Should I go back to school for accounting?
July 31, 2013 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Accountants of metafilter! Should I attempt to become one of your number? I have a secretarial gig at a university. I want to continue working at the university for as much of my career as possible, and I'd like more responsibility and challenge. In my current role, I do some proto-accounting stuff unique to this position (some reporting, some tracking of numbers, some fancy work with Excel). I enjoy these parts of my job. This leads me to wonder whether I should get an accounting degree.

Qualifiers: I am not the world's most exact person. My memory is indifferent. I've become more exact and improved my memory in the past few years, but I'm no superstar. I am in my late thirties. I have a humanities BA.

Questions: is it even possible to do this via night school/part time? Will it take ten million years and cost a zillion dollars? Do I need to be a really precise person in order to be an accountant?

The whole purpose of this would not be to get a fancy, high-paying accounting job but to get a stable, benefits-bearing university accounting job, for preference one where I'd do grant reporting.

Any thoughts would be appreciated. I'm still in the early stages of figuring things out, so I am still figuring out how to figure things out, if you get me.
posted by Frowner to Education (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you work at a university, do you get free classes?

Were I you, since I already possess a degree, I'd just take Accounting classes. Start with intro, then look at the CPA track and take the classes associated with that.

Make an appointment with folks in the Accounting department at your job. Find out what they do all day. There are some parts of accounting that just do not light my fire. Some accounting work is just learning a particular database. (The company I work for sells accounting software to banks. Also, our sales people are all CPAs.)

See if what the accountants at your school do is anything you'd find enjoyable.

Accounting is a huge profession, with lots and lots of different paths. Big 4 Accounting, Cost Accounting, CFO, Forensic Accounting. Some I enjoy, some are the pits.

I skirted accounting and I'm a whiz with Excel. I found my niche and it did not require a whole new degree.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:08 PM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


some reporting, some tracking of numbers, some fancy work with Excel

This is Business Analysis and I would encourage you to get a business degree, not accounting, unless you really want to be a CPA (which will require that you leave your job and the university, probably, to do your time auditing).

You'd be better off, I suspect, with a business degree and a minor in computer science or information science. You can pretty much do anything with a business degree.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:20 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I want to continue working at the university for as much of my career as possible, and I'd like more responsibility and challenge.

Would it be possible to talk to your superiors about this? Is it the sort of environment where they'd be like "yes, we'd love to help you succeed here, you just need to do X and Y to make that happen"? Because that would probably be the most effective way of figuring out how to stay at the university and gain more responsibility.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:37 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can pretty much do anything with a business degree.

And you can easily end up doing nothing with a business degree. A business degree is very broad and won't on its own bring you a job at this stage of your career. There are mountains of people with undergraduate and graduate business degrees. An accounting degree is more specific, and as far as I know there's a good demand for accountants, therefore in my opinion an accounting degree is potentially more capable of producing job opportunities for you than a general business degree.
posted by Dansaman at 12:41 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


accounting is kinda fun. I've known several people - me included - that have worked in accounting without any sort of accounting background. Ya just pick it up on the fly; if you're reasonably intelligent, it's not that tough. Maybe get a textbook and learn about the debits and the credits and then talk to some people in your accounting department if you know any.
posted by jpe at 12:49 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I were in your position, I would take some accounting and finance courses if you can get them at your place of work. There are a lot of different roles within an accounting department at a university. There are a few ways to get CPAs, but you don't necessarily need one for a vast majority of university accounting jobs (depending on the size of the university). I currently work as an accounting manager for a college, and there are a huge number of jobs within the department that require different skills. I think you sound like you might enjoy financial analysis.

I would only go back to school for an accounting degree if you are specifically seeking a CPA. Most everyone I know in accounting does not have an undergraduate degree in it, though quite a few have done supplemental coursework for it and then gone to get masters in it if they were serious about it. I'd see if there are any opportunities for you to do more analytic work, which would require a lot less tine investment than a series of classes to move you more in that direction.

Feel free to message me if you want more specifics about what it's like to work in higher ed accounting.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 12:50 PM on July 31, 2013


Questions: is it even possible to do this via night school/part time?

I think it may be, at least in some places. For example, the University of Minnesota's College of Continuing Education has an accounting certificate program and a glance at the online class schedules indicates that several classes have sections that meet after 5:30 pm.
posted by Area Man at 12:54 PM on July 31, 2013


As far as I've seen, most university jobs want you to do the finances/money/accounting these days (kind of shoots me out, as I don't want to). So I don't know if you need a full on degree for it, but related financial experience sounds like it would really help you on the job hunt.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:07 PM on July 31, 2013


I did accounting/bookeeping for 10 years, I never got any real qualifications and just kind of drifted into the work starting as an account clerk. I was never a CPA, but the work really isn't that exacting, despite what you hear. Calculations are done on calculators, in software or on spreadsheets. The main skill you really need to have is to be systematic. You don't need a great memory, as the point of accounting is to clearly record everything so it can be found again, you just need to know how to find it again, which if you have basic computer skills isn't that hard.

My favorite part of the job was starting with a huge stack of unorganized documents and slowly processing them and organizing them and ending up with a nice neat report that summarized them.

I don't know a lot about training for Accounting in the US, but I do know that courses are available at community and vocational colleges, and have you spoken to anyone at your college to see if staff get discount rates. Maybe you could audit a class or 2. Could you start with a 2 year degree, maybe get some training in bookkeeping. The skills are useful no matter what you do, personally I think anyone that wants to deal with businesses or management should know how the books are kept. Then if you find it is something you enjoy you can go on and get your CPA or whatever. I know it is possible to do like this in Australia as I had plans to do so at one point, but not 100% sure if it is viable in the US.
posted by wwax at 1:08 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Absolutely you should do it. Accounting is the language of business just like math is the language of science. And by "business" I mean any organization that has budgets, that needs to track money in and out, that wants to turn an idea into day-to-day reality.

You can do as little or as much as you want. You don't have to spend a zillion dollars or a million years. You can choose your level. You can go deep, you can go shallow. Even shallow is useful.

And you don't need to decide to become an accountant in order to study accounting. It's a basic skill that will help you no matter what you do. It'll even help you in your personal life, help you manage your money and plan for the future.

Take a course, see what you think. There's no downside.
posted by mono blanco at 1:53 PM on July 31, 2013


The whole purpose of this would not be to get a fancy, high-paying accounting job but to get a stable, benefits-bearing university accounting job, for preference one where I'd do grant reporting.

You may already be qualified without needing to spend all the money on another degree, though a few credits of accounting might not be a bad investment. I would start reading through your university's jobs site and looking for grant analyst positions like the type you're interested in, and other business and financial analysis positions. Read up on the requirements and see if they actually require an accounting degree. I wouldn't be surprised if they just ask for a bachelor's in anything with some business coursework or equivalent experience.

There are going to be a certain number of CPA-required staff accountant roles, but probably for anything where the job title includes the word analyst rather than accountant, good operational knowledge and some demonstrated Excel chops are going to get you just as far with a hiring manager as an accounting degree would.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:15 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am a degreed accountant. I am not a CPA, nor do I wish to be one.

The job I am doing now requires analytical skills, and excel skills, and an understanding of where the dollars flow, and the reasons. I work with someone who does similar things, but I have some additional responsibilities. Because I have a 4 year degree, my pay is about $20K more than theirs. This, I think, is the key. Your time spent getting that degree will enable you to get a higher paying job, or more money for the same job as someone without a degree.

When I amortized the various costs of getting an accounting degree, the break-even point came at about 10 years of working.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 2:40 PM on July 31, 2013


At our company in Canada many of the staff have , or are in the process of getting , a CMA designation (Certified Management Accountant). It is highly regarded here . The US program here looks very similar.

Looks like you need a unversity degree in anything (which you have got), as well as to take courses and complete a term of employment in an accounting capacity.
posted by canoehead at 2:50 PM on July 31, 2013


I did accounting/bookeeping for 10 years, I never got any real qualifications and just kind of drifted into the work starting as an account clerk..[ ]..the work really isn't that exacting, despite what you hear...[].. The main skill you really need to have is to be systematic..[]..My favorite part of the job was starting with a huge stack of unorganized documents and slowly processing them and organizing them and ending up with a nice neat report that summarized them.

All of that is certainly true for the sort of roles a lot of people do who don't get the qualifications. Understanding double entry bookkeeping is not difficult, I always compare it to times tables and you probably learned those just fine. And most accounting software is designed to try to lead you down the correct path.

I'm a big 4 auditor with several years post qualifying experience and I don't do anything like that at work, nor do any of my trainees or my client contacts, all of whom are qualified or at least part qualified accountants. In fact all my clients are organisations that are big enough not to have openings that you could do without formal training.

So if you're after something more taxing you'll need more formal training. Depending on what exactly you want to do you'll get by with more or less of the formal training and experience. My feeling is that if you're happy not to progress much you could probably achieve what you want to achieve with a small number of classes.

The only danger is that once you have your dream role with minimal qualifications somebody may come along rejig the job descriptions and decide that the role requires a more formal qualification. That happened to my aunt so in her 40s she found herself at night school gaining a more formal qualification.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:53 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Due to koahiatamadls comments on post, I'm worried I wasn't clear.

I know that qualifications, for some reason, are way more important in the US than in Australia for jobs like that and why I suggested getting some Bookkeeping qualifications seemed like a good stepping stone, to see if you were interested in the line of work. A quick Google search shows that that bookkeeping courses exist in the US (I don't know the schools to know if they are good ones or not)and you could do them at night at a vocational or community college. Then if you want to further expand into Accounting after having tried it out you have a solid foundation to build on at less outlay than going straight for an Accounting degree. Either way knowing the basics won't do you any harm job hunting even if you decide later on that it's not an area you are interested in.

In Australia the credits from bookkeeping courses at TAFE (a vocational college) are transferable to most major Australian Universities so I am assuming here something similar is available in the US. I know of 2 people that have studied toward getting Accounting Degrees and eventually went on to became CPA's this way while working in various Account Clerk and then Accounts positions, and planned on doing it myself at one point.

Sorry for any confusion, hope that is clearer. I am sorry if I annoyed any accountants out there that seemed to think I was trying to talk her out of becoming an Accountant, I was simply trying to offer an alternative route.
posted by wwax at 7:14 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perhaps read the faqs or write to NCURA and ask them what's required?
posted by lalochezia at 5:07 AM on August 1, 2013


echoing showbiz_liz, talking to people who do the job at nearby colleges may also provide insight
posted by lalochezia at 5:22 AM on August 1, 2013


And finally, look at SRA international and their courses
posted by lalochezia at 9:44 PM on August 4, 2013


I am sorry if I annoyed any accountants out there that seemed to think I was trying to talk her out of becoming an Accountant, I was simply trying to offer an alternative route.

You didn't and I didn't mean to belittle all the bookkeepers out there either - we've all got a role to play and I think we're all getting at the same thing. There is a broad spectrum of roles that fall under accounting in the widest sense and one needs to think bout what exactly one is looking for and there are different ways of getting to the different ends of the spectrum and different things to think about :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:15 AM on August 5, 2013


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