Is an Accounting Degree Worth It?

Graduate receiving accounting degree

The average American has about 12 jobs throughout their career, with professionals career-pivoting at an average age of 39 years old. We can embrace--and even expect--our interests, needs and career goals to change throughout our working lives. Still, change is hard and you might be asking yourself, “is an accounting degree worth it?”

Before you dive in, hear from Becker National Instructor, Michelle Moshe, talk about what you can do with an accounting degree in the video below. 



Accounting degree requirements

An accounting degree is available both as a 2-year associate degree and a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Both programs teach you what an accountant does and the fundamentals of accounting and business, but the differences between the two may sway you in one direction over the other.

Choosing a bachelor’s degree in accounting

A bachelor’s degree in accounting requires about 120 credits to graduate and covers topics such as:

  • Taxation
  • Different types of accounting, such as cost, managerial and project accounting
  • Economics
  • Auditing
  • Financial theory
  • Business ethics

What often attracts students and career changers to pursue a bachelor's degree are the competitive pay, diverse career paths and demand for accountants in the workforce. If you're worried about the cost, consider this: in 2021, the median salary for accountants and auditors was $77,250 per year2--51 percent higher than the median yearly salary of $45,760 for all other occupations.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics also expects job growth to rise 6 percent through 20312, which means companies will need accountants to help their businesses grow. 

Once you complete your bachelor's degree in accounting, you can choose opportunities to uplevel your expertise or diversify your experience through:

  • Certifications, such as certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), or Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
  • Certified Public Accountant Licensure (CPA)
  • Advanced degrees (Master’s, MBA, PhD)

These additional qualifications can help you land more senior, alternative, niche or higher-paying roles, including:

  • Forensic accountant
  • Chartered accountant
  • Investment accountant
  • Executive leadership in the finance department>
  • Budget analyst
  • Tax examiner
  • Finance manager
  • Financial planner

Choosing an associate degree in accounting

An associate degree takes half the time of a bachelor's program to finish, so it's less expensive and the curriculum is condensed, too. Classes often include: 

  • Principles of financial accounting
  • Federal taxes
  • Accounting information systems
  • Payroll accounting

You only need about 60 credits to graduate, so these programs often don't provide the depth and breadth of concepts that a 4-year degree does. An associate degree could be a good match for your needs if you have greater time and cost complexities to consider, or if you'd rather work straight after your program.

An associate degree in accounting can open the door for careers like: 

  • Accounting clerk
  • Accounts payable/accounts receivable clerk
  • Billing specialist
  • Bookkeeper
  • Account resolution specialist

In 2021, the median salary for accounting, bookkeeping, and auditing was $45,560 per year2, which is on par with the median salary for all occupations in the U.S., but when compared to the median annual salary for accountants with a bachelor's degree, it's about $32,000 less. 

Becoming an accountant: Career options

So, what can you do with an accounting degree? Let's look at some of the more common paths. 

Large accounting firm

Working for a large public accounting firm is a popular choice among recent graduates. You'll frequently face new challenges and work with a variety of clients and industries in a fast-paced environment, which can be both exciting and stressful. 

Being a part of a well-oiled machine also means that you benefit from established processes and operations like HR, business development, and training programs developed to maximize your experience. Should you end up employed at a well-known firm (e.g. Big 4), the name recognition boosts your job search efforts once you're ready to move to a new company. 


Being an in-house typically means a slower pace, better hours and predictability since you're working on the company's financial records instead of adapting to your clients' changing needs. You get to intimately understand company's financial obstacles and opportunities, which helps you become a trusted advisor to the cross-functional partners who rely on your knowledge and recommendations. But because your company is your only client, you may find yourself craving more work variability over time. 


You might consider starting your own accounting practice if you have an entrepreneurial drive and thrive in ambiguity. As your own boss, you decide how to run your business and what clients to take on, which can feel empowering. But this also means you need to wear the many hats that larger firms delegate to other departments. Without colleagues to lean on, you might be challenged--or energized--by having to figure it all out on your own.

Working for yourself requires self-motivation and grit because your success relies on you. You’ll make mistakes that’ll make you resilient and experience setbacks that will help you appreciate small wins.

Max out your potential

If accounting is often called "the language of business," then mastering it will only improve your ability to provide consultation that will set you apart from the crowd. Many people choose to take the next step and become a certified public accountant (CPA) to achieve the credibility, authority and expertise that maximize career opportunities, scope of work and earning potential.

CPA licensure

To earn CPA licensure, an accounting professional must pass the CPA Exam and meet their state’s CPA licensing requirements

Although both CPAs and non-CPA accountants can work in public and private sectors, only CPAs can prepare audited financial statements and engage with government agencies--like the SEC and IRS--on behalf of public companies.

Is becoming a CPA worth it?

Should you take the next step after earning your accounting degree to get your CPA license Let’s look at the cost/benefit:

  • Total CPA Exam investment (including the CPA exam review course and exam fees) = $4,000
  • CPA median salary = $77,000
  • Non-CPA median salary = $45,000

While the initial investment to become a CPA looks high, you’ll most likely see a greater ROI.

Learn how to thrive in your accounting career!

If you're ready to start your accounting career, we know you have questions. Not just about Excel or calculations, but how to make a good impression or what to do if you make a mistake. Don't worry, Becker asked hundreds of top accountants and CPAs what they wish they knew and tips to succeed and we put it all together in one course: Survive and Thrive to Start Your Accounting Career




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