2020 Guide To An Online Accounting Degree

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By Staff Writer

Published on November 30, 2020

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Online accounting degrees offer promising career opportunities for students with analytical skills and a mind for mathematics. While primarily focused on accounting, these programs also touch on various business and finance subjects, allowing graduates to apply their skills in diverse fields.

As a result, accounting is one of the most popular degrees in the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Positive job outlook also plays a role, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects accounting and auditing and business and financial occupations to grow between 2019 and 2029.

Accounting features several unique pathways, including different degree levels and specializations. Read on to learn how to navigate accounting degrees, programs, and career options.

What Are the Best Online Bachelor's in Accounting Programs of 2020? Here Are Our Top 10:

Rank School Location
1 Colorado State University Greenwood Village, CO
2 Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton, FL
3 Athens State University Athens, AL
4 Western Governors University Salt Lake City, UT
5 University of Maryland Global Campus College Park, MD
6 Texas State University San Marcos, TX
7 University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN
8 University of Minnesota - Crookston Crookston, MN
9 Dickinson State University Dickinson, ND
10 Bellevue University Bellevue, NE

Why Earn Your Accounting Degree Online?

Online accounting degrees offer increased flexibility, allowing learners to study at prestigious institutions located far from their home. Online accounting degrees meet the same rigorous standards as traditional programs, with added benefits such as 24/7 access to course materials and a more diverse student body.

The ability to earn an accounting degree online also benefits non-traditional students who want to advance their career prospects or pursue work in a new field.

Distance learners can access online lectures from anywhere in the world at their convenience, making online education an ideal option for working students or students with family-related obligations.

Schools that offer online accounting degrees often feature start dates every eight weeks, meaning new learners do not have to wait until the beginning of a semester. Additionally, schools may offer courses in a variety of schedules, allowing learners to pursue a degree at their own pace or on an accelerated or part-time basis.

A student's local college or university may not have an accounting program that meets their career goals. However, many of the best online accounting degrees are open to all students regardless of their location. Distance learners can attend schools across the state or on the other side of the country.

Online accounting degrees can attract learners from different backgrounds, as well as international students, giving accounting students the opportunity to network with diverse peers.

Accounting relies heavily on technology. Students who earn an accounting degree online demonstrate their proficiency at using a variety of field-specific computer programs. Distance learners also rely on technology to connect with their classmates and teachers, allowing them to network and interact with professors and access online university resources.

Types of Online Accounting Degrees

Accounting programs provide professional degrees that prepare graduates to work as accountants. High school graduates can pursue an associate degree or a bachelor's degree in accounting, which typically require two and four years of study, respectively.

According to the BLS, a bachelor's degree is the entry-level education for most careers in accounting. However many employers prefer to hire applicants with a master's degree in accounting. Master's programs also prepare graduates to take the CPA exam.

Master's degree-holders can access better career opportunities and higher salaries. At the highest level, students can earn a doctorate in accounting, which prepares them for careers in academia as researchers and professors. In the professional world, a master's degree is typically considered the most valuable degree.

Median Salaries for Accounting Majors by Degree Level
Associate Degree $51,380
Bachelor's Degree $62,030
Master's Degree $71,390
Doctoral Degree $97,500

Associate Degree in Accounting

An associate degree in accounting provides learners with fundamentals that they can build upon professionally or through further study. These programs usually provide essential accounting training in creating, assessing, and analyzing financial documentation. Graduates often pursue careers as bookkeeping clerks and administrative assistants.

Most of the top online associate in accounting degrees require 60 credits and take two years to complete. Students can often transfer the credits they earn in these programs into bachelor's programs in accounting and related fields. Earning an associate degree before a bachelor's may also reduce the overall cost of education.

Common Courses

Introduction to Business

Introductory business courses cover the basics of finance, marketing, and management. Students learn business terminology, trends, and practices to help them better understand how organizations operate and how each department works together.

Accounting Principles

This course provides students with basic accounting knowledge, including types of accounting, procedures, and theories. Learners examine the many aspects of effective accounting, such as maintaining a ledger, creating financial statements, and making standard entries and adjustments.

Business Law

Students in this course learn about the major laws that govern the private sector and business relationships. Covered topics include legal terminology, common illegal business activities, and legal processes. Learners also explore the laws and regulations surrounding sales, contracts, and torts.

Accounting Computer Applications

This course trains students to use common accounting applications and programs. They learn about various software packages and the skills required to operate them. Learners also delve into the security procedures and risks associated with these applications.

Finance Basics

During this course, learners explore the major pillars of finance, including investments, insurance, real estate, and budgeting. These courses teach students to use financial data to solve business problems. Covered topics often include financial forecasting and planning.

Bachelor's Degree in Accounting

A bachelor's degree in accounting provides comprehensive training that equips students with the skills and qualifications needed for most accounting careers. Most top accounting programs require 120 credits and take four years to complete.

These programs also teach financial and management skills that graduates can apply to various finance and business careers, such as financial analysis and cost estimation. Additionally, bachelor's degrees satisfy many eligibility requirements for the certified public accountant (CPA) credential. However, to fully qualify as a CPA, students must complete about 30 additional credits; many learners choose to meet this requirement by enrolling in a master's program.

Common Courses

Advanced Accounting

In this course, students build on their beginner and intermediate training, learning about international accounting, foreign currency transactions, long-term investments, and debt consolidation. Learners gain the skills needed to work with complex accounting systems.

Auditing

This course teaches students how to collect information, identify mistakes and errors in reporting, and evaluate evidence about fraudulent economic actions. The course may also cover the regulations and laws surrounding accounting and auditing.

Accounting Ethics

Accounting ethics deal with the professional responsibility of accountants to follow the laws and regulations in basic accounting, taxes, and financial management. Through case studies, students learn to identify and address potential ethical conflicts.

Taxation

In taxation courses, students learn about tax laws and required financial documents for individuals and businesses. These courses also cover how accountants can apply planning and exposure techniques to legally reduce taxes.

Management Accounting

Management accounting courses equip students with the skills needed to improve business decisions through financial information. Learners explore various techniques and strategies for inventory control, performance analysis, and budgeting in order to increase revenue and reduce inefficiency.

Graduate Certificate in Accounting

Graduate certificates in accounting provide value for both current and aspiring accounting professionals. For students from non-accounting disciplines, these certificates, which typically take less than one year to complete, offer a quick path into careers like financial examination and accounting and auditing. Certificates can also help experienced accountants update and expand their skills.

Many of the top graduate certificates in accounting also count toward CPA requirements. Credits can count as continuing education units required to maintain licensure. These credits may also transfer into master's programs.

Common Courses

Strategic Management

Strategic management courses teach students how managers create and implement business strategies. Learners explore various analytical tools, identify possible external factors, evaluate competitors and market conditions, and develop projections that indicate long-term prospects.

Fraud Examination

In a fraud examination course, students hone their fraud awareness and identification skills. They learn about the legalities surrounding financial fraud, what to look for, and prevention and risk minimization strategies. Learners may also explore investigation processes through case studies.

Financial Analysis

Students taking financial analysis courses learn how to assess an organization's financial health from financial statements. They may also examine how to use financial data for predictions and forecasts. They look at case studies, use common tools, and familiarize themselves with popular techniques.

Accounting Communication

This course covers communication methods for accounting professionals in various contexts. Students learn to present financial information in a digestible and convincing manner, looking at the best techniques and applications to do so. This training may also cover common business settings, such as meetings with shareholders and consumer groups.

Nonprofit Accounting

In nonprofit accounting courses, learners engage with the unique issues and situations faced by nonprofit accountants. In addition to observing how new contexts change accounting fundamentals, they also delve into nonprofit revenues, internal service funds, long-term debts, and budgetary control.

Master's Degree in Accounting

A master's degree in accounting covers more advanced topics in the field, equipping students to take on the most complex projects and in-demand positions, such as management-level accounting and finance roles. Program requirements can vary significantly, but most master's degrees require 36-45 credits and take under two years to complete.

Through online learning, master's degrees in accounting have become more accelerated and accessible for working professionals. Distance learning has helped create more affordable program options, as well.

Master's degrees typically qualify applicants for doctoral programs in accounting and related fields. The degree also meets the requirements for CPA licensure in most states.

Common Courses

Accounting Data Analytics

This course covers various techniques and situations for using analytics in accounting. Students learn to use the information available to accountants to provide insights and improve decision-making and overall financial health. They also look at data management and visualization methods.

International Tax

This course examines different international tax laws and policies that govern multinational organizations and international transactions. Learners examine the impact of taxes on residents and nonresidents, along with the structures in place to promote and discourage international growth and competition.

E-commerce

This course teaches students how e-commerce alters traditional accounting practices. Learners explore how major e-commerce platforms communicate and integrate with accounting applications and software packages. They also learn how laws and international taxes impact globalized e-commerce sites.

Forensic Accounting

Forensic accounting deals with the analysis of financial crimes and fraudulent behavior, evidence collection, and subsequent investigations. Students learn about laws, common strategies, and preventative measures applied in this field. They also explore methods for detecting and measuring damages.

Managing Value Creation

This course provides students with an understanding of how organizations create value. Learners explore the strategies behind value creation and the interrelationships within the value chain and stakeholder groups. Covered topics include marketing, supply chain management, and human resources management.

Doctoral Degree in Accounting

A doctoral degree in accounting is the terminal degree in the field. These research-heavy programs typically require 60 credits and take learners 4-7 years to complete. Most top doctorate in accounting programs focus on advancing the profession through research, cutting-edge innovation, and policy development. Students create their own research specialization, which can greatly influence their career path.

Most doctoral graduates in the accounting field pursue careers as postsecondary teachers or management professionals. They can continue their education in various ways, including by pursuing another degree, completing a postgraduate certificate, or enrolling in continuing education courses.

Common Courses

Advanced Accounting Research Methods

In this course, students engage with leading accounting research and theories, providing their own critiques on these findings. They also discuss possible alternatives or new applications for past research.

Accounting Information in Markets

In this course, students learn how information can influence the economy after market participants receive and process data. Learners observe the differences between public and private information and how accountants can account for this exchange.

Corporate Finance

Corporate finance courses cover the many theories and tools used in the field. Students learn how the corporate environment impacts traditional accounting and which applications and information improve decision-making. Covered topics include dividend policies and capital structure and budgeting.

Econometrics

In this course, students examine econometrics theories and research tools used to assess and evaluate various relationships. Covered topics include the difference between economics and statistics, regression analysis, economic predictions, statistical inference, and leading econometric models.

Management Research

In this course, students explore the theories, strategies, and techniques used in organizational management. Learners evaluate current research and add to the discourse by integrating theories from non-accounting disciplines. This course challenges learners to develop new management practices by leveraging work from complementary fields.

Accounting Concentrations and Specialities

While general accounting degrees can lead graduates down many career paths, most programs enable learners to specialize in a subfield. Students who pursue a concentration can improve their employment chances in that specific subfield.

Cost Accounting

This concentration focuses on using accounting skills and information for performance evaluation and organizational budgeting. These accountants apply their knowledge to help organizations improve operations, make better decisions, and identify opportunities in areas such as investments and real estate.

Median annual salary: $71,550

Cost Estimation

This specialization teaches students to use available data to provide accurate cost and time budget estimations. Coursework focuses on the cost of materials and labor, along with performance evaluation. Learners also explore how to present these findings in the most appropriate manner.

Median annual salary: $65,250

Government Accounting

Government accounting students examine rules and regulations regarding taxes and financial documents. Some programs focus on state-specific laws and policies.

Median annual salary: $70,180

Financial Management

This specialization prepares learners to help organizations manage their financial health. Students learn to analyze financial data, handle investments, and create projections and strategies. Financial management also deals with budgeting and performance analysis, and learners may explore tax laws and business strategies.

Median annual salary: $129,890

Financial Advising

This concentration prepares students to handle personal finances for individuals. Coursework focuses on investments, mortgages, taxes, retirement finances, insurance, and other common financial services. Students learn to put together and maintain portfolios, perform risk assessments, and identify financial opportunities.

Median annual salary: $87,850

Financial Analysis

In this specialization, students learn to become investment specialists. Coursework covers portfolio management, including stocks and bonds. Learners explore how business trends, historical data, and financial statements can provide insight into future opportunities.

Median annual salary: $81,590

Accounting Licensure and Certification

The CPA is the most popular accounting certification. Nearly 50% of professional accountants hold the designation. However, accounting graduates can pursue many other licenses and certifications, including specializations in auditing, management accounting, fraud examination, and financial analysis.

Certified Public Accountant

Certified public accountants make about 10% more money than non-CPAs. Candidates must pass the Uniform CPA Examination from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. However, specific requirements for certification differ by state, so it is important to understand the CPA requirements where you live.

Chartered Financial Analyst

Accountants interested in a career in finance can pursue a certification in financial analysis. To earn this designation, candidates must pass all three levels of the CFA Exam, complete two years of professional work experience, and join the CFA institute. Around half of people who take the first test go on to pass the third.

Certified Management Accountant

CMAs specialize in strategic management and financial accounting. This designation is granted by the Institute of Management Accountants. Candidates must hold a bachelor's degree and have two years of professional experience in management accounting. CMAs can pursue executive-level jobs in management accounting.

Enrolled Agent

An enrolled agent is a tax professional who can represent taxpayers in matters involving the IRS. EAs do not need a college degree, but they must either have five years of taxation experience with the IRS or pass an exam. CPAs can serve as EAs without taking the exam, but all EAs must complete at least 72 hours of continuing education every 36 months.

Certified Internal Auditor

Certified internal auditors specialize in internal audits, working for government agencies, financial institutions, and corporations. This certification requires a bachelor's degree and two years of work experience in an internal auditing field.

Certified Information Systems Auditor

CISAs work in information systems. This designation is issued by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, an internationally recognized organization. To earn this certification, candidates must pass a comprehensive exam and meet work experience requirements.

Certified Fraud Examiner

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners certifies CFEs. CFEs must hold a bachelor's degree in accounting and have two years of experience in a fraud-related field. They must also pass a certification exam. This certification prepares fraud examiners to move into executive positions.

Career and Salary Outlook for Accounting Graduates

Career outlook is among the most attractive aspects of accounting. Accountants make up some of the largest workforces nationwide. They also enjoy career diversity and strong salary potential. According to the BLS, accountants earn median annual salaries that are nearly double the national average.

The demand for accountants usually matches the strength of the overall economy. For example, the projected growth for accountants between 2019 and 2029 is on par with the national average. The table below highlights some of the most popular accounting careers, providing job duties and salary details.

Accounting Careers

Accountant and Auditor

Accountants and auditors manage financial documentation for individuals and organizations. They ensure accuracy, handle taxes, and advise on the law and regulations. Accountants may also provide analysis on financial data and offer insight for organizations on how to improve financial health.

Most accountants and auditors need a bachelor's degree.

Salary: $71,550

Financial Examiner

Financial examiners ensure that financial institutions and all transactions they process follow laws and regulations. They also review and assess the operations and management processes, as well as evaluate appropriate levels of risk on certain loans and transactions.

Most financial examiners need a bachelor's degree.

Salary: $81,090

Appraiser of Real Estate

Real estate appraisers assess the value of homes and commercial buildings for agencies, organizations, and individuals. They review market conditions, verify all listed claims, and create reports on their findings.

Most real estate appraisers need a bachelor's degree to qualify for certification.

Salary: $57,010

Purchasing Manager

Purchasing managers oversee the buying of goods and services for organizations. They handle financial documents related to sales and ensure compliance with laws and regulations. They evaluate potential sales, survey markets, and provide proposals for sales, all while working within organizational budgets.

Purchasing managers typically need a bachelor's degree.

Salary: $69,600

Bookkeeping Clerk

Bookkeeping clerks create and maintain financial records for organizations. They ensure that records are logged accurately and efficiently. Bookkeepers may perform basic accounting duties for larger businesses or more advanced work for smaller organizations.

Bookkeeping clerks usually need some college-level training.

Salary: $41,230

Accounting Careers by Location

As in many business professions, location substantially impacts accounting jobs. According to the BLS, the largest workforces and highest paying accounting careers are based in coastal states and metropolitan city centers. Washington, D.C., houses the heaviest concentration of jobs and the highest median annual salaries in the nation.

State

Robert M. Nemeth is a principal in Apple Growth Partners. He is a certified public accountant licensed to practice in Ohio. Mr. Nemeth has performed valuations in many industries and has provided insight on estate finance, gift tax, mergers and acquisitions, domestic relations, and litigation support services.

How has earning an accounting degree helped you advance your career?

My accounting degree provided a strong foundational understanding of the financial aspects of how businesses operate.

What makes accounting an exciting career opportunity right now?

There are numerous opportunities to explore: tax, auditing, small companies, large companies, private and public consulting, litigation support, business valuation, and fraud and forensics, plus many more.

Is it important to choose an accounting specialty right away?

Since accounting is a very technically complex area, the earlier that you can choose accounting as a specialty, the sooner you can begin to take the applicable courses. Since many courses build on one another, they must often be taken in succession.

What tips do you have for students who aren't sure which focus they would like best?

Take as many introductory courses as you can to gain exposure to different areas. Call up a CPA and ask to have coffee with them and ask them about their career. Talk to past graduates. Call the state society of CPAs for resource material.

What are some practical tips to prepare for an interview?

Research the company/firm, talk to career services at school, and talk to prior graduates.

What software do you think every accountant should learn?

Microsoft Office and Quickbooks knowledge helps for small companies, and data analytical software is always useful.

How important is networking and what are some easy ways to stay connected to other accountants in your community?

Networking is important throughout a CPA's career. Join local professional organizations and the state society.

How do you stay current with the latest advancements and technology in the accounting world?

Attend national conferences and state-sponsored continuing education courses.

What does continual education for an accountant look like for you?

My continuing education is varied: tax, valuation, fraud, forensics. The education consists of seminars, national conferences, and self-study.

Scholarships for Accounting Majors

Students pursuing an accounting degree can access a multitude of business scholarships. Professional accounting organizations, such as the National Society of Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, offer many of these awards. In most cases, applicants do not need to be members of the organization.

These sources of aid provide up to $15,000 toward an associate degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree, or doctoral degree in accounting.

Accounting Scholarships for Associate Degree Students

NSA Scholarship Foundation Awards

Who Can Apply: The National Society of Accountants offers multiple scholarships to students pursuing degrees in accounting. Applicants are judged based on their scholastic achievement, leadership ability, and financial need.

Amount: Up to $5,000

AICPA Foundation Two-Year Transfer Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants provides scholarships for associate students planning to transfer to four-year institutions to pursue degrees in accounting or accounting-related fields.

Amount: $5,000

Jeffrey L. Esser Career Development Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Government Finance Officers Association offers the Jeffrey L. Esser Career Development Scholarship to associate students focusing on government accounting. Students must have at least three years of experience working at a state or local government agency.

Amount: $5,000-$15,000

Accounting Scholarships for Bachelor's Degree Students

Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners offers the Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship to students interested in pursuing a career in fraud examination. Applicants must be full-time students with a declared major or minor in accounting or a related field.

Amount: $1,000-$10,000

AFWA Accounting and Finance Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance offers undergraduate scholarships to support the costs of finishing the 3rd, 4th, or 5th year of an accounting program. Applicants must be women but do not need to be members of the AFWA.

Amount: $2,000-$4,000

AICPA Scholarship for Minority Accounting Students

Who Can Apply: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants provides a scholarship for outstanding minority students majoring in accounting or an accounting-related major. This scholarship is also open to graduate students.

Amount: Up to $5,000

Paul S. Mills Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Foundation for Financial Service Professionals offers the Paul S. Mills Scholarship for students pursuing an undergraduate degree in a financial service-related field, including accounting. Applicants can be full-time or part-time students.

Amount: $1,000

Accounting Scholarships for Master's Degree Students

AICPA/Robert Half Student Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants provides a scholarship for outstanding accounting students who demonstrate potential to become leaders in the CPA profession. This scholarship is also open to undergraduate students.

Amount: $10,000

AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants offers scholarships for graduate students in accounting who hold an undergraduate degree in the liberal arts or other non-business fields. This scholarship fund encourages students with little accounting education to consider graduate-level accounting careers.

Amount: $5,000

Goldberg-Miller Public Finance Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Government Finance Officers Association has offered the Goldberg-Miller Public Finance Scholarship since 1985. This scholarship recognizes outstanding performance by graduate students preparing to pursue careers in state or local government finance.

Amount: $20,000

AFWA Accounting and Finance Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance offers graduate-level scholarships for women who are pursuing a degree in accounting or finance through an accredited college or university. Applicants do not need to be members of the AFWA.

Amount: Varies

Accounting Scholarships for Doctoral Degree Students

AICPA Fellowship for Minority Doctoral Students

Who Can Apply: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants provides scholarships for outstanding minority doctoral students in order to increase the number of minority CPAs. Applicants must be full-time students and should either hold or plan to pursue CPA credentials.

Amount: $12,000

The Laurels Fund

Who Can Apply: Offered by the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting, the Laurels Fund provides awards to women pursuing a Ph.D. in accounting. The selection criteria include academic achievements, service, and financial need.

Amount: $1,000-$5,000

Mary Feeney Bonawitz Ph.D. Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance offers the Mary Feeney Bonawitz Ph.D. Scholarship to cover the cost of research for a female student seeking a Ph.D. in accounting. Applicants must be AFWA members.

Amount: Varies

Carolyn M. Callahan New Student Transition Grant

Who Can Apply: Black, Hispanic, or Native American students who have earned admission to a full-time, AACSB-accredited accounting program can apply for this grant.

Amount: $2,000

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