Public Accounting -- This is the providing of accounting and auditing services to a variety of customers, called clients. A CPA must be licensed by the state where the services are provided. This comes after successfully passing the Uniform CPA Exam, meeting satisfactory experience and residence requirements, and in many states, successfully passing an ethics exam. Most states now require 150 semester hours of college credit prior to sitting for the exam.
Many universities have Schools of Professional Accountancy, separate from Business Schools, which offer five year programs that meet the 150 hour requirement. Other universities offer the Master of Accountancy or Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Accountancy to meet the requirement. Naturally, if one chooses the public accounting route, becoming a CPA should be the primary goal. This means that the accounting student whose career goal is public accounting should expect to pursue five years of formal education. One can work for CPA firms without actually being a CPA, but they are prohibited from performing public accounting services in his or her own name.
Managerial Accounting -- This accountant works for one organization and provides accounting information integral to management decision making. Typically, an accounting graduate begins as a cost accountant or some other specialized area of accounting, advances through various supervisory roles, and to the corporate controller (the chief accountant) position. Some people with accounting backgrounds advance to the Chief Executive Officer position.
The corporate accountant's work is aimed at internal users more than external users, but s(he) must continue to be in tune with generally accepted accounting principles as s(he) provides information for external reports (financial statements). It is not unusual for private organizations to hire CPAs to work for their organizations as cost or managerial accountants after their public accounting experience. The Institute of Management Accountants is the professional organization that promotes the interests of accountants in private accounting. It oversees the testing and issuance of the Certified Management Accountant(CMA) certificate.
Governmental Accounting -- All levels of government need accountants. At the federal level, the Treasury Department, General Accounting Office, Securities and Exchange Commission are a few examples of accounting career possibilities. State Comptrollers Offices hire many accounting graduates annually. Local governments also need the financial expertise provided by accountants.
Accounting Education -- Teaching accounting in higher education can be one of the most rewarding careers in accounting. Seeing the development in young people who are interested in accounting careers is very satisfying to accounting professors. Accounting education is also taught in Secondary Education thereby creating a need for high school accounting teachers.
Not-For-Profit Accounting -- Not-For-Profit organizations, such as United Way, are the fastest growing organizations in the United States. Additionally, many hospitals and universities fall into the not-for-profit category. They all need accountants thereby providing an excellent career avenue for accounting graduates.
Personally, I have used an accounting background for employment as an an auditor with the USDA in Indianapolis, as a field auditor for the Internal Revenue Service in Memphis, as a self-employed CPA, and, currently, in the classroom as a college professor. Career opportunities are abundant for accounting graduates.