With a projected 10% increase in employment opportunities from 2016-2026, the accounting field offers job stability and many entry-level positions. Economic globalization points to a growing demand for accountants with knowledge related to international trade and taxation. Additionally, as the storage and retrieval of financial data continues to become digitized, more businesses will seek accountants familiar with cloud computing and financial analysis software. An accounting certificate program equips you with these marketable skills. If you do not currently hold a college degree, an undergraduate certificate in accounting can help you jumpstart a rewarding career. Alternatively, if you already have a bachelor's degree, earning a graduate certificate in accounting has the dual benefit of sharpening your accounting skills and preparing you for the CPA examination. This guide provides information on a variety of topics -- including career opportunities and curriculum requirements -- that can help you make an informed decision when considering different accounting certificate programs.

How to Choose the Right Certificate in Accounting Program

Two general types of accounting certificate programs exist: undergraduate and graduate. Prospective students with little or no college experience should apply to undergraduate accounting certificate programs. These programs take part-time students approximately two years to complete, while full-time students can graduate in a year. Students who earn an undergraduate certificate in accounting can later apply these credits toward an associate or bachelor's degree. Graduate certificates in accounting promote CPA examination readiness and usually provide students with the additional credits needed to sit for the CPA exam. Individuals who hold a bachelor's degree in a field other than accounting can earn a graduate certificate in accounting as a method to transition into this field.

In addition to determining whether to pursue an undergraduate or graduate accounting certificate, prospective students should consider a program's average completion time, available courses, cost, program delivery method, and location. Students with specific accounting interests can select programs that offer courses that match their professional goals, such as managerial or forensic accounting. Location often plays a significant role in a student's program selection, and individuals who enroll in in-state programs can avoid paying out-of-state tuition rates. If a student decides to enroll in an online program, location is less of an issue. In addition to providing the ability to complete courses remotely, online programs often feature the same tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students. Finally, the most important feature of an accounting certificate program is accreditation; to ensure the validity of their education, students should only consider enrolling in accredited accounting certificate programs.

Employment and Salary Outlook for Certificate in Accounting Graduates

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), projected job growth rates for accountants and auditors exceed the national average for all occupations. Factors that impact the continuing demand for these professionals include economic globalization, an increasing number of public companies, and emerging technologies that require expertise in the field. While the BLS projects the creation of nearly 140,000 new positions in this field over the next decade, competition in this industry can be strong. Earning a CPA license can help professionals qualify for more jobs and receive higher annual earnings. For example, accountants and auditors earn an annual median income of $69,350. The following table highlights the salaries of occupations commonly pursued by graduates of accounting certificate programs.

Median Salary For Accounting Certificate-Holders by Experience
  Entry Level Experienced Description Late Career
Bookkeeper $32,000* $38,000* $40,000* $41,000*
Accountant $46,000* $51,000* $53,000* $54,000*
Staff Accountant $46,000* $50,000* $50,000* $51,000*
Accounting Manager $57,000* $71,000* $71,000* $67,000*
Financial Controller $66,000* $79,000* $87,000* $86,000*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Opportunities

Accounting certificate programs expand the career possibilities of individuals seeking work in the areas of business and finance. Based on information from PayScale, the following list demonstrates the variety of career opportunities available to graduates of accredited accounting certificate programs. In addition to preparing students for entry-level positions, an accounting certificate lays the foundation for further education that can lead to management positions and higher wages. Successful professionals employed in the following occupations tend to possess good attention to detail, computer skills, analytical skills, and knowledge of the mathematical principles used in data analysis.


These professionals keep track of an organization's finances using a software program, such as QuickBooks. Bookkeepers calculate and balance financial reports. Undergraduate accounting certificate programs prepare students for work as bookkeepers and give them a competitive edge in the job market.


Employed in a variety of industries, accountants ensure that their companies adhere to financial regulations and help an organization's finance department operate efficiently. Typical job duties include filing taxes, conducting internal audits, and creating financial reports.

Staff Accountant

Relying on computer skills to navigate financial software programs, these professionals conduct data analyses and compile company financial reports. Although the tasks of a staff accountant vary by company, they usually prepare financial statements and help financial controllers manage budgets. Staff accountants must also keep abreast of current state and federal regulations that impact a company's financial procedures.

Accounting Manager

In addition to hiring accounting staff, accounting managers develop and implement budgets. They correct budget problems and monitor a company's finances. Most accounting managers have a bachelor's degree and professional experience. The best accounting certificate programs familiarize students with managerial accounting principles, preparing them for leadership positions like accounting managers.

Financial Controller

Financial controllers oversee the finance departments of an organization, including accounting and budgeting. A position often held by professionals with 10 or more years of experience and CPA credentials, this career requires excellent analytical, communication, and organizational skills. Job duties include drafting financial reports, completing paperwork to satisfy government regulations, and identifying possible financial risks.

Accreditation for Accounting Programs

Accredited accounting certificate programs provide the best educational and career opportunities for students. Schools and programs that receive accreditation follow regulations set by accrediting bodies, ensuring that the academic and professional training available at a school meet national standards. Students who earn a certificate or degree from an unaccredited institution may encounter problems when transferring credits to regionally accredited programs, and many employers only hire job candidates who earned their diploma from an accredited college.

The majority of U.S. colleges hold regional accreditation, which is awarded based on a school's location. For example, colleges located in the southeastern U.S. receive accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Many schools also boast program-specific accreditation; business programs may hold accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

Accounting Certificate Program Admissions

When looking at different accounting certificate programs, students should begin by identifying the variables that matter most to them; a program's location, cost, available courses, and length typically influence a student's choice. After deciding which schools to apply to, aspiring students must submit their college admissions packets, which typically includes an application, transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay. Online programs may also require students to complete an online readiness quiz prior to admission.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Aspiring students typically submit their application online, and most college websites feature a prominent “apply now” button. After clicking on this, individuals begin the step-by-step application process. Some colleges boast rapid general admissions turnaround times and can notify students of their acceptance status in as few as three to five days.
  • Transcripts: Transcripts document a student's previous academic performance. Applicants can request transcripts directly from their high school or any previously attended colleges. Transfer students may have the option of requesting transcripts online through their old student account. Individuals typically need to pay a small fee to have their official transcripts forwarded to an admissions office.
  • Application Fee: Application fees vary by institution, although some colleges do not require a fee. The average application fee costs $30 and covers the costs of processing. This fee is often waived for students seeking re-admittance to a college they previously attended. Additionally, applicants who demonstrate financial need may qualify to have application fees waived.

What Else Can I Expect From a Certificate in Accounting Program?

Core Courses in an Accounting Certificate Program

Although accounting certificate programs vary by school, they feature many similar topics that prepare students for careers as accountants. The best programs equip students with the theoretical and practical knowledge needed to promote financial gain and transparency at an organization. The sample classes below represent core courses offered by most accounting certificate programs.

Financial Accounting

In addition to familiarizing students with financial accounting theories and regulations, this course explores the methods used to prepare financial reports for a company's internal and external purposes. Students learn how to analyze financial data to determine assets and liabilities. Other common topics explored in this course include pension accounting, home equity determination, and investment analysis.

Managerial Accounting

Preparing students for leadership roles within a company's financial department, this course provides an overview of the accounting principles used to determine the efficiency of a company's past and current financial practices. Students learn how to use accounting data to enhance a company's performance and guide future approaches to business.

Federal Income Tax

With an emphasis on compliance, this course teaches students how to prepare and file income taxes for clients. Students enrolled in this course acquire knowledge related to tax law and learn what constitutes taxable income. Using a tax model, this course explores deductions, liability determination, and exceptions to taxation.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Certificate in Accounting?

Several variables impact the time it takes to complete an accounting certificate program, including the delivery format, the number of credits required, and a student's enrollment status. Undergraduate accounting certificates vary in duration, although most consist of 20-30 credits and take no more than two years to complete. An undergraduate accounting certificate typically takes less time to earn than an associate degree and prepares students for careers as bookkeepers and accounting clerks. Programs that feature an accelerated format allow participants to complete more courses in less time than a traditional semester-based program.

Graduate certificates in accounting typically consist of 30-33 credits, allowing students to earn the post-baccalaureate credits needed to sit for the CPA exam. Some graduate accounting certificate programs require specific prerequisite coursework, and students without an undergraduate degree in accounting may need to complete additional classes before enrolling.

How Much Is a Certificate in Accounting?

The cost of these certificate programs can vary significantly. Undergraduate credits typically cost less than graduate credits, and students enrolled in an undergraduate accounting certificate program pay an average of $200 per credit. In-state undergraduate students enrolled full-time pay approximately $2,400 per semester. At many schools, out-of-state tuition costs more than in-state tuition, and out-of-state students typically pay tuition rates twice as high as in-state rates. Accredited accounting certificate programs at the graduate level cost approximately $2,500 per course, and the total cost of a 30-credit graduate accounting certificate averages $25,000-$30,000.

Other factors that impact the cost of school include fees, commuting costs, room and board, and basic living expenses. Students usually pay technology, lab, and administrative fees in addition to tuition costs. When budgeting for college, students should also consider the material they need to complete assignments. Many schools provide rental options for students -- including technological device and textbook rentals -- that help reduce the upfront cost of attending school. Full-time students who choose to purchase their textbooks spend approximately $500 per semester on required course materials.

Will a Certificate in Accounting Prepare Me for the CPA Exam?

While accounting certificate programs do cover many of the topics encountered on the CPA exam, earning an undergraduate accounting certificate does not qualify students to sit for the exam. In general, candidates must hold a bachelor's degree and 150 credits of postsecondary education; additional public accountant certification requirements vary by state. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants provides a list of specific state requirements, such as requirements related to professional experience and state residency. Many states also require candidates to take a professional ethics exam in addition to the CPA exam.

Post-undergraduate accounting certificate programs allow graduates of bachelor's programs to acquire the additional credits needed to meet the 150 credit minimum to sit for the CPA exam. Enrolling in an accounting certificate program give students a leg up in the job market and provides structured courses that serve as excellent study materials when preparing for the CPA exam..

Professional Organizations in Accounting

Professional organizations complement accounting certificate programs by connecting students with workers in similar fields. Joining a professional organization, such as those described below, allows students and graduates to network, stay informed about the latest regulations impacting the accounting profession, and find jobs. Many professional organizations also offer liability insurance to members and provide continuing education opportunities, including access to national conferences and webinars. Membership benefits often include subscriptions to scholarly publications and newsletters that can help assist in research.

American Accounting Association

The largest academic accounting association, AAA emphasizes scholarly research. The organization's Sponsor-A-Student program allows professors to pay the yearly membership fee for their students. AAA also features a career center and three free online journals.

American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers

This professional organization offers a bookkeeper certification that can increase a professional's earning potential. Members receive discounts on continuing education courses, access to a free telephone question-and-answer service, and updates on accounting and tax laws.

National Society of Accountants

This organization promotes the professional practice of its members through educational events, publications, and tax resources. NSA's annual convention features social events in addition to courses and exams.