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Tips for Students Who Want to Be Accountants

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College students who are interested in the accounting profession have several paths they can take, even if they aren't accounting majors. In this article, Amy Johnson of Becker Professional Education explaines why accounting is still an in-demand profession and shares her tips for how to prepare for a possible career in accountancy.

Dec 14th 2021
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As college students survey the current landscape for post-graduation careers and jobs, they have a lot to be happy about. Unemployment claims have fallen to a 50-year low while companies across industries struggle to attract and retain employees. But the job market will always have its ups and downs, so even in this favorable environment, students are looking for career paths that will offer long-term stability and opportunity for growth and success. One such pathway is accounting. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of accountants and auditors is expected to grow by seven percent from 2020 to 2030, reflecting the fact that despite the impact of automation in recent years and the subsequent shift of the accountant’s role (more on that later), there is still palpable demand for this profession.

This is driven by a simple truth: Everyone needs an accountant. From supply chain disruption to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues to keeping up with tax and compliance changes, organizations need to draw on the expertise of professionals who can master the numbers for the purpose of deriving insights and devising actionable strategies for success. An accountant can fill a variety of roles and take multiple career paths. Accountants can be CPAs and work in public accounting as well as CMAs (certified management accountants), who help businesses use accounting information in decision making and provide greater insight into company numbers. Eventually, they can be controllers, business owners or entrepreneurs. Accounting skills are typically transferable from one occupation to another, as accounting is the universal language of business. 

What are your next steps as a student if you want to be an accountant? Here are my recommendations as someone who works closely with accounting programs at universities for Becker Professional Education, a major provider of educational resources in the accounting space. 

Take accounting courses. The first thing to do is find out what accounting courses are available at your school. If you’re highly committed to an accounting career, you may want to consider a major in the field. Check out what specializations your college has in the profession and talk to professors about your academic path. If you have a different major or you’re not sure accounting is what you want to do, you can still be an accountant without having an accounting degree. However, you should research the accounting courses available to you and take at least an introductory class in financial or managerial accounting. Additionally, students should research specific educational requirements for accounting credentials that they may want to acquire to ensure they will be eligible. Speak with faculty and do research when deciding on what path in the field you want to take. 

Invest in accounting extracurriculars. In addition to taking courses or making accounting your major, you should seek out extracurricular activities related to the profession. Many colleges have accounting clubs where you can get to know other students studying in this field. In addition to getting advice on courses and career paths, these connections can also help you once you graduate and start looking for a job. 

Differentiate yourself by taking courses in tech and analytics. Though basic accounting courses are necessary for a career in the field, you should try to differentiate yourself by taking courses that introduce you to the evolving technology that increasingly defines the profession. Additionally, the ever-growing power of “big data” to provide information means accountants need to develop skills related to data analytics. Seeking out courses in these areas will be a big boost to one’s employability after graduation. 

Consider getting a credential. The ultimate differentiator in the accounting field is having a professional certification, and you don’t actually need to wait until you finish school to get one. The most common credential is the CPA for those who want to work in public accounting. But the CMA is also an option if you gravitate toward the corporate sector. Additionally, there are various professional development courses in a variety of relevant subjects, including emerging technology, data analytics and how to master Excel. These credentials are an option throughout your accounting career, but getting them done earlier will definitely distinguish you when you start applying for jobs. 

Make use of your college career resources. This is sound advice regardless of what profession you want to pursue. Utilizing your university’s career resources – such as career centers and recruiting events – is key for securing the internships that will get you acquainted with your line of work, making you stand out to potential employers and, ultimately, securing employment after graduation. 

Cultivate and maintain a lifelong learning mindset. Due in large part to technology, the role of the accountant is changing – from a traditional “bookkeeper” role to one in which accountants will have to contribute more to business strategy. This requires not only a shift in skills but also in mindset. Don’t think of accounting as something you “learn” in college and then you’re set for life; it’s a profession that is progressively and rapidly changing, so you’ll need to have a mentality that embraces adaptation. Luckily, you can continuously learn and upskill throughout your career through ongoing professional development courses and certifications like the ones discussed above. 

Accounting is a promising field that offers opportunities to actively contribute to an organization’s success. By following this advice and taking these steps, college students can get off to a great start with their accounting careers and build valuable skills over the long run.

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