Public Accounting Degree Concentration

Updated September 29, 2022

Explore accounting degrees with a focus in public accounting. Learn about the courses you will take, potential careers, and salary outlook.

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Earning an accounting degree can open the door to many career opportunities in the field. In an accounting program, you learn how to analyze and decipher data, helping you pursue business and accounting roles after graduation.

Pinpointing one concentration for your accounting degree can be challenging. If you seek an accounting career helping various clients or businesses, you may consider a public accounting degree.

In public accounting courses, you learn the analytical skills to efficiently manage money, report finances, and implement the latest practices. Public accountants play a significant role in organizing the finances of individuals and businesses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a 6% growth rate in accountant and auditor jobs from 2018 to 2028, higher than the projected growth rate for all occupations (5%).

Explore how a public accounting degree can help you pursue careers in various financial industries.

WHAT IS A PUBLIC ACCOUNTING CONCENTRATION?

Before enrolling in a public accounting program, you should first explore the public accounting field and the skills you need in the industry. The three most common tasks in the profession include auditing finances, preparing tax documents, and offering financial consulting.

The BLS projects employment for accountants and auditors to grow by more than 90,000 jobs from 2018 to 2028, a 6% increase.

In a public accounting degree program, you study general accounting principles, tax laws, and the daily tasks of a public accountant. These include analyzing financial data, compiling accounting information, and ensuring the accuracy of transactions.

According to the BLS, you typically need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field to work as an accountant. Completing a public accounting concentration at this level can help you prepare for a career as a certified public accountant (CPA), a credential that also requires you to pass an exam and complete a certain amount of work experience.

Continue reading for more information on educational paths to public accounting jobs.

Bachelor's Concentration

A bachelor's in public accounting usually involves similar courses as a general accounting degree. However, a public accounting curriculum delves into the theory and practice of the subfield to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of its real-world applications.

Examples of specific course topics in a typical public accounting concentration that differ from a traditional accounting degree include:

  • Investigating financial statements
  • Advanced accounting
  • Auditing principles

These classes differ from typical accounting degree coursework by covering specific public accounting skills like conducting financial investigations and filing public accounting reports.

TOP BACHELOR'S IN ACCOUNTING PROGRAMS

Master's Concentration

A master's in public accounting helps you gain knowledge to pursue advanced accounting roles and become a certified public accountant. The coursework differs from a typical accounting master's program by focusing more on the daily practices, ethical standards, and guiding principles of public accounting.

Most accounting master's programs meet the educational requirements for CPA licensure. In addition to pursuing your CPA, a master's concentration in public accounting can also qualify you for roles as an auditor, financial manager, and tax consultant.

TOP MASTER'S IN ACCOUNTING PROGRAMS

WHY GET A PUBLIC ACCOUNTING CONCENTRATION?

Progressing through your accounting career typically requires some form of certification or licensure. A public accounting concentration not only prepares you to earn those credentials but also provides a host of other benefits.

Check out some benefits of a public accounting concentration below.

  • Test Preparation: To become a public accountant, you need to pass the CPA exam to earn certification in the field. A public accounting concentration typically offers exam prep classes to educate you on the exam's materials.
  • Opportunities for Growth: The BLS projects employment for accountants and auditors to grow by more than 90,000 jobs from 2018 to 2028, a 6% increase.
  • Career Diversification: You can pursue public accounting roles in numerous sectors, including government, public, private, and nonprofit organizations. This variety of potential opportunities can help increase your chances of maintaining employment.
  • Protection Against Job Loss from Automation: The demand for financial experts with critical thinking and analytical skills can help protect these roles from automation.
  • Career Independence: CPAs do not have to work for a financial firm. They can provide their services independently to a variety of individuals and businesses.

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When Is a Public Accounting Concentration Better Than a General Accounting Degree?

When it comes to public accounting, the right type of degree can make a world of difference. You need at least a bachelor's degree to become a public accountant. If you want to become a CPA, you will need to complete more schooling and pass the CPA exam. Choosing a public accounting concentration can better prepare you to pursue a public accounting role.

Graduating with a public accounting concentration degree demonstrates to employers you have a thorough understanding of the profession. While a general accounting degree can provide you with access to a variety of industry jobs, a specific concentration in public accounting can prepare you for more in-depth roles like conducting audits and filing tax documents.

When Might a General Accounting Degree Be Better Than a Public Accounting Concentration?

Earning a general accounting degree helps you pursue employment in different finance sectors. Understanding basic accounting principles gives you a comprehensive look into the overall scope of a business as required by various finance roles.

A general accounting education allows you to broaden your skills across the industry, opening up more job opportunities. If you're interested in pursuing a finance job but unsure of your ideal role, a general accounting degree can help you identify areas you find most appealing.

What About Other Concentrations?

Public accounting represents just one of the numerous concentrations, including auditing and taxation, available for accounting majors. Every concentration has its unique aspects. Researching each topic can help you target the field that most closely aligns with your educational and professional goals.

Keep reading to see how each concentration can cater to your particular interests.

Explore Specific Accounting Concentrations

COURSES TO EXPECT WITH A PUBLIC ACCOUNTING CONCENTRATION

Whether you're considering earning a public accounting degree online or on campus, you can expect an in-depth curriculum. An accounting program covers a variety of financial and regulatory subjects, teaching you the investigative and analytical skills needed for public accounting.

Curriculum overlap does occur between accounting and public accounting degree programs. You can generally expect that core classes in both programs include auditing, finance investigation, and tax management. Popular electives include business management and communications, which provide you with a broad look into various business practices and correspondence.

Explore the list below to learn about courses common to public accounting programs. 

Financial Accounting

This course covers the basics of economic analysis, including how to compile reports, read financial statements, and master industry standards. Understanding the basics of the trade provides you with the foundation for further education.

Advanced Auditing

Often included in a master's degree program, advanced auditing summarizes the techniques needed for auditing financial and tax documents. You learn the latest applications of the auditing process and how new laws impact procedures for individuals and businesses.

Accounting Ethics

Accountants tasked with upholding industry standards must adhere to a strict set of ethics. Creating misleading financial reports or not reporting financial fraud can result in severe consequences. In this course, you may research past accounting errors and explore the importance of integrity.

Tax Law

A comprehensive tax law class provides you with a foundation for reporting taxes at the individual and corporate levels. One of the most common aspects of accounting entails dealing with the IRS, which requires a thorough understanding of the laws and regulations.

CPA Exam Preparation

Earning a certified public accounting license requires you to pass a CPA exam with requirements varying by state. Typically offered as part of a master's degree in public accounting, CPA assessment courses cover CPA exam topics. You can not only develop the skills needed for the test but also earn course credits.

CAREERS FOR PUBLIC ACCOUNTING DEGREE GRADUATES

Like most professions, public accountants can pursue related career paths. A CPA career is perhaps the most natural path if you're a public accounting graduate. Even if you don't plan to work as a CPA, taking the CPA exam can open avenues to more job prospects.

Graduates with public accounting degrees can work in a variety of career fields, including auditing, tax management, or financial analysis. According to Payscale, the average salary for a CPA is $66,290. If you're seeking a higher salary, you might consider working as a tax manager, a role that boasts an average annual salary of nearly $98,000.

A public accounting degree is not suitable for every accounting career. Roles in real estate appraising, for example, may require a different skill set.

Check out the list below to explore some popular career paths for public accounting degree graduates.

Personal Financial Advisor

Financial advisors help businesses and individuals identify areas where they can improve their finances. Advisors evaluate spending, saving, and investing habits to create a plan targeting how a business or person can better allocate their financial resources.

Annual Median Salary: $87,850

FINANCIAL ADVISORS

Tax Accountant

A tax accountant's responsibilities center around preparing tax documents for their clients. Tax accountants must follow specific IRS regulations and laws when filing tax returns. Similar to those in a public accountant role, tax accountants provide tax planning advice to ensure their clients can meet financial obligations.

Annual Mean Salary: $56,980

TAX ACCOUNTANTS

CPA

CPAs play a vital role in public accounting. Charged with managing financial information and documents for corporations and individual taxpayers, CPAs receive training to properly analyze and prepare financial records, including tax returns and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Annual Mean Salary: $66,290

CPAS

Accounting Clerk

The role of an accounting clerk entails recording, evaluating, and reporting financial transactions. Responsibilities for accounting clerks mostly involve basic accounting tasks such as reviewing financial statements and verifying financial transactions to ensure accuracy. Skills suited for this position include strong math expertise, communication, and problem-solving ability.

Annual Mean Salary: $39,130

ACCOUNTING CLERKS

Auditor

Auditing involves reviewing financial documents for accuracy and compliance with laws and regulations. A public accounting degree develops the investigative skills auditors need to perform their duties. For any business, spotting financial risks or errors is critical, which makes auditing an integral position.

Annual Median Salary: $71,550

AUDITORS

SELECTING AN ACCOUNTING PROGRAM WITH A PUBLIC ACCOUNTING CONCENTRATION

Conducting the proper research will help you choose the right school with an accounting curriculum matching your educational and career goals. To identify the school best suited for your needs, consider each program's financial aid offer, scholarship opportunities, career resources, location, and school size.

Accreditation can also play a critical role when it comes to choosing the right program. Many businesses do not accept applicants with degrees from unaccredited schools. Accreditation can also affect your ability to transfer credits.

The difficulty of being a competitive applicant and the challenges of the coursework can also play a part in your decision. Earning an accounting degree from a prestigious institution enhances your career profile, but the extra costs associated with such a school can deter prospective attendees.

If you're looking for a public accounting concentration, consider turning to business schools, which can often provide curriculums tailored entirely to the subject. If you prefer less interaction with others or need more flexibility with your schedule, earning an accounting degree online could be a smart choice for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Public Accounting

How do you get into public accounting?

If you have a passion for numbers and analytical thinking, then you're off to a good start. Next, identify and pursue the degree and concentration that best fits your professional goals.

What are the requirements for public accounting?

You need at least a bachelor's degree to enter the profession. Some businesses may also require intern experience at a financial firm.

What subjects are needed to become an accountant?

Courses most accounting majors enroll in include basic accounting, advanced auditing, general financial reporting, and tax laws.

What is the difference between public and private accounting?

Public accountants provide their financial services to businesses or individuals. A private accountant operates only for a particular company.

What's the difference between a public accountant and a certified public accountant?

To qualify as a certified public accountant, you must pass the CPA exam, which can vary by state. This certification enables CPAs to conduct more thorough financial duties.

Can you get a public accounting degree online?

Yes. Many online colleges offer coursework in public accounting to meet the degree requirements for the concentration.

Professional Organizations and Resources

After graduating, your main priorities may be employment and career advancement. Although your skills and dedication to your profession serve vital functions to that end, networking also plays a vital role. Joining a professional organization in the accounting field can provide you with the tools and resources to further enhance your career prospects.

Explore our list below to discover which organizations offer the best fit for public accounting professionals.

  • Institute of Management Accountants: This global organization boasts over 125,000 members from the finance and accounting fields. The company provides educational and career resources to help members gain certifications and the knowledge needed to progress in their professions.
  • National Society of Accountants: Established over 75 years ago, the National Society of Accountants works to provide accountants with a network of educational resources and scholarship opportunities. The company also advocates for self-regulation and a standard of ethics for accountants.
  • Young CPA Network: The Young CPA Network, created by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), helps provide a community where new accounting professionals can seek career guidance from those with more experience. The organization features a leadership academy to help young accountants develop leadership and ethical practices.
  • American Accounting Association: Founded in 1916, the American Accounting Association focuses on providing members education, research, and networking resources. The organization strives to encourage communication and innovation in the accounting profession to help strengthen the industry.

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