As a child, I sang. I danced. I hid under my covers with a flashlight and a good book. From designing herb gardens and crocheting misshapen blankets to scrapbooking and dreaming up experimental recipes to inflict on my family—if it was dreamy and artistic, I did it.
When it came time to pick a college major, I surveyed my most-beloved high school subjects—classical music, history, grammar, literature, Spanish—and landed on... accounting.
Yep. Making heads spin since 2011, that’s me! I picked a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, a typical 4-year, 120-hour degree in a subject I had previously had zero experience in.
Shock (or outright terror) became the most common reaction when I told friends and family about my degree choice.
If you believe the cultural stereotype, I was an unlikely accountant for sure. Accountants are the stern, semi-monastic gurus of great financial mysteries beyond the pale of the happily-unaware. I was just a starry-eyed dreamer longing to organize a world I had never explored.
That’s how I discovered the stereotype was dead wrong.
I chose accounting for two reasons:
I didn’t hate math, and
I wanted a firm grasp on a concrete business skill to round out my artistic tendencies.
After focusing on the humanities in high school, I wanted to gain more practical expertise as I entered adulthood. Accounting seemed like a prime career option with great earnings potential and lots of job location flexibility. But honestly, I had no idea I would actually be good at it, much less enjoy it. As I began my studies, I found out why accounting fit strangely well into my creative personality.
Here are some signs accounting might be a more likely match than you think:
Accounting isn’t hard-core math. It’s basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Possibly some light, entry-level algebra, but that’s it. You don’t have to understand calculus. You just need the mental ability to associate abstract information (numbers printed on a page) with real-world quantities (money and other valuables).
For a whimsical bookworm, I was surprisingly skilled at accounting… but why? Design. Abstraction. Labeling. The adventurous pieces of my childhood were all indicators that I would be really, really good at categorizing things.
Turns out accounting is organizing on steroids. Less math, more Marie Kondo. (Except you can’t throw out the numbers that don’t bring you joy. Don’t do that. That’s called fraud.)
Disorder nags at the back of my mind like that cringe-worthy sound my car bumper makes when I drive over the curb for the millionth time. There is nothing like the satisfaction of neat columns of numbers balancing out on the crisp ledger lines of an Excel workbook.
If you can’t rest until everything is exactly where it needs to be, welcome to the spreadsheet family. Your perfectionist tendencies are welcome here.
However, if counting, obsessing, and lining up things in even rows makes you a little crazy, run now. Accounting will kill you slowly.
As I approached the end of my degree, it was clear that—unlikely candidate as I seemed— accounting was a great fit for my weird little brain. It worked for me. But I still wasn’t quite sure exactly how I wanted to work for it.
I suspect that you might think of an accounting degree the way I did. I saw a very specific career path laid out for my chosen degree, and I wasn’t sure how it would apply to much else. I was surprised when I found out just how open my options were
Accounting education follows a basic hierarchy, but each level leads to a similar place: a computer full of numbers crying out for your love and attention. How big the numbers are and what you’re allowed to do to them depends on your certification level.
Here’s a quick run-down of the typical levels of accounting work:
Bookkeeping involves basic accounting, but you don’t necessarily need a degree to do it. A bookkeeper tracks spending, pays bills, and keeps up with a business’s financial paperwork like invoices and reports.
Just up the ladder from bookkeeping is accounting. An accountant typically holds a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. While not recognized as certified by the IRS, accountants can generate financial statements, prepare tax documents, and conduct audits of a company’s ledgers.
An accountant is not the same as a CPA. CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant, and this certification requires an exam plus an extra 30 hours of college credit. As the gold standard of accounting prowess, CPAs are authorized to perform general accounting work as well as prepare tax returns and, most importantly, legally represent other taxpayers to the IRS.
Accountants often devote themselves to a particular area of finance that interests them, such as internal accountability and improvement (managerial accounting or cost accounting), external reporting (financial accounting or tax accounting), or financial review for legal purposes (auditing or forensic accounting).
But as I hinted at before, traditional accounting fields are definitely not your only option with this degree. Despite my original plans of a home accounting office, I have actually never worked in an accounting position.
I write articles and talk to people about their health insurance for a living. I’ve also administered online learning platforms, developed courses, and taught music—all since earning my degree. I plan to do other things over the course of my life too, maybe even own a business.
My degree doesn’t just belong behind a desk or inside a spreadsheet. I learned about the inner workings of business, economics, marketing, communication, finance, and taxation. My diploma awarded me with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration with a focus in accounting. (Although a person can get a bachelor's or master's in accounting without the business administration part.) I’m a businesswoman with an edge.
My accounting degree gave me so much more than just an understanding of contra accounts or how to balance a ledger. It gave me critical insight into business and a broad base of knowledge that I can bring to any job I pursue. It balanced my artistic intuition with concrete intellectualism, allowing me to act as a human bridge between the worlds of language and numbers.
Accounting isn’t for everyone, true. But as I learned, it isn’t limited to a few nerdy, introverted geniuses. It was also perfect for a bubbly, artistic girl who needed boxes large enough to organize her imagination.
You never know. Accounting might take you by surprise too.
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If Shelbie has a cup of tea, a good book, or a deep conversation, she is a happy camper. With a background in accounting, classical music, and blogging, she believes learning is one of life's greatest adventures.