Courses to Take and Skills to Study in an Accounting Degree Program

If you love working with numbers, pay strict attention to detail and find great satisfaction in problem solving, then you may well have come to the conclusion that pursuing an accounting degree could be right for you.

That said, there are many different career paths available in accounting, and not all of them involve the same types of knowledge and skills. How do you know the right courses to take and skills to explore in an accounting degree program, and how can you help ensure these can match up with your ultimate interests and goals?

For example, you may be excited at the prospect of working for a large corporation, helping paint a picture of the company's future from a complex range of revenue, cost, and investment streams. Preparing for this type of role can require developing some very different skills than what would be needed for someone whose interest in investigation and problem solving leads them to pursue a position in forensic accounting.

While students will ultimately need to focus on skill sets and courses specific to their career goals, there are some important core courses and knowledge to work on first. This can put you in a position to better understand the more advanced skills you'll need to develop later and can establish a solid base for all of your future accounting work. Below, we review some of the main courses to take in an accounting program, as well as several important skills to focus on while taking classes.

Accounting Degree Core Courses at AIU

Accounting students at AIU start off with a selection of core courses designed to cover the fundamental skills and principles of all accounting work. These courses provide a comprehensive overview of the main areas and types of accounting. This means that in addition to giving you a strong base of introductory knowledge about the field, they also provide you a chance to explore your strengths and interests before making any concrete decisions about specializations and career paths.

Introductory core accounting courses at AIU include:1

  • Principles of Accounting
  • Introduction to Business
  • Legal and Ethical Environment of Business
  • Principles of Marketing

Upper-level core courses (starting at the 300 level) introduce students to more specific accounting topics, such as Managerial Accounting and Principles of Financial Accounting. These later core requirements also start to incorporate intermediate accounting classes and some practical courses like Quantitative Methods and Analysis. Meanwhile, specialization courses cover topics such as taxation, auditing, government/institutional accounting and other topics in more depth.

Important Accounting Skills and Experience

In order to help you prepare for the job market following graduation, you should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the in-demand accounting skills today's employers seek. By focusing some of your time and energy on these skills, whether through additional elective courses or extracurricular experience, you can broaden your range of knowledge and hopefully make yourself a stronger job candidate in the future.

Make sure you're familiar with GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).
While GAAP is addressed in AIU’s core course curriculum, this is still one of the most fundamentally important skills to learn in an accounting degree program.

In addition to building your familiarity with basic accounting terminology, you should also have a strong grasp on the guidelines, standards, and practices dictated by current GAAP rules. Consider preparing flashcards and study guides that you can review on a regular basis outside of class—this may be even more helpful once it comes time to take critical certification exams.

Get practice preparing financial statements and reports.
Labor market information company Burning Glass listed financial reporting, financial analysis, financial statements, and account reconciliation among the top 10 specialized skills in greatest demand for those with an accounting degree in 2015.2

Since all types of accounting roles deal primarily with financial information, these are obviously essential skills to have. However, even if you plan to go into forensic accounting or plan to work with individuals rather than large corporations, you should still be able to demonstrate experience managing large-scale financial records.

Research the different types of accounting certifications.
Nothing says you can't shift gears later in your career in order to focus on a new type of accounting or a different position, but it can still be helpful to start planning out the post-graduate certifications you may need for your current professional goals now.

Spend some time talking with your instructors and advisor, as well as researching the different types of accounting positions which may be open to you once you complete your degree. Then take a look at what certifications each require, as well as what you need to do in order to become certified. You may be able to start preparing for these while still in school or directly after you graduate, putting you a step ahead once you enter the job market.

Know how to use the latest accounting and auditing software and technology.
There are many different programs and platforms businesses may use for their internal accounting purposes. Make sure you're familiar with and have practice using the most common ones so an employer knows they won't have to spend a lot of extra time on training. According to Burning Glass, the top software and programming skills required of accounting graduates in 2015 included:3

  • Microsoft Office Suite
  • SAP Enterprise Software
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
  • Oracle
  • Hyperion
  • PeopleSoft
  • SQL
  • QuickBooks

Keep in mind that you also have a network of instructors and advisors at your disposal—if you have more questions about what courses to take and skills to learn in the accounting field, don't hesitate to ask for advice.

Ready to learn more? Explore accounting degree programs at AIU.

1Specific courses are subject to change. Visit the AIU catalog at http://aiuniv.smartcatalogiq.com/en/current/Catalog at for the latest program curriculum.
2 "Specialized Skills in Greatest Demand." Labor/Insight (Burning Glass Technologies), 1/1/15-12/31/15.
3 "Software and Programming Skills in Greatest Demand." Labor/Insight (Burning Glass Technologies), 1/1/15-12/31/15.

AIU cannot guarantee employment or salary. Find employment rates, financial obligations and other disclosures at www.aiuniv.edu/disclosures.