Is an Accounting Major Right for You and Your Career Goals?

Nearly all accounting jobs require some kind of education beyond high school. Additionally, to even sit for the CPA Exam, you must have completed at least a bachelor’s degree. But does that degree have to be in accounting? Oftentimes, working accountants have degrees in their field, but that’s not always a necessity. We’ll explore what an accounting major looks like, what it requires, and what it can do for you.

Is Accounting a Good Major?

To answer this, you first need to think about what makes a major “good.” Most people would probably judge a particular major to be good if it leads to abundant career opportunities and an above-average salary. However, if doing math and creating reports makes you absolutely miserable, accounting probably isn’t a good major for you.

Here are some things to consider when you’re wondering “Should I major in accounting?”

  • Will I enjoy (or at least not mind) the coursework that comes with accounting classes?
  • If I’m already in school, how good is the accounting program at my college or university? Do students who graduate with majors in accounting tend to get the jobs they want?
  • What kind of jobs do accounting majors tend to get? Is there a specific job that is particularly appealing to me?
  • Does the amount of education needed for my dream accounting job fit with my other plans in life? (That is, do I have the time, money, and patience to pursue a master’s degree if necessary?)

The answers to these questions should help you determine whether majoring in accounting is right for you.

Accounting Major Tracks

Two other important considerations are accounting degrees and accounting tracks, or subspecialties. Different colleges and universities will offer different programs. Therefore, some of the specifics will depend on your particular school of choice. However, here’s some broadly applicable information about the field.

Accounting Degrees

Majoring in accounting can involve anything from an associate’s degree up to a doctorate. Here are the types of accounting degrees available and some basic information about them. Please note that all costs and salaries are approximate. In actuality, they will depend heavily on your school and geographical area.

Type Years to Obtain Approximate Cost Sample Careers Salary Range
Associate’s degree (AAS) 2 $8,100

($135 per credit x 60)

Accounting clerk, loan officer, financial clerk $30,000-$40,000
Bachelor’s degree in accounting (BS or BA) 4 $71,400

($595 per credit x 120)

Auditor, actuary, real estate appraiser $55,000-$100,000
Bachelor’s in business administration (BBA or BSBA) 4 $71,400

($595 per credit x 120)

Accountant, auditor, financial analyst $60,000-$75,000
Master’s degree in accounting (MS or MAcc) 1-2 (post-bachelor’s) $12,060

($335 per credit x 36)

CPA, financial advisor, financial analyst $70,000-$100,000
Master’s in business administration (MBA) 1.5-3 (post-bachelor’s) $12,600

($350 per credit x 36)

Budget analyst, cost estimator, tax manager $50,000-$80,000
Doctorate in accounting (PhD) 4-7 (post-bachelor’s or post-master’s) $60,000-$80,000 Accounting professor, financial manager, CFO $80,000-$130,000


This doesn’t take into account certificate programs in accounting, which last a year or less and don’t confer a degree. They don’t confer official certification either. However, they do offer those already in the workforce a chance to branch out into some accounting tasks without needing to invest in a whole new degree.

Accounting Major Tracks

Depending on the degree you’re pursuing and your school, you may have the option of specializing your coursework. Community colleges and smaller universities may simply offer degrees in accounting. In contrast, larger universities may allow you to pick a concentration within that degree. Here are some potential areas of specialization, but there are many more.

  • Auditing
  • Financial accounting
  • Forensic accounting
  • Management accounting
  • Internal auditing
  • International accounting
  • Public accounting
  • Tax accountancy
  • Cost accounting

Requirements to Become an Accounting Major

Specific accounting major requirements will once again vary by school, but there are some basics.

Undergraduate Degrees

For a bachelor’s degree, you’ll almost certainly start with a Principles of Accounting course, sometimes called Accounting I. Usually, an Accounting II course will follow. After that, you’ll encounter more specific concepts within the field. These can include finance, economics, managerial accounting, federal taxation, auditing, finance, business law, and more. Typically, you’ll have to take Intermediate Accounting I and II as well. Some of your courses will be electives in special topics, which might include public accountancy, tax accountancy, or forensic accountancy.

No matter what your major, nearly all four-year programs include some core requirement coursework. Specifically, these include courses in composition (learning to write academically), math, science, social science, and arts or humanities. You’ll often have quite a bit of choice when it comes to filling these requirements. Additionally, depending on your program, you may need to complete an internship or capstone project in your final year or semester.

Graduate Degrees

A master’s degree will typically allow you to specialize even more. For example, you may encounter courses like advanced auditing, business ethics, global economics, corporate taxation, and business communication. An MBA will include more business and management topics. Most master’s programs will include a year-long capstone project that requires independent research and in-depth analysis of a particular problem. However, you may have the option of taking additional courses or writing a thesis instead of completing a final project. Likewise, a doctorate in accounting will require a dissertation involving original research.

If you’ve already earned your bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field but wish to enter the accounting profession, there are masters in accounting for non-business majors. You may have to take additional foundational courses to learn some of the basic principles. Thus it may take you a bit longer to complete a master’s program. Also, you may need to take additional credits to reach the number necessary to take the CPA Exam. However, there is no need to pursue another bachelor’s degree first.

The Difficulty of Accounting Coursework

Of course, most students want to know “Is an accounting major hard?” Ultimately, the answer depends on your previous education and natural aptitude. Ask three different accounting students and you’ll likely get three different answers. However, if you’re a person who likes organization, analysis, and statistics, you’ll probably find accounting major classes a bit easier.

Accounting majors usually must focus on more specific skills than students in a broader business program. Thus, accounting majors usually have an easier time going into the business field than business majors would go into the accounting field. There’s only so much to say about accounting major difficulty without taking your preferences into account. Be aware, though, that accounting courses will require high-level analytical and quantitative skills.

Current Trend in Accounting Majors

Every few years, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants puts out a trend report for the state of accounting education and jobs in the US. The most recent is the 2019 Accounting Graduates Supply and Demand Report. Of 1.98 million bachelor’s degrees awarded in the US in the 2017-2018 school year, 54,947 of them were accounting degrees. In other words, that’s about 2.7% of all bachelor’s degrees, making accounting a reasonably popular major. In fact, enrollment in accounting programs has been growing in popularity since the turn of the century.

Careers for Accounting Majors

Likewise, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports growth in the number of jobs available in the accounting and auditing fields. As of 2022, there were 1,392,000 accounting jobs in the US. Over the next 10 years, there should be 96,000 more. Moreover, about a quarter of those jobs were in accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services.

California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania are the states that employ the most accountants.  However, the District of Columbia, Colorado, New York, South Dakota, and Virginia have the highest concentration of accounting jobs. Accordingly, accounting salaries tend to vary along with the cost of living across the country.

How Much Do Accounting Majors Make?

Your salary as an accounting major will depend on a number of factors: your subspecialty in the field, the area where you live, the number of years of your employment, any certifications or license you earn, and many other considerations. However, the BLS provides the following median salaries for typical accounting major jobs.

  • Bookkeeping/accounting/auditing clerk: $42,410
  • Tax examiner/collector and revenue agent: $55,640
  • Cost estimator: $66,610
  • Accountant/auditor: $73,560
  • Budget analyst: $78,970
  • Financial analyst: $83,660
  • Personal financial manager: $89,330
  • Financial manager: $134,180

Earning a CPA, CMA, CFA, or other specialized license or certification will add to your earning potential. According to the most recent Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals, the median salary for senior-level CPAs is $134,000-$136,000. Of course, you won’t make this much as an entry-level CPA. However, passing the exam and earning the certification is often the first step toward a six-figure salary.

Further, how much you make as an accountant will depend on the type of firm that employs you. For example, big 4 firms generally pay more than mid-tier firms. Consequently, small accounting firms tend to pay the least.

Accounting Majors and the CPA Exam

Let’s suppose that your career goal is to become a Certified Public Accountant. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I think this is an excellent career path. Two of the most significant requirements for becoming a CPA are education and the exam. Many people wonder if they need to be accounting majors to even sit for the CPA Exam. In fact, you can major in anything you want! Although it’s unlikely that many agricultural science or performing arts majors take the CPA Exam, they can if they meet certain coursework requirements.

However, majoring in accounting is usually the easiest and fastest way to meet those requirements. And that’s something to consider when thinking about masters degrees and the CPA license. Although every state is different, most require CPA candidates to complete extensive coursework in accounting and finance. Nearly all states require 150 credit hours of higher education. In California, for example, 24 of those hours need to be in the field of accounting. And another 24 must be in “business-related subjects.” There’s no reason you couldn’t major in, for example, Italian literature and devote all your electives to accounting subjects. However, it might be difficult and require you to take extra courses.

Note that the CPA designation requires 150 hours of coursework. However, most bachelor’s degree programs only require 120 hours. Thus, many schools offer five-year accounting programs with 150 credit hours that will confer both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. These are sometimes called “3-2” programs, which refer to the three years needed for the bachelor’s degree and the two needed for the master’s degree. Therefore, if your goal is to become a CPA, you can often save time and money by looking for a school with such a program.

Best Colleges for Accounting Majors

Every year, the U.S. News and World Report makes lists of the top American colleges and universities. Included in these lists are the top undergraduate accounting programs. As of 2022, these are the top ten.

  1. The University of Texas at Austin
  2. Brigham Young University – Provo
  3. University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign
  4. Indiana University – Bloomington
  5. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  6. University of Pennsylvania
  7. University of Notre Dame
  8. Ohio State University – Columbus
  9. University of Southern California
  10. New York University

The list of best MBA accounting programs is similar. These schools typically have their own name within a college or university (e.g., the Wharton School of Business), which is listed in parentheses.

  1. Stanford University
  2. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  3. University of Chicago (Booth)
  4. Northwestern University (Kellogg)
  5. Harvard University
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
  7. Columbia University (tie for 7th/8th place)
  8. University of California – Berkley (Hass) (tie for 7th/8th place)
  9. Yale University
  10. Dartmouth College (Tuck)

Note that tuition for these top-ten schools is quite a bit more expensive than the average program especially if you’re an out-of-state student.

Accounting Major FAQs

Is accounting a STEM major?

Although the M in STEM does stand for mathematics, accounting is not considered a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) major. Instead, it falls under the category of business majors. Because accountancy involves creating, summarizing, and analyzing accounting reports instead of dealing with pure mathematics, it is not a STEM field.

Is accounting a good major for the future?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, auditing and accounting jobs are expected to grow about 7% over the next 10 years. This is about the average rate expected for job growth. Additionally, there will always be jobs for people who know how to help a business with its finances, and thus jobs for accounting majors. Although the future is never certain, accountancy is less subject to the whims of a changing job market than many other fields.

Should I major in accounting or finance?

Although the terms “finance” and “accounting” are sometimes used interchangeably, they actually refer to slightly different things. According to the Harvard Business School, finance refers to generating and managing money. In contrast, accounting refers to reporting and communicating financial information. Thus, the major you pick – if your school has both majors as options – will depend on your interests and career goals.

If you decide to make a go of accounting, you’ll need to visit accounting firms for internship and job interviews. Therefore, here’s a breakdown of the dress code for such events.

However, by committing to one, you have not closed off all avenues to the other. Many financial analysts and personal financial advisors are initially trained as accountants. Indeed, there is enough overlap in coursework that either is acceptable in preparation to take the CPA Exam. Accounting majors are somewhat more common, though many schools offer a single accounting and finance degree. Finally, if you simply can’t choose, consider a finance and accounting double major – some of your elective courses may count for both.

What school should I pick if I’m going to take the CPA Exam?

Some college accounting programs are specifically geared toward students who plan to take the CPA Exam. Therefore, before selecting a college, you should also consider the CPA pass rates by school.

About the Author R Bax

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