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Part of Western Governors University

Career Guide | Accounting

A bachelor's or master's degree in accounting can help you be prepared for an exciting, lucrative, and dynamic career.

An accounting degree is vital to helping you prepare for a wide variety of career options, including becoming a licensed CPA or CMA. Accounting is an extremely stable and exciting career path, with many unique options. Every industry and organization needs accountants to help them pay taxes, perform audits, pay employees, and keep all their finances in order. There are many different career options within the accounting field, and a bachelor's degree or a master's degree in accounting will help boost your résumé and give you the skills you need to pursue any of the exciting options available.

Learn more about a bachelor's degree in accounting and a master's degree in accounting to determine which is the right fit for you.

A young accountant works at an in-home office.

Payroll Accountant

Average Salary—$54,000 per year | Job Outlook—6% growth by 2028

Payroll accountants work for private companies to help ensure all the employees and vendors are paid. These accountants utilize software systems to help manage the payroll budgets and ensure that every payment, check, and salary is paid out on time and accurately. They have access to an organization's financial accounts and work with other accountants to ensure the right systems are in place to pay every employee and vendor. 

Payroll accountants earn an average annual salary of around $54,000 per year. Entry level payroll accountants earn about $39,000, while the top 10% in this profession earn about $72,000 per year. Having a bachelor's degree can help boost your salary potential and give you more options within this field. This is a great entry-level position for accountants, and there is often room to move upward within payroll accounting.

Employment of accountants is expected to grow 6% by 2028, according to the BLS. This is as fast as the national average for career growth. Every industry and organization needs qualified and trained accountants in order to thrive. Many people stay in the field for a long time creating low turnover rates, but there are still many opportunities for those who want to enter the field.

A bachelor's degree in accounting is an important step to becoming a payroll accountant. A bachelor's degree can help set you apart from the competition, demonstrating that you are trained on accounting best practices, software systems, journal entries, and more. Because every industry needs payroll accountants, a bachelor's degree can show you have good training and skills that will help you be efficient in this role.

Hands on computer | gig economy accountant

Tax Accountant

Average Salary—$70,000 per year | Job Outlook—6% growth by 2028

Tax accountants work to help individuals and businesses prepare their financial documents and paperwork for taxes. They may help them pay quarterly taxes, set up documentation for employees to pay taxes, and file tax returns at the end of the year. Tax accountants may have their own business where they take on personal clients, they may work for a larger organization to help individuals complete their taxes, or may work for a company to do internal financial work and prepare tax documents. These professionals need to regularly keep up with new laws and regulations regarding taxes to ensure they are working properly.

The average yearly annual salary for tax accountants is about $70,000 per year, with the bottom 10% earning about $47,000 per year, and the top 10% earning more than $130,000 per year. Tax accountants can choose a wide variety of work environments, with many clients or just a few, with large corporation clients or individuals. The type of tax clients you work with and the company you work for will greatly impact your salary level. Additionally earning a bachelor's or master's degree can help you become eligible to be a CPA or certified public accountant, which can boost your salary potential considerably. Additionally there are many opportunities for growth within accounting, with tax partners at public accounting firms earning consideribly higher salaries than entry-level accountants. If you're willing to put in the work and move up in an organization, you can expect a very lucrative career.

The job outlook for accountants is good, expected to grow 6% on average by 2028. However many larger cities are seeing huge numbers of job opportunities for accountants, with job growth looking more like 30% by 2028. Every single company and individual needs to pay taxes, so tax accounting is an extremely stable career choice where there will be plenty of job opportunities available. 

For most tax accountants, a bachelor's degree will absolutely be required. Some tax accountants also choose to pursue a CPA, and in order to sit for that exam in most states you'll need to hold a bachelor's degree. Additionally in many states you may need a master's degree to become a CPA. Both of these degrees will give you extremely valuable training and skills that will help you prepare for the CPA examination and for the demands of a career in tax accounting. 

Overhead photo looking down onto a conference table strewn about with laptops, graphs, and people's hands.

Auditor

Average Salary—$71,000 per year | Job Outlook—6% growth by 2028

Auditors are tasked with reviewing a company's financial records to determine if proper financial and accounting practices have been used by the organization. This is typically done for companies who are public and have shareholders—auditors issue an opinion to shareholders stating if an organization has sound financial records or if there are significant issues. Auditors can work for public accounting firms, acting as an unbiased third party to issue opinions for public companies, or as internal auditors, working to solve the issues that may come up in an audit. Auditors work in every industry from government, to healthcare, to education, to ensure that best accounting practices are being followed.

Auditors earn an average annual salary of about $71,000 per year. Entry level auditors earn about $50,000 per year, and the top 10% can earn more than $140,000 per year. There are many career paths for audit professionals and that can impact salary levels. For example, becoming an audit partner at a public accounting firm is one of the most lucrative options for audit professionals. Similarly your education level will greatly impact your salary opportunity. Earning a bachelor's degree, master's degree, and becoming a CPA can all directly impact your salary potential. And many auditors will need to earn a CPA in order to be hired by firms or organizations. A CPA demonstrates you have the necessary skills and training to succeed in the profession, and will also show to clients that you are a credentialed expert.

Auditing opportunities are expected to grow 6% by 2028, but some cities with larger populations are expected to grow as much as 30% in that same time frame. The location where you want to work, and if you want to work in public or private accounting will both have a major impact on job opportunities and career growth. 

Most auditors will need at least a bachelor's degree in order to find a job. Like tax accountants, many organizations and firms will require you to be eligible to become a CPA in order to work for them. Eligibility requirements will vary by state, but most states will require you have a bachelor's degree, and in some a master's degree, in order to become licensed. This licensure helps verify that you are a trained expert with the skills and mastery to properly perform audits. 

Two colleague discussing new project.

Accounting Manager

Average Salary—$90,000 per year | Job Outlook—6% growth by 2028

There are many types of accounting management positions you can pursue. Accounting managers help ensure that accounting staff is following best practices, connect with stakeholders and leadership to report on progress, and manage departments or projects to ensure that all the work is accomplished. Accounting managers can work for private companies or for public accounting firms, ensuring that all the goals of the organization or firm are met. These professionals are tasked with guiding staff members in accounting practices to ensure taxes are filed, audits are completed, employees are paid, or financial documents are accurate. 

On average accounting managers earn a yearly salary of around $90,000 per year, with the bottom 10% earning around $64,000 per year, and the top 10% earning more than $115,000 per year. The amount of money you can earn will depend on your responsibilities and position. Accounting managers can be known as budget managers, payroll managers, tax managers, audit managers, finance managers, etc. Your salary level will be greatly dependant on the company you work for as well— if you work in public accounting for a large firm you can expect a larger salary than if you work as a payroll manager for a small company. Your education level can also directly impact your salary level.

Accounting managers will see a 6% growth by the year 2028, consistent with the rest of the accounting profession. Accounting has a steady growth and is a stable option—many people stay within the profession and move upwards over time. This means there are great consistent job options, and good upward mobility within the industry. 

If you want to become an accounting manager, you'll likely need a bachelor's and master's degree. Depending on the field where you want to become a manager, you may need a CPA license as well. Management positions tend to favor those with master's degrees and/or a CPA or CMA (certified managerial accounting) license. So if you're looking to move into management as an accountant, a master's degree will probably be an important step.

A group of business people meeting in a board room.

CFO

Average Salary—$140,000 per year | Job Outlook—6% growth by 2028

The CFO or Chief Financial Officer is in charge of all the budget and monetary elements of an organization. They focus on cash flow, financial planning and goals, and analyze the company financial strengths and weaknesses, proposing solutions to problems. They oversee other directors and managers to ensure all of the financial operations of the company are being done honestly and ethically. The CFO works with other executives to help distribute budgets and explain the financial situation of the organization. 

CFOs earn an average of $140,000 per year, with the bottom 10% earning around $75,000 per year, and the top 10% earning more than $223,000 per year. The salary level you can expect as a CFO will vary largely based on the size of the organization where you work, and the industry. For example, a CFO in an oil company will likely have much higher salaries than a CFO in a nonprofit organization.

CFO positions are expected to grow 6% by 2028, similar to other executive level positions and as fast as the national average. Chief financial officers can face competition for available positions, so it's valuable to work your way up in an organization so you're prepared to take on the role of a CFO.

An accounting bachelor's and master's degree can be a great option for a CFO. These degrees will help prepare you for understanding how a company's financial statements work, how budgets should be used, and the proper accounting practices needed to meet laws and regulations. Many CFO's today have accounting backgrounds which help give them experience to thrive in their profession. In order to become a chief financial executive, you'll likely need a bachelor's and master's degree, and an accounting education can be instrumental in helping you thrive.