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Associate Degree Vs. Diploma in Accounting: What's the Difference?

The difference between an associate's degree and a diploma in accounting lies in the required coursework. Both programs offer introductory accounting courses and lay a basic foundation in the subject, but associate's programs often require completion of more credit-hours than diploma programs. Read on to find out more.

Comparison of Programs

Students in an associate's degree program in accounting will have very similar courses to students in a diploma program. However, an associate's degree program is usually longer and includes many general education courses and electives. Both programs also prepare students to work as bookkeepers, payroll clerks, accounts receivable/payable clerks, or tellers. In some cases, earning an associate's degree can lead to work as a junior accountant.

Courses that are shared between these programs include:

  • Basic and intermediate accounting principles
  • Cost accounting
  • Income taxation
  • Financial accounting
  • Spreadsheet applications
  • Business law

Important Facts About Accounting Programs

Diploma Program Associate Degree Program
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED; some general education courses may be required
Concentrations Not typically offered in diploma programs Some programs offer specializations, such as small business accounting certificates
Online Availability Hybrid and fully-online programs exist Hybrid and fully-online programs exist
Typical Program Length One year Two years

Associate's Degree Programs

Credits earned through an associate's degree program in accounting count toward a bachelor's degree later. Some associate's degree programs piggy-back with what's known as a 2+2 program, which awards an associate's degree after the first two years of study and then a bachelor's degree after another two years. These programs usually also include more general business courses than a diploma program does, and there may be an opportunity to do an internship or capstone project.

Some business courses you might take include:

  • Economics
  • Business statistics
  • Introductory business
  • Business math
  • Personal finance
  • Marketing

Diploma Programs

Typically requiring fewer courses than an associate's degree, an accounting diploma program is designed for students who need a basic foundation to obtain immediate employment without a degree. This program is also sometimes useful for those possessing degrees already who need additional training in accounting. For example, some diploma programs are designed to help professionals qualify for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.

In addition to taking the accounting courses that are often shared between associate's degree and diploma programs, you might also take general education, business and additional accounting courses such as:

  • Auditing
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Governmental accounting
  • Introductory business
  • Ten-key typing
  • Introduction to computers
  • Writing

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median salary for all accountants and auditors to be $70,500 as of May 2018. The job outlook is expected to be 10% growth from 2016 - 2026, which is faster than average for all occupations.