College is not just a fun time to party, hang out with friends, and meet that special guy or girl. It is a huge investment in your future. Ultimately you will graduate and look for a job. That is really why you go to college, to get the skills you need to build a career.
Some people will tell you to choose a major based on what classes you like. I disagree. This kind of advice provides no consideration for how many jobs exist in that area, what they pay, or even how fulfilling you will actually find them. It’s also true that the classes you enjoy now will be unduly influenced by the professor you had or the style of learning you prefer. Trusting your preferences on classes to choose a career path is a mistake.
For most people, getting a job is a numbers game. Supply and demand. Psychology is the fifth most common degree, yet depending on your source, is the number one worst degree to graduate with when it comes to finding a job. You have to compete against all your classmates for a finite number of jobs in the economy relevant to your degree.
Stability and Ubiquity
Accounting, fundamentally, has been around forever and exists in every organization at some level. No matter what the operation, every organization needs to know where their funds go and where their financial condition stands. Whether the organization’s motives are to serve others or make a profit, they still have the need to keep their finances in order. They still need an accountant. This makes accounting a relatively stable position within both individual organizations and also the macroeconomic environment. Even when an organization is suffering and they have to lay people off, those with accounting backgrounds will find jobs much faster due to the pure ubiquity of their position throughout every organization in every industry.
Foundation of Business
Whether you are interested in focusing on analyzing business performance, implementing new projects, or executing company plans, accounting is a good place to start. It exposes you to every part of the business, at least from a financial perspective. You get to know the ins and outs of various transactions and their resulting financial implications. This knowledge builds a good foundation to branch out into other areas. It serves as the underlying understanding of how the business really works. Accountants end up in good position to understand what metrics are really important to the business, what the key drivers of performance are, what fallacies exist in current assumptions, and what the true risks are when key projects rely on certain financial projections. Accountants develop a good understanding of what various components of the organization do based on how they use funds and justify business activities. They end up with a broad understanding of who the major players are in the organization which is key when it comes to management and execution.
Unlike the other business degrees, Accounting is based on a set methodology. Debits, credits, assets, liabilities and the financial statements interacting with each other are the same fundamental components of the systematic methodology used by every organization. Learning how all of these things are interrelated is not usually something you can do on the job. It requires some formalized education. Conversely, positions in corporate finance, management, or marketing are more forgiving because they are centered around concepts and principles. Their application is less technical. For this reason I tell students to get an accounting degree over a finance degree, even if they want to go into finance. You will usually see Accounting positions prefer accounting degrees, but other areas accept any business degree or group accounting and finance degrees together.
Specialization and Recognition
Just because you are in “accounting” or in “finance” doesn’t mean you get really busy during April because of tax season. I laugh when people ask me about that. I think this speaks to the overall stereotype that accountants are all either CPA’s or working for CPA’s and usually do taxes buried in papers crunching numbers all day. Accounting is a great place to start because it has a credential that is recognized by the public, the CPA. If you get your CPA however, it in no way indicates or requires you to actually practice public accounting. Instead the CPA gives you additional credibility and marketability, but doesn’t necessarily dictate your career path. It is relevant in many areas – Finance, Management, Treasury, Underwriting, Investment management, etc. The beauty of this is that with a background that is highly specialized, yet quite applicable to other areas, you have a well-defined path towards higher recognition and prestige. It doesn’t stop with the CPA either. Depending on your desired focus you can compile certifications in other ares (CFA, CMA, CFP, CIA, CFE, etc). There are many depending on your interest.
Accountants are not just tax-preparers or bean counters. They are the underlying financial backbone of the organization. Getting an accounting degree grants you access to much more than any other bachelor degree can. The knowledge is highly transferable and many times will serve as the foundation for other career paths. In today’s highly competitive job market, you need every advantage you can get. Starting with an accounting degree will be a good first move.
Hopefully this gives you some useful information on how an Accounting degree can serve you. Base your decision on the economics of the job market, and the value of the degree you are seeking. I commend those out there who recommend following your desires, as I honestly agree in some ways. But I also recognized that it’s hard to sort out your desires on limited information and try and decide what track in life to choose. Sometimes your desires are influenced by a number of irrelevant conditions, sometimes your desires are too broad and scattered.
Right after high school I wanted to be a Visual Communications (basically Art) major. No kidding. I loved to paint and draw and art had been a huge part of my life growing up. I was good at it. Had something not in me clicked before I enrolled in that program and questions in my mind wondered how I would ever pay the bills, I might have just followed that desire and tried to make a career out of what now I see as a great hobby. It doesn’t mean I ignored my creative desire and squandered my talent, but it does mean that I recognized the fact that I might not be able (or willing) to support a family on it.