What can you do with an accounting degree?

Why study accounting? A guide to what you will learn on an accounting degree, how to get a place on the best university accounting courses, and what jobs you might get once you graduate
September 27 2016

Why study accounting?

Accounting, accountancy, finance
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What is accounting?

The world of business rests on an accountants shoulders, for it is they who are responsible for the management and analysis of transactions and capital holdings. Another, more old fashioned term for an accountant is a "bookkeeper" as the responsibilities of an accountant will centre on overseeing and analysing a company's (or individual’s) financial accounts - their "books" and documents.

The position can be a pathway to business success, as shown by John D. Rockefeller, who used skills first learned in a job as an assistant bookkeeper at Hewitt & Tuttle to raise himself from obscurity to becoming one of the richest men who ever lived. 


Explore top universities that offer accounting degrees


Those talented in accountancy will have the skills of attention to detail, a mindfulness of numbers, a flexibility to circumstances and strong organisational ability. They must also be aware of the dedication required to pursue the profession, and having the desire to continually learn and relearn as markets and laws change is a key part of the job.

What do you learn on an accounting degree? 

Undergraduate degrees in the subject often come as part of a dual honours programme, for instance accounting and finance, or accounting and law. This is from the understanding that accountancy is an interdisciplinary profession, which requires a student’s grasp of core elements of business practice, as well as the need for an effective communication with clients and technical skills such as data input. 

A first year of study will typically function as a foundation year, allowing a student to understand the overall function of an accountant, usually with a focus on courses such as the study of company structure or business computing. 

A course may also offer paid work placements at organisations such as an auditing firm, in the second or third year of study. Some institutions will offer a PhD in accounting, and as part of a research based study students may focus on such factors as the interrelationship between accounting and governance or financial reporting and capital markets. 

One principle upon which many accountancy roles sit is a thorough understanding of tax legislation, and a misunderstanding in this field can lead to extremely serious repercussions for both client and accountant. Regular classes and examinations throughout an accountants training will be based around ensuring an up-to-date understanding of the law, and proving their ability to apply it to real world situations. 

 What should I study at high school if I want to study accountancy?

An important field of study prior to entering the world of accounting is mathematics. An exceptional grade in maths is a good first step towards being accepted for an accounting BSc. Studying a mathematics undergraduate degree is also an effective preparation for training as a chartered accountant, or Certified Public Accountant under the US system. 

If your high school offers maths-based specialised subjects such as physics and economics prior to attending university then a student would also be wise to take up these opportunities, as these subjects can compliment each other and appeal to universities looking for intelligent, original thinkers.

If you are studying at an American style university and do not have to decide on a particular major before a period of studying, then an interdisciplinary approach to studies can be effective. As well as the above mentioned subjects, any business and management courses can be helpful for future study, as can understanding the responsibilities involved in managing an accounting team.


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Also if you are not intending to study accountancy at undergraduate level but enter training upon graduation, then a business and management related degree is a popular choice for this route.

 For those who may already have some experience in business or are looking to enter the world of work or training as soon as possible, there are also one year diplomas in accounting available from many colleges and universities. Meanwhile, courses such as the ICAEW chartered accountancy qualification, the ACA, is available in sixteen countries worldwide.

Time spent to become fully qualified can vary greatly, often dependent on how many attempts it will take someone to pass all the necessary examinations.

What do people who study accountancy do after graduation? 

Many accountants will go on to work in government positions, cataloging tax income to a department or managing spend on contracts and outlay in the sector. An accountant can also work for personal clients, helping them minimise their tax bill and giving financial advice. Almost all private companies will also employ accountants, meaning that those who become fully qualifies should never be short of work opportunities.

An accountancy qualification and a resulting knowledge of areas in law can also be an entry path into the legal profession, for instance working as a paralegal at a firm or corporate team. While people in these positions usually hold no formal law degree, they can make themselves essential to an institution through background work such as file organisation and planning, skills which can come naturally to someone with an accounting background. 

A degree in accounting has been a pathway for many into success in a wide range of fields. Former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley has a degree in accounting from Clemson University. Author John Grisham has a BS degree in accounting from Mississippi State University. Financial literacy expert, CPA and motivational speaker Sharon Lechter has an accounting degree from Florida State University with magna cum laude honours.

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