In my role as an executive in residence at Rowan University in southern New Jersey, I have had the opportunity to meet with many students and discuss their future. When still trying to decide on their major field of study, they often hear me encourage them to consider the accounting profession for the following reasons:

  • The work is interesting, challenging, and makes an impact.
  • The profession offers a great deal of flexibility.
  • The financial rewards can be significant.
  • Launching a career in accounting can lead to other future opportunities.
  • Every organization needs someone with strong accounting skills as part of their senior leadership team.
  • The sense of purpose and psychic rewards can be powerful.

Even better, accountants can pursue opportunities in every sector of the economy. Everyone needs accountants, from global Fortune 500 companies to the local dry cleaners. A good friend of mine who enjoys baseball leveraged his accounting degree and CPA certificate in a fashion that enabled him to become the CFO of the Philadelphia Phillies!

A Noble Profession

The accounting profession plays an important role in the broader economy. If you are involved in the preparation or auditing of financial statements, you play a critically important role in ensuring that investors and creditors are receiving essential, decision-useful information in a timely and transparent fashion. When investment and debt capital flows to the best opportunities, good things happen—job creation, innovation, and an improved standard of living.

Similarly, if you are involved in income tax planning or preparation of tax returns at either the business or individual level, you are enabling the proper functioning our tax system, which is increasingly designed to achieve public policy objectives. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, for example, CPAs rose to the occasion by helping businesses secure Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) financing and take advantage of other government financing programs to avoid having to lay off employees or shut their doors.

Career Paths

One of the best things about the accounting profession is the myriad opportunities available to graduates with an accounting degree. At a very high level, this is what potential career paths and opportunities look like:

  • Public accounting. From the Big Four, to national, regional, or local accounting firms, individuals can work in an environment that appeals to them and choose to pursue options in auditing, tax or advisory services.
  • Private industry. Chief Financial Officer (CFO), controller, accounting manager, director of financial reporting, cost accountant, and financial analyst are just a handful of the many positions available at companies of all sizes.
  • Government. The federal, state, and local government sectors employ tens of thousands of accounting professionals.
  • Not-for-profit organizations. There are hundreds of thousands of these organizations. Many are small but some are large, sophisticated organizations (think hospital systems, colleges and universities, and large donor-financed entities including the American Cancer Society).
  • Specialized areas. Forensic accounting, internal auditing, and international taxation are just a few examples of specialized careers open to accountants.
  • Academia. For those that love teaching and research, pursuing a PhD in accounting can lead to a tenure track position teaching at a university.

What About Credentials?

Accounting is a profession that requires a commitment to lifelong learning. I encourage students to develop a plan early in their academic journey that will enable them to achieve 150 credit hours and become a CPA. Some students make it a point to acquire a master’s degree. There are other cost-effective alternatives, such as taking classes at a community college, in order to earn the extra credits. I tell my students that you can’t go wrong in obtaining your CPA license. It is a widely recognized credential that will likely enhance your earnings potential and job opportunities over the course of your career.

Service to Others

I try to remind my students at Rowan that it is never too early in life to give back to your community and help the generations that come after you. There are many ways for accountants to do so: Get involved with a nonprofit organization, serve as a mentor to students, or coach a local youth sports team. There are many ways to give back, and volunteers benefit immensely from doing so, from gaining valuable leadership experience to building important community relationships.

Jerry Maginnis, CPA, is a retired KPMG partner, serves as an executive in residence at Rowan University, Glassboro, N.J. He is the author of “Advice for a Successful Career in the Accounting Profession: How to Make Your Assets Greatly Exceed Your Liabilities,” recently published by Wiley.