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What are the skills and educational requirements to become an accountant?

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I'm a sophomore in high school and I wish to become an accountant. I am in honors math classes and I quite enjoy math, I get exited once I finally solve a challenging problem. I had a project in 8th grade that involved taxes and I actually enjoyed it, that's how I got the idea that I want to be an accountant. I'm not exactly sure how to become an accountant. What are the skills and educational requirements to become an accountant? #accountant #accounting #math #college #business

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Nicholas’s Answer

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Hi David,
My advice to you would be to do some research on what you would like to as an accountant. Many of the larger accounting firms do both tax and auditing. While these are both done by accountants, they are very different. Going off of your tax project I am assuming you want to go in that direction, which leads to more questions such as: do you want to be doing taxes for local individuals or would you prefer to be involved in tax consulting and planning for large corporations? In many cases involving doing taxes for profit you will need to become a CPA (or an Enrolled Agent), which will involve educational requirements (150 credits in California, which is equal to roughly 5 years of college, but a lot of people are able to do it in 4 especially with AP credits) and passing 4 exams. I would find what it is that draws you towards accounting and try to find what you think the best fit would be. You can do a lot of research online, and if you are lucky your high school may even offer an introductory accounting class that teaches you about the wide variety within the field. Once you find the job you want it is about creating that path. Think what would put you in the right position to get to that job offer. As an example, in many cases the best way to get a job offer from a Big4 firm is through their internship programs. If you get in communication with recruiters from your dream job, they can often guide you through the recruiting process. If you keep breaking down the journey into small steps (For example: Identify the end goal, do well in school and extracurriculars to get into a college with a good program, then do well in your accounting program and be in contact with recruiters to land an internship, succeed in the internship to get a job offer) you can make a seemingly long climb much more manageable. Additionally, a huge benefit to studying accounting is the wide variety of the field if you do not like your original path there is a good chance of you being able to pivot to something else within the field.
Best of Luck
Nick

Nicholas recommends the following next steps:

  • Identify the job(s) that interest you. It does not need to be one thing set in stone, but something to guide you.
  • Find the programs that will set you up for this job and work hard to get in.
  • Find the recruiters (many students are afraid to go to job fairs until they are Seniors or Juniors when in reality even if you will not get a job offer in your first year it is still valuable to be in front of recruiters and to learn about the recruitment process.
  • Work hard to be the best candidate you can be for the internship or job you want.
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Genesis’s Answer

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Hi David,

Great question! I too found my career as an accountant for the love and enjoyment I have from working out math problems. Some skills that adhere to a good accountant are: organizational skills, analytical skills, good problem solving, and some sort of mathematical skill. To be quite honest, when I first got into accounting, I always believed there was so much more math involved, but soon coming to the realization is more of a analytical approach. Knowing the nature of accounts, is it a debit or a credit. Being able to determine what drives an account to increase and decrease, and what effects do positive and negative numbers have on accounts. Catching differences and variances and trying to make sense of them, etc. Math is definitely the base to accounting, but not as driven as you would think.

For educational requirements, all you really need is your undergraduate degree in Accounting, maybe even a specialization in Taxes if available. You also need 150 college credits to be able to sit and get your certification to become a CPA. I would also recommend trying to get as much as exposure as you can while learning. Many Big 4 accounting firms offer internships to college students where you can join them for a season. The plus side is you could do the internship each year while in school and most who do the internships will get a job offer for the firm which is amazing. For my experience, I got my undergraduate degree in Accounting, but because I did not have 150 credits when I graduated, I went ahead and got my Masters of Science degree in Accounting which then bumped me to the 150 credits I needed.

Hope this helps.

Good luck,

Genesis
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John’s Answer

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Hi David,

You remind me of myself years ago. I was always mathematically inclined and I loved problem-solving and puzzles, especially when they involved numbers. I think all of the people in this thread have provided a lot of great suggestions and insights, and I would just like to add my personal take on what the process was like for me.

At this point in your education, I would simply focus on doing well in high school and trying to get into a good college . This doesn't have to be Ivy League schools by any means, there are many great options out there. I would try to focus on schools with a strong business program and extracurricular opportunities to build a network of professional contacts. An organization like Beta Alpha Psi provides great opportunity for students to get first-hand experience with professionals of varied levels from accounting firms and businesses alike.

As far as education goes, an undergraduate degree in accounting is a tremendous first-step; however, a Masters in accounting and CPA license are two additional steps an accounting professional can take to further their knowledge base, and set them apart from others in the field. There is no magic path that everyone must follow though, it is very much up to what you want to do in the accounting world. I can honestly say that I didn't fully understand what my options were with an accounting degree until I was a sophomore in college, so I wouldn't personally worry too much about the specifics of a career path until you've taken a few classes on the subject.

In addition to the Accounting degree, I would also suggest pursuing a double major, or perhaps a minor, in information systems. The world of accounting has become increasingly geared towards digital solutions. Data transformation, analytics, and visualizations are incredibly valuable in any accounting role as it helps you to have a bigger picture of the problem in from of you, and enables you to communicate solutions to others in a much more telling way.

My last piece of advice would be to borrow the wisdom of those above you once you do get into college. Try and find a mentor, or someone who has gone through the education and recruiting process. It is different for everyone, and each school has it's own way of enabling students to succeed, it is all up to the students to take those opportunities available to them.
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Lindsey’s Answer

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Hi David! This is a great question! The path to becoming an accountant requires a college degree, sometimes a master's degree, and sitting for the CPA exam to become a licensed professional. There are also continuing education requirements even after earning your license.

I believe that securing an internship in accounting is the best way to determine if it is the right career path. Actually experiencing something can give you a very different perspective than people just telling you about it in a classroom. Given where you are in your education, I would suggest reaching out to local CPA firms to see if any of them would be willing to let you shadow so that you can gain a better understanding of what accountants do. There are many different facets of accounting including working for a private or public company or a public accounting firm, focus on financial accounting, tax or audit. One of the biggest factors in my decision making process was my ability to secure an internships in both tax and audit to help me make my decision.

I would also recommend that you be fluent in technology and data analytics tools. These are the building blocks for future accountants and it will benefit you greatly if you invest in learning these technologies and tools. Also, organization, communication and interpersonal skills are very important. Accountants are often juggling multiple responsibilities and have to interface with different stakeholders, so strong skills in these areas will set you apart from the crowd.

Best of Luck,

Lindsey
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Jamie’s Answer

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"Accounting is more on analysis, rather than math."
This is what one of my professors told me before that made me pursue accounting. It's good that you have an interest in problem solving, because that is one of the skills will really be helpful. Keep in mind though that there are many branches of accounting (one of which is taxation) that will require different skills and educational requirements.

Some basic skills that would be helpful are as follows:
- Good reading comprehension: problems in accounting are usually in paragraphs, or will be in financial statements; you also need to have an understanding on written memorandums and/or law (especially for tax)
- Keen eye on detail: there aren't a lot of formula to be applied in accounting problems, but you will need to be quick on searching for the important information and it could be tricky; if you will venture to audit (another branch you can pursue in accounting), this is highly required in inspecting documents
- Critical thinking/analysis: most accounting problems are situational and would require for you to think out of the box; even in taxation, there are already laws/guidance on how you should compute the taxes but on how and what will you apply matters

Educational requirements would be attending college majoring in accounting; certification as a CPA is highly encouraged career-wise.
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Barrett’s Answer

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Hi David,

Great question! There's a lot of ways to become an accountant, and there's also a lot of career opportunities to pursue in accounting. Since you're in honors math classes, it sounds like you're setting yourself up for continued success after high school.

1. I agree with all of Valerie's advice.
2. I'd also encourage you to work towards becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). The CPA shows your mastery of accounting, and can truly boost your career.
3. Build your network as your obtaining your college degree. There's a lot of ways to do this. You can get an internship with a Big 4 Accounting Firm (Externships are equally valuable too. Just think of them as a compressed internship that still offers an opportunity to show your work ethic, accounting prowess, and allows you to establish relationships with people in the industry.) You can also learn a lot about our field from doing corporate or government accounting internships. Entry level accounting jobs tend to be very competitive. Especially, in the Big 4, so I can't emphasize the importance of making connections with people in the places you're interested in working enough.
4. If possible, attend a CalCPA conference targeted for college accountants...or high school if you find one :)
5. Be a sponge...you like tax accounting today, but you might like forensic accounting tomorrow. There's so many career opportunities, so give yourself a chance to learn about all of them.
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Edward’s Answer

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Hi David,

A career in accounting is a great choice. Having math skills and enjoying problem solving are some of the more important qualities that make an exceptional accountant in addition to great organizational and communication skills. Although, I must admit as an accountant you don't really encounter complicated math problems. Also, technology is becoming more prevalent in the accounting industry, so having polished computer skills, especially in Excel are a huge plus.

Much like yourself, I excelled in math while I was in school and I was lucky enough that my high school offered an introduction to accounting course. After taking the course, I realized accounting came naturally to me and I chose to pursue a career in the field. I would recommend that you also take an introductory course to see if accounting is something you enjoy. These courses are offered at local community colleges which you can sign up for even while you're in high school, if you don't want to wait until after you graduate.

One of the educational requirements for becoming an accountant is to have a bachelor's degree. If your goal is to become a CPA, you will first need to complete your undergraduate degree, have at least 24 units in accounting courses, 24 units in business-related subjects, and a total of 150 semester units. I see that you live in Santa Clarita, CA which is great because you live very close to my alma mater California State University Northridge. CSUN was just ranked #14 in the Top 40 Best Accounting Schools in the United States. There are many other great schools in LA and across the country as well, so choose a school that has a top-tier accounting program and also a vast network. CSUN has an amazing network, and students can join organizations like the Accounting Association which hosts several events throughout the year like Meet the Firms where you get to network with professionals from dozens of firms that offer internships and career opportunities. It's very important to get involved in these organizations early on to get as much exposure with professionals and recruiters from different firms. I also highly recommend that you apply to several internship opportunities once you're a sophomore in college because you get a ton of great experience and you get to see what a career in public accounting is really like before you graduate. It's also one of the best ways to secure a full-time job offer even before you're done with your schooling.

I hope that was helpful and good luck on your path to becoming an accounting professional!

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Ari’s Answer

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Since you are young and have time I would recommend taking a couple of business courses in high school to make sure that that is something that you want to do. I personally took one marketing course and two accounting courses before going to college for accounting. I will be a senior in the fall and have taken courses in economics, finance, accounting, management, marketing, and communication. Take a statistics course in high school if you can because that is a class that you will need to take in college.
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Heidi’s Answer

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Hey David! For the education requirement, the first step is getting an undergraduate degree in accounting. I went to a large state school and I found this to be very helpful as the Big 4 accounting firms recruit heavily at these schools. It is also important to note that the CPA exam requires 150 credit hours. I didn't start out in accounting and wish I knew about this sooner because I ended up having to do an extra semester to finish up these credits. An undergrad degree typically requires 120 hours so 150 hours is roughly an extra year unless you take additional credits each semester and maybe a couple of classes over the summer.

Many schools also offer a master's program that takes 5 years so you will reach your 150 hour requirement and also receive a Master's in Accountancy. This is a great option if you don't plan on taking a heavy course load each semester and will be taking an extra year anyway. I personally did not get a master's and did not find it necessary to get an internship or job at a Big 4 firm but recruiting may work differently at different schools.
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Abbie’s Answer

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Hi David!

A college degree is required to be a professional accountant. You will also need to take the 4-part CPA exam if you want to become a licensed professional.

In my case, I pursued an undergraduate degree in Accounting and a one-year Master’s degree in Accounting to reach 150 college credits which is required to sit for the CPA exam.

I went into college not knowing what my major would be but since I knew I wanted to pursue something in Business, I applied to the Business school. There are many general accounting classes you will be required to take which can help you determine the path you want to pursue: Tax or Audit. My accounting teachers were always happy to help when I had questions about career choices.

I was able to apply my knowledge from school and the CPA exam when starting my career in public accounting but on the job learning has been most beneficial for me!

Hope this helps :)
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Valerie’s Answer

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There are many pathways to become an account. Typically, people will go to college and most colleges have a major in accounting that tells you what classes to take in order to learn the most about accounting. Then you will want to try to find an internship during your college summers to see how you like the actual working field of accounting. Once you graduate from college, you can apply for a job or apply for your master's in accounting (this is in graduate school after college, and is typically around 2 years.) Some companies you will want to look at are known as the big 4 ( Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst and Young, and KPMG).

You want to be an organized person, good with your time management, good at communicating-- if you are not you can take public speaking courses, patient and a good leader.

Best of luck, I am sure you will do great.
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Jacqueline’s Answer

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Hi David, great question! I wish I'd had someone to answer my questions at your age! First, you need an accounting degree. Accounting has so many different branches you can purse but essentially you can choose between public accounting (tax services or auditing companies), or working for a company and performing bookkeeping and internal accounting functions (i.e. industry). A lot of people (including myself) first choose to go into public accounting as it is typically easier to make the transition from public accounting to industry. If you do pursue a career in public accounting, you'll eventually be required to obtain a Certified Public Accountant ("CPA") certification. This certification consists of passing a four part exam and obtaining a set number of hours working in the public accounting field.

Anyway, hope this helps get you started!
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Cara’s Answer

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Great question!

Typical skills of an accountant include analytical thinking, organization, time management, and communication. In more recent years, these skills have also expanded into technology beyond excel to make our jobs and work more efficient.

Educational requirements can vary based on your desired job and state. Typically accountants have a college degree with a focus / major in accounting. To be a more well rounded accountant, I would also recommend exploring classed and education in other business fields outside of accounting (i.e., marketing, economics, finance, entrepreneurship, etc.). If you plan to become a licensed CPA, you will also need to understand the requirements in your state to sit for the CPA exam and obtain your CPA license. Many of the Big 4 (PwC, KPMG, EY, Deloitte) look for potential employees to have a Masters in Accounting or a path to get the required credits for the CPA license. You should also look for opportunities to get an internship early to get additional experience and expand your skills.
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Sylvia’s Answer

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Accounting is definitely a great path if you're interested in puzzles and problem solving. You'll need a bachelor's degree, and if you decide to go for your CPA (Certified Public Accountant) which is strongly recommended for a lot of accounting career paths, you'll probably need to do some extra schooling - either an extra year of undergrad or your masters. However, if you take some AP's in high school or take some summer classes in college, it's likely you can do this in four years! I was able to do my undergrad and master's in a total of four years. It wasn't easy, but it's definitely possible. I knew a few other people that did the same thing.

An awesome part of accounting is that most people are able to get a job lined up right after college, and most jobs will pay for CPA courses/certifications. A lot of firms start recruiting college students for internships and eventual jobs as soon as sophomore year of college! So if it's something you enjoy, I absolutely recommend trying accounting out.
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Edward’s Answer

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Hi David,

A career in accounting is a great choice. Having math skills and enjoying problem solving are some of the more important qualities that make an exceptional accountant in addition to great organizational and communication skills. Although, I must admit as an accountant you don't really encounter complicated math problems. Also, technology is becoming more prevalent in the accounting industry, so having polished computer skills, especially in Excel are a huge plus.

Much like yourself, I excelled in math while I was in school and I was lucky enough that my high school offered an introduction to accounting course. After taking the course, I realized accounting came naturally to me and I chose to pursue a career in the field. I would recommend that you also take an introductory course to see if accounting is something you enjoy. These courses are offered at local community colleges which you can sign up for even while you're in high school, if you don't want to wait until after you graduate.

One of the educational requirements for becoming an accountant is to have a bachelor's degree. If your goal is to become a CPA, you will first need to complete your undergraduate degree, have at least 24 units in accounting courses, 24 units in business-related subjects, and a total of 150 semester units. I see that you live in Santa Clarita, CA which is great because you live very close to my alma mater California State University Northridge. CSUN was just ranked #14 in the Top 40 Best Accounting Schools in the United States. There are many other great schools in LA and across the country as well, so choose a school that has a top-tier accounting program and also a vast network. CSUN has an amazing network, and students can join organizations like the Accounting Association which hosts several events throughout the year like Meet the Firms where you get to network with professionals from dozens of firms that offer internships and career opportunities. It's very important to get involved in these organizations early on to get as much exposure with professionals and recruiters from different firms. I also highly recommend that you apply to several internship opportunities once you're a sophomore in college because you get a ton of great experience and you get to see what a career in public accounting is really like before you graduate. It's also one of the best ways to secure a full-time job offer even before you're done with your schooling.

I hope that was helpful and good luck on your path to becoming an accounting professional!

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Melanie’s Answer

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Hey David!

I was also very good at math when I was in school and that somewhat encouraged me to study Accounting in college. To my surprise, when I started working as an Auditor I realized that there's really not too much math involved at all. Of course, you are working with numbers- but it doesn't require any mathematical application. On a regular basis, I use basic formulas in Excel and that's about the extent of it.

However, I will say that being good at math in school usually is a sign of having a unique ability to be a problem solver. This skill-set allows you to see the big picture while still paying close attention to detail. This is a huge bonus in the accounting field! As an auditor, you may not have to solve for a particular number, but you do have to be able to make associations and understand where numbers and trends are coming from and how they are meaningful.

Continue to maintain the eagerness to explore problem solving! That will get you very far regardless of which particular career path you choose within the accounting field.

It seems like you are very sharp so you definitely have a unique advantage as you go into college and then continue on to your career.

Best of luck!
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Anthony’s Answer

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You will want to pursue a minimum of a bachelor's degree in accounting with one more year (masters or just 30 credit hours) if you would like to be eligible to be a CPA in the United States. Skills that will help on the job include Excel and Word skills, as well as organization and time management skills.
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