One of the quickest ways to gain foundational or advanced accounting skills is certification. Various certification is offered at different academic levels and for specific professional roles. Programs are offered in community colleges, universities, and massive open online courses.
Undergraduate certification offers entry-level accounting skills without general education. Even though this may not be required, aspects of social sciences and mathematics are recommended. As an alternative, students may consider associate degrees for quicker undergraduate study with these needs.
Other certifications to consider are graduate-level certificates and professional accounting designations. This provides advanced skill toward a specific concentration, such as accounting management and internal auditors. Common certifications are the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Certified Financial Analyst (CFA).
Are There Online Accounting Certification Programs?
Individuals have the option for numerous accounting certification programs available online. Students needing entry-level certificates or associate degrees can look at local community colleges or universities for availability.
Many large universities offer advanced accounting and business degrees online. Specializations may be available as individual certifications that emphasize particular skills. Prospective students should review what parts of the curriculum are available online or exclusively on campus.
When reviewing universities for certification opportunity, look for accreditation that validates the curriculum. One common certification is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). This is a standard accreditation agency thoroughly reviewing mission goals and student resources for success.
Over 190 schools have taken advantage of a specific designation in accounting. The traditional AACSB accreditation is required before receiving the additional credentials. Having this designation offers higher success rates of transferring previous credit when needed.
Another service is the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). The newer agency reviews and designates business programs instead of the university itself. Smaller colleges and universities are also represented through this agency.
What Are Graduate Certifications in Accounting?
Professionals that already have an undergraduate degree may look to transition to a different career path. They may be going into accounting or something more specific in the field. Gaining a graduate certificate bypasses foundational education and explores a specific skill set.
Advantages of a graduate certification include earning higher education at a quicker pace. Most programs are completed within a calendar year or less. There is also additional pathways to pursue the program, such as online or hybrid format with on-campus courses.
In many cases, students can complete a graduate certification before or after their Master's degree. Credit may be counted toward their Master's degree in a business or accounting discipline. Many graduate certifications require completion of a Bachelor's degree in a similar field.
Some accounting positions require validation of a professional certification. This designation represents competency in a specific skill in the field. Examples of professional certifications include:
- Certified Financial Analyst
- Certified Fraud Examiner
- Certified Information Systems Auditor
- Certified Internal Auditor
- Certified Management Accountant
- Certified Public Accountant
Similar to a graduate certification, this can help when transitioning to a different position. For example, general accountants can gain advanced auditing skills or investigate fraudulent activity.
Professional certification is distributed through the state instead of university. This requires 150 total credit hours before sitting for an examination to gain certification. Students frequently complete a Master's degree on top of undergraduate degrees to meet this requirement.
In addition to gaining valuable skills, holding certifications improve job prospects. Organizations looking to fill positions often look for professional experience and credentials. This can also improve overall career pay when looking at unique and senior accounting positions.
Top Online Programs
University of Virginia
Students can have adequate preparation for the CPA exam by completing the online certification. This is completed on a part-time basis through a span of 10 courses. Average duration of the program is at 20 months and includes one summer term.
Course structure includes six required topics and four electives. Elective options include advanced accounting, forensic accounting, and fraud examination. There are no limitations to how many courses a students can take in one semester.
Many required courses are offered throughout the year in the fall, spring, and summer terms. Introductory Auditing is a required course but only available in the fall and summer semesters. Various electives have similar limitations.
At least a C grade or higher is required for all courses in the certification. Up to two courses, equivalent to six credit hours, are transferrable into the program. While the curriculum is geared toward CPA preparation, topics can be geared for any standard accounting career.
The College of Professional Studies offers a fully online accounting certification. Average completion time is within one year. Eligibility for the program stretches across the United States.
There are six required courses that students take in the curriculum. This includes Financial Reporting and Analysis, Corporate Finance, and Cost Accounting. No electives are offered in place of traditional coursework.
Prerequisites include completion of a college algebra course. Students have the capability to enter into the certification in the fall, spring, and summer semester. Those admitted into undergraduate finance and accounting degrees are not eligible for the certification.
Graduates are eligible for certification as public accountants, managerial accountants, and more. Completing this program is ideal for those looking toward entry-level positions.
University of California-Berkeley
The Haas School of Business offers a general certification in accounting principles. Content is consistently updated with latest practices and regulations for CPA professionals. Average completion time for this program is set at two years.
24 credit hours required for certification across six courses. An introductory course in financial accounting is taken at the beginning of the program. Elective topics include business law, corporation taxation, and quantitative data.
All courses in the curriculum are available online. Recommended for individuals to have a Bachelor's degree before pursuing the program. Course credit may be transferred over to the Master of Business Administration degree.
Students must complete the program in five years with a 2.5 cumulative GPA. A C grade or higher is needed in each course. Graduates holding a 4.0 GPA hold specific designation for their high academic merit.
Top Campus-Based Programs
University of Massachusetts-Lowell
Students have the capability to complete this program either fully online or in a hybrid format. Capability to fulfill degree requirements over one year. May transition with the certification toward the Master of Science in Accounting program.
18 total credits needed over six courses for the certification. Students often take two courses in each semester, spanning over four months. All courses must be completed in a time frame of five years.
Certificate curriculum is structured with six specific courses. Students explore general accounting procedures in financial statement development. Accounting Information Systems may cover various tools, database management, data integrity, and more.
Also explores cost accounting for prior transactions and purchase estimations in the organization. Auditing skills gained to review financial statements and understanding disclosures and legal responsibilities. Another course focuses toward regulation in the Internal Revenue Code at the federal taxation level.
Houston Community College
Provides multiple first-level accounting certification with introductory topics and principles. Options available in an online format or hybrid blend with on-campus coursework in Houston. Some specializations, such as forensic accounting and fraud examination, are only available on campus.
Generalist certification is ideal for career roles in preparing financial statements and auditing organizations. Includes managerial and intermediate accounting topics and related computer applications. Capstone projects blends together general education with accounting principles that are learned in the program.
The main certification is spread out over three semesters in one academic year. Students looking at the Payroll Specialist certification can complete the curriculum in one semester. Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination is geared toward more experienced students with a Bachelor’s degree and requires one semester.
Graduates have the ability to transfer their credits earned at the community college to a four-year university. Over 50 universities are connected to an easy transfer process. Many Texas-based institutions are included and some across the country, such as Arizona State University and Mississippi State University.
Penn State World Campus
The Graduate Certificate in Accounting is an AACSB-accredited program. Available in a convenient online format or through the on-campus university in Pennsylvania. Either program offers the same curriculum and requirements to complete the certification.
Admittance requirements include the completion of a Bachelor’s degree in accounting topics. Prerequisites include intermediate-level accounting principles, auditing, and basic federal taxation. Additional requirements include official transcripts and proof of English language proficiency.
GRE or GMAT scores are not required. Start times offered at multiple times throughout the academic year. Students not holding proper business prerequisites can take these courses at the World Campus. Education can be transferred into the Master of Professional Accounting degree.
Curriculum requires a course in Auditing Theory and Practice. Students then select nine total credit hours of elections. Topics include responsibilities and ethics, financial reporting, and nonprofit accounting.
Top Accounting Certification Courses
1. Intermediate Accounting
Certifications may contain multiple levels of accounting principles. These are aspects of accounting that build upon introductory financial and managerial concepts. Topics may include inventory valuation, merger and acquisition information, and exploring additional investment opportunities.
2. Federal Income Taxation
May feature subjects in income tax history, deduction procedures, and progressive tax code. Other examples include what and how capital gains and losses are recorded. Impacts taxes have with charity donations. Law and policy involving taxes at the federal level.
3. Accounting Information Systems
Understand various foundational accounting procedures through information system components. This includes managing and reviewing databases, sourcing documents, and regulations. Students gain importance of backing up information and protecting sensitive data within servers and databases.
4. Accounting in the Public Sector
Topics are exclusive to accounting procedures and regulations in the public sector. May look into differences and importance of accounting activity when compared to other sectors. Activities are beneficial for those looking at managerial and financial accounting jobs in nonprofits and government.
5. Corporate Finance
Looks at financial impacts from corporate decision making. This may include deciding if an organization can go through an investment with capital budgeting. Management may consider restructuring departments or find other funding measures to balance financial statements.
6. Financial Statement Analysis
Students explore theory and tools to evaluate financial statement. Looks into different requirements for public and private organizations. May also include how to develop statements for stakeholders to understand activity.
7. Strategic Cost Management
Goal for management is to deduct costs and improve financial margins within an organization. This is to gain a competitive advantage and better understanding of costs. Students review and analyze value of potential decisions to determine financial impact.
8. Quantitative Data
Emphasizes numerical-focused data points in financial analysis and making decisions. Find different ways to present and inform others in the organization. Examples include in visual or written presentation formats.
9. Cyber Security in Accounting
Explores cyber security innovations to keep financial data secure from unauthorized access. Learn about various applications and how to implement features into the organization. Ideal for students looking to get into careers within information technology and assurance.
10. Fraud Examination
Another topic within information assurance is detecting and mitigating fraudulent activity. This may include techniques in how to identify issues and protective measures. When fraud occurs, students may learn how to investigate and settle complex situations.
Typical Admission Requirements
Admission for an accounting certification depends on the level of curriculum. Undergraduate certificates are eligible for high school graduates and those with an accounting background. GED equivalents and high academic marks are also commonly accepted.
Certification at this level is equivalent to associate degrees with foundational accounting principles. The exception is not pursuing general education, such as humanities and social science courses. In some cases, credit from the certification may count toward an associate or Bachelor’s degree.
After completing undergraduate study, certification may be considered at the graduate level. This offers more advanced accounting topics. Some universities offer certification for their areas of emphasis within a Master’s degree in accounting.
Frequently, graduate certifications will provide elective options to customize study. Specialty topics may include information assurance, corporate finance, and technological innovations. This can be used to focus the certification toward a specific career within accounting.
Graduate certification length is often similar to the entry-level version. Students take approximately four to six courses and is completed within a year. Part-time study may extend this length, but may be more convenient for online learners with other obligations.
Career Goals and Job Titles for the Certification
There is a wide range of career opportunities depending on the certification that is earned. Entry-level college certification can validate fundamental competence in accounting. Examples of these positions are assistants, bookkeepers, and clerks.
Accounting assistant positions work along a senior accountant or team. They often complete extra tasks, bookkeeping needs, or validate financial data. Graduates without little to no accounting experience may consider this a pathway to a higher position.
Bookkeepers work directly with accounting data for various needs. Examples include preparing and filing company taxes and reviewing client information. This position requires strong competence in using financial applications and preparing reports.
Common Positions with Higher Education
Budget analysts and pubic accountantsAuditors validate financial information and ensure that figures and estimates are accurate. This is done by reviewing algorithms in place to record transactions or the full financial statement when results are different. Significant issues should be alerted to senior or management positions in the organization.
Consultation services are very common at this level as well. These are financial experts that work with various organizations who outsource this responsibility. Analysts, auditors, and more work directly with these companies and should be capable of managing multiple assignments.
Specific Roles with Professional Certification
Various certifications exist for advanced and unique opportunities in accounting. Common requirements for each certification includes an undergraduate degree and some entry-level experience. The CPA requires 150 total credit hours, which can be earned with a Master’s degree.
Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) offer proficiency in criminal law and investigation within accounting. Certified Internal Auditors (CIA) mitigate risk and apply security measures to financial data within the information system.
When gaining higher education, students do not necessarily need to focus on accounting disciplines. They may consider business administration or management education with accounting principles. Management positions often require some professional experience before gaining this role.
How Much Can You Expect to Make With the Certification?
Certification from the university or official professional designation increases salary expectations. Individuals receive more pay for their advanced potential in many different areas. Ranges will differ depending on the public and private sector along with prior accounting experience.
For entry-level positions, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate average salary at $41,230 annually. This holds across the board regardless of industry selected that requires financial services.
The top 10 percent of earners across the country see an average of $62,410. States such as Washington, New York, and Minnesota offer the highest rates for these positions. The top-paying state is Massachusetts with an average of $49,040 annually.
Numerous metropolitan areas have high-paying opportunities in the state of California. Top five examples include San Francisco, San Jose, Napa, and Santa Rosa. Average salaries across these location range between $52,500 to $55,000 annually.
When considering more advanced accounting roles, the mean annual wage across the country is estimated at $79,520. Among the top 10 percent of workers, accountants and auditors can expect an average of $124,450 annually. These are generally offered in popular urban locations, such as New York City, San Francisco, and Washington DC.
Tax preparation services and managers within large corporations make the most in the accounting field. Average salaries across the country are over $80,000 annually. Other major opportunities with high employment include local government positions and real estate.
What States Are Employing Accountants with Certification?
Employment within the accounting and auditing field is large across the United States. There are many opportunities across the Eastern portion of the country. Popular states west of the Mississippi River include California, Colorado, and Texas.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, California has the largest accounting employment. Over 148,000 positions are estimated in this state. Much of the concentration is within the Los Angeles and Anaheim metropolitan areas.
New York is the third-largest state for accounting employment with over 112,000 workers represented. This falls just shy of the state of Texas. In the Midwest, Illinois is the biggest state represented with over 51,700 positions.
When looking at entry-level positions, such as bookkeeping and assistant roles, similar states have high opportunities. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage is set at $42,960 with an estimated hourly wage of $20.65. These numbers vary greatly based on location.
Florida has an estimated 94,000 workers in accounting across the state. California is the largest state with over 180,000 opportunities. Illinois, New York, and Texas are also top states, which is similar when looking at entry-level or advanced accounting positions.