How to Choose Between a Career in Private or Public Accounting

The realm of accounting offers substantial career choices for those seeking it.  Accountants are vital to a business because they collect, analyze, and organize financial findings so as to steer a company into making wise financial decisions.  Other duties of an accountant include verifying that a company is working within the boundaries of financial law.

There are two main branches under accounting: public and private.  Public accountants are those that work with a diverse array of clients, while private accountants will work with one company.  However, there are still many other differences between the two that lead entirely different paths. If you are wondering whether private or public accounting is best for you, here are some guidelines that should assist you.


Both require a bachelor’s degree, which usually consists of a focus in accounting, finance, or business.  Many people of either field will go on to graduate school. However, the training required will be different.  A public accountant is trained specifically to analyze accounting systems and collect financial information. This accountant will use this information to help make a business run more efficiently.  A public accountant will do this for a variety of businesses, yet a private accountant will only do this for one. In addition, a private accountant is trained to develop more accounting transactions.


Public and private accountants require different certification.  A public accountant requires a Certified Public Accountant certificate (or CPA). The CPA is a very long, intensive, and comprehensive exam that requires aspiring public accountants to undergo hundreds of hours of preparation.  It can take some accountants a few years in order to pass the exam if they persevere. Most must invest in a CPA review course to adequately prepare themselves for the exam, which adds thousands of dollars to the already time-intensive study process. Private accountants do not require a certification, although having a CPA next to your name will still bring additional professional opportunities to you. In the long run, it’s a worthy goal for both public and private accountants to have.

Work Environment

Because a private accountant works with one company, their work environment is likely to be constant.  You will probably have your own office or desk and you will have a fixed schedule—more of a nine to five position than you’ll experience in public accounting.  For those with a family or those who seek stability, becoming a private accountant provides that. If you would like more flexibility and versatility in your job, public accounting may include travel.  However, public accountants often have long hours and strict deadlines. There are benefits and disadvantages in both sectors, but it’s important to examine your personal work preferences before committing to either.


Both jobs require similar skills despite having different work environments and requirements.  Public and private accountants both need to be excellent communicators. This is because you will often, in either position, need to communicate your findings and advice effectively to peers, leadership, and laymen that may not understand finance very well.  Analytic and critical thinking skills are also essential. However, there are also differing skills that play a part as well. The ideal personality for a public accounting position is someone who is adaptable and outgoing, due to the variable nature of their career.  Private accountants need to be highly organized within their company and dependable because of their fixed environment.


If you want a career with chance of advancement, both paths are viable options.  Private accountants typically grow from entry-level professionals to managerial positions within one business.  They may also become CFOs and gain specialization quickly due to the focus of their job. Public accountants will start as entry-level as well, but they may become senior accountants and gain partnerships in the firm they belong to. In terms of salary, both offer competitive rates.  Depending on education and experience, an accountant of either field will receive a substantial income that can rise substantially over time.

A private accountant will typically start at around $44,000 to reach upwards of $60,000 over time.  A public accountant will usually start at about $50,000 and rise over time to about $74,000. Both offer the potential to earn an income in the triple digits given the position.  In addition, there is always a need for accountants, therefore you will find no shortage of jobs wherever life takes you. Keep these facets in mind as you make a decision and catapult your accounting career.

By Bryce Welker
Bryce Welker CEO