Different types of accounting classes and courses

As you are considering your steps towards an accounting degree, you may be asking yourself which accounting classes you can take and whether accounting classes are hard. You may also be wondering what topics are usually covered in accounting classes. In this article, we discuss the core and advanced accounting courses and what accounting knowledge you can expect to gain by enrolling in them.

1. Different accounting classes and courses available to students

When you start accounting training, aside from other elective or required classes, you will enroll in accounting classes.  Various accounting degrees and educational establishments (e.g., community colleges, undergraduate and graduate accounting schools) offer a variety of such classes.  Typically, there is a core set of accounting classes that students take.  Most of them are described below, but keep in mind that this list is not all-inclusive.  Class titles may vary from school to school and the composition of classes may be somewhat different, but overall topics covered are usually similar.  These classes may be at the undergraduate or graduate level; introduction, intermediate, and some advanced level classes are usually undergraduate level and advanced level courses are usually graduate level courses.

  • Principles of Accounting I (Introduction to Accounting I) is an introductory level accounting class that teaches students about the basics of accounting. Usually, this course is an introduction to financial accounting (i.e., how accounting is used by external users). Topics covered in this course include: understanding basic financial statements, debits and credits, accounting cycle, assets, liabilities, equity, simple accounting transactions, accrual accounting, and qualities of accounting information. In some universities, this course is a combination of basic topics in financial and managerial accounting.
  • Principles of Accounting II (Introduction to Accounting II) is another introductory level accounting class that takes students’ knowledge further by teaching how accounting information is used by internal users (i.e., managers) to make decisions, plan, control, and evaluate performance. Thus, this course is usually an introduction to management (managerial) accounting.  This class covers introductory management accounting topics such as cost definition and cost behavior, cost estimation, introduction to cost reporting (e.g., job order costing), the basics of cost-volume-profit analysis, incremental analysis, budgets, introduction to variance analysis, and performance evaluation (e.g., responsibility accounting). In some universities that combine introductory financial and managerial accounting topics in their Principles of Accounting I, this course likewise combines both financial and managerial accounting.
  • Intermediate Accounting I is the first intermediate level accounting course that teaches students about complex business transactions, reflecting them in accounting records and impact on financial statements.  Topics may include revenue recognition, accounting for receivables, inventory, fixed assets, intangible assets, and liabilities. This course is usually difficult and often serves as a “filter” that determines whether a student can succeed in higher level accounting courses.
  • Intermediate Accounting II is the next intermediate accounting level class that covers topics such as accounting for investments, bonds, leases, pensions, taxes, comprehensive income, and owners’ equity.
  • Cost and Management Accounting class concentrates on topics of cost measurement and reporting (e.g., job-order costing, process costing, activity-based costing, absorption vs variable costing, standard costing), cost behavior and cost estimation, cost planning and control, cost-volume-profit analysis, incremental or differential analysis, standard costing, variance analysis, budgeting, and performance evaluation.
  • Federal Income Tax (Principles of Taxation) covers federal taxation of individuals or other entities, tax policy, research and tax planning.  Concepts such as gross income, deductions and tax calculations are discussed in detail in this course.
  • Accounting for Government and Non-for-profit Entities incorporates accounting theory and application for government and non-for-profit entities accounting.
  • Auditing class covers a wide range of topics in auditing such as auditing standards, auditing procedures for various areas of financial statements, audit reports, various types of assurance services, independence, objectivity and ethics, among others.
  • Accounting Information Systems (AIS) is a class about information systems utilized in accounting.  Topics include utilization of AIS tools and processes in an organization, internal controls for AIS, basic control frameworks, and so on.
  • Advanced Accounting includes discussions about financial reporting of consolidated financial statements, mergers and acquisitions, partnerships, non-for-profits, and governmental entities.

Aside from the regular accounting classes, some universities have classes that are more unique compared to regular accounting classes.  Examples of those are discussed next.

  • Data Analytics in Accounting classes concentrate on concepts and understanding of data analysis for accounting and accountants.  Topics covered in such courses include more advanced statistical concepts, data analysis and related tools, using programming software (e.g., Python) or visualization software (e.g., Tableau).
  • Forensic Analytics classes teach students how to apply data analytics to forecast future earnings, predict or detect accounting fraud, and detect insider trading.
  • International Accounting usually covers topics related to international accounting and specifically, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), foreign currency transactions and hedging, translation of foreign currency financial statements, international transfer prices, and international auditing.

The perception about the difficulty of accounting courses varies by students. Some learners quickly grasp accounting information while others need more time to get a “feeling” for accounting. Introductory level accounting courses are difficult to some students and are easy to others. Intermediate and advanced level accounting courses are usually difficult to many students as they cover a lot of technical accounting information that cannot be “guessed.” Students taking intermediate and advanced level accounting courses need to put in sufficient effort outside of class time in order to succeed in those classes.

In the long run and with sufficient effort, anyone can learn accounting.

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