TOP ACCOUNTINGAccounting Beyond the Numbers
TopAccounting.org is an exhaustive online resource for students pursuing a degree in accounting. From selecting a degree program and previewing common accounting specialties, to jump starting your career, we have all the information you need to make smart decisions about your education and career in accounting.
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ONLINE ACCOUNTING DEGREE PROGRAMS
Accounting is an excellent career for detail-oriented people who find satisfaction in helping people and businesses with their finances. Believe it or not, accounting isn’t about really advanced math, but is instead about the numbers that support the life of a business.
Online accounting degrees are available at the undergraduate and graduate degree levels.For the best potential academic and career outcomes, students are advised to enroll in accredited online accounting degree programs. In some states, AACSB programmatic accreditation is required to sit for the Certified Public Accountant Exam (CPA Exam).
No matter the type of accountant you desire to become, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting is required to work in the field, although some students begin with an associate’s and move on to advanced degrees–usually a master’s for field work, or PhD for higher education professors.
Online Accounting Degrees
The certificate in accounting is ideal for people who are looking to learn the basics of accounting such as bookkeeping. This certificate is not a requirement for earning a college degree. Certificate completion requires roughly 10 courses to satisfy requirements. Certificates are often combined with a pre-existing bachelor’s degree to “round out” a degree. For instance, a student with a bachelor’s degree in business may want to take additional courses for a certificate in accounting to give themselves an added edge.
Certificate in Accounting Job Opportunities and Yearly Salaries
The certificate in accounting offers an introduction into account. Below are a few jobs and salaries of those who hold certification. Some of these salary numbers are indicative of people rising through the company and is the result of years of work experience.
- Office Manager: $28,764 – $59,609
- Accounting Manager: $35,469 – $79,243
- Staff Accountant: $39,453 – $63,074
- Accountant: $36,415 – $63,855
- Financial Controller: $44,315 – $86,162
- Bookkeepr: $21,100 – $52,381
- Administrative Assistant: $25,760 – $52,369
An associate’s in accounting is just the first step to building a career in accounting. Associates degrees generally last two years of full-time coursework to complete. Some schools offer accelerated programs which allow students to earn degrees at a much faster pace and in a shorter period of time. In most states, an associate’s in accounting will not satisfy the requirements for becoming a CPA but serves as a foundation for further study and entry-level employment. The most common type of associate’s degree in accounting is the Associate of Science (AS) in Accounting degree.
Pursuing an associate’s degree online allows students to complete programs at a pace conducive to each student’s situation and goals. Most accounting students find that online classes provide a simple way to balance school and other familiar or work obligations.
The associate’s degree in accounting provides a cost-effective way to complete the initial stage of a full bachelor’s program. In other words, students can attain their associate’s at a two-year college and transfer to an accredited four-year college.
Associate’s Degree in Accounting Job Opportunities and Yearly Salaries
The associates in accounting will help prepare students to work in a variety of jobs. Students with an associate’s degree can expect basic bookkeeping or clerk-type jobs. Students should be aware that an associate’s is not an end goal, and further career promotion along an accounting track might be limited. Below are some of the most popular and highest paid accounting jobs for persons with an associates degree.
- Accounting Manager: $35,235 – $99,329
- Office Manager: $29,120 – $61,042
- Accountant: $29,873 – $50,152
- Bookkeeper: $$24,328 – $84,730
- Staff Accountant: $37,506 – $55,896
- Financial Controller: $65,649
- Assistant Controller: $66,415
Many individuals with an associate degree in accounting work as junior accountants and bookkeepers or as self-employed bookkeepers for small businesses.
Meet the Experts
Editor in ChiefNatalie is a CPA and has worked at a big four accounting firm for the last five years. She earned her BS in Accounting from BYU-Idaho.
Managing EditorIvor is an accountant at a Big Four public accounting firm. Ivor holds an MBA and MS in Accounting from Bentley University.
In all honesty, a bachelor’s degree is the ground floor for the accounting industry. Most jobs require at minimum a four year degree, and some firms like the Big Four (KPMG, PWC, EY, Deloitte) might not even consider candidates that have less than 150 credit hours—ready to take the CPA. To work in public accounting, a bachelor’s degree is an absolute must. You could say that the bachelor’s degree is the invitation to the accounting party (and what a party!).
Types of Bachelor’s Degrees
A bachelors in accounting comes in different names but many of the core courses carry over from degree to degree. Each degree is approximately 120 credit hours and includes a general education curriculum (one that you may have already obtained if you opted for an associate’s degree at an online community college) as well as business and accounting specific courses. Full-time programs are generally four years in length, though some programs allow students to complete the program within three years. For online students that are taking the degree part-time, more time may be required. Some states may actually require accounting students to take a certain amount of credits on campus in addition to their online components. The following are some of the different bachelor’s degrees in accounting. Not all of these degree types may be available at your school of choice:
- Bachelor of Science in Accounting (BSACC)—The most common of the bachelor degrees, this degree offers a good, well-rounded approach to the different fields of accounting. Many programs allow students to specialize in specific industries thanks to their selections of electives.
- Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting (BSBA)—This degree focuses more on management and management functions with an emphasis on accounting for decision making.
- Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting (BBA)—The core curriculum of this degree focuses on management accounting, financial accounting, with an emphasis on business strategy.
- Bachelor of Science in Finance—While this degree does cover accounting topics, the emphasis of these degrees is in finance and entry into the financial sector. This includes topics like investment banking, and financial analysis.
Job Prospects and Salary
A bachelor’s degree in accounting enables students to join the workforce as an accountant. While the range of jobs varies in the accounting field, below are listed a number of the most popular accounting jobs.
- Staff Accountant $33,432 – $57,558
- Accountant $36,896 – $65,848
- Senior Accountant $46.232 – $91,127
- Financial Controller $55,522 – $109,375
- Corporate Controller $60,639 – $134,642
- Chief Financial Officer $61.102 – $181,600
Many employers prefer to hire recent accounting graduates. This is especially true of the Big Four firms in public accounting who spend millions yearly on recruiting and training. Your school’s career services center should be able to help you meet recruiters from different firms and get a job.
Because the CPA requires 150 credit hours and most bachelor’s programs cap out at around 120 credits, many students choose to pursue a master’s degree to help them become CPA ready. Many managers even prefer candidates with a master’s degree because it represents added value
Master’s degrees in accounting or taxation often range from one to two years—depending on your prior academic background. For instance, if you already have an bachelor’s in accounting, then many of the classes you need for a master’s degree can be waived. If you’re changing careers, then your academic path may require an extra semester or two. A master’s degree is not necessary for accountants in the field; however, it opens many doors that a bachelor’s degree alone cannot, and it IS a highly recommended route for career changers that are looking to get into the accounting industry right away.
The real benefit of a master’s degree is the specialized advanced knowledge in addition to the master’s ability to help students meet the minimum 150 credit hour requirement for the CPA and other advanced credentials. In fact, there are some states where the master’s degree is required to hold a CPA license.
Many traditional campus programs have an online component, allowing students to be more flexible with their study and attendance.
Types of Master’s Degrees
Like the bachelor’s degree, the master’s degree in accounting comes in different names. These degrees tend to build on concepts learned at the undergraduate level, so a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite. Be advised—some of these programs are more geared towards students that already have a background in accounting rather than the uninitiated, and will have admission requirements to reflect this.
- Master of Accountancy/Master’s in Accounting (MAcc)
- Master of Science in Accounting (MSA)
- Master of Business Administration in Accounting (MBA)
- Master of Professional Accountancy or Accounting (MPA, MPAc, MPAcc)
- Master of Science in Taxation (MST)
A master’s program tends to reinforce concepts related to financial accounting and auditing, taxation, ethical principles, tax research, international business, forensic accounting and fraud theory, and information technology. Master’s degree programs often allow for a certain amount of custom specialization based on elective classes.
Job Prospects and Salary
Newly graduated students with a master’s degree are a valued commodity in the workplace. Their academic credentials shows employers that they can immediately integrate into their workforce and make an impact. Additionally, a master’s degree communicates to employers that the graduate is CPA ready—a key distinction that greatly improves a candidate’s hireability.
Here are a few of the most popular jobs for employees with a master’s degree.
- Senior Accountant $52,104 – $75,728
- Staff Accountant $38,901 – $56,473
- Accountant $43,087 – $63,770
- Accounting Manager $50,980 – $92,241
- Certified Public Accountant $60,000+
- Financial Controller $85,809
- Financial Analyst $60,305
You may have noticed that some of these salaries vary very little from the salaries indicated in the bachelor’s section. This is because the accounting industry tends to favor credentials like the CPA, CMA, CIA more than a master’s degree since the credentials are an addition on top of any academic achievement earned. In this light, to have a successful career in accounting be aware of any credentials that might help you in your field of expertise.
If you are reading this section, then you are a true glutton for academic punishment (that’s meant in the best way possible. Seriously, we have a lot of respect for the PhD here). PhD programs are intensive programs that focus heavily on writing, research, mathematics, economics, accounting, research methods, and statistics. Doctorate programs require students to work closely with a mentor professor, and under their guidance, produce original research to make a contribution to the global accounting knowledge base.
A PhD in accounting is a departure from the traditional accounting industry/business sector route, and is for people that are interested in teaching accounting at a college or university. These candidates are interested in researching a specific field or aspect of accounting, and want to go beyond cursory understanding of what is happening and really dive into the complex analysis of why something is happening the way it is (think topics like the impact of restating earnings on stock activity, or how accounting information systems mitigate the risk of fraud in technology dependent industries). Thanks to this highly specialized knowledge, many PhD graduates also pursue careers in consulting, and public policy analysis.
Students looking to earn a PhD at minimum need a bachelor’s degree, a sufficiently high GMAT score, and most importantly, a research question that they would like to explore. While a background in accounting is not necessary, it is recommended—though if you can demonstrate sufficient foundational knowledge through experience you may be able to get by. For many programs, candidates are accepted based on their academic credentials and whether or not a member of faculty can provide sufficient support to candidates in their research desires.
Many online PhD programs require a certain amount of face to face time with faculty members for advising, research or other program related events. While there are many online components, because this is such a highly specialized and advanced degree, there are some things that have to be conveyed in a traditional education setting. With technology making a major impact on education, expect this landscape to change in the next few years.
PhD programs tend to range from 70-120 credit hours or about four to seven years of time. The first part of a program generally consists of coursework that teaches candidates subjects like how to conduct detailed research, statistical analysis, and instructing a classroom. Once this component is finished the remaining credits and years will be earned as part of the program’s research requirement, and other credits may be earned for teaching classes, internships, and other real-world practical experiences.
During the final years of a PhD program, candidates will be working on their dissertation—a massive research essay that is the culmination of all their research. Students will meet with faculty advisors to discuss their research, conduct their research in their field, and if their program requires it, teach classes. PhD students often receive a stipend as part of their education and have tuition costs waived, so this should be a factor in determining a good PhD program. (The idea here is that you’re giving up your normal full-time job to become a student and help the prestige of the school. You’re getting an education, and they get some of your research and you help teach classes. Everyone wins).
Most graduates with a PhD in accounting end up in education in some way. While many candidates look for placement in other universities, some return to the accounting industry as consultants. The following is a list of some the most popular jobs for a PhD in accounting.
- Research Scientist $58,490 – $123,087
- Assistant Professor, Postsecondary/Higher Education $49,583 – $99,522
- Associate Professor, Postsecondary/Higher Education $55,460 – $124,050
- Professor, Postsecondary/Higher Education $63,675 – $180,037
- Postdoctoral Research Associate – $39,191 – $69,680
I’m interested in studying accounting. What can you tell me?
Accounting is the language of financial transactions–the language of business. Accounting is the proper recording and analysis of financial transactions. If you enter this field, be prepared to study mathematics, statistics, tax codes and business law in order to track the financial information of corporations and individuals.
In the past, accountants were associated with terms like “number crunchers” or “bean counters,” but that perception is changing as modern accountants are recognized as integral parts of business management. Accountants provide business owners and executives with important financial data and interpretations and explanations of that data. If you choose to study accounting, you should be ethical, detail-oriented and comfortable working with numbers.
Accounting appeals to many students because it often leads to high-paying careers with job security. And, unlike many areas of business, entry-level positions in this field do not require graduate-level education. Although you will need to study accounting at the graduate level if you want to become a Certified Public Accountant, a bachelors degree will qualify you for employment.
How long would it take me to become an accountant?
To become an accountant, you need to earn your bachelors degree in accounting or a related business field that includes many accounting classes. A bachelors degree usually takes about 4 years to complete.