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Potential Accounting Career Paths:
Types and Requirements*

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

Accountants are needed in virtually all industries. Preparing and filing income taxes, ensuring compliance with financial reporting regulations and helping to ensure that organizations take steps to address areas of opportunity and risk are just a few of the important functions that accounting career professionals perform.1

And while tax accountants may be among the more well-known accounting careers, the field is home to many more. Management accountants, other types of public accountants and auditors are just some of the various types of accounting career paths you might consider pursuing.

The knowledge and skills you could develop in an accounting degree program can help you prepare to pursue more than one type of accounting career path. Earning an associate degree in accounting, bachelor’s degree in accounting or master’s degree in business administration could be the next step toward finding the accounting career path that’s right for you.

How to Become an Accountant

Accountants and auditors organize, analyze and maintain financial records. Some of their typical responsibilities may include:1

  • Examining financial statements for accuracy
  • Handling tax returns and tax payments
  • Making recommendations to management based on their assessment of an organization’s financial risks and challenges

Accountants typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Sometimes a master’s degree in business administration with a specialization in accounting, is preferred by potential employers.1

It’s also possible to get into the accounting field with only an associate degree or through gaining relevant work experience in a bookkeeping, accounting or auditing clerk role. Individuals who enter the profession via this route will typically begin as entry-level or junior accountants and advance by proving their accounting skills.1

Accounting Career Paths and Requirements

What can you do with an accounting degree? Because the field of accounting is home to a number of different accounting career paths, it could be difficult to choose the one that’s right for you. When trying to decide which accounting degree to pursue, it might help to consider factors such as your preferred environment (e.g., government vs. finance and insurance vs. management) and the type of financial analysis and decision-making you want to engage in.

Cost Accountant

Sometimes known as management accountants, management accountants help guide business decision-making by combining and integrating accounting, financial and non-financial data. In contrast to public accountants, cost accountants prepare financial information for internal use and for business managers. They may:1

  • Create budgets and evaluate performance
  • Plan the cost of doing business
  • May work with financial managers on an organization’s asset management

Management accountants who possess a bachelor’s degree may choose to seek the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential from The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). To apply for CMA certification requires possession of a bachelor’s degree, professional experience in management accounting, passing an exam, meeting continuing education requirements and adhering to professional conduct standards.1

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Public accountants perform a variety of tasks, from accounting to auditing to tax and consulting services, for all different types of clients. Their work focuses on financial documents—tax forms and other financial statements—that must be disclosed by law.1

Public accountants may specialize in a number of areas. Tax accountants, for example, prepare individual tax returns and advise corporations regarding the tax advantages or disadvantages resulting from certain business decisions. Financial advisors work with individual clients to help them develop and guide their personal financial strategies and goals.1

Many public accountants choose to become Certified Public Accountants (CPA). SEC rules require publicly traded companies to file annual and quarterly reports on an ongoing basis,1 and only a licensed CPA can file report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Therefore, any accountant who expects to file with the SEC will have to become a CPA. Still other accountants will choose to become a CPA to improve their accounting career path options or gain clients.1 The National Association of State Boards of Accounting (NASBA) is one example of a resource you can use to learn more about the CPA exam.


Whereas accounting involves the preparation and recording of financial statements and tax returns, auditing involves reviewing existing financial documents and/or processes. Like an accountant, an auditor can be employed by the organization they work for or hired by an outside organization:1

  • Internal auditors: Auditors employed by the organization they audit are known as internal auditors. They are responsible for identifying different ways to improve processes aimed at minimizing financial risks, such as waste or fraud, to the organization.1 Although internal auditing is not regulated by the government, the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), an international professional association serving as the “global voice, recognized authority, acknowledged leader, chief advocate and principal educator” for internal auditors,2 provides mandatory and recommended professional guidance and standards. The IIA also offers the only globally recognized internal audit certification—Certified Internal Auditor® (CIA®)—as well as two other certifications.
  • External auditors: External auditors are contracted by an outside organization to perform audits and reviews. They are hired to evaluate whether an organization’s funds, revenue sources and internal controls are being properly managed, and they also assure authorities, investors and regulators that a client’s financial statements have been accurately prepared and reported.1

Accountant’s Salary

If you’re considering an accounting career, you’re probably wondering, what do accountants make? More specifically, you likely have questions both about the average accountant’s salary in the United States as well as in your geographic region. Reviewing job postings in your area and visiting salary websites can help give you a better idea of what to expect. But you should keep in mind that earnings can vary based on many factors, such as experience—the average accountant’s starting salary, for instance, will typically be lower than the average salary for more senior accounting positions—or industry.

Accounting Degree Programs

Because many employers of accountants and auditors typically require that applicants possess a bachelor’s in accounting or higher,1 pursuing an undergraduate or graduate accounting degree program could become the next step in your academic journey. American InterContinental University offers both undergraduate and graduate online accounting programs.

Our Bachelor of Accounting degree program is designed to help you work to develop your accounting knowledge and skills in preparation for pursuing an accounting career path. The curriculum may include courses such as Principles of Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, Fraud Examination, Taxation, Auditing and more.

Our Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) with a specialization in Accounting degree program combines general education requirements, a business core and elective classes focused on accounting to help you prepare to pursue accounting opportunities. The BBA accounting degree specialization may include courses such as Intermediate Accounting I and II, Cost Accounting, Auditing and Accounting Information Systems.

Our Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program is designed to help you work to develop more advanced knowledge, skills and decision-making abilities in the areas of business and management.

Gain Experience in Accounting

Accounting experience can help you prepare for pursuing an accounting career path. Landing an internship at a public accounting or business firm could give you practical accounting experience and knowledge that you may be able to leverage in your career search.

In addition to internships or related entry-level accounting experience, aspiring accounting professionals might want to explore different accounting mentorship programs. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners are two organizations that offer mentoring programs to members. If you’re already working as a junior accountant you can explore an accounting mentorship program.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Accountants and Auditors,” (visited 5/23/2023).
2 The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), “About the IIA,” (visited 5/23/2023).

*AIU cannot guarantee employment, salary, or career advancement. The list of career paths related to these programs is based on a subset from the Bureau of Labor Statistics CIP to SOC Crosswalk. Some career paths listed above may require further education or job experience.

American InterContinental University cannot guarantee employment, salary, or career advancement. Not all programs are available to residents of all states. REQ1937682 5/2023

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Classes Start October 25, 2023