General ledger accountants manage a company's financial records, including data input and maintenance in ledger systems. In some companies, full-charge bookkeepers maintain the general ledger. Graduates of 2-year associate's programs can pursue voluntary bookkeeping certification. Some 4-year bachelor's programs can lead to the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential if they include 150 semester credits, which is the typical academic requirement for the CPA exam. Otherwise, aspiring CPAs need to complete a graduate certificate or master's program to qualify.
Associate's Degree in Accounting
Associate's degree students take courses that teach general accounting principles, computing and business basics. Students can expect to take courses in written and oral communication, business law and math. Bookkeeping courses include training on recording ledger transactions, handling accounts payable and preparing financial statements. Additional accounting topics may include accounts receivables, bank reconciliations or payroll. Prerequisites typically include a high school diploma or GED certificate.
Students prepare for bookkeeping careers by acquiring basic management, accounting and computer skills. Common courses may include:
- Business ethics
- Payroll accounting
- Accounting concepts
- Government accounting
- Financial management
- Computer systems
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Bachelor's Degree in Accounting
While earning a bachelor's degree, students acquire accounting skills and learn about the ethical standards required of general ledger accountants who handle sensitive financial information for corporations and other businesses. Foundational business practices, analytical problem solving skills and professional communication are emphasized. Students can expect to gain a broad understanding of business concepts, including economics, statistical methods and management principles. A high school diploma typically is required for admission to a bachelor's program in accounting.
Students in accounting bachelor's degree programs gain practical knowledge in accounting theory and practices. Common courses in accounting programs include:
- Accounting principles
- Marketing principles
- Cost accounting
- Business law
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Bookkeepers, especially full-charge bookkeepers, handle the general ledger for businesses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for bookkeepers was projected to decline by 8% for the period of 2014-2024. The BLS reported that the technological changes and more software services that allow the bookkeeping process to be complete online explain the decrease (www.bls.gov). The median salary for bookkeepers in 2015 was $37,250, according to the BLS.
Also according to the BLS, accountants earned a median wage of $67,190 as of May 2015. The BLS reported that job growth of 11% was expected between 2014 and 2024 for all accounting types, including ledger accountants.
Continuing Education and Training
Graduates of associate's degree programs who go on to become bookkeepers can earn certification. To apply for the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) exam, a minimum of two years' work experience is required. The exam, offered by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers, covers payroll, reconciliation and error correction, internal controls and adjusting entries.
General ledger accountants who want to advance into management or other higher-level accounting positions may consider applying for admission to a master's degree program. Master of Accountancy programs also can prepare students for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license exam.
Depending on a person's career goals, an individual can choose to study general ledger accounting at the associate, bachelor's, or master's degree level. How much time they wish to spend studying and what kind of job they want to get will ultimately determine which path they choose, such as a certified bookkeeper or public accountant.