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Public, Private or Not-For-Profit Accounting Sectors: Which Is Best for You?


Deciding on a career path can offer a sense of relief and excitement as you enter the workforce, whether it is for the first time or a career change mid-life. In many industries, however, making the career choice is only the beginning, and accounting is no different. For those preparing to become an accountant, choosing between the public, private and non-profit sectors may seem much more difficult than understanding the difference between assets and liabilities – and with good reason. Whether you want to provide your services to a wide array of companies, the government and non-profit organizations or work for just one company, considering the job functions, work environment and salary will help during your decision-making process.

Though there may be some preconceptions that accounting is only for bookworms and mathematicians, there are actually many people flocking to the industry for many reasons, including a stable career, high paying salary, positive job outlook and of course the desire for the career path. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the accounting profession is expected to grow by 16 percent from 2010-2020, which is an additional perk, and substantial attraction for those pursuing an accounting degree. When evaluating between public, private and non-profit accountants, there isn’t a clear-cut difference in job growth, though the professional differences between them are distinct.

Public accountants do a broad range of accounting, auditing, taxes, and consulting tasks. Their clients include corporations, businesses and individuals, working with financial documents, tax forms and balance sheets. Many public accountants become  Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), and as such, are required to sit for the CPA exam in order to be licensed in the state in which they reside. . The CPA license means that the public accountant carries the trust of the public in the work they do.  Whether they own their own business or work for public accounting firms, they help corporations prepare balance sheets for potential investors, serve as advisors on tax advantages, or prepare individual income tax returns. Depending on the type of work and size of the firm, starting salaries for public accountants range between $46,250 and $72,500.

Private accountants record and analyze financial information of the organizations for which they work. Also known as management accountants, the information they prepare is intended for internal use by business managers and is often used for budgeting and company performance evaluations. Those in private industry accounting may help organizations plan the cost of doing business, including working with financial managers to plan and select financial investments such as stocks, bonds and real estate. Much like public accountants, corporate accounting has a wide pay scale based on the size of the firm and type of work, earning a starting salary between $38,750 and $64,500.

Governmental and not-for-profit accounting provides many opportunities for adults with accounting degrees, and may actually include the greatest number of positions; including city, county, state, and federal agencies, K-12 public and private school districts, public and private non-profit colleges and universities, most healthcare organizations, charitable organizations as well as other foundations and religious organizations. Governmental accountants must follow governmental regulations, while monitoring the appropriation of funds and awarding of contracts to private companies and public agencies. Non-profit accountants typically start out at a salary in the high $30,000’s.

Many accountants concentrate in a specific area, depending on the particular type of organization they work for. Some organizations specialize in providing critical information for decision makers, risk management or other specific industries such as healthcare or education. Public accountants do a wide range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting duties. Management accountants record and analyze financial data for organizations in which they work. Governmental accountants maintain and access the records of governmental agencies as well as audit private businesses or individuals whose activities are subject to government regulation.

Aside from the job descriptions, all three sectors require many of the same skills. Because public accountants serve many types of companies, having excellent people and communication skills is valuable. Private accountants work for one client, emphasizing the need to have an interest in business decisions and company growth. Governmental and non-profit accountants serve those subject to regulation, which means great attention to detail in accordance with laws.

With such a wide scope of responsibilities, it may seem overwhelming trying to decide in which sector you would find the best fit for your skills and interests. However, with the strong demand for accountants across all industries, you’ll be sure to find a compatible organization, agency, business or corporation to work for. Whether you choose to pursue an accounting degree or a post baccalaureate accounting certificate, both programs prepare you for professional opportunities in all sectors.

With opportunities for accounting positions projected to continue growing, now is the time to start working toward the next step in your career. Find out how an online degreecan help you achieve your educational goals with Linfield College Adult Degree Program.

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