Businesses need more accountants. Thanks to a growing economy and the complexities of a global business environment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the field will grow 10% through 2026. Accountants and auditors also command higher-than-average salaries, earning a median wage of $69,350 a year. The accountants of tomorrow need to work well with technology and accurately prepare and analyze financial documents for business leaders, regulatory agencies, and shareholders.
Earning a bachelor's degree in accounting is a traditional path to prepare for many accounting careers. However, an online graduate accounting certificate offers those without an undergraduate accounting degree the chance to enter the field. Certificates can be completed without the time and financial investment of earning a second undergraduate degree or a master's degree, and provides in-depth study and specialization within accounting, such as tax accounting, government auditing, or forensic accounting.
Many employers require accountants to complete ongoing professional development, ensuring they stay up to date on changes in law and technology. Most graduate certificate programs also provide master's-level credits, which can count towards certified public accountant (CPA) educational requirements or a master's degree.
How to Choose the Right Graduate Certificate in Accounting Program
Graduate certificate programs in accounting allow you to earn a valuable professional education in a short amount of time. If you choose an online graduate accounting certificate program, you can continue to work and apply your new knowledge right away. These flexible programs make it possible to continue your education without moving or attending on-campus courses.
Some students may excel when taking structured in-person classes, while students in online classes need to be able to keep up with their studies and be comfortable with technology. Often, certificate programs do not require the extensive application process you'd face when applying to a master's program -- such as certain standardized tests or a related undergraduate degree. However, many schools allow students who complete an online accounting certificate program to continue their studies toward a master's degree, and waive testing requirements altogether.
Students can complete most programs in under a year if they take one or two classes per semester. Unlike a full degree program, certificate programs often focus on core classes. The curriculum provides rigorous and relevant coursework, and develops any skill gaps you may have. You may find some programs offer concentrations in a particular accounting specialty, as well. Consider whether or not the school has gained accreditation for their business program and the professional expertise of faculty. Below, you'll find information on the career opportunities you can pursue, along with professional organizations that can enhance your job search and professional network.
Employment and Salary Outlook for Graduate Certificate in Accounting Graduates
Accountants and auditors can expect strong job growth through 2026, as the BLS projects a 10% increase in jobs -- a rate faster than the average for all other occupations. These professionals command lucrative earnings, as well, with a median salary of $69,350 in the field. Companies rely on accountants for solid financial data to make decisions about company expansion; to meet the requirements to become a publicly traded enterprise; and to ensure compliance with complicated tax codes.
Many businesses also require the expertise of accountants with professional certifications -- such as the CPA -- and individuals with specialized knowledge. Where you live can also impact the salary you earn due to cost of living and local labor pools. Below, learn more about common occupations you can pursue with an online graduate accounting certificate.
Bookkeepers record all financial transactions for a company, and produce balance sheets and income statements. Specific duties vary based on the type of organization. Smaller businesses may require bookkeepers to handle all transactions, including payroll and billing. Larger organizations, on the other hand, may segment these duties and allow for more specialization. Postsecondary accounting education and recognized certifications ensure bookkeepers have the skills necessary to succeed in this role.
Entry-Level Salary: $32,000*
Mid-Career Salary: $38,000*
Experienced Salary: $40,000*
Late Career Salary: $41,000*
Accountants review financial data for accuracy and compliance with applicable laws and regulations. They often prepare tax returns and maintain an organization's financial records. You may specialize in a particular field of accounting -- such as healthcare or nonprofit accounting, each of which have unique regulatory requirements.
Entry-Level Salary: $46,000*
Mid-Career Salary: $51,000*
Experienced Salary: $53,000*
Late Career Salary: $54,000*
- Staff Accountant
Staff accountants use an array of budgeting and auditing software to complete financial reports and ensure compliance with recognized accounting principals and any applicable laws. The work requires data entry and the ability to analyze data for company management. Often staff accountants need a minimum of an undergraduate degree in accounting or related field.
Entry-Level Salary: $46,000*
Mid-Career Salary: $50,000*
Experienced Salary: $50,000*
Late Career Salary: $51,000*
- Accounting Manager
In addition to the financial duties of a staff accountant, accounting managers provide leadership to a department. They often set timelines for completing reports and ensure the accuracy of those documents. The accounting manager often keeps track of proposed legislation that could impact tax reports or compliance with Securities and Exchange Commission regulations. Managers may also lead recruitment and staff development for their employees.
Entry-Level Salary: $57,000*
Mid-Career Salary: $71,000*
Experienced Salary: $71,000*
Late Career Salary: $67,000*
- Financial Controller
Controllers prepare financial reports and forecasts for an organization. They provide financial data and help executives interpret and analyze that information. They often have several years of accounting experience and leadership responsibilities, and may possess specialized knowledge of the financial demands of their specific industry.
Entry-Level Salary: $66,000*
Mid-Career Salary: $79,000*
Experienced Salary: $87,000*
Late Career Salary: $86,000*
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale
Accreditation for Accounting Programs
Business-related programs often seek specialized accreditation from one of three major accrediting organizations: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education. Accreditation from a recognized organization ensures the school's curriculum and resources meet the needs of the industry regarding career preparation. The arduous process includes self-studies and site reviews, as well as interviews with graduates and employers.
Employers and graduate schools often prefer graduates of accredited programs, knowing these schools meet a minimum quality standard. If your career goals include teaching at the postsecondary level, many colleges won't consider applicants from non-accredited schools. Though online graduate accounting certificates aren't degree-track programs, the courses you complete earn credits that you may also apply to a degree later. Ensuring you attend an accredited program makes it easier to transfer those credits to another school.
Accounting Graduate Certificate Program Admissions
Applying for an online graduate accounting certificate may prove easier than applying for a master's program, though the two programs include similar curricula. Most schools don't require applicants to complete the Graduate Management Admission Test, which evaluates analytical, communication, and quantitative skills. The process for admission, however, remains competitive. Many schools consider a student's academic background -- such as related coursework and undergraduate GPA -- but also professional experience in the accounting field, and community or campus involvement.
You will want to investigate each prospective school based on how well you meet their admission criteria and the curriculum they offer. Also consider how well the school can meet your future educational goals -- such as a master's program -- and if completing the certificate grants you preferred admission to the master's degree track. Most schools offer an online admission form, which speeds up the process and makes it easy to request the appropriate transcripts. Many schools also charge admission fees, which can add up, so limit the number of schools to which you apply.
- Application: The application details your education and previous work experience, and explains why you are prepared for graduate-level coursework. You may also list professional references, such as former professors or supervisors.
- Transcripts: Programs require a list of the schools you previously attended along with the classes you completed. They use this information to consider whether you have the accounting foundation to succeed in the program, or need to take some prerequisite courses before beginning the certificate. Most schools provide transcripts at no charge, but students must authorize them to release information to schools.
- Application Fee: Fees may range from $20 to upwards of $100. These fees can add up, so consider how many schools you'll apply to. Some schools may offer fee waivers.
- Degree: You'll need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. Because the graduate program builds upon the accounting skills gained at the undergraduate level, you may need to take basic accounting courses before starting graduate courses.
- Minimum GPA: Each school sets the minimum undergraduate GPA it accepts, usually a 2.5 cumulative GPA. Other schools may overlook a lower cumulative GPA if you have a higher GPA in accounting-specific courses, or you showed marked improvement in the final semesters of your undergraduate education.
What Else Can I Expect From a Graduate Certificate in Accounting Program?
Core Courses in an Accounting Graduate Certificate Program
Unlike a master's degree, an online graduate accounting certificate curriculum focuses on a few fundamental courses and some targeted elective options. Topics may include multinational accounting, auditing, or SEC reporting. Most programs meet some of the education requirements for the CPA exam and license, though you must earn additional credits after the certificate. Upon completion of the curriculum, you may be only a few classes shy of earning a master's degree in accountancy.
- Strategic Cost Management
This course explores transaction cycles and internal control structure for organizations. Students learn about the need for communication across departments to meet an organization's financial and legal requirements, along with transaction trails, documentation, security, and software selection.
- Governmental and Nonprofit Accounting
Government and not-for-profit entities have specific accounting requirements, such as designated funds, capital projects, and tax levies. Many times, revenue comes in at specified points in the year and accountants must ensure proper cash flow to continue operations. Accountants also ensure compliance with all purchasing and bidding procedures.
- Fraud Examination
Students in this course learn to detect financial fraud and evidentiary requirements for fraud prosecution. Topics also include the effects of fraud on business profits and other economic damages, the different types of schemes that may impact organizations, and legal and ethical responsibilities.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Graduate Certificate in Accounting?
An online accounting graduate certificate usually takes about a year to complete, depending on the number of credits required by the school. Credit requirements vary significantly. The time you'll need to complete the program also depends on how many classes you'll be allowed to take per semester. Some schools limit students who work full time to only one or two courses per term.
Schools that offer courses in an accelerated format -- such as seven- or eight-week semesters -- may see students progress more quickly since they can complete more classes in a shorter amount of time. If you have graduate credits from another school, you can also ask if your new school grants transfer credits. These decisions often depend on whether the other school holds accreditation, the grade earned, and the course material.
How Much Is a Graduate Certificate in Accounting?
Online graduate accounting certificates can range from a few hundred dollars to nearly $10,000, depending on the type of school you attend and the number of credits required. Students usually pay less per credit at an in-state public university, but many private nonprofit schools offer valuable programs at an affordable cost. You can expect to pay the same fees per credit as degree-seeking graduate students, though you may not qualify for as many financial aid programs as those students.
In addition to the cost of tuition and required fees, be sure to budget for books and learning resources. You may also need a laptop or other computer equipment to access online course materials and a subscription to an internet service provider. If you're already working in the accounting field, check with your employer to learn whether they pay for classes as part of your continuing professional development. Schools may also provide a payment plan, or you can seek a personal loan. Some professional organizations may offer scholarships for students continuing their education, as well. Be sure to research any savings a school may offer, such as including the cost of books in the tuition fee.
Professional Organizations in Accounting
Membership in a professional accounting organization offers numerous benefits. You'll enjoy mentorship and enhance your professional network. Professional organizations also help their members stay up-to-date on the latest in tax codes, accounting software, and SEC regulations. They also offer professional development and continuing education opportunities through workshops, conferences, or webinars. Organizations also gives you the chance to be active in your field through advocacy efforts or service on committees, all while building leadership skills that can enhance your resume.
NSA encourages members to pursue professional certifications in retirement and business finance and tax preparation. It also offers professional listings and a members-only discussion space. The organization also awards scholarships to students in accounting.
Members enjoy subscriptions to association journals and email newsletters, access to a comprehensive job board, and opportunities to share your knowledge at meetings and conferences. The organization offers discounted student memberships, with seven regional affiliates.
This organization promotes the standards for CPA education and licensing. Members enjoy professional guidance, and continuing education and information on how to become a CPA. The organization also offers additional professional designations -- such as the personal financial specialist -- and certificate programs in a variety of areas.