Is an Accounting Certification Right for You?

Oct 23, 2018 · 9 minutes to read

Are you looking to take your Accounting career to the next level? As an Accounting Professional, you have great options for increasing your earning potential with getting an Accounting Certification one of the most popular avenues to success. Read on to learn about Accounting certifications to help you decide which one is right for you.

An Accounting Certificate Vs. Degree

There are many questions that you may have when it comes to understanding what steps are involved in the process to becoming an accountant. Do you have to have a college degree? Is a two-year degree enough or can you be an accountant with only a bachelor’s degree? And what about and Accountant Certification? Can you just get one of those to be an Accountant?

An Accounting career is a great choice. It pays well and is in demand, but it can be a little confusing when you’re trying to figure out how to get started. That’s because there are many different career paths in Accounting and they all are helped by different educations and certifications.

So, let’s look at one of the most confusing aspects of an Accounting education. What is an Accounting Certificate versus an Accounting Degree? And how do you sort out your options for an Accounting education?

Can You have Accounting Certifications Without a College Degree?

An Accounting certificate is a good first step toward an Accounting education and career. There are a couple of reasons this may work for you. Suppose you are a young adult and need a good paying job right away but you don’t have the time to attend a four-year university right now. A certificate in Accounting can open some career doors for you instantly before you decide whether you want to continue your education or stay put. But if you’re looking to advance into Management, you will need a degree.

Another scenario where Accounting Certificates are good educational options is for someone who is in the Accounting field but doesn’t have an Accounting education. For example, a worker who has a degree in History may find themselves doing the bookkeeping for a small publishing company and much to their surprise, they really enjoy the work. This person may find it worthwhile to pursue an Accounting certificate in bookkeeping.

A professional certificate in Accounting can also serve a purpose for those already involved in an Accounting career and who have an accounting degree. For example, an Accounting Manager may want a better understanding of their company’s auditing procedures, so they can better help their team, a certificate would be helpful in such a case.

A certificate is a one to two-year course although some students may take longer to complete a certificate program. Certificates are offered by well-recognized colleges and universities as well as community colleges and technical schools.

A certificate can help a job seeker gain employment in the Accounting field with small companies, but to gain employment at a large company or in an area outside of a special niche, you may need a college degree.

Accounting Degree, MBA, and PhD

An Accounting certificate will help you land a job, but if you want the best opportunities for career growth, you will need a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting.

A four-year degree will help job seekers land in Management Accounting positions – doing work such as cost accounting, financial planning, and analysis. They are often found employed in manufacturing and industry. If that type of work sounds like your thing, you’ll need a four-year college degree to get started.

A Master’s Degree in Accounting can help you land a job with one of the Big Four (The four largest accounting firms in the country) or put you directly into a Management training program at a smaller firm. Most Accounting students with a Master’s Degree go into Public Accounting.

There are a couple of ways to approach a Master’s Degree in Accounting. You may enter a Master’s program after undergraduate study in Accounting. The other option is to select a Master’s program that accepts (or prefers) applicants with a degree in Liberal Arts or General Business.

Either way, if a Master’s Degree in Accounting is on your horizon, you must complete your four-year undergraduate degree.

If you want to go all the way with your education, a Ph.D. in Accounting is what you want. It will earn you the title of doctor, but it is demanding and expensive. The average cost of a Ph.D. program is $18,833[1]

In addition to more coursework and classes, a Ph.D. requires a thesis which can take 2-3 years to complete. A thesis is an independent study undertaken by a student resulting in unique findings that must be compiled into a paper and presented before a committee. It is a large commitment and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Still, there is the potential for those with a Ph.D. in Accounting to earn greater income over their careers and there are no continuing education requirements, although they may have to periodically publish independent research papers.

Different Types of Accountants

Accounting is a large field. There are many different types of work and different types of Accountants. Here is a list of different types of Accountants and a description of what they do.

Certified Public Accountant: Also known as a CPA, A Certified Public Accountant is the most popular types of Accountants today. They serve as Financial Advisors, give tax assistance and can write audit reports on publicly traded companies. They are highly employable in the Accountancy profession.

Auditor: An Auditor is an Accountant who prepares and reviews financial documents for accuracy. They may be employed by local or federal governments or private businesses. They also review tax documents for accuracy and can advise on proper financial procedures.

Management Accountant: A Management Accountant also known as a CMA is an Accountant whose role is focused on Financial Accounting and strategic planning. They work within corporate finance and management. They may be involved with budgets, investments or financial planning and strategy. They work in a variety of industries including manufacturing, the private sector, and the government.

Government Accountant: A Government Accountant is employed by a governmental entity for Accounting functions and may prepare financial statements or handle payroll for state local or federal government agencies.

Investment Accountant: An Investment Accountant specializes in Accounting functions or investments or stocks. They may create reports, perform reconciliation or handle administrative duties.

Certifications for Accountants

Now that you know the many types of Accountants and what they do, we can go over a list of Accounting Certifications.

Certified Financial Analyst (CFA): A CFA is a world recognized certification that demonstrates excellence in the field of Investment and Securities Accounting. To qualify to test for a CFA, candidates must have a four-year degree or four years of professional work experience in the field.

Enrolled Agent (EA): An Enrolled Agent is a certification signalling tax expertise. The certification makes holders federally licensed to handle tax preparation and to assist taxpayers in audits or other tax collections or appeals processes.

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA): A CIA designation indicates the holder is an expert in auditing procedures, reviewing and preparing financial statements.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA): A CMA certificate signals the holder has a deep and professional understanding of financial planning and financial controls, decision making and ethics. Those with CMA certificates are highly employable in both the private and public sectors.

Certified Fraud Examiner: A Certified Fraud Examiner certificate is awarded by the Association of Fraud Examiners. It can be earned by Accounting professionals as well as those in Criminology or Law. The certificate denotes an understanding of fraud, how and why it occurs and ways to prevent it.

Certified Government Accountant: This is a professional certificate for Accountants that indicates knowledge of accounting, auditing, and financial planning and budgeting as it relates to government.

What to Prepare Before Becoming an Accountant

If your career plan is to become an accountant, you’ve made a good choice. Accounting professionals of all types are in demand and have great earning potential.

So, what do you need to prepare for an Accounting career?


The first decision you need to make involves your education. For this think about your time and your financial resources. Do you have the means to enter into a four-year program and earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting?

There are opportunities at just about every level of education in Accounting. So, think about what you want to invest in your education and then go for it.

Plan a Career Path

There are countless career paths in the Accounting field so it is best to pursue one based on your interests and likes. You may wish to shadow an Accounting professional who is working in a position you are considering.

You may have a penchant for working in the government sector as opposed to the private. Or maybe you’re an entrepreneur with sights on your own Accounting firm. No matter your likes or dislikes, there is an Accounting career path for you.

Get Insured

If your career path involves hanging out your own Accounting shingle, you will need to consider Accountant Professional Liability insurance. It is a must have to protect you from lawsuits and claims that may arise from accidents, mistakes or omissions in your work.

Professional liability insurance protects you from claims where you may have caused financial loss to your clients. For example, if you make an error on a tax preparation that causes your client to have an audit, professional liability steps in.

Similarly, if you forgot to include a required tax form when filing your client’s tax return, causing your client to incur fees, your professional liability steps in to protect you.

Keep in mind, you may have not done anything wrong and may still get sued. In a case like that, your policy will pay to defend you and your reputation from the suit.

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