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March 25, 2024

Gen Z gives accounting careers a closer look

With entry-level accountants in high demand across industries, the field is reemerging as a career launchpad for early talent

Key takeaways

  1. Early-career accountants are in demand across industries. Accountant is the second most-posted job role on Handshake, and is among the top five most-posted roles in nine different industries.
  2. After a dip in recent years, interest in accounting careers may be rebounding. About 2.5% of Class of 2025 bachelor’s degree students on Handshake are majoring in accounting, up from 2.1% of the Class of 2023.
  3. Accounting firms are increasingly emphasizing social impact—and it’s paying off. More than 1 in 4 accounting jobs posted on Handshake in 2023 mentioned social impact, and jobs that included social impact keywords in their descriptions received about 80% more applications.
  4. Students from a range of majors are applying to accountant roles. Business, economics, and political science majors make up a significant share of applicants to accountant roles, and tech majors now account for about 15% of the applicant pool.

Early-career accountants are in demand across industries

Employers posted more than 27,000 full-time accountant roles on Handshake in 2023, making accountant the second most in-demand role after general administrative support workers. Notably, the median salary listed for full-time accountant openings also rose by about 10% between November 2022 and November 2023. Industry leaders expect demand for early-career accountants to continue to grow; a 2023 report by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) found that 50% of US CPA firms expected to increase hiring of new grads into accounting functions, while only 6% expected to decrease hiring.

While a significant share of the demand for early-career accountants comes from financial services firms, students and new grads with accounting skills have opportunities available to them in almost any industry. About 75% of the accountant roles posted on Handshake in 2023 came from companies in industries outside financial services—including government, manufacturing, healthcare, and technology—and accountants were among the top five most-posted roles in nine different industries.

Kate Guerrero, director of Business Career Services at Cal State Fullerton College of Business, confirms that students in the College’s accounting concentration are graduating with a wide range of job opportunities. “In today's dynamic accounting landscape, accounting students are empowered with a variety of career path options spanning public, corporate, and government accounting realms,” Guerrero explains. “While many of our students follow the traditional public accountant career path, we are seeing an increasing number of students exploring career paths, and securing positions, in industries outside of financial services.”

After a dip in recent years, interest in accounting careers may be rebounding

The number of undergraduate accounting degrees awarded fell steeply between 2016 and 2022, mid ongoing concerns about strict CPA licensing requirements creating a high barrier to entry for the profession. But accounting is now seeing a slight uptick in popularity among students on Handshake. A little over 2.5% of students in the Class of 2025 are accounting majors, up from about 2.1% of the Class of 2023, with finance majors following a similar trend.

There are many possible reasons for this rebound in interest, but job security likely plays a big role. A 2023 survey by accounting firm EY found that “career stability and comfortable lifestyle” was the most common motivation students cited for pursuing accounting careers—and with stability and financial well-being increasingly top of mind for early talent, it’s not surprising that more students are considering this field. EY also noted that more than three quarters of students believe an accounting degree will have long-term career benefits, and about a third see an accounting career as a stepping-stone to other leadership opportunities.

AT&T is one company that’s successfully recruiting early-career accountants by emphasizing career development and the chance to build a wide range of leadership skills. Astad Dhunjisha, Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition for AT&T, notes that participants in the telecom leader’s Accounting Leadership Development Program “are afforded hands-on experience across corporate accounting roles including the controller, tax, and audit divisions” and “gain a deep understanding of the strategies and leadership skills required for growth.” AT&T also “backs its participants throughout the program, offering valuable support such as covering the cost for CPA materials and exams, a one-time bonus upon passing the CPA exam, and for some, the potential of a full-time role after their program ends.” The program has seen a 10% increase in applicants since its launch in 2022, which Dhunisha says “highlights the enthusiasm we’ve seen from applicants and participants and underscores AT&T’s commitment to creating a robust pipeline of future finance leaders.”

More accounting firms are emphasizing social impact—and it’s paying off

“Opportunity to contribute to society” and “the chance to impact sustainability” are two of the top four reasons students choose to pursue accounting, according to EY. And while accounting firms haven’t historically emphasized opportunity for social impact in their recruiting—only 29% of the executives EY surveyed said their team highlights this as a benefit to prospective employees—that’s starting to change, especially as the industry evolves to include more roles focused on issues like pay equity and climate change.

More than 1 in 4 of accountant jobs posted on Handshake in 2023 mentioned keywords related to environmental and social responsibility, responsible governance, and diversity and inclusion, compared to 1 in 5 in 2021. Jobs that mentioned these keywords received about 80% more applications on average. As a result, jobs with social impact keywords received more than a third of all applications to accountant roles in 2023, up from just over a quarter two years ago. EY research also found that more than 7 in 10 students believe they could make a real-world impact as an accountant, further indication that early-career professionals are taking note of a shift in the industry.

Mügé Tuna, Director of Employer Engagement & Strategic Partnerships for Undergraduate Career Services at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, says increased emphasis on social impact is helping drive an uptick in interest in accounting among students. “At Kelley, we have observed a significant increase in accounting majors from the class of 2024 to the class of 2025,” says Tuna. “This change underscores the shifting dynamics within the field and the broader interests of our students.” She notes that the university’s accounting program incorporates an intentional focus on social impact, explaining that “our aim is to equip our students not only with the skills to manage the complexities of accounting but also with the leadership qualities necessary to appreciate and contribute to social responsibility in their careers.”

Madison Perich, a senior at Cal State Fullerton, was drawn to accounting and to a role with EY because of the opportunity for positive social impact. “Choosing accounting isn’t just about numbers; it’s about being a part of a positive change," Perich says. “It's important to me to align myself with a company that holds values similar to my own. EY’s focus on issues like sustainability and social responsibility is the reason I chose to pursue a career with their firm.” Perich will start a full-time role in EY’s Los Angeles office after graduation.

Students from a range of majors are applying to accountant roles

A finance or accounting degree isn’t the only pathway into an accounting career. Core skills such as mathematics, data analysis, and general business knowledge can be gained through a variety of degree programs, and with early-career accountants in high demand it’s not surprising that students from a range of academic backgrounds are showing interest in this field.

In particular, as accounting becomes more tech-enabled, students majoring in tech fields (such as computer science, data science, and business analytics) are increasingly likely to consider accountant roles. Tech majors made up about 15% of applicants to accountant openings on Handshake in 2023, compared to about 9% in 2020.

Accounting is undergoing an exciting transformation

Over the past few years, several factors have converged to reignite interest in accounting and challenge the industry’s outdated reputation. Accounting firms and professionals are finding new ways to impact social issues such as climate change and economic equity. Cutting-edge technologies, including AI, are reshaping what accounting work looks like and what accountants can accomplish. At the same time, a new generation craving stability and security is recognizing the benefits of accounting careers. Accounting has a bright future, and Gen Z will play a major role in shaping its next chapter.


Application and job post trends are based on Handshake platform activity between December 2019 and December 2023.

Industry classifications are based on employer self-identification on the Handshake platform.

Major classifications are based on data provided by students and higher education institutions through the Handshake platform.

Tech majors include bachelor's degree students majoring in the following fields: Business Analytics, Computer Engineering, Computer Engineering Technologies & Technicians, Computer Programming, Computer Science, Computer Systems Networking & Telecommunications, Cyber Security, Data Mining, Data Science, Information Systems Management, Mathematics, Software Design, Statistics, User Experience/Social Computing

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