If you have a knack for numbers, pay attention to the smallest of details and have great critical thinking skills it might be wise to consider a career as an accountant. While in school, accounting skills begin to show themselves early on. Students as early as elementary school start taking time for career planning, letting them ask questions of teachers as well as professionals from various fields in which they may be interested. While in middle school, students often have opportunities to take classes in bookkeeping, business math, computer information systems and accounting. There are also chances to join school clubs such as Future Business Leaders of America and various others, giving students opportunities to speak with experts in accounting and related fields.

However, it’s while in high school that a student’s career plans for accounting begin to really take off. In addition to advanced business classes, students can also take courses in computer information systems, money management, international business and more. Taking as many math classes as possible in high school is a must for future accountants, for the more they showcase their abilities the better their chances of being accepted into the college of their choice. As graduation nears, it’s a good idea to start talking with a guidance counselor as to one’s career and college plans, and begin narrowing down the list of potential colleges. Many students choose to begin their college studies at local community colleges, both to save money and ease into the transition from high school to college. Many students take their general education courses there the first two years, then transfer to a university to complete their accounting degrees. Some students opt to receive an Associate in Applied Science degree in Accounting and begin working full-time while pursuing a higher degree. Whatever path a student chooses, they have the chance to gain some practical experience while in high school by obtaining a part-time job. Students often get jobs in retail stores or restaurants, many of which offer excellent career opportunities in management and accounting. Others get jobs in offices of local accountants, giving them excellent practical experience and an opportunity to network with a potential long-term employer.

As a student begins their college studies in accounting, they have many factors to consider. Most students have plans to become Certified Public Accountants, or CPA’s. To accomplish this goal, one must complete their Bachelor’s degree, have some recent accounting experience and know the requirements of the state in which they plan to work before taking the exam. The CPA Exam, next to the Bar Exam for lawyers, is considered one of the hardest tests for professionals to pass the first time. Consisting of four parts over two days, each portion must be passed before becoming certified. Once the first section of the test is passed, a person has 18 months to complete the other sections.

Besides public accounting, there are other specializations including managerial, where accountants spend their days analyzing financial data to help determine an employer’s budget and help plan expenditures. One of the fastest-growing specialties within accounting is Forensic Accounting, where days are spent working with law enforcement to help solve crimes involving money laundering, extortion and bankruptcy cases involving possible hiding of assets. Many students who graduate college with accounting degrees go to work for the FBI, acting either as forensic accountants or as special agents at field offices throughout the country.

In order to gain the best accounting jobs, most students opt to receive a Master’s degree so as to be qualified for almost any accounting job they would want. To gain a Master’s degree, students need to take a variety of classes including Auditing, Financial Management, Taxes, Accounting Ethics and Legal Elements of Accounting. Working towards a Master’s degree requires not only the completion of these and other classes, but an internship as well. Many internships are set up with local offices of established accounting firms including Ernst and Young and others. In these internships, students are usually given tasks that include them as part of the team such as analyzing financial statements, preparing tax forms and other duties. Obtaining a job with one of the major accounting firms in the country is a goal of many future accountants, so having a high GPA, some previous work experience and involvement with extracurricular activities will make one a very attractive candidate for an internship.

Students wanting to go into accounting must have not only the ability to work for hours by themselves, but also the ability to communicate well both orally and in writing. In addition to being able to properly analyze financial documents, accountants must also be able to explain their findings to clients and co-workers. Those who pursue careers as forensic accountants are often called on to testify in court over their findings, so they must be comfortable with public speaking and with their knowledge of the subject. Those who choose to become tax accountants or auditors must be able to work by themselves for long periods at a time, and should also be prepared to put in far more than 40 hours per week during tax season, which usually runs from January-May.

Of course, there’s no need to pursue employment in a field where there is little demand. Fortunately, that is not the case for accountants. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for accountants and auditors is expected to be 16% per year through 2020, which is slightly faster than average compared to most occupations. With almost 200,000 job openings expected through 2020, there should be plenty of opportunities for accounting students to pursue whatever specialty interests them. Of all occupations requiring a Bachelor’s degree for entry-level work, accountants have some of the highest salaries available. The average annual salary for accountants is almost $62,000 per year, with those having more education and experience commanding salaries well into six figures. Government accounting jobs, such as those with law enforcement agencies, tend to pay the lowest but offer excitement unlike that found in any other accounting occupation. Jobs with major accounting firms such as Ernst and Young or Price Waterhouse tend to pay the best, setting up young accountants with careers that can lead them to the top of corporate America.

So as a young boy or girl sits around and adds up the cost of groceries for their family, starts a lemonade stand to make money on a hot summer day or pretends to be filling out tax forms, a future accountant is born. Numbers and how they play important roles in our lives will always interest accountants, helping them do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Whether acting as a special agent tracking down organized crime, helping an elderly person file their taxes or analyzing a company’s financial statements, the role of accountants is important no matter where they work. Children with a knack for numbers at a young age have the makings of great accountants, and this talent and interest should be nourished as much as possible by parents. In doing so, they are setting the stage for their child to have a secure and exciting career.