Accountants compile and provide financial information about businesses to help company managers and shareholders make sound business decisions. The reports determine how much tax businesses and individuals should pay and help investors decide if companies are financially stable and worth investing in. Banks use accounting reports to determine if businesses qualify for loans.
Accountants fall into one of four main fields, and there are many different types of accounting jobs within each field.
Most accountants have a bachelor's degree in accounting or some closely related field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in some cases, bookkeepers and accounting clerks with a two-year associate degree in accounting can advance from junior accounting jobs to accountant positions by demonstrating the necessary skills and knowledge on the job.
Accounting education requirements put an extremely heavy focus on mathematics, business, economics and finance. A typical college accounting program could contain many of the following classes:
Accounting requirements and coursework vary from school to school and also by the level of education desired.
Most graduates of accounting programs earn the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation. This is a must for any accountant filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission, but many accountants find the designation enhances their job prospects and helps them gain clients. Although a master's degree is not required to become a CPA, almost all states require CPAs to have a minimum of 150 semester hours of college -- about 30 hours more than the typical bachelor's degree.
Accountants with a CPA can also earn advanced certifications in such areas as Accredited in Business Valuation, Certified Information Technology Professional or Personal Financial Specialist. These designations require candidates pass a test, document relevant experience, take continuing education, or a combination of these.