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Best Accounting Schools in Illinois in 2021

October 4, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Pros and cons of earning your accounting degree in Illinois

Individuals who excel in mathematics and enjoy organization, detail, and order are often drawn to careers in accounting. You don’t have to be number obsessed to get into the field, however. Entrepreneurs and business leaders can make excellent use of degrees in accountancy, particularly those who are drawn to large, corporate environments. As the digital sphere provides us with more data than ever, and the internet opens up more business opportunities than previously possible, accounting professionals find themselves in unprecedented demand. 

While it’s not an easy job to get into because it takes hard work and dedication, finance can be a rewarding field in terms of salary, long-term career prospects, and perks. Illinois is one of the best places in the world to study accountancy, and arguably the best state in the U.S. when it comes to the job market.

Read on for an in-depth analysis of studying accounting in Illinois, including information about the types of accounting degree programs, the cost of studying accountancy, and the best colleges for accountants in the Prairie State.

Pros of studying in Illinois

There are many advantages to picking up your accounting degree in Illinois, particularly if you’re interested in getting a job with the big four accountancy firms, getting CPA certification, or chasing a top-paying career in finance. PwC, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and Deloitte all have offices in the state, which is also home to two of the top five business schools in the United States, according to Forbes.

Let’s take a closer look at why schools, transport, Lake Michigan, sports, culture, and accommodation make Illinois one of the best states to study accounting in the U.S.:  

  • Exceptional schools: Forbes and U.S. News & World Report rank the University of Chicago and Northeastern University in the top five colleges in the country for studying business. The Times and QS Top Universities rank the University of Chicago among the top ten universities for accounting and business in the world. The University of Illinois has made it into the top three of the list of undergraduate accounting programs in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. Even if you don’t make it into one of the top schools, the competition from other institutions is strong, so there are plenty of excellent colleges to choose from. 
  • Great transportation links: Chicago has the second-largest public transport system of anywhere in the U.S., so it’s possible to get around without a car. There’s bike sharing, bus, train, and an exceptional pedestrian walkway and road system that makes navigation a breeze. What’s more, the huge O’Hare International Airport is located within city limits, so students with the travel bug can easily plan trips, near and far.
  • Crystal waters: Lake Michigan provides much needed relief in this landlocked state, and there are more than 30 miles of beach in Chicago. Being able to escape from screens and studies is essential for you to perform at your best, and Illinois provides plenty of opportunities to make the most out of nature. That said, if you’re the sort of person who needs to be near mountains and/or oceans, you’ll have to take a long drive or a plane to another state to find them. 
  • Sports: There’s no denying that sports are an essential part of the culture in Illinois, with the Chicago Bears representing in the NFL, the Blackhawks representing hockey, White Sox and Cubs as the two major league baseball teams, and Chicago Bulls flying high in the NBA. Of course, there are tributes and references to legend Michael Jordan dotted around the state. If your favourite way to unwind from studying is watching sports, you’ll be in your element in Illinois.
  • Culture: Illinois is generally considered to be the cultural hub of the Midwest — and with good reason. It lays claims to cultural phenomena such as jazz, blues, improvisational comedy, hip hop, house music, gospel, and soul.   
  • Affordable housing: The average house price in Illinois is much lower than in other locations that feature some of the top business schools in the world. For example, in California, where Stanford University if located, the cost of housing and living is significantly higher. New York and Massachusetts where you’ll find Columbia and Harvard also cost more to live than Illinois. 

Cons of studying in Illinois

Crime: While Chicago is often associated with a high crime rate, this type of incident is largely contained to specific underprivileged areas. Schools invest heavily in around-the-clock security to ensure the safety of all students, and the crime rate has consistently reduced over the last few years. As such, the Illinois crime rate isn’t among the highest in the U.S. anymore.  

  • Traffic: There aren’t that many roads in Illinois, which leads to a regular build-up of traffic. Luckily, public transport is highly reliable — which is essential considering parking can also be a huge challenge.
  • Tax: Unlike many U.S. states, Illinois adds tax to groceries and restaurant meals, which could be off-putting to some students — but might be attractive to accounting majors! 
  • Weather: You’ll love the weather in Chicago if you’re a fan of experiencing all four seasons and don’t mind a bit of wind. The weather in the rest of the state is just as choppy, with freezing cold winters, hot and humid summers, and mild weather during spring and fall.

How much do accounting majors make fresh out of college?

According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, a graduate from a bachelor’s program can expect to earn $81,660, on average. While the top 10% earned $128,680 the bottom 10% earned $45,220. As such, the amount you earn along that scale depends on a variety of factors, like whether you opt to take a chance on a start-up or go straight into the corporate world. Another factor is the specific finance career you go into, and how much responsibility you’re prepared to take on fresh out of college.  

What to expect from an accounting program in Illinois

Studying a degree in accountancy can set you up for a secure, rewarding career — with many people opting to pursue an MBA or master’s of science in management when they complete a bachelor’s degree. The Illinois Board of Examiners oversees CPA certification, and you need 150 semester hours to qualify. Bachelor’s degrees tend to provide 120 credits, and there are numerous options for students to bolster this up to the required amount.

Master’s degrees are available for those looking to climb to the top the career ladder and specialize in something like auditing or financial analytics. It’s also possible to get an associate’s degrees in accounting, but it would mainly serve as a foundation for a more advanced qualification. Ph.D. level accounting degrees exist, but they’re mainly reserved for postgraduate teachers, research professionals, and the most ambitious upcoming accounting professionals. 

Read on to find out about what to expect when pursuing the different types of accounting qualifications, as well as an explanation of the necessary steps to getting CPA qualified. Plus, we’ll provide data that gives you a clear understanding of the job outlook for accountants and auditors in Illinois in comparison to the surrounding states.

Bachelor’s degree program

A bachelor’s degree usually takes four years for full-time students to complete and it can lead directly to a wide variety of business roles. Job roles such as accountants and auditors require at least a bachelor’s level education in a relevant field, with many of the top firms preferring to employ CPAs. 

In most cases, students study basic accounting principles and techniques for the first two years and move into advanced accounting practices in the final two years. Here are some of the core concepts you can expect to study on a bachelor’s program in accounting in Illinois:

  • Generally accepted accounting principles: This framework is used as a guide to ensure the consistency and quality of accounting practices across the United States.  
  • International financial reporting standards: The global economy is essential to our financial success, and this set of standards aims to provide consistency throughout the world.
  • Accounting information systems: Students get an insight into the various tools and technologies used to monitor, implement, and manage accounting processes and procedures.
  • Financial accounting: As a finance professional, many jobs require that you analyze, interpret, and report corporate financial data to shareholders, executives, and other relevant stakeholders. Business administration is a key component of this course.
  • Auditing: Accuracy is of the utmost importance with regards to financial matters, and auditors provide an additional layer of quality control to ensure financial processes and documents follow compliance guidelines.
  • Cost accounting: In an economy that rests on products and services, cost accounting is the practice of helping organizations manage cost reduction and financial planning.
  • Managerial accounting: Financial data analysis, interpretation, and reporting are crucial to management personnel in business who require accounting professionals’ expertise to help them make astute decisions. 
  • The topics you cover should teach a broad spectrum of applicable skills, such as auditing, understanding tax laws, preparing tax returns, creating financial records and statements, and learning rules and regulations. Accounting bachelor’s degrees vary between institutions, with some offering specializations like fraud examination and forensic accounting. Coursework examples include:
  • Cost management: Cost management involves analyzing an organization’s financial performance in view of reducing costs and maximizing profits.
  • Federal tax accounting: Federal taxes are something every business needs to pay, and this course teaches you everything you need to know about the federal tax code.
  • Accounting ethics: Finance professionals are bound to a strict code of ethics and must learn how to remain compliant and diligent with regards to fraud.

Bachelor’s graduate careers

If you have an associate’s degree, you could get into a career in bookkeeping or as a clerk. Some of the jobs in Illinois you can get into with a bachelor’s degree in accounting include:

  • Cost estimator
  • Management accountant
  • Anti-money laundering officer
  • Actuary
  • Personal financial advisor
  • Environmental accountant
  • Financial analyst
  • Forensic accountant

Many of these careers require that you sit the CPA exam and obtain the relevant licensure in addition to successfully completing a bachelor’s program.  

Master’s degree program

The BLS projects that the job outlook of a financial manager is set to grow significantly faster between 2019 and 2029 than the national average of 4%, with 15% growth expected in the sector. A master’s degree in accountancy is an excellent choice for individuals who are looking to get into managerial careers in the field.

Master’s programs normally last between one and two years, and courses are usually worth around 30 credits. As such, they can give students the perfect amount of semester hours to fulfil the CPA requirements — although there are other options available. 

At this degree level, you delve into complex concepts and gain a deeper understanding of the principles, theory, and practice of accounts. Many people elect to choose a specialization at this stage, such as compliance, auditing, business leadership, taxation, or data analysis. Communication and leadership skills are placed front and center in master’s programs.   

Some of the coursework topics master’s accounting students might study are:

  • Accounting information systems
  • Corporate accounting
  • Forensic accounting
  • Taxation regulation
  • Financial statement analysis
  • Taxes and business strategy
  • CPA examination preparation
  • Professional responsibility and ethics in accounting
  • Advanced auditing principles

Master’s graduate careers

Master’s degree graduates in accounting can expect to earn high salaries and have a wealth of jobs to choose from, whether they opt to work in Illinois or practically anywhere else in the country. Some of the most in-demand job roles for highly qualified accounting professionals include:

  • Business owner
  • Senior accountant
  • Chief financial officer
  • Financial controller
  • Corporate controller
  • Senior financial analyst
  • Senior auditor
  • Tax accountant
  • Finance manager
  • Accounting manager

How to become a certified public accountant

The first step on your journey towards being a CPA in Illinois is getting a bachelor’s degree in accounting and accruing 150 semester hours of credit. You’ll need to make sure the school you attend has accreditation from the AACSB, ACBSP, CHEA, or USDE. There are specific courses you need to demonstrate knowledge in to be eligible.  

The next step is to pass the CPA exam and the AICPA ethics test, as well as paying a fee to the board. To get your license, you need to gain a year’s experience in accounting, attestation, management advisory, financial advisory, and tax consultation. Now you’re ready to send in your application packet.

Career outlook for Illinois accountancy graduates

Data from the BLS shows that Illinois is an excellent place for accounting professionals to find work. More than triple the number of accountants are employed in the state than some of the surrounding locations, with 49,590 accountants and auditors working in Illinois compared to 10,340 in Iowa and 11,380 in Kentucky. The salary is also higher in Illinois than any surrounding states, at $76,800 compared to $71,130 in Missouri and $72,860 in Indiana.      

Cost of an accounting school in Illinois

Getting a qualification can be incredibly expensive, but a career in accounting can see you easily earn back what you’ve invested within a few years. If finances are a major concern to you, it might be worth considering studying accountancy online.

Let’s take a look at why remote learning costs significantly less and learn more about some of the top online master’s degrees available to Illinois students. 

Why are online degrees more affordable?

You might have checked prices and noticed that online degrees often cost the same as attending in-person. However, this isn’t the end of the story. When you go to school full-time, there are only so many hours left for you to earn money. Online degrees offer more flexibility and allow extra time for working, so you can learn while you learn. 

Plus, traveling to and from school, spending money on food, making sure you look acceptable, and hanging out with classmates all cost money that you save if you get your accounting degree online.

Top online master’s degrees for accountancy

Many bachelor’s degree students attend university for the experience, although plenty of people get an online accounting degree at undergraduate level. However, lots of graduate students decide that studying online is more practical as they move forward with their career.  

University of Illinois 

You can get a master’s in accountancy online from this highly-acclaimed school, in a program that prepares students for the CPA examination. Students can take anywhere from 18 to 36 months to complete the degree, with a choice between self-paced learning or live classes. This AACSB accredited course includes coursework on federal taxation, auditing, managerial accounting, and accounting analysis. 

Saint Xavier University

Students who wish to pursue an MSA online can attend this school in the evenings, weekends, or online. It adds 30 credits for those who have completed a bachelor’s degree, taking the total up to the required 150 for CPA qualification. Students must already have an undergraduate degree, as the course builds upon key concepts learned at bachelor level.

Topics you’ll cover include taxation and regulation, ethics and society, auditing, forensic and investigative accounting, and accounting analytics and revenue optimization. 

Eastern Illinois University

EIU offers an online MBA program to those who have already got an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject. There are seven courses you’ll cover as a student on this course, which include: The legal environment of accounting, advanced auditing and assurance services, financial accounting, strategic management, management stimulation, and one elective that you can select depending on your future career path.  

The course goes in-depth with regards to theory and prepares learners practically for real-world accounting work. You attend according to your own schedule and graduates from this school have an excellent record with regards to entering the job market. 

American InterContinental University

You can get an online graduate degree with a focus on accounting theory and management from AIU. The degree program only takes a year to complete, and as much as 75% of the course allows for transferable credits. A bachelor’s degree is required for eligibility, but it doesn’t have to be in a field related to business or finance.

Accounting course options offered include: Leadership and ethics for managers, public and nonprofit accounting, accounting information systems, and accounting for managers. Alumni are prepared for careers as business leaders, high-level financial advisors, and many other lucrative, rewarding careers.  

Dominican University

You can get an MSA or an MBA online from this school, and you can complete both within a year of full-time study. The MSA is ideal for individuals who have experience within the field but wish to advance their careers, while the MBA is a smart choice for bachelor’s graduates who aim to earn CPA status. Course topic examples are taxation, cost management, business law, internal auditing, and fraud accounting.

How much does it cost to earn an accounting degree in Illinois?

Tuition costs anything between around $15,000 and $80,000 for an undergraduate degree in Illinois, with the price of graduate programs varying significantly from school to school. Bear in mind that there are many other costs associated with studying, so be careful to prepare a budget and consider your future career options to ensure you’ll be comfortable once you graduate, without the burden of too much debt. 

Best schools for accounting in Illinois

University of Illinois

The University of Illinois ranks highly in practically all of the most respected lists of the best universities in the United States — and globally. It’s considered to be a Public Ivy due to its excellent reputation and relative low cost of just over $30,000 per year. Its graduation rate and acceptance rate are also attractively high, at 85% and 59%, respectively.

Research is a strong focus in this college, which has the second-biggest library in the country. Students can obtain a bachelor of science in accounting, in a program that gets learners ready for accounting graduate programs. Judgment and enquiry, decision making, and analytical skills are focal points of this program. 

Northwestern University

Northwestern University consistently ranks towards the top of most university lists, and it’s an extremely competitive school to get into, with an acceptance rate of just 9%. Students who are hardworking and lucky enough to get in can feel secure about the quality of the course, as the graduation rate is 94%. That said, it’s an expensive college, costing almost $80,000 per year before financial aid.

Courses include accounting, business analytics, finance, and an MBA with a specialization in finance. According to U.S. News and World Report, the average base salary of graduates from Northwestern is $142,857.

Illinois State University

Illinois State University is renowned as a school that’s great for people who want to become teachers, and it’s the oldest public college in Illinois. You can get a bachelor’s in accounting with four different specializations to choose from, which are: Financial accounting, accounting information systems, business information systems, and career-focused specialty. The average cost is just above $30,000, and the school has a pleasingly high acceptance and graduation rate of 82% and 72%. 

Northern Illinois University

Northern Illinois University costs around $29,000 for a year before financial aid, has an acceptance rate of 48%, and a graduation rate of 46%. Students have the option to study accounting at bachelor’s level, and the school provides excellent opportunities such as a career fair for accounting majors, internship program, and career services. The coursework aims to boost learner’s skills in ethical accounting practices, communication, and problem solving. 

Western Illinois University

Western Illinois University is one of the most affordable schools for accounting students, costing around $26,000 per year on average. It’s a small school with just under 10,000 students, and the acceptance rate is 57%, while the graduation rate is 53%. You can study a bachelor of business program in accounting, in a course that offers 120 credits and prepares students for the CPA, CFE, and CMA examinations. There’s the option to add a fifth year and achieve a master’s qualification in accountancy. 

Top colleges for accounting in the U.S.

Let’s take a look at U.S. News and World Report’s top five schools for accounting in the U.S., to see how they compare to the accountancy colleges in Illinois:

  1. University of Texas at Austin: The top spot goes to this Texas school, which has a graduation rate of 81% and an acceptance rate of 32%. It’s more affordable than Ivy League schools, costing around $28,000 per year but offers an excellent foundation for a career in finance.  
  2. Brigham Young UniversitySecond place goes to another affordable public school, which costs under $20,000 for an undergraduate degree, before financial aid. The acceptance rate is 67% and the graduation rate is 62%.
  3. University of Illinois: See above
  4. University of PennsylvaniaStudents can expect to pay more for an education from this prestigious school, but with an impressive graduation rate of 95%, it has good reason for a high price tag of almost $80,000. Bear in mind that the acceptance rate is just 8%, so competition is tough.
  5. University of Michigan Ann Arbor: Another Midwest college on this list, this school has an excellent reputation for accounting degrees. Tuition is just over $31,000 per year and the acceptance rate and graduation rates are 23% and 91%, respectively. 

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