Accounting Certificate Programs

Accounting Certificate Programs: An All-Inclusive Guide

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Accounting certificate programs cover a comprehensive range of entry-level and professional skills in a relatively short duration. These programs typically last no longer than 12 months, allowing students to quickly gain new skills that can be applied in entry-level and professional roles.

Most accounting certificate programs are designed for students who have little to no accounting experience or formal accounting education. These programs cover topics such as taxation, auditing, and basic accounting and are a great option for high school graduates preparing to enter the workforce.

Advanced certificates help seasoned professionals prepare for licensing and certification, concentrating on topics such as forensic accounting and corporate taxes. These certificates expand professional skills and knowledge.

After certification completion, individuals often attain employment as accounting and auditing clerks or advance within the field of accounting.

Certificates often integrate with bachelors and masters degree programs as a way to broaden accounting knowledge.

Why an Accounting Certificate

According to a recent study conducted by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, certificates are stepping stones to college degrees and job preparation. More than one million are earned per year and are increasing in popularity,

Undergraduate Certificate Programs in Accounting

  • Offer an option for individuals interested in finding entry-level jobs in accounting that do not require a college degree, such as an accounts payable clerk or bookkeeper.
  • Individuals interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting can start with a certificate program. The basic courses offer an introduction to the accounting field and college-level class expectations.

Graduate Certificate Programs in Accounting

  • Graduate certificate programs are for individuals who hold an accounting degree or relevant field experience who are looking advanced specialized skills in an area of accounting, such as taxation.
  • These programs are often designed to help individuals prepare for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam and count toward required 150 credit hours for licensure.

Certificates and certification are not the same thing. Certificates involve coursework for personal development while certification (CPA, CMA, etc.) usually involve exams that lead to industry-recognized credentials. Certificates can be a step toward meeting certification requirements.


Several accounting careers within private and public sector organizations do not require a college degree. Through certificate coursework, basic accounting skills can be attained which provide competitiveness for these positions.




Certificate programs typically involve course work built around a specific accounting topic. For some certificates, prior accounting coursework or a degree may be required. Generally, undergraduate certificates have fewer prerequisites.

Although shorter than full degree programs, certificates require 5-10+ courses totaling 15-45 credit hours. Several certificates can be completed in less than one year but some take several years to complete, especially for part-time students.

Many institutions offer online accounting certificates, providing a way for students to earn their credentials at their convenience.

Can I work while studying?

Both on-campus and online accounting certificate programs are designed with working professionals in mind. Thus, not only can you work while studying, you are actually encouraged to do so. Many employers favor certificate programs because their employees are able to further their education while working full time. Ask your employer for more exposure to accounting functions to begin gaining experience while you complete your program.

If you are considering certificates in accounting as a way of changing your career goals, then you should also consider an internship. Internships are a valuable resource for obtaining relevant experience and connections with professionals that can be useful when trying to find a full-time job. A quick search for accounting internships on job sites like Simply Hired reveal hundreds of opportunities throughout the U.S.

Working while completing an accounting certificate program, however, is not for everyone. Going to class after a long day of work can be exhausting and the stress can lead to poor performance in both work and school, defeating the purpose of either. The lack of physical classes in online programs gives you more flexibility, but the time required to complete coursework is still significant. The financial benefits and the experience gained may be worth the stress, but you need to decide whether or not you can handle it.

Are there any brick-and-mortar colleges that offer an online certificate?

Online accounting certificates are gaining popularity, and many respected and accredited brick-and-mortar colleges are offering web-based options to suit the schedules of working professionals.

The certificate program in accounting at UC Berkeley Extension consists of 3 core courses and 4 specialization courses. Certificate candidates can specialize in either accounting for controllers or accounting for financial and business analysts. The curriculum must be completed within 5 years and all of the courses can be taken online.

All of the courses in the program at Louisiana State University are part of the school’s Independent & Distance Learning program and are approved by the LSU Department of Accounting. This program consists of 5 courses, 2 of which are advanced electives allowing you some customization in your education.

UCLA Extension’s program is designed for students preparing for the Uniform CPA Examination. Classes are offered online and on-campus on a quarterly basis as opposed to a semester basis. The curriculum consists of 9 required core classes and 9 electives, although your educational transcript may allow you to waive some electives.

Education requirements to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination vary by state, so if your goal is to become a CPA, make sure that the credits from your program are accepted.

What are common assumptions about students?

Certificate programs are a fairly new concept in education, so it is understandable that people may have some misconceptions about them. Many people assume that students in certificate programs did not know what they wanted to do during college and want to change careers. While this may be true for some students, many others use a certificate in accounting as a way of meeting CPA education requirements. These education requirements differ between states and you should always check with your state’s board of accountancy before you enroll in an educational program.

The Uniform CPA Examination requires 150 credit hours, but most bachelors degree programs offer only 120. Certificate programs provide an alternative to a more time-intensive masters degree as a way of meeting this requirement.

Conversely, many people assume that the only those interested in becoming a CPA would pursue a certificate, but that is only one of many reasons. A certificate is a great way to diversify your business knowledge and document your skills so you become eligible for more advanced positions within the industry.

The web-based component of many accounting certificates sometimes gives these programs the stigma of being a low-quality education and therefore worthless. There are some unaccredited institutions that provide subpar coursework, but many highly respected institutions accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) offer online certificates. The AACSB is considered the benchmark of quality for business schools, so these programs assuredly provide great educations.

What is the hardest part of the application?

Applications consist of the same basic steps, and generally, you can apply online. Usually, you just need to fill out a form with your personal information, send in official transcripts from all of your previous post-secondary schools and a nonrefundable application fee. This part does not take very long, provided you do not have too much difficulty accessing your transcripts.

Some schools require that you submit a statement of purpose, which is a short essay describing your interest in the program and what you hope to achieve with the certificate other than gaining an accounting salary. Because applications are short, this essay is your opportunity to highlight strengths not mentioned elsewhere in your application or to explain any shortcomings on your transcript. Typically the statement of purpose is 500 words, so be sure to be concise yet informative, as this may be the only way to truly differentiate yourself from other candidates.

The hardest part of the application process may be simply meeting the requirements for admission. Some programs require a bachelor’s degree or at least an associates degree. Even the programs that do not have any prerequisites still recommend that you have a bachelor’s degree to ensure that you are familiar with the work required in a college education.