Accounting professionals occupy positions in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses. Accounting coursework at the associate level trains students in bookkeeping, tax preparation, payroll accounting, software applications, auditing, and business administration. Since all types of businesses employ accountants, accounting offers attractive opportunities for career advancement, as well as flexibility to shape your career around ideal locations and work environments in the public or private sector. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a faster-than-average job growth rate of 10% for accountants and auditors through 2026.
Known for being detail oriented, logical thinkers, graduates with an associate degree in accounting often pursue entry-level jobs in bookkeeping, payroll accounting, and tax preparation.
Typical job roles for graduates with an associate degree in accounting include handling accounts payable and receivable; preparing tax and financial reports; departmental budgeting; and auditing contracts, order data, and sales vouchers. If your career aspirations include more senior roles, an associate degree provides a stepping stone toward a bachelor's degree.
Should I Get an Associate in Accounting?
Typically, on-campus associate programs appeal to recent high school graduates pursuing a career for the first time, while online programs enroll more working professionals seeking a promotion or career change. As you research programs for an associate degree in accounting, focus on your career goals. What area of accounting interests you most? Do students in that area typically find accessible job openings with an associate degree? Some specialties, such as budget analysis and forensic accounting, generally require a bachelor's degree for entry-level jobs. An associate degree is a springboard for students who want to reduce costs for their first two years of college while establishing a strong foundation for pursuing a bachelor's degree.
Students in associate programs gain skills in analytical and critical thinking, professional communication, troubleshooting, and accounting software skills. Associate programs offer education in principles of financial, managerial, cost, and tax accounting, as well as the application of those principles to financial report analysis. Earning an associate degree provides training in auditing financial statements, understanding accounting cycles, and organizing complex financial data.
Most students enrolled in associate programs benefit from increased networking opportunities, including access to internships and job placement assistance as graduation approaches. After graduation, an associate degree can increase the potential for employment opportunities and upward mobility in the accounting workforce. To determine the best path for you, consider all the relevant factors to your circumstances and career aspirations.
What Can I Do With an Associate in Accounting?
Known for being detail oriented, logical thinkers, graduates with an associate degree in accounting often pursue entry-level jobs in bookkeeping, payroll accounting, and tax preparation. Many graduates continue their education, advancing into opportunities in tax planning, auditing and assurance services, forensic services, and international accounting.
- Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks
Accounting, auditing, and bookkeeping clerks handle financial recordkeeping and maintenance duties for companies and organizations. They record, verify, and classify financial data; update financial statements; and check the accuracy of calculations, postings, and transactions. Usually an associate degree will qualify candidates for a wide range of jobs in the field.
Median Annual Salary: $39,240
Projected Growth Rate: -1%
- Financial Clerks
Financial clerks handle administrative, customer service, recordkeeping, and financial transaction duties for institutions and businesses. Their job duties may include conducting credit authorizations, payroll processing, or handling insurance policy claims processing. While many financial clerks learn through on-the-job training, candidates with an associate degree often attain a competitive advantage in hiring.
Median Annual Salary: $38,680
Projected Growth Rate: 9%
- Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents
Working on behalf of local, state, and federal government authorities in accordance with tax code regulations, taxation professionals prepare and examine tax returns, collect and process tax payments, conduct audits, and determine tax liability. Many entry-level occupations in taxation require vocational training, related work experience, or an associate degree.
Median Annual Salary: $53,130
Projected Growth Rate: -1%
How to Choose an Associate in Accounting Program
When evaluating associate degree in accounting programs, start by establishing a list of suitable selection criteria for your particular situation. The following list provides some important considerations to make.
- Specializations: Examine the curriculum with your career goals in mind. Does the school offer a specialty of interest to you? Not all programs offer specializations.
- Budget: Estimate the total cost to complete the degree. Does the program fit your budget? A few factors to consider include financial aid, potential employer tuition reimbursement, and tuition discounts available for active-duty military and veterans.
- Length and Scheduling: Does the program operate on an individually paced or cohort model? An individually paced program typically offers more schedule flexibility, while completing your program with a cohort of your peers commits you to a fixed schedule. Also, consider whether or not the curriculum requires additional time for completion of a capstone, practicum, or other final project.
- On-Campus Requirements: Do you intend to enroll in an online or on-campus program? If you choose an on-campus or hybrid program, consider the school's location relative to job opportunities, cost of living, and quality of life. Many programs offer students opportunities to earn an associate degree in accounting entirely online. Other programs may require on-campus intensives, orientations, or testing.
- Full Time vs. Part Time: Does your schedule permit full-time study? Working professionals opting for part-time studies often take three or more years to obtain an associate degree, while full-time students usually finish in two years.
Programmatic Accreditation for Associate in Accounting Programs
Accredited schools undergo an external peer evaluation process and meet a rigorous set of academic standards set by approved bodies. Earning your associate degree in accounting from a reputable accredited program assures employers and institutions of the quality of your education and your readiness for the workforce.
Programmatic accreditation applies to specialized departments or programs within a larger institution and indicates that the program provides a respected and legitimate education. As you investigate programs, look for approval from one of two agencies that provide programmatic accreditation for accounting programs: the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. If you attend a program without proper accreditation, you might face credit transfer and acceptance obstacles for further study and encounter increased difficulty in securing financial aid or finding a job.
Associate in Accounting Program Admissions
Schools typically require a similar admissions process for both on-campus and online programs: complete an application, submit all required documentation, and pay an application fee. Most schools require a high school diploma or GED, a placement test, and an orientation followed by an appointment with an adviser. You can save some time by applying to multiple schools at once using the CommonApp; over 750 schools accept applications submitted through this method. Schools may require slightly different materials, such as supplemental essays. CommonApp lists all requirements for each institution.
Most community colleges offer open admissions to anyone with a high school diploma or GED.
- Application: An application demonstrates your interest in a school. You can usually complete applications online in under an hour. With CommonApp, you can save time by applying to multiple schools at once.
- Transcripts: Schools need transcripts of all coursework completed elsewhere for proper placement and credit. You can obtain transcripts through the registrar's office. Some schools retrieve online transcripts for you automatically.
- Application Fee: Application fees cover the costs of the selection process. These fees typically do not exceed $50, and many schools charge no fees or waive the fees in certain cases, such as for military veterans.
Educational Paths for Online Accounting Associate Programs
Since a bachelor's degree provides many accounting job opportunities and increased earning potential, you may decide to continue your studies. According to a recent Payscale college salary report, early career pay averages at $52,700 for bachelor's in accounting degree holders, and $34,300 for those with an associate degree. The best associate in accounting programs are structured to provide attractive options for students who intend to transfer to four-year institutions.
- Bachelor's in Accounting
A baccalaureate in accounting expands and builds on associate-level studies, including advanced coursework in federal taxation, auditing and assurance services, corporate finance, business valuation, and financial statement analysis.
- Bachelor's in Finance
In a finance program, students study topics such as securities analysis, portfolio management, risk analysis, and international finance. Graduates often work in investment brokerages, banking industries, and consulting firms.
- Bachelor's in Business Administration
Students pursuing a baccalaureate in business administration complete coursework in international business, business law, human resources management, entrepreneurship, global marketing, operations management, and business information systems.
What Else Can I Expect From an Associate in Accounting Program?
While programs and schools vary by curriculum, instruction styles, specialty offerings, costs, and class scheduling, you can expect reputable accounting associate degree programs to provide a thorough introduction to analyzing financial data, preparing and evaluating financial statements, and using accounting information systems effectively.
Courses in an Associate in Accounting Program
Accounting students pursue a fairly standardized sequence of core coursework, especially in the early years of their studies. Specific course titles and content may differ, but the following section provides an outline of five typical classes you can expect to complete while attaining your associate in accounting degree.
- Cost Accounting
This course examines the procedures and systems of cost accounting with an emphasis on the influence of cost data analysis in business strategy, planning, and management decision-making. Topics covered include job costing, inventory costing, activity-based costing, cost-volume-profit analysis, variance analysis, flexible budgets, and responsibility accounting.
- Financial Accounting
This course introduces students to the practice of preparing and interpreting financial information for business decision-making, with an emphasis on analyzing, summarizing, classifying, and reporting. The class covers concepts and principles of financial accounting, including the accounting cycle, accounting principles, preparing trial balances, and ethical considerations.
- Accounting Information Systems
Students in this course gain hands-on experience in the design and use of information systems in the accounting cycle, with an emphasis on internal controls. Students learn how to proactively improve the analysis of financial data and how to consult with businesses about security risks affecting financial documentation and reporting.
- Managerial Accounting
With an emphasis on applying accounting concepts and techniques to managerial decision-making, students in this course learn to analyze accounting data from case studies and present their conclusions and recommendations. Topics covered include budgeting, differential analysis, product and service costing systems, performance measurement, profitability analysis, and investment analysis.
This course provides an introduction to auditing and other assurance services involved in examining and verifying the fairness and accuracy of financial reports and supporting data. Topics covered include the fundamentals of risk-based auditing, the stages of an audit, evaluation of internal control systems, professional ethics, and legal considerations.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Accounting?
On average, most students finish their accounting associate degree within two years and complete about 60 credits of coursework, including general education requirements. Students with extensive work and family responsibilities might decide to take fewer credits per term, extending the time to degree completion and potentially increasing the cost.
Other factors to consider that affect degree completion time include capstone courses or final research projects, whether online courses operate asynchronously or synchronously, and whether or not programs are structured around a cohort learning model. While cohort model programs follow a set schedule, most accounting programs at the associate level offer individually paced learning, permitting students to take advantage of scheduling benefits, such as flexible end dates to finish earlier. Some schools offer accelerated programs for students who take more than average amount of credits or enter with previous college credit, offering a fast-track option that reduces the time to graduation.
How Much Is an Associate in Accounting?
There are many factors to consider when estimating the cost of a degree. If you live at home and commute to one of the local colleges for an associate degree in accounting, you can save on housing costs. While part-time attendance increases the time to degree completion, it also permits you to continue to work during your studies. Consider in-state vs. out-of-state tuition rates; some programs offer the same tuition for residents and nonresidents or participate in reciprocity programs within a geographic region.
In addition to tuition and fees, other costs to consider include books and course packets; technology; transportation to and from campus; and other required travel for exams, short residencies, or orientations. Additionally, there are usually graduation fees, parking fees, and assessment fees for placement exams. While prices vary widely, a survey of a sampling of associate in accounting programs indicates the average cost to obtain a degree to be $15,000-20,000.
Professional Organizations in Accounting
Current students and recent graduates can take advantage of many benefits available through membership in professional organizations in accounting. In addition to tapping into targeted and specialized networking opportunities, you can keep up with the latest industry news, obtain insider information on exams and certifications, and apply for exclusive scholarships. Many organizations also offer discussion forums and job boards with members-only job listings, and some offer free or discounted memberships for current students.
Established in 1916, the AAA focuses on research, teaching, collaboration, and innovation. Services available for the academic community through AAA include a career center, regional meetings, outreach services, webinars, and professional journals.
Launched in 2005, PASA tailors its services to the needs of entry-level and mid-level professionals in public accounting. Benefits include a job board, insider exam information, scholarship opportunities, and free memberships for students.
Serving accounting and taxation professionals, NSA offers a variety of benefits, including industry newsletters, legislative updates, members-only discussion forums, a scholarship foundation, webinars, an annual convention, and exam preparation materials.