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Brandy

Thoughts on AAS with experience vs Bachelor's degree no experience

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When applying for a job, does an associate’s degree with experience put you ahead of job applicant with no experience with a bachelor’s degree?

The reason I ask is I’m at a bit of a crossroads. I recently graduated with an Associates in Applied Science in Accounting. I really wish I had done an AA so I could transfer to get a bachelor’s degree. Anyway, when I was younger, I went to a university but had a really bad experience and pretty much gave up. I just reapplied to see if any of my credits would go towards a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Turns out if I take about 11 more general curriculum credits at the community college, I will have only about 56 credits left to work on for my bachelor’s degree at the university. The thing is I will be 50 by the time I graduate, if I go full time. The university isn’t terribly expensive, but I don’t want to get into debt to do this. I am also still homeschooling 3 of my 5 kids. Two have graduated and I have two high schoolers and a 5th grader left at home. I am pretty much committed to homeschooling the older two through high school, they will graduate at the same time I would. The 5th grader would be ready to start high school. I can homeshool and take college courses or homeschool and work part time, but there is no way I can homeschool, work, and do college (I actually tried it for 6 months during an internship and it was way too stressful).

Part of my having to go back to work is because my marriage is not good (trying to put that nicely) and I am worried that I will have to eventually be able to support myself. I have been a SAHM for over 20 years and I have not done anything outside of the home until I started college. I’m more than a little scared because I never thought things would turn out this way. I wish I had taken college more seriously in my teens. I also wish I had checked with the university before starting my AAS at the CC. But I didn’t, and I guess I can only move forward from here.

So I was just wondering if any of you have any thoughts on the AAS/experience vs Bachelor’s/no experience (plus the cost of additional tuition) question? And I know the decision will ultimately be mine, but if you were 46 (almost 47) and in my shoes, what would you do?

Edited by Brandy
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I think your best info will be gleaned from other people who work in accounting in your area. My observation, based on my mom who has no degree and my friend whose bachelors degree is in an entirely different field, is that in accounting experience trumps degrees. I have no idea if that will hold true in your area. 

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I would go for the experience. Once you have the experience, it would be easier to get a work from home accounting job if you need to. My cousin did went on to get a bachelor degree for more pay and promotion prospects but he worked a few years first. My former neighbor who was using her income to supplement household income went from full time to part time to work from home on an associate. She didn’t go for bachelors. 

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13 minutes ago, sassenach said:

I think your best info will be gleaned from other people who work in accounting in your area. My observation, based on my mom who has no degree and my friend whose bachelors degree is in an entirely different field, is that in accounting experience trumps degrees. I have no idea if that will hold true in your area. 

Agree with you on the experience bump.  I know 4 people with H.S. degrees, no college degrees, who started as bookkeeping clerks 15-20 years ago, and worked their way up in their company's accounting department to high 5 $figures.

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 Do I understand correctly that you have several years of homeschooling left, and won't be pursuing a job during that time? 

I do think that experience often trumps a degree in the accounting field, but it sounds like you aren't going to be getting that experience any time soon. I don't think it's ideal to have a two-year degree that is a few years old and no experience. So, I would likely split the difference: I wouldn't all out pursue a four-year degree to begin with, but I would take additional accounting courses at the university every year until I was ready to look for a job. You will have up-to-date and relevant courses to list on your resume, you can take advantage of the university's job fairs and career placement services, and you will have knocked out some hours if you do decide to pursue the full degree. 

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If you are a beginner with no experience with a degree it will help get you into the door a bit easily. But based on two candidates with a degree and no experience vs a candidate with experience and no degree, I have seen people err on the side of people with experience. I was told very specifically even while studying for a master's to do internships or work part time in a related job because it will show I have real world experience and not just theoretical knowledge when I was finally ready to search for a job. But I will also say a degree helps in promotions and salary raises. In general, more "education" be it in the form of certification or higher degrees helps in both promotion and salary raises based on mine and DH's employment experiences.

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Are you keen to start working now? I would take a season to try to find work you like, and if it really reallllly doesn't work out, you can  go for the bachelors, if that seems like the reason it's not working out. 

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background - dh has an accounting degree and a CIA (internal version of a CPA).   I have a son with an accounting degree last year.  He did the CC/turning into a 4-yr college route - didn't do the transfer classes for the university.  Later, In order for him to take the transfer accounting classes - due to class scheduling, he would have had to wait another year.  He was already working for a small CPA firm (<25 people) - he was told to "get the 4yr degree now, don't worry where it came from".   (plan is a CPA - they get a % of their clients fees.)  so, he has the 4-yr degree.    He was working there while he was in school and had a very flexible schedule being allowed to work part-time when there were classes, and full time when there weren't.. (-he had the AA.  as soon as he got the bachelors -he got a raise.)

To be blunt - you will  make more, and have more opportunities with a 4-yr degree, regardless of  your experience.     they will see you as having growth potential vs some "bookkeeper".  Accountants can work until they're 70.  book keepers will be retired out earlier.  (the CPA owner of ds's firm is in his 70s - as is his main partner.)

I dont' know what your plans for employment are.  You can work for someone else doing bookkeeping or supporting a CPA, or you can work for yourself. (which would be very small clients who can't afford an actual CPA.)  Some of that depends upon where you live.   If you have an expectation of needing to financially support yourself, you need to be working on what you can do for family supporting income now so you're not scrambling later.  That may mean you can't do as much homeschooling your kids as you want - but you'll be much less stressed knowing your income meets your bills than trying to homeschool and wondering how you're going to pay a winter heating bill.

I talked to ds.  at his CPA firm, AAs are regarded as book keepers and are closely supervised because they easily get in over their heads.  it's more than experience - it's what they've been taught.  (his boss wont' keep AAs around very long.  they're expected to get a 4yr degree.  if they don't, they're out.)

 

Edited by gardenmom5
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Experience.  At least initially.  Could you do something now even temporary like tax time Liberty or HR Block tax prep or similar?

if you are then working, getting a Bachelors might have some costs help either direct or at least maybe tax deductible for furthering of your skills. 

Edited by Pen
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I'm a part-time community college professor and agree that you should see what your local situation is like. You should be able to email or talk to the career services office to see what they see in terms of the market for 2-year degrees in that. When my oldest (a senior in accounting at a four-year) was looking for a part-time job in January, there were lots of bookkeeping jobs that required an associate's degree and Quickbooks. If you took Quickbooks training or got a certification (not sure what they do there), that would probably improve your chances if you need to work soon.

I definitely can sympathize on the job hunt. I am in my late fifties and did an extensive job hunt for over a year. I have a lot of the right qualifications, but age and too many years of part-time work were not in my favor. They aren't supposed to ask about age in interviews, but they did in subtle ways. I think that in general employers prefer younger employees because they cost less. I was a finalist multiple times but always got beat out by someone with more experience. I used LinkedIn to figure out who they did hire, and indeed they provided more than I could offer. I even applied for much lower-level jobs to get experience and was told that I was over-qualified despite my insistence that I was willing to take something with less pay. I finally gave up and continue with my teaching and work as an independent contractor for two customers. No benefits, but it works. 

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1 hour ago, sassenach said:

I think your best info will be gleaned from other people who work in accounting in your area. My observation, based on my mom who has no degree and my friend whose bachelors degree is in an entirely different field, is that in accounting experience trumps degrees. I have no idea if that will hold true in your area. 

 

In our family, my accounting degree with experience has made it much easier for me to find jobs than my husband (with two Bachelors and a Masters). OTOH I don't work in the mathematics or economics field)

 

My friend in accounting is taking the tests as she works -- and the tests are the big thing she says.

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3 minutes ago, vonfirmath said:

 

In our family, my accounting degree with experience has made it much easier for me to find jobs than my husband (with two Bachelors and a Masters). OTOH I don't work in the mathematics or economics field)

 

My friend in accounting is taking the tests as she works -- and the tests are the big thing she says.

Is she working on her CPA?   my son is being intimidated at the thought of them.  He would have been taking the prep classes now if everything hadn't hit the fan. 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Arcadia said:

I would go for the experience. Once you have the experience, it would be easier to get a work from home accounting job if you need to. My cousin did went on to get a bachelor degree for more pay and promotion prospects but he worked a few years first. My former neighbor who was using her income to supplement household income went from full time to part time to work from home on an associate. She didn’t go for bachelors. 

This is my thinking.  Get yourself out there and get some work experience, at least part-time.  You can always take more accounting courses, even one at a time, and work towards a bachelor's, and some employers will pay for courses.  

11 minutes ago, gardenmom5 said:

Is she working on her CPA?   my son is being intimidated at the thought of them.  He would have been taking the prep classes now if everything hadn't hit the fan. 

My dd is an accounting major, and originally was gung-ho to do a CPA, but then got intimidated by the competitive nature of public accounting, and the test.  Her new plan is to do private accounting, inside a company.  Are tests as important in that field, do you know?  She'll only be 20 when she graduates with her Bachelor's, and will already have enough overall credits and accounting credits to take even the CPA test (although you also need some work experience before taking the test), but at any rate, I'm hoping she'll be young enough and have enough school under her belt that she can figure out what's needed as she goes...  she's doing a virtual internship with a small company in Melbourne, Australia this summer to hopefully get some experience to put on the resume...

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In my experience working for large and small companies - accounting degree counts a lot more than accounting experience, unless you are looking for a clerical job - Accounts Payable, payroll, bookkeeper.

CPA is a different story bc it really depends on what kind of job you want to have. When I worked in corporate, I didn't need to have CPA, unless I was aiming to become a CFO (which I wasn't). I was making close to six figures over a decade ago. If you want to work in tax / CPA firm - again, you can find a job (I am working one right now), but you might not go far. You will still make OK money. I am making less than I did 10 yrs ago, but I do have other benefits.

But don't listen to us - do a job search in your area and see what employers are looking for. That's what I did many moons ago when I was trying to figure out what major to choose in college.

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28 minutes ago, gardenmom5 said:

Is she working on her CPA?   my son is being intimidated at the thought of them.  He would have been taking the prep classes now if everything hadn't hit the fan. 

 

 

Tell him not to be!!  Since he can take one part at a time, it's VERY doable. But you do have to study bc it's not about knowledge and intelligence but ability to memorize and regurgitate information. And patience 🙂

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A lot would depend on your local job market and the quality of the experience.  Do you have a place to get quality, part-time experience in your local market?  What types of full-tie jobs are available in your market?  Because different types and sizes of employers have different bookkeeping/accounting needs, if you are going to stay local, you need to consider what is best in your area.  

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20 minutes ago, SereneHome said:

Tell him not to be!!  Since he can take one part at a time, it's VERY doable. But you do have to study bc it's not about knowledge and intelligence but ability to memorize and regurgitate information. And patience 🙂

He knows.  he's not keen on it.  A coworker ran out the clock, and did a coding bootcamp.  so, now he's thinking about that.  He's really enjoyed doing the excel spreadsheets to run data input.  (they charge their clients $80 an hour for him to do that for them.)

I think there's also the expectation of overtime is starting to register.

 1dd has a classics degree, and did some sort of "bootcamp" about 10+ years ago.  She has a house in our HCOL area.   I do think the accounting background will still be useful.  He took over doing her taxes this year and saved her A LOT of money from how QuickBooks had done them.

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I'll be interested to read more of the answers. My youngest is an accounting major.  She's been told it is worth her time/effort/money to go ahead and get her CPA. 
But, in our state in order to get your CPA:
"

a. Checklist

  • Complete 150 semester hours of college education and earn at least a bachelor’s degree
  • Submit an Application of Intent with all necessary supporting documents to the  State board. 
  • Fulfill the state boards’s employment requirement of one year (2000 hours) and have your supervising CPA complete the Work Experience Form and mail it to the State board.
  • Pass the Board’s examination of the Rules of Professional Conduct 
  • Complete the Board’s Oath of Office
  • Pay a Certificate Fee of $50"


So, an associates wouldn't cut it. Nor would just a bachelors. You need a masters. 

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7 minutes ago, Bambam said:

I'll be interested to read more of the answers. My youngest is an accounting major.  She's been told it is worth her time/effort/money to go ahead and get her CPA. 
But, in our state in order to get your CPA:
"

a. Checklist

  • Complete 150 semester hours of college education and earn at least a bachelor’s degree
  • Submit an Application of Intent with all necessary supporting documents to the  State board. 
  • Fulfill the state boards’s employment requirement of one year (2000 hours) and have your supervising CPA complete the Work Experience Form and mail it to the State board.
  • Pass the Board’s examination of the Rules of Professional Conduct 
  • Complete the Board’s Oath of Office
  • Pay a Certificate Fee of $50"


So, an associates wouldn't cut it. Nor would just a bachelors. You need a masters. 

While that list may seem daunting, it really is super easy if you work for a year under any CPA, in any capacity.

Accounting is super versatile field and can go in many different directions when it comes to careers. In theory, CPA is only needed if you want to have the ability to 1) sign off on an audit 2) sign off on SEC docs 3) be able to defend your client in court.  So, 99% of people who have CPA license have it to give them more credibility, to get more $$, etc.

So, if it were my kid, I would tell them to start working in accounting first to see where they want to go and then decide.

 

 

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3 minutes ago, SereneHome said:

So, if it were my kid, I would tell them to start working in accounting first to see where they want to go and then decide.

 

Doing that. Child just finished freshman year but took Financial and Managerial as DC classes and loved them. Now has three junior level accounting classes and loved them. She is doing a reduced internship this summer (hours, COVID you know). Starts a combined masters/bachelors Accounting program this fall. She's pretty sure this is what she wants. As sure as any 19 year old can be.  

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41 minutes ago, Matryoshka said:

  

My dd is an accounting major, and originally was gung-ho to do a CPA, but then got intimidated by the competitive nature of public accounting, and the test.  Her new plan is to do private accounting, inside a company.  Are tests as important in that field, do you know?  She'll only be 20 when she graduates with her Bachelor's, and will already have enough overall credits and accounting credits to take even the CPA test (although you also need some work experience before taking the test), but at any rate, I'm hoping she'll be young enough and have enough school under her belt that she can figure out what's needed as she goes...  she's doing a virtual internship with a small company in Melbourne, Australia this summer to hopefully get some experience to put on the resume...

Check the requirements in your state.  Some states will allow students to sit for the exam before graduation - but they are still have more hoops to jump through for the license.  e.g. in our state, students can sit for the CPA exam prior to graduation - but there are work requirements under the supervision of a licensed CPA before they can get their own license.  

Dh is an accountant who decided to work in a bank so he didn't have to take the CPA exam.  He did an MBA instead.  He was later advised he should have taken it.  He then took the CIA (internal), and CISA exams as he was working in a bank at the time.

Even within business/gov't/other specialty certifications can bring a higher income, and opens doors that a plain accounting degree doesn't.  

 My son in law is in finance, doesn't have a CPA (does have a number of other certifications that are related to what he does), is at a major corporation.  he doesn't work in the accounting dept - he's working as a finance/cost-control type within a different dept, for that (nothing to do with accounting) dept.  He went and got a MBA after he and dd got married.  (she was working full-time so they paid his tuition in real time.  he changed jobs during that time, so had to pay the first employer back what they had spent on his tuition.  The 2nd employer gave him a "tuition reimbursement bonus" when he received his MBA.)

 

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My sister is a CPA and worked in bookkeeping while she was getting her degree.  For where she lives — there are not many opportunities for bookkeepers.  Many places use accounting software and it has lessened the opportunities.

She is in a smaller place.  
 

She could have moved and had more opportunity, but where she lives, I would do the 4-year.

I totally agree it will depend where you live.

My sister had work doing payroll and entering stuff into accounting software, 20 years ago at this point, and it was getting more and more limited as more people just folded the accounting software into their set-up.  (Edit — she would only do those things and work hourly for different people, and might work 10-15 hours a month I think.  That was not something that was going to be good for her long-term, it was very piecemeal, some places wanted to pay a fixed amount regardless of the time spent, some people did not keep good records, etc etc but bottom line it wasn’t paying well.)
 

On the other hand, you could be desirable to be the person at a small business using the accounting software, but for the area where my sister lives, that is rarely a full-time job by itself, it might be half or a quarter of someone’s job responsibilities.  So not exactly “being employed as a bookkeeper or accountant,” but something where your background could be good.  
 

Edited by Lecka

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I live in an area that really doesn't have a lot of opportunities. The job listings I have seen around here that only require an associates are typically paying around $10 to $15 an hour. Most people seem pretty happy with that. I think the cost of living is lower here than most places I've lived but I don't see how they live on that. When I first started college most listings required a bachelor's but now a lot of them say a combination of comparable degree and experience. Most jobs seem to be at banks, manufacturing companies, places like that. Most of the accountants I have talked to say an AAS is ok but a bachelors will open a lot more doors and not to worry about my age. 

I'm thinking I could go ahead and keep taking classes until my youngest is a little older. He has a medical issue that requires a lot of care but he should be able to start managing it himself more as he gets older. When I did the internship along with classes I felt like our homeschooling suffered. I think a lot had to do with the older kids having to look after my youngest. What has been really hard for me is my husband almost getting killed in a terrible accident for me to realize what a vulnerable position I am in. I still have a lot of years ahead of me but I don't know how many I will be able to work and I have no retirement at all. When my youngest is older I will be able to possibly work part time and take at least a few classes at a time. 

I think I am just tired too. I have always been excited about my classes but I don't feel as excited about this coming term. Maybe because I have to take gen ed classes and I just want to take the accounting classes, lol. 

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3 hours ago, Bambam said:

Doing that. Child just finished freshman year but took Financial and Managerial as DC classes and loved them. Now has three junior level accounting classes and loved them. She is doing a reduced internship this summer (hours, COVID you know). Starts a combined masters/bachelors Accounting program this fall. She's pretty sure this is what she wants. As sure as any 19 year old can be.  

I just meant that with accounting you can do corporate finance, audits, tax, non-profit, govt. They all have very different types of "accounting"

 In addition,  you can specialize in a particular industry - like you'll see employers looking for "knowledge in construction" or "insurance" bc various industries have their own additional rules.

So, if you want to do nothing but tax, then yes, CPA would probably be a great benefit. But if you want to do middle level corporate, then CPA might not be as crucial.

All that being said, having CPA is never going to hurt. 🙂

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BTW, I work for a small CPA firm. My boss has many many clients who pay her to do their bookkeeping. She is not doing bookkeeping. She has us. So, during the year, we do bookkeeping / financial statements and during tax season we do tax returns - personal, corporate, etc

Again, that's just versatile accounting can be.

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Just to be positive — will you have half your husband’s Social Security benefit for retirement?  

It’s a lot more than nothing.

My sister also works for a small CPA firm.  They do a lot of audits and a lot of taxes.

She is extremely busy getting ready for business year-ends and is usually extremely busy at Christmas and then can take time off in the summer.  She can take a lot of Fridays off (I think unless there is something specific for her to go in on a Friday) in the summer and schedule vacation.  A lot of years she does not take a whole day off for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s, etc.  It depends on the year but often she is working half-days in those days.  
 

They don’t do much personal income taxes and she is not very busy around April 15th.  
 

She loves doing audits.  

 

Edited by Lecka

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My father got a bachelor's degree in accounting once he retired from the military after 26 years so he was at least 50 at the time. He then got a job as an account with the state. I do not know if he went ahead and got a CPA but I do know that he had to do continuing education.

My dd got a bachelor's degree in accounting and did an internship during the last two years and then went to work for that company and proceeded to get her CPA after that. She does have to do continuing education. She makes pretty good money and works from home. She can pretty much write her own ticket which I don't think she could have done if she didn't have the education that she did as well as accolades and experience that she did. 

I would say that you pretty much need both a bachelor's and some kind of experience to find a a job that pays a living wage. However, you do not need to both go to school and work full time to get there. You could take a couple classes each term and maybe work a few hours a week. Showing progress like that may help you find an internship or beginning job in the field which still pays pretty good. I think my dd was making about $40K as an intern in Atlanta when she graduated.

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If you want to do bookkeeping or clerical work, an AA is sufficient, but if you want to work for a larger firm doing actual accounting, you will need a BA at a min.

My husband is an accountant.  He has an MA.  His firm doesn't look at people unless they have an MA and a CPA or equivalent.

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2 hours ago, Brandy said:

I live in an area that really doesn't have a lot of opportunities. The job listings I have seen around here that only require an associates are typically paying around $10 to $15 an hour. Most people seem pretty happy with that. I think the cost of living is lower here than most places I've lived but I don't see how they live on that. When I first started college most listings required a bachelor's but now a lot of them say a combination of comparable degree and experience. Most jobs seem to be at banks, manufacturing companies, places like that. Most of the accountants I have talked to say an AAS is ok but a bachelors will open a lot more doors and not to worry about my age. 

 

According to my son - they do a lot of overtime.

 

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18 hours ago, Pen said:

Experience.  At least initially.  Could you do something now even temporary like tax time Liberty or HR Block tax prep or similar?

if you are then working, getting a Bachelors might have some costs help either direct or at least maybe tax deductible for furthering of your skills. 

 

I wonder if the OP could become an I.R.S. "Enrolled Agent".   I am not sure if there are courses for that or how the knowledge for the I.R.S. exams is obtained.  Drawback is that working on Income Taxes is more of a seasonal job. I remember using an "Enrolled Agent" a couple of times, when I had issues I didn't know how to handle and that was many years before I began using Online tax preparation such as TurboTax.

If this involved Engineering and not Accounting, there is no question the Bachelors degree would trump the Associates degree with experience. More education has lots of benefits.

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I am a senior accounting manager for a larger company, and I have been working as an accountant since the 1990’s. I have a BS in accountancy and I passed the CPA exam back when it had to be taken in one shot. 

in my experience, bookkeepers have no experience/2 year degrees and accountants have four year degrees/CPA. Bookkeepers/clerks do bookwork for small companies, leaving the accounting work for a larger firm, or they work in A/P, A/R, payroll, etc in larger companies. Larger companies hire 4 year degrees accountants for their accounting teams. 
 

I require a four year degree to hire into the accounting team. We are LCOL area, and we are starting new grads at $50k. My most senior accountants make $70k-$80k + bonus, and accounting management is at >$100k+bigger bonus. Clerks in A/P, A/R, payroll make much less and have far less opportunity to grow their salaries. Even with decades of experience, clerks and supervisors in A/P, A/R, payroll make less than my new hire grads. 

My ideal new hires would be: (1) a green 4 year college grad with a CPA, (2) someone with business experience in another area but who went back to school for their accounting degree (just described my last two new hires, lol), or (3) someone very experienced from a larger company than ours who has a four year degree + CPA. I want someone with the technical book knowledge whom I can mold or someone already molded by a larger company.

Bookkeeping experience wouldn’t be a competitive advantage for my accounting positions. In fact, we have had a difficult time converting bookkeepers to accountants in our company, so we generally don’t look at our own staff when we have accounting positions open. I tried really hard with my last open position, and the bookkeepers just couldn’t make the jump. Very disappointing for all of us. 
 

ETA: You should look at employment opportunities in your area, and consider what you are looking for long-term. A bookkeeper/clerk position is generally 40 hours/week, 8-5, butt in seat at the office (pre-Covid), and low stress as it is a processing job - entering invoices, processing payroll, collecting on outstanding invoices. An accounting position involves decision making and analysis along with standard accounting tasks related to financial reporting.

My accountants are all salaried with the understanding that they are employed to complete their work, which may not fit into strict 8-5 working hours. The flexibility is to our benefit and detriment.  I never miss a kid activity, I can work during vacation if needed, and I can work form home whenever I want, but.....I am expected to get my job done which means I will work evenings/weekend to get caught up if needed. 

Edited by 2squared
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