How To Become an Accountant in 6 Steps (Plus Types)

Updated June 7, 2023

People in nearly every industry use accountants for various financial services, whether as individual or corporate clients. This career path has a positive job outlook and security in an in-demand industry. Learning how to become an accountant can help you decide whether this career is right for you.

In this article, we discuss what an accountant does, how you can become one, the various types and how much they typically earn.

What does an accountant do?

An accountant specializes in various aspects of individual and business finances. Accounting involves measuring and managing financial information that helps investors, managers, business owners, and others make sound financial decisions. An accountant may keep track of business transactions, monitor and report on a company's financial performance and prepare financial statements.

Specific examples of what accountants may do include the following:

  • Preparing and issuing invoices to a company's customers

  • Preparing and issuing tax reports to government entities on behalf of a company or individual

  • Reconciling bank statements

  • Analyzing profits and losses

  • Maintaining and processing payroll

  • Creating and reviewing budgets and expenses

  • Developing and maintaining financial databases for individuals and companies

Read more: Learn About Being an Accountant

How to become an accountant

Most accounting positions require a bachelor's degree in accounting, certifications and a commitment to continuing education. Below are steps you can follow to become an accountant:

1. Obtain a bachelor's degree

While not all accounting positions require a bachelor's degree, many do. Even if a particular accountant job doesn't require higher education, having a bachelor's degree can help you distinguish yourself from less qualified competitors and potentially increase your yearly salary. Common degrees that accountants pursue include accounting, finance and auditing. Many of these degree programs require students to have a high school diploma or GED before attending courses.

Related: What Is a Bachelor's Degree or Equivalent?

2. Get an internship or entry-level position

Getting as much experience as possible before and after graduation can significantly boost your resume and increase your chances of landing an accounting job. While working in internships or entry-level roles, you can also develop a network of other accounting employees you can rely on for information. They may provide opportunities for advancement, information about skills you can develop and even job opportunities.

Getting an internship can also help you develop important skills such as:

  • Mathematics

  • Communication

  • Attention to detail

  • Organization

  • Computer literacy

  • Proficiency with technology

Related: A Guide to Finding an Internship During College

3. Choose a specialty

Most accountants work in a specific area of accounting. For example, you may choose to work in corporate or public accounting or select a subspecialty such as taxes or auditing. Your specialty likely relates to your degree but can also be based on your preferences and skills. When choosing your specialty, consider your strengths and preferences for professional work and environments. You can also think about the job market, as you may opt for a specialization with a high job outlook to increase your chances of finding open positions.

4. Determine whether to pursue certification

Determining which career path to pursue can give you a better understanding of what requirements you must meet to practice in your specialty. Companies don't always require accountants to have certifications or licensure, but having one can help you qualify for higher-paying jobs and show employers you have advanced expertise. 

You must be a CPA to practice accounting for most organizations. To become a certified public accountant, research your state's requirements, which vary. Many states may require you to have at least a bachelor's degree before you pursue a CPA. 

Other certifications you can pursue include:

  • Certified Financial Analyst (CFA)

  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

  • Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)

  • Enrolled Agent (EA)

  • Financial Services Audit Certificate

Related: Top 8 Accounting Certifications to Enhance Your Career

5. Pass all required exams

The CPA exam has four parts: Auditing and Attestation, Financial Accounting and Reporting, Regulation, and Business Environment and Concepts. Candidates can take this exam during the first two months of each quarter, and it typically takes several days.

Related: CPA vs. Bar Exam: What's the Difference? (With Requirements)

6. Consider pursuing continuing education

Many successful accountants don't end their education after receiving their degrees and necessary certifications. Participating in continuing education is key to being the most successful accountant possible and staying abreast of accounting trends. Accountants have several opportunities to further their education, including additional certifications and earning a master's degree.

Related: 12 Types of Continuing Education

Types of accountants

While all accountants work with finances in some capacity, there are several different types of roles you can pursue as part of your accounting career. The most common types of accountants include:

Certified public accountant (CPA)

A CPA is an accountant who oversees all aspects of an organization's finances. They're often considered a trusted financial advisor and may perform duties that include tax preparation, audits, financial reviews and litigation services. You can earn your CPA certification or CPA license through coursework and examination.

Related: How To Write a CPA Resume (With Template and Example)


An auditor is an accountant who performs audits and records reviews for a company or organization. They also stay current on changes in accounting standards and regulations. Tasks of an auditor may include assessing and maintaining internal controls, analyzing account books and records, verifying financial statements and providing recommendations for financial improvement. Many companies hire auditors from outside their organizations to ensure objective auditing during key periods of financial analysis. These are external auditors, while those who work for an organization they audit are internal auditors.

Read more: What Does an Auditor Do? A Complete Guide

Forensic accountant

A forensic accountant studies and ensures financial records are accurate. They may also visit an organization to evaluate any financial discrepancies, errors or instances of fraud. Most forensic accountants work in litigation or investigation support.

Read more: Learn About Being a Forensic Accountant

Government accountant

All forms of government use accountants. A government accountant may work in a city, state, county or federal government agency to analyze and allocate taxpayer dollars most efficiently. A government accountant may also help the government formulate a fiscal plan for each calendar year. This type of accountant may also work for the IRS and audit organizations and individuals.

Management accountant

Management accountants help business owners and managers make sound financial decisions. A management accountant may prepare business budgets, analyze profitability, assess risks and prepare external financial reports. These individuals also prepare and communicate the financial aspects of a company in a way that others can easily understand and may communicate management accounting ideas with their team.

Cost accountant

A cost accountant is typically responsible for helping a business improve its processes to become more profitable. This type of accountant analyzes all costs related to an organization's labor, production, shipping and other day-to-day operations. With this information, cost accountants recommend cost-cutting measures to businesses.

Staff accountant

Staff accountants are company employees. This is the most common type of accountant, and their duties typically include maintaining a company's accounts, analyzing and preparing financial statements, reconciling accounts, maintaining payroll and various bookkeeping responsibilities. A staff accountant's duties vary depending on the size and type of the company where they work.

Read more: Learn About Being a Staff Accountant

Average salaries of accountants

Salaries for accountants may depend on their level of education, years of relevant experience and professional certifications. Their employer and geographical location may also impact earnings. The national average salary for accountants is $61,359 per yearFor the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

How long does it take to become an accountant?

Many accountant roles require at least a bachelor's degree and some level of certification. With this, it can take about four years to become an accountant. However, this can change based on how quickly you complete your studies, when you pursue certification and whether you gain experience through internships and entry-level roles. For planning, consider three to five years to be the average time it takes to become an accountant.

Is being an accountant right for you?

If you enjoy working with finances and mathematics, then being an accountant may be right for you. Accountants typically work a full-time, 40-hour week, though they sometimes work weekends and holidays, especially during busy periods. They may also work as part of an organization or as an independent accountant, affecting whether they work from home or in an office.


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