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Online Accounting Certificate and Degree Programs

Learn about online certificate and degree programs in accounting, which can be found at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Explore the courses you'd take in each of these program levels. Find out how online programs work, and read about the career outcomes for earning an accounting degree or certificate. Review the licensure requirements for accountants.

What Kind of Online Programs Are Available in Accounting?

If you have no previous accounting experience, you can earn an associate or bachelor's degree in accounting online or through a hybrid program. Associate degrees take two years to complete, and you might be able to transfer your college credit to a bachelor's degree program. You can usually earn a bachelor's degree in four years, though part-time learning could extend the length of your program. If you'd rather not earn a degree, an online undergraduate certificate program can prepare you for immediate employment in an accounting position.

If you already have a bachelor's degree in any field, you can enroll in a graduate certificate or master's degree program. Online certificate programs usually take less than a year, and master's degrees can be earned in 1-2 years. Like undergraduate certificate credits, some schools allow you to apply your education from a certificate program toward a master's degree, if you choose. Some graduate programs require prerequisite accounting coursework or experience in accountancy before you enroll.

Types of ProgramsAssociate's degrees, bachelor's degrees, undergraduate certificates, master's degrees
Common CoursesForensic accounting, budgeting techniques, tax laws and regulations, corporate finance, internal and external accounting tools, financial reporting
Technology RequirementsUpdated computer, access to high-speed Internet, additional software may be necessary
Possible CareersAccountant, accounting assistant, auditor
LicensureCPA license is necessary for some specific jobs. Earning the CPA could also increase employability and credibility in general
Job Outlook (2016-2026)10% growth (for accountants and auditors)*
Median Salary (2018)$70,500 (for accountants and auditors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Learn?

Undergraduate and graduate-level courses cover roughly the same topics, but at varying degrees of complexity. You'll learn or review basic accounting practices, such as how to analyze financial statements and assessing a value for an individual's or company's assets. You'll often learn how to perform various tax forms at federal, state and local levels. Most programs also include training in financial auditing and risk management. Some standard research options and courses include:

  • Forensic accounting
  • Budgeting techniques
  • Tax laws and regulations
  • Corporate finance
  • Internal and external accounting tools
  • Financial reporting

How Do Online Programs Work?

You'll need access to a reliable Internet connection a computer with an up-to-date browser. You might need to install additional software, such as word processing, spreadsheet or multimedia applications. Typically, you'll access your course materials and assignments through the school's course management system or receive them via e-mail. Most schools also offer instant messaging and the ability to interact with both your instructors and classmates in virtual classrooms. In a hybrid program, you'll take some courses online, but might be required to participate in some on-campus classes or practicums.

What Can an Accounting Certificate Or Degree Do for Me?

If you're interested in pursuing an accounting career, online accounting programs at the undergraduate level can provide you with a foundational background for more advanced graduate study or qualify you for an entry-level position as an accountant or accounting assistant. A graduate certificate or degree might provide you with more employment opportunities and greater earning power. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting firms and tax services employed over a quarter of accountants and auditors in the U.S. as of May 2018 (www.bls.gov). Other major employers included corporations, local governments and state government agencies.

Do I Need to Obtain a License to Work?

You'll only need to obtain a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license if you report public financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission. However, earning a CPA license demonstrates your expertise to individual and business clients. To qualify for the Uniform CPA Examination, you'll usually need to complete some graduate or postbaccalaureate coursework in accounting, though some states allow you to substitute work experience for education. To renew your license, you'll typically need to complete continuing education credits, which can be earned through college classes, professional seminars and conferences.