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How to become an accountant

Published: Friday 2nd October 2020

We explore how to become an accountant

There’s never been a better time to learn how to become an accountant. Accounting consistently ranks as one of the most popular jobs in the US. Their indispensability for many companies means that they’re always in demand, and they’re required in just about every sector there is.

But what is an accountant? And how do you become one?

What is an accountant?

An accountant records the flow of money in and out of an account, whether for individuals or organizations and businesses. They make sure all transactions are accurate and legal, conforming to up-to-date guidelines. Accountants usually have a wealth of knowledge in a variety of areas, including tax law, auditing, and cost accounting. And they often work to ensure their clients receive the best possible results from the finances.

The world of accounting is filled with many different roles, all with their own unique duties and requirements. These include:

  • Auditor
  • Corporate Accountant
  • Forensic Accountant
  • Management Accountant
  • Personal Financial Planner
  • Staff Accountant
  • Tax Advisor

What education do I need to become an accountant?

Technically, you don’t need a degree or qualification to be an accountant. That said, most accountants go to college or university to receive an accounting degree. Most public universities and colleges offer some kind of accounting program. Furthermore, some people also go on to do master’s or doctoral degrees in their specific desired field to improve their career prospects or take up work in academia or teaching.

Do I need any other experience or certifications?

Once you’ve completed your degree, you can choose between being a public accountant, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or a Chartered Accountant (CA).

Public accountants tend to work for companies in finance or accounting departments. They perform limited tasks, like preparing financial statements or tax returns, but public accountants can’t conduct audits or review financial statements. At this level, you’re likely to work for a dedicated accounting firm, where the more advanced tasks can be handled by your more experienced peers.

You could become a CPA . To do this, you will need to earn a college degree, pass the CPA exam (administered by the AICPA), and work a certain number of hours. Getting a CPA certification means you can do everything a normal accountant does, and more. New duties you’ll be able to perform include conducting audits, reviewing financial statements, and representing clients before the IRS. CPA certification is the industry standard in the US, and is regulated differently in every state. At this level, almost every sector is available to you. While some businesses do still use dedicated accounting firms to handle their finances, others will want this dealt with in-house.

Another option is to become a CA. A CA is an individual that has passed the CA exam and has met the educational requirements in their country of origin. CA tests and certifications are administered by internationally recognized organizations like the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and Chartered Professional Accountants Canada. While the knowledge base and educational requirements are largely the same, the CA certification is the more internationally oriented certification. If you want to work in the US, you’ll want to be a CPA. However, if you’re planning on living and working abroad, a CA may be the better option.

Main duties

magnifying glass over stats on paper with a calculator

Your duties as an accountant will depend on the role you take and your qualifications. Some of your duties may include:

  • Examining and preparing financial statements
  • Calculating costs and estimates
  • Budget planning and analysis
  • Designing financial strategies to help clients reach their goals
  • Researching investment options
  • Researching and staying up to date with relevant tax laws

Make sure you know the requirements of each type of role before you choose your accounting specialism.

Where are all the accountant jobs?

Most medium to large organizations will have accountants on staff. You could work for a company in almost any industry, including entertainment, high tech, healthcare, retail management and more.

Many accountants, however, choose to work independently on a freelance/contractual basis.

Choose the sector and type of role that’s best for you and your goals.


Entry level salaries for accounting roles average out to around $53,000. Mid-level salaries can rise to about $78,000. Those with the right educational, certifications, and experience can earn around $109,000+.

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