Accounting is the language of business

Grads are in demand and have a host of opportunities

So you didn’t break out in cold sweats during high school calculus class and you think it’s fun to prepare your own income tax returns. Now is your time to shine.

Accountants are always in demand and the Georgia Department of Labor predicts that accounting will continue to be among the hottest jobs in the state through 2020.

That’s great news for Thavon Davis, a junior at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He is working toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a concentration in accounting and a minor in economics.

“Interestingly enough, when I entered at Morehouse, I was a biology and chemistry double major,” Davis said. “I was on the track to be the next great forensic pathologist, and no one was going to tell me any differently. I did really well, I was learning the information, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy it.”

Davis sought the advice of his mentors at Morehouse — International Student Services director Gwen Wade and accounting professor Emmanuel Onifade   — to find his passion for accounting.

“They told me that accounting gives you a number of possibilities,” Davis said. “Accounting is the language of business and your understanding of accounting can guide you to be successful in any arena of business.”

Good parenting also helped.

“Both of my parents run businesses back in the Bahamas,” Davis said. “My father is a proprietor of a construction company and my mom runs a general merchandise store, like a Walmart. They gave me a lot of responsibility in their businesses, even in high school. Discussing the principles that guided their businesses definitely gave me something to think about.”

What does it take to get an accounting degree?

“The person who does well in accounting is disciplined and intellectually curious, someone who wonders about the 'whys’ along with the 'hows,’ ” Davis said. “You have to be hard-working, versatile and adaptable. My best advice to someone who is unsure about where to go in business is to get a solid foundation in accounting and build on it.”

Cheryl L. Allen , a professor of accounting and associate dean of the Morehouse College Division of Business Administration and Economics, also believes  that a  good work ethic is essential in the field.

“In accounting, you can’t let a problem stump you,” Allen said. “A competitive nature has to be there, you need to have high integrity and you have to understand math. We suggest that accounting students have at least precalculus, and (we) prefer students with college-level calculus. Accountants also have to be good communicators, which surprises a lot of people.”

Allen is optimistic about the future of accounting.

“It’s an exciting time to get into the field,” she said. “Accounting graduates can go into the area of computer security; that’s a very big thing right now. Others may choose international financial reporting, which could give them opportunities to work abroad in U.S. companies that are doing business in other countries.”

Allen said forensic accounting — such as investigating fraud or identity theft or collecting data to protect a company’s financial assets — is another important growth area.

“Business scandals like Enron and WorldCom have shone a light on fraud in business, and accountants can play an important role in protecting businesses from fraud,” she said.

More traditional job opportunities for accountants can be found in manufacturing firms, banks, insurance companies, brokerage houses and public accounting firms. Allen said demand also remains high in federal agencies like the Internal Revenue Service, state government  and large nonprofits such as hospitals.

Entry-level, nondegree jobs in the accounting field do exist, but earning potential is significantly lower than those who have accounting degrees and CPA credentials. Someone with a high school diploma or an associate degree from a community college in accounting could start as low as $15,000 to $18,000 annually (entry level, perhaps with on-the-job training provided by the employer), working as a payroll or accounts payable clerk. A salary of $40,000 annually would be attainable for an experienced, nondegree bookkeeper, Allen said.

Fulltime employees  with a degree in accounting from a four-year college or university can earn from $45,000 to $80,000 annually, depending on experience, Allen said. Fulltime accountants who have passed the Certified Public Accountant exam may start at $50,000 to $60,000 annually, and CPAs with 10 or more years of progressively responsible experience can earn more than $200,000 annually, she added.