Should I Major In Economics Or Accounting?

"I enjoy my math classes, and I took a class my school offered on basic personal finance, and I thought it was really cool. Accounting seems like it’d be a good career match for me. I’m applying to colleges now, and I am trying to figure out what I should major in. Should I look for a school that offers an accounting program, or can I become an accountant if I major in something related, like economics or finance? I don’t want to screw up and pick the wrong school and then regret it."

asked by Cathy from Flagstaff, AZ

It is tempting to think that you can major in finance or economics or some other related field and get a job in accounting, but this is not the case. Employers very rarely hire anyone to work as an accountant who does not have the specific training that goes with an accounting degree. Accounting requires a lot of specific job skills, and these skills simply aren’t taught in other majors (like economics). You probably want to at least pick up an associate’s degree in accounting.

You also might consider a bachelor’s or master’s degree if you want to open up even more career opportunities. You may very well end up picking up a higher degree after you graduate (if you choose to go with an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree) because of the ongoing educational requirements.

Some people do find jobs as accountants without formal education—or with a different type of degree. You will earn a lot more money and be given more responsibility however if you are a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

To become a CPA, you must meet the requirements which your state sets (these vary from state to state). Most states do require some formal education, generally at least 150 semester hours. You also usually need one to two years of job experience working under a CPA. There are generally two exams you need to pass as well, a CPA exam and an ethics exam.

Once you become a Certified Public Accountant, your educational path doesn’t end there. You usually need to complete around 40 hours of ongoing education each year to maintain your certification. Thankfully, CPAs usually make good money, so that can help you afford your college bills. Employers may also be willing to help you out with your continuing education.

So if I were in your position, I would most definitely be applying to schools which offer an accounting program. That is the most direct route into the profession you are interested in, and you want to become a CPA, not just an accountant working under a CPA. I also recommend looking into auditing, which is a similar position at a higher level.

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