Looking for a job with security? The business world will always need accountants. But what can you expect to study in an online accounting degree program?
Break out the balloons and the green eyeshades -- tomorrow is National Accounting Day!
News to you?
Not to worry. Chances are that even if you are an accountant or an accounting student, you may not have realized the significance of May 19. After all, National Accounting Day is a relatively new observance. It was founded just 43 years ago.
That's a nanosecond when you consider the origins of accounting. For as long as people have been buying and selling goods and services, accountants have been keeping records.
For example, back when Mesopotamia topped the 'best places to live' list, someone had to keep track of the animals and crops being traded, even if it was on clay and stone tablets.
And when pharaohs collected taxes from peasants, those ancient Egyptian kings needed a bookkeeper to track revenues as well audit the inventory in royal storehouses.
It seems as if there always has been – always will be – a need for accountants.
But if you never took a basic accounting class in high school and you're not familiar with a credit or a debit beyond your plastic bank card, accounting may seem like a foreign language to you.
And you'd be right.
Studying accounting is like studying a language.
The language of business
According to Daniel Tschopp, professor of accounting at Saint Leo, accounting is the language of business. It's the process of identifying, measuring and communicating economic information in the form of financial statements and management reports so that sound business decisions can be made.
"Accounting allows users, including management, investors, government creditors, suppliers and customers – to make informed decisions," he says.
Within the accounting field, there are several branches in which accountants may specialize. Some of those areas are:
- Financial accounting
A branch of accounting that keeps track of a company's financial transactions for periodic reporting to external parties such as stockholders, the board of directors, investors and the general public. Precise financial accounting reports enable these external audiences to gauge a company's overall financial health.
- Managerial accounting
The branch of accounting that focuses on preparing financial statements for internal use so managers can make timely decisions concerning the day-to-day operations of a business. These types of reports include projections and estimates so that managers can plan for the future.
- Tax accounting
The branch of accounting that focuses on tax issues rather than financial statements. Tax accounting follows rules set up by the Internal Revenue Code, which are separate and distinct from Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.
- Cost accounting
A type of accounting that focuses on collecting and analyzing information about the costs a company incurs in doing business. The goal of cost accounting is to help minimize costs and configure prices for products and services that will enable the company to earn a reasonable profit.
An official inspection of accounting records and internal controls and procedures to verify completeness and accuracy. A tax audit, for example, determines if appropriate tax was paid. An internal audit may determine if proper procedures were followed or if embezzlement or other illegal activity took place.
- Forensic accounting
This is the branch of accounting that focuses on legal issues. It's the investigation and analysis of financial evidence for matters such as bankruptcy and divorce and involves presenting expert testimony in court.
Accounting courses you may take
What specifically do accounting students in programs like Saint Leo's online undergraduate accounting program study to learn the language of business and prepare for accounting careers?
Here are just a few courses:
- Principles of Accounting I and II
These introductory courses focus on fundamental concepts such as assets, liabilities, revenues and expenses; how to prepare and use the information found in financial statements; and the role of cost accounting and budgeting in helping management make decisions.
- Intermediate Accounting I and II
These advanced courses that continue the study of accounting principles and teach you how to apply them when developing financial statement presentations.
- Accounting Information Systems
Accounting information systems enable accountants to work effectively with financial data and make financial information easily available to everyone who needs access to it. A course in accounting information systems combines accounting, technology and the role accounting systems play in the managerial decision-making process.
A rigorous major demands hard work and integrity
According to Tschopp, at Saint Leo, students begin their accounting studies by learning the accounting cycle.
"The accounting cycle starts with an individual transaction and continues through the creation of a set of financial statements," says Tschopp. "We give students real-life experience by using an actual public company's financial statements to perform mock audits and prepare simulated tax returns."
Tschopp says that accountants need to be analytical and have a keen attention to detail. "Being able to read, understand, and make decisions based on financial statements is an art form. Having the critical thinking skills necessary to analyze and interpret financial data is important," he says.
To be well prepared to do that requires a rigorous course of study.
"Some think that accounting is one of the most challenging college majors there is," says Tschopp.
Whether you're in an online accounting degree program or a traditional, campus-based program, a strong work ethic is an absolute necessity to be successful.
So is integrity.
"Financial statements are prepared so users can rely on the information to make decisions. Auditors provide assurance so that users can trust the information is accurate," says Tschopp.
"The accounting profession is built on integrity."
Integrity and hard work.
If you're studying accounting, could you share what you like about it in the comments below?
Image credit: Danomyte on Shutterstock.com
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