How To Get an Accounting Degree and Succeed as an Accountant

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Every business needs a skilled accountant to manage its finances. Because of this, there is always a demand for accounting graduates. A degree in accounting gives you the specialist skills you need to become an accountant, and you also learn transferable skills that are useful for a variety of career paths. In this article, we provide aspiring accounting students with insight and advice on getting an accounting degree.

Why get an accounting degree?

An accounting degree can prepare you for a career in accounting. You can get specialist skills such as financial planning and bookkeeping. You may also learn transferable skills that are useful in other career paths, such as business and economics. Here are some relevant skills you may learn during your studies:

  • critical thinking

  • problem-solving

  • financial planning

  • budgeting

What is accounting?

Accounting is the process of recording, organising and analysing financial transactions made by a business. It's one of the primary functions of every business. Companies have to document their financial activities for tax purposes. Also, senior management can analyse the company's finances to make better business decisions. An internal accountant might take responsibility for this area, or the company might use an external accounting firm.

Related: Complete Guide: What Does an Accountant do?

What skills and education do I need to study accounting at university?

To study accounting at university, you need to have good mathematical skills. While maths is the most useful subject to study at A-level, many universities are flexible as long as you can demonstrate good numerical skills. Economics, finances, statistics and business are also good subjects to study at A-level. They show that you have a fundamental interest in the topic, and the examinations help solidify any relevant skills you have. Entry requirements vary between each university. Aside from A-levels, universities also accept vocational courses, but you may need to check alternative entry requirements with the university or college.

Related: 13 Essential Accountant Skills

What to expect when studying accounting

In the first year of your degree, you learn the basics of accounting and other relevant business skills. You then move on to specialise in areas of interest, such as auditing, tax or management accounting. You gain this knowledge through a mixture of classroom learning, projects, workshops and industry placements.

1. Writing reports and essays

As an accounting student, you have to write a series of reports and essays throughout your degree. Essays solidify your theoretical knowledge as you explore different topics within your subject. Reports are more practical and similar to what you would do in the workplace as an accountant. Financial reports you might have to produce include:

  • cash flow statements

  • balance sheets

  • profit-and-loss statements

2. Lectures, seminars and workshops

Throughout your degree, you have to attend lectures, seminars and workshops. Usually, industry professionals and researchers in the field teach these. Sometimes, universities bring in guest speakers to stimulate interest in students. Lectures tend not to be particularly interactive. They focus on supplying students with the background information they need to understand an aspect of accounting fully. Seminars and workshops are smaller and offer moments for teachers and students to interact.

3. Industry placements

For accounting graduates, real-world experience is crucial for securing a role. That is why many universities offer you the chance to take a year out of your degree to undertake an industry placement. This is good for personal growth because it allows you to work in a real-life workplace. It also strengthens your CV. In your placement year, you could work alongside an in-house accountant for a single organisation or in an accountancy firm working for a range of clients.

4. Exams

Examinations are a crucial part of the degree. They're a chance for you to show your knowledge to an exam moderator. The exams consist of practical and theoretical knowledge-based questions, which prompt you to use the critical thinking and problem-solving skills you have developed throughout your degree. To graduate, you need to pass these exams, so practising examination questions during your studies is essential.

Related: What Are Critical Thinking Skills and How Are They Used?

How long does it take to get an accounting degree?

Like most undergraduate degrees, it usually takes three years to complete a degree. However, depending on your type of degree, you may be able to do an industry placement year. In this case, it could take four years for you to graduate.

Career paths available to recent graduates

As an accounting graduate, you can follow several career paths. Here are a few of them:

1. Accountant

National average salary: £34,967 per year

Primary duties: An accountant is the most direct role you can go into after studying accounting at university. Accountants are responsible for keeping and interpreting financial records. Most organisations value accountants as they manage important financial documents and provide advice that could help the business grow. An accountant also reviews an organisation's systems and analyses risk. They do this by running scenario tests or cash flow forecasts, which present the baseline, best-case and worst-case forecasts.

2. Auditor

National average salary: £32,210 per year

Primary duties: An internal auditor plays a crucial role in a business as they ensure that the company keeps the required documentation. Their primary responsibility is to advise senior management on the best way to manage its risk and goals. During an internal audit, they analyse documents related to the organisation's risks, objectives and performance. Then they examine how to implement strategies to achieve objectives and protect the organisation from risks.

An external auditor is someone from outside an organisation responsible for reviewing a company's financial statements. They're responsible for deciding if the financial statements are fair and accurate. In many cases, a business has to have an external audit, even if they have an internal auditor, ensuring it is truthful about its finances.

3. Managerial accountant

National average salary: £35,909 per year

Primary duties: A managerial accountant is responsible for helping senior management improve their business strategy and growth tactics. They do this by preparing, analysing and communicating financial reports such as cash flow forecasts. Managerial accountants then offer suggestions on how to improve growth. They may also run scenario tests to examine a company's financial strength.

Do I need a degree to become an accountant?

You don't need a degree to become an accountant. However, it strengthens your CV and gives you an advantage over candidates who do not have a degree in accounting. If you don't have a degree, you still need to study to become a fully qualified accountant. The AAT qualification is typically the minimum level expected of an accountant. If you want to be a chartered accountant, you need to progress to higher qualifications, such as ACCA.

The work environment of an accountant

Once you have graduated and gained the relevant qualifications, you can start applying for jobs. When you apply for accountant job roles, you may notice two main environments that an accountant can work in:

Accountancy practices

An accountancy practice offers professional services to both the public and private sectors. Accountancy practices tend to specialise in certain financial practices such as accounting, auditing or financial planning. Working for an accountancy practice can give you the chance to work with a range of clients.

In-house

Working as an accountant for a single organisation allows you to specialise in a specific industry such as retail or hospitality. In-house accountants provide businesses with specialist skills and advice that can help the company grow. This means they're generally well respected within an organisation. Senior managers often turn to in-house accountants during times of crisis. Your knowledge can help preserve the company's finances. Working as an in-house accountant could be a good option if you want to work within one organisation and develop strong personal relationships with senior management.

Related: 11 Interview Questions for Accountants (With Example Answers)

How much does a qualified accountant earn?

Because of the financial nature of the role and the amount of training and education an accountant must pursue, qualified accountants can expect high-paying salaries. The average salary for an accountant is £35,135 per year, although this can vary depending on the size of your organisation and your experience. A management accountant typically earns £35,929 per year, whilst an internal auditor can earn £48,550 per year.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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