachelor’s of Accounting or a Master’s in Accounting. Alternatively, a Graduate Certificate in Accounting is best for someone who has already done another degree. You can start your accounting school search here or look at resources like AACSB to find accredited schools.
Do an internship to get accounting experience
Most people who become an accountant do an internship while at university or college. These internships are an organized part of your accounting education. Your school will help you find the right internship for you. The experience of an internship allows you to “test the water” for a few months and make sure you enjoy accounting. Some people will go to traditional accounting firms, such as Deloitte or PwC. Other people will prefer to try internships for private companies or less traditional jobs. Whatever you decide, many people report that their internship was one of the most rewarding things they did at school.
Take the CPA exam (if you want)
For many people, becoming an accountant includes passing the Certified Public Accountant’s (CPA) exam. This is required for many public accounting functions (like being an auditor). However, even if you don’t want a job that needs a CPA, passing the exam makes you more attractive to many employers.
In most states, taking the CPA exam requires 150 college units. Bachelor’s of Accounting typically only include 120 units. To get to 150 units, many students end up completing a Master’s of Accountancy. Your school will provide guidance and support to help you complete the CPA, and many schools pride themselves on their students’ CPA pass rates. If you don’t want to go through with the exam – don’t worry. There are still lots of fantastic accounting opportunities for people without a CPA license. For more information on CPAs, visit the American Institute of CPAs FAQ.
Find your first accounting job
To become an accountant ultimately means finding an accounting job! The majority of accounting graduates will find their first job through their university or college program. Many new accounting students will start in a public accounting firm to practice the fundamentals for a few years. However, don’t ignore the potential to learn in traditional companies. Working for a regular company in an internal accounting group can help you become an accountant with both technical and industry knowledge, which is very valuable.
The type of job you look for will depend on the degree you’ve completed. If you did a shorter Associate’s Degree in Accounting, you will look for bookkeeping or accounting clerk positions. If you wanted to become an accountant at a big public firm, then you probably completed your Master’s in Accounting and your CPA. You can use resources like our Graduate Salary Guide or the Bureau of Labor and Statistics to better understand the pay for these jobs.
Finally, if your college or university has not given you a head start in the job search, use sites like Rocket Grad or Accounting Fly. They provide great search options specific to the accounting industry to find your first position!