The Top Types of Accounting Degrees

Accounting Certificate

Number of Programs: 868 schools with Certificate Programs in Accounting in our online directory.

Generally, a high school diploma and perhaps some college training is sufficient to get a bookkeeping or clerical role. These roles typically focus on performing on-going transactional recording so education programs at this level tend to focus on accounting fundamentals and basic administrative skills. You will learn how to account for transactions in a structured business environment. As you transition to the workplace, then, on-the-job training will be crucial to teach you about your specific firm’s business environment and accounting procedures.

Associates Degree in Accounting

Number of Programs: 1,141 schools with Associates degrees in Accounting in our online directory.

An Associate’s Degree or additional Certificate program will offer you the opportunity to expand your accounting education beyond the basics. These programs usually last one to two years and will either give you more general accounting courses, which will improve your ability to learn your firm’s business environment when you enter the workforce, or will offer some specialist accounting courses, which can help you learn more detailed accounting procedures for a specialized function.

In either case, an Associate’s Degree or Certificate will decrease the amount of the on-the-job training you will need and will increase the value you provide to firms on your first day of work. Given the short duration of the Associate’s Degree program, though, most students will not have time to pursue the broad business curriculum or analytical skills that most firms require for significant career advancement.

Bachelors Degree in Accounting

Number of Programs: 1,224 schools with Bachelors degrees in Accounting in our online directory.

If you pursue a Bachelor’s Degree you can expect to take between four and eight accounting courses over four years. The course load usually will include multiple classes on financial accounting (recording and reporting different types of economic transactions) and at least one class on managerial accounting (measuring operational costs, analyzing business performance, making business decisions), accounting information systems (using technology like enterprise resource planning systems and databases to manage financial data and generate usable information), taxation (how to calculate and account for taxes according to current statute) and auditing (how to statistically test accounting processes and financial statements for reliability and accuracy).

By also requiring students to take core business courses in finance, economics, business law and management, an Accounting Bachelors Degree program will prepare you to take more comprehensive roles in firms: You will interact more with workers and managers and will be expected to provide a greater level of analysis and information processing, not just transactional recording. Although the Bachelors Degree in Accounting takes significantly more time than an Associates Degree, with it, the right skills, effort and work experience you can expect advanced career opportunities, status and pay within your firm.

Masters Degree in Accounting

Number of Programs: 810 schools with Masters degrees in Accounting in our online directory.

A Master’s Degree is a one to two year program which will prepare you take on expanded responsibility in organizations. These programs focus on both refining the technical accounting skills developed in your Bachelors Degree program and developing general management skills. In addition to specializing in a particular branch of accounting (i.e. financial, managerial, audit, information systems, taxation etc.) you will usually spend time studying business cases, working in teams, making presentations and, perhaps, assisting in research projects or teaching.

A Masters Degree in Accounting can give you the skills to not only understand and perform in firms’ business environments and accounting processes but to build and improve them. Your analytical and problem-solving skills and your ability to communicate to and work with others will make you a very valuable addition to a firm as a senior analyst or manager or to an educational institution as a lecturer in accounting.

Doctorate Degree in Accounting

Number of Programs: 138 schools with Doctorate degrees in Accounting in our online directory.

A Doctorate Degree program is a four to six year endeavor which will prepare you to perform research and teaching in high-level accounting. You will take advanced courses in accounting and economic theory, research methods and statistics and will need to perform independent research and teaching prior to graduation. Given the deep level of study in a doctorate program, you will need to specialize in a branch of accounting (i.e. financial, managerial, audit, information systems, taxation, etc.) and might also specialize in a particular research method (i.e. analytical modeling, archival, experimental, field, etc.).

While you might decide to become a business consultant or corporate researcher after achieving your degree, the intent of most Doctorate Degree programs is for you to become a professor. This intent is significantly different from that of most Master’s Degree programs so, accordingly, many doctoral programs do not require you to first obtain a Master’s Degree. By getting a Doctorate Degree you will learn how to educate future accountants and you will learn how to advance the study of accounting for the benefit of the field in general.

What Does an Accountant Do?

In a nutshell, accountants translate economic activity into dollars and cents.  They identify, measure and communicate financial information about economic entities to interested parties.  This means that accountants need to understand and influence the business operations that drive economic activity, the information environments that capture and report transactional and aggregated data and the end-users that demand financial information.

Workers need to perform work, make purchases and generate sales; managers need to motivate and measure performance and allocate resources;  owners and creditors need to decide which firms offer the best value for their investments; and governments need to tax and provide public goods.  For every type of specialized player and process in the economic supply chain, there is a specialized accountant.  They might not assemble goods, directly interact with work teams, make strategic business decisions, hold investment assets or write laws and regulation (although there certainly are accountants who do each of these activities) but all accountants participate in the informational process which allows these activities to occur efficiently and effectively.

What Type of Education Is Needed?

One of the great things about the field of accounting is that there is a job for every education level.  Each degree level and program offers its own curriculum so it is important to understand what courses and skills will be covered in a specific program before beginning your educational journey.  As you would expect, the general equation is:  More time in school = Higher cost = More skills developed = More opportunity for advancement = Higher job status and pay.

Accounting curricula span numerous branches:

  • Financial:  How to record and report transactions and account balances
  • Managerial:  How to promote and measure operational performance
  • Information Systems:  How to manage financial data and information
  • Taxation:  How to calculate and record tax obligations
  • Auditing:  How to test accounting systems and reports for accuracy

Accounting programs are offered at numerous levels, longer programs are able to cover more accounting branches in more depth:

  • Certificate:  Classes offered at or above the high school level
  • Associate’s Degree:  One to two year program after high school
  • Bachelor’s Degree:  Four year program after high school
  • Master’s Degree:  One to two year program after Bachelor’s Degree
  • Doctorate Degree:  Four to six year program after Bachelor’s Degree or Master’s Degree

What You Should Know About Accounting Careers

Since so much of what an accountant does is contingent on his/her firm’s specific business environment, an internship is an excellent way for you to find out what type of accounting and what type of firm is best for you. There are many paid and unpaid accounting and finance internships offered by public accounting firms, private companies and government agencies in which you can spend a summer or spring (tax season) learning about how accounting is performed at the specific organization.

Professional certifications also provide a gateway for accountants to increase their job responsibilities and paychecks.  Usually, the certifying organizations require that you have achieved a specified level of education and have passed a qualifying exam to receive the certification and require that you earn CPE (Continuing Professional Education) credits every year to maintain your certification.   A few of the best known certifications are the CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CMA (Certified Managerial Accountant), CIA (Certified Internal Auditor) and CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst).  These special designations add prestige to an individual’s resume and may be desired, if not required, by employers.  For example, the CPA designation is required to become a manager at most public accounting firms and the CMA designation, while not required, may be viewed as a substitute for a Master’s Degree to become a manager at a private company.

Many accountants also belong to professional organizations which signal their dedication to increasing their professional skills.  Many of these organizations offer seminars and courses which satisfy certification boards’ CPE course requirements and publish periodicals to inform members of changes in laws, regulations, business procedures and research as well as other relevant business topics that help an accountant stay up-to-date with the latest developments and current events.  A few such organizations are the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants), IMA (Institute of Management Accountants, and the AAA (American Accounting Association).

Is Accounting a Worthwhile Field to Explore?

Absolutely! As laws change, corporate structures grow and business operations become more complex, accounting work only becomes more interesting.  Gone are the days when accountants were needed as human calculators to “count beans.”  Modern accountants bring process-oriented mindsets, analytical skills and business acumen to operate, improve and create organizations.  They are clerks, analysts, auditors, managers, CFOs, CEOs and investors.  They perform tasks in every step of the economic value chain.  They own their own firms and run the largest organizations in the world.   These individuals are highly sought after and are well paid for their work and expertise.

From the ancient Agricultural Age’s recording of farm production to the Industrial Age’s  advanced product costing systems to the Information Age’s new revenue models, every economic advancement has been at least partly defined by the accounting advancements which accompanied it.  Accountants have been and will continue to be a crucial part of the economy as long as the world of business continues to turn.

Accounting Degrees Online Guide

The Language of Business

“Accounting is the language of business” – This adage has graced many introductory accounting course notes and while it might seem like just a cute and contrite way to get a reader’s attention, it hints at the great variety of what accountants do. Read more…

Accounting Ethics

Information is valuable. When one party in a relationship (i.e. investor-manager, manager-employee, government-company) has more information than the other party, there is the potential for that party to misrepresent reality in order to financially gain at the expense of others. Read more…

Accounting Scandals

Over the past decade, there have been several major accounting scandals in the U.S. Not only have these scandals resulted in billions of dollars of lost income to investors, shareholders, bondholders, suppliers and government, they have cost countless people their jobs and retirement savings and have caused several corporations to shut their doors. Read more…

Accounting Education

Choosing an Accounting School

Life is full of important decisions, and choosing the right accounting school is no exception. You may feel some anxiety as you consider your options, but life’s big questions can be made less daunting by mulling over a few smaller questions. If asking yourself “Which accounting school should I attend?” is too daunting, consider some smaller, more specific questions. Identify which questions are most important to you and let the answers to those questions guide you. Read more…

What is the Accounting Degree for Me?

One of the great things about the field of accounting is that there is a job for every education level. Each degree level and program offers its own curriculum so it is important to understand what courses and skills will be covered in a specific program before beginning your educational journey. As you would expect, the general equation typically is: More time in school = Higher cost = More skills developed = More opportunity for advancement = Higher job status and pay. Read more…

Accounting Careers

Accounting Career Options

Many people know exactly what they want to be when they grow up. Whether they are following a family member’s footsteps, were inspired by an experience, or simply made a decision and stuck with it, they know in which direction they’d like to take their career.

But for others, choosing a college major is difficult enough, let alone deciding what to do once they’ve earned their degree! If you’ve chosen accounting as your major, there are several career options to explore. Read more…

What is a CPA?

In the most general sense, a CPA, or Certified Public Accountant, is an individual who has met certain requirements in education, experience and examination. CPAs are certified to provide a broad range of financial advisory and external accounting services for their clients. Some services provided by public accountants include assurance (audit), tax compliance and advisory, mergers and acquisitions due diligence, and estate and financial planning. Read more…

Bookkeeper vs. Accountant?

Some people use the words bookkeeper and accountant interchangeably, but the functions of bookkeepers and accountants are distinct. Bookkeepers are typically responsible for keeping detailed records of the financial transactions for a business. While accountants are expected to establish and oversee systems the business can use to monitor its financial status and make strategic decisions. Read more…

Finding an Accounting Internship

Internships are a valuable source of training for Accounting majors. Many universities assist upperclassmen with placement in internships so they may gain the experience needed to obtain the career of their choice. However, smaller colleges may not have the resources available to offer this kind of assistance, so in those instances, it is up to each student to find an internship on his or her own. Read more…