While accountants have long borne the brunt of bean-counter jokes and number-cruncher stereotypes, they are inestimably important in a smoothly-functioning society. While a certain less-savory career holds the claim on the oldest profession‚ accountants have a storied past dating back to the first civilized societies. The truth is, the story of accountants is the story of commerce, and that topic, at least, captivates the entire world.
History of Accounting
The oldest known records of commerce come from Mesopotamia around about 3500 B.C.E., when the Assyrian, Chaldaean-Babylonian and Sumerian societies were in full swing. Farmers prospered in the rich agricultural land, and the cities of Babylon and Ninevah developed into commercial centers of Babylonia. The Mesopotamian forbears of modern accountants was a scribe: a man whose job was to record commercial transactions and ensure that they complied with various laws and codes. It was a prestigious profession. Hundreds of scribes were employed by temples, palaces, and private companies throughout Mesopotamia. The scribes of Mesopotamia are often credited with the invention of writing in order to record such transactions.
In Egypt, accounting developed similarly. Egyptian bookkeepers kept meticulous records of the Pharaoh‚ goods and tax payments. Such records were scrutinized by necessity: inaccurate records were punishable by mutilation or death.
By the common era, accountants in Greece, Rome, and China had developed their own systems of bookkeeping, which remained more or less in use until the publication of Luca Pacioli’s Summa during the Renaissance. Pacioli wrote a treatise on mathematics in which he expounded on the idea of double entry bookkeeping. Using his method, the money and date columns consisted of short entries with debits on the left side of the page and credits on the right. As entries are posted in a ledger, two diagonal lines are drawn through each entry: from left to right when the debit is posted, and from right to left when the credit is posted. At the end of an accounting cycle, all the credits are added up, as are all the debits. If those amounts are equal, the ledger is balanced. If not, a mistake has been made.
This relatively simple process became known throughout Europe as the Italian method of accounting, and the method has remained in use with relatively few revisions ever since, with obvious adaptations for mega-corporations and computerized equipment for the electronic age.
Best Accounting Schools
A successful accountant should have some key characteristics. Accountants should obviously possess technical expertise, but they also need to be highly organized, detail-oriented, and fiscally responsible. They should be service-oriented, with a strong work ethic and the ability to manage time effectively.
Before you get that far, though, you need to learn the tricks of the trade. Students of accounting should expect to take classes in professional development, spreadsheet applications, finance, business communication, financial statement analysis, mathematics, and taxation.
Many prominent colleges and universities offer various degrees in accredited accounting programs. However, some do rise above the rest, according to the online U.S. News and World Report 2010 rankings. U.S. News ranks the University of Texas-Austin as the best school for accounting. The Department of Accounting is part of the McComb School of Business, which offers degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level.
Another excellent, accredited accounting program is at the University of Illinois College of Business. Like the University of Texas, Illinois offers accounting degrees for undergraduates, graduates, and those seeking doctoral degrees. Additionally, Illinois offers a Certificate in Accountancy and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) preparation.
Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, offers another outstanding accounting program. The School of Accountancy prepares graduate and undergraduate students for careers in accounting. This program is competitive and accepts a limited number of students for enrollment.
Finally, the University of Pennsylvania ranks fourth on the list of top accounting schools. The University of Pennsylvania accounting program pursues research in subjects like international accounting, securities analysis, and the role of information in capital markets. The prestigious university offers undergraduate, MBA, and PhD degrees in accounting.
Students should emerge from accredited, quality accounting programs prepared to take the CPA Exam, which is administered by the American Institute of CPAs. It is the only licensed qualification in the profession. The goal of the CPA Exam is to ensure that only wholly qualified individuals become CPAs.
The Future of Accounting
Accountants are vital to the success of capitalism. They are employed by accounting firms, banks, legal offices, and countless small businesses to keep track of fiscal matters big and small. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the future is bright: the Bureau predicts a 16% increase in job openings in accounting through 2016. The increase in job opportunities reflects the introduction of new business regulations for corporations that emerged in the wake of several corporate scandals of the past decade. Demand for accounting expertise is particularly high in the area of tax preparation and health care. Additionally, tougher requirements are slotted for obtaining the CPA certification, which is predicted to result in fewer examinees.
Beginning accounting positions almost always require a four-year degree in accounting, though there is always demand for people with broad experiences in related fields. Those with good people skills, legal knowledge and foreign language abilities will be attractive candidates in the job market as accounting follows the business trend of globalization.