Earning Your Accounting Degree Online
Leading to one of the most in-demand careers for employers with some of the highest entry-level salaries, an online accounting degree is one of the most popular specialized degrees for students. In fact, next to business administration, an online degree is the most common business degree program, with 14% of business students majoring in this discipline. Compared to a traditional degree, an online accounting degree is virtually identical. Since most accounting work is done independently, the curriculum is well-suited to online study, which allows for more flexibility regarding when and where the work is done. While the occasional accounting online degree does have scheduled classes that are held in real-time, they are rare and usually made available during nights when mandatory.
In addition to greater schedule flexibility, one of the distinct advantages students find in choosing an online accounting degree is in the length and cost of study. Though some online programs are identical to the on-campus variety, an online degree can often be completed in less than four years, depending on the student’s course load. Additionally, online accounting courses typically cost less than in-person courses because they don’t require payment for campus facilities. While most online accounting degree programs can be completed entirely online, some online bachelor’s degrees do have on-campus requirements or internships that involve commuting. Internships are uncommon at the undergraduate level but students should expect them in an online accounting master’s degree.
Job Outlook for Accounting Graduates
Due in large part to the increasing complexities of tax laws and regulations and the growing economy overall, the accounting profession is expected to continue its rapid growth of 11% through to 2024. As accounting regulations have become more complicated and strict, more accountants with specialized skills are needed. This has led to an increased demand for accountants at each level of higher learning, with the exception being entry-level accounting positions that require an associate degree or lower. While entry-level accounting positions, such as bookkeeping, are still accessible with an associate degree, easy-to-use accounting software has significantly decreased the demand for such positions. The number of available jobs in this area are expected decline by 8% between now and 2024.
For those who complete an online accounting degree at the bachelor’s level or higher, however, the field is expecting substantial growth. Not only does accounting have a lower-than-average unemployment rate of 4.1%, but, according to the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NCES), 68% of new graduates with a bachelor’s online degree are offered employment, the highest of any major in the survey. The entry-level median salary of $48,000 for accountants is also one of the highest available at the bachelor’s degree level in any field. With experience, graduates of a bachelor’s accounting online degree earn up to $85,000 a year.
Of all the online accounting degree program options and available certifications, Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) have the best career prospects. Even though obtaining a master’s degree while pursuing CPA requirements is not mandatory, it is a common route; therefore, the career prospects are the same for both qualifications. While the median entry-level salary for those with a master’s degree and/or CPA credentials is only $8,000 more than those with an online degree in accounting, some states, such as Texas, pay these higher-level accountants as much as $20,000 more than bachelor’s degree graduates. With experience, accountants with master’s degrees and/or CPA credentials can earn a median salary of $102,000, an increase of 20% over undergraduate degree recipients. As a result of the improved salary and career growth opportunities available to accountants with graduate degrees and specialized certifications, the number of online accounting degrees at the graduate level has more than doubled in the last 10 years.
|Degree Level||Placement Rates||Entry-Level Median Salary||Experienced Median Salary||Placement Growth Rate|
|Bachelor’s||68% of new grads are offered jobs (highest %);
4.1% unemployment rate
|Master’s||Approx. 85% of new graduates are employed;
approx. 2.5% unemployment rate
|$57,000||$102,000||11% growth in the field, but master’s degrees are more in demand; 19% growth in median salary.|
|Certificates (CPA)||CPAs have the highest demand in the field||$57,000||$102,000||11% growth in the field, but CPAs are more in demand than bachelor’s or master’s degree holders|
Accounting Careers and Salaries
Types of Accounting Careers
- Public Accountant
Public accountants perform standard accounting tasks, including tax filings, audits, and consultations, for individuals, organizations, and/or the government. While many public accountants are CPAs, the minimum requirement is typically a bachelor’s degree. Most public accountants are self-employed or work for an accounting firm. The median salary for public accountants is $68,000.
- Management Accountant
Management accountants typically specialize in corporate or industrial accounting, analyzing and translating complex financial information for business managers. Many management accountants specialize in financial forecasting for organizations in the areas of budgeting, planning, and investing, whereas some management accountants are involved with performance evaluation and asset management. It is common for accountants at this level to be CPAs or have a master’s degree. The median salary for management accountants is $70,000.
- Government Accountant
Government accountants are employed by the government to either examine and audit private businesses or to analyze and maintain records of other government agencies. These positions are available at every level of government, including federal, state, and regional offices. Most government accountants use their expertise to ensure that the financial records are maintained and compliant with the laws and regulations. The median salary for government accountants is $65,000.
- Internal Auditor
Internal auditors are employed by organizations to ensure that finances are managed properly and effectively. Auditors check for financial mismanagement, such as waste or fraud. They also analyze and evaluate different areas of the business, identifying financial processes that can be improved upon. The median salary for internal auditors is $55,000.
- External Auditor
Similar to an internal auditor, an external auditor examines and evaluates an organization’s financial documents to ensure that everything is accurate and properly maintained and reported. The primary difference between an internal and an external auditor is that external auditors are employed by an organization separate from the one being audited. Most commonly, external auditors are self-employed, work for an auditing firm, or work for the government. The median salary for external auditors is $54,000.
Types of Accounting Degrees
The clear majority of accounting professionals have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, but the gap between undergraduates and graduate-level accountants is decreasing steadily. As entry-level positions for bookkeepers and accounting clerks with associate degrees decline, more organizations look to hire certified public accountants (CPAs) and/or accountants with graduate degrees. According to AICPA, almost 50% of the new accountants hired in 2012 had a master’s degree and were CPAs. That’s a strong indicator of contemporary hiring trends in the field considering that more than 70% of the new graduates came from a bachelor’s program.
While the accounting field is projecting an 11% growth overall between now and 2024, the demand for master’s graduates and CPAs is expected to be even more substantial. Not only are job prospects improving for CPAs and accountants with graduate degrees, but the starting salaries are typically between $8,000 and $20,000 more for accountants with higher than a bachelor’s degree. Plus, the considerable growth in availability of online accounting courses, specifically at the master’s level, allows for accountants to work and complete a graduate degree (as well as the 150-credit requirements for the CPA) at the same time. With these credentials, accountants have access to careers in management, forensics, and high-level government positions, many of which command salaries of $100,000 or more with experience.
|Degree Level||Definition||Possible Concentrations||Median Annual Salary|
|Associate||An associate degree in accounting is a starting point for people looking for entry into the accounting profession. Students gain an understanding of basic accounting principles. Since most accounting positions require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum, many associate degree graduates continue their education in a bachelor’s degree program after completion.||Bookkeeping, Accounting, Auditing Clerk||$38,000|
|Bachelor’s||A bachelor’s degree in accounting is one of the most common concentrated degrees available. Students gain an understanding of core business principles while learning how to read, write, and analyze complex financial documents. As a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in accounting is required by most organizations to obtain an entry-level position in the field.||Auditing, Financial Planning, Consulting, Technical Accounting, Finance Specialist||$68,000-$69,000|
|Master’s||A master’s degree in accounting prepares students with a more in-depth understanding of the laws and regulations in the field, including the areas of finance and taxation. Graduates also receive knowledge of business management principles. Though it’s not mandatory, many master’s degrees in accounting are designed to also fulfill the CPA requirements.||Auditing, Tax Accounting, Management Accounting||$68,000-$96,000|
|Certifications||There are several certifications available in accounting, most of which require the completion of higher learning courses. The CPA is the most common certification and creates career opportunities similar to what a master’s degree grants its graduates. There’s also a Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF), which opens up a career in the field of law working with fraud and financial criminal activity. Another common certificate is the Certified Management Accountant (CMA), which involves business management literacy and improves an accountant’s chances at progressing into a management accountant position.||1. CPA
Accounting Certifications and Licensing
Since accountants deal with some of the most sensitive and regulated financial information available, certifications and special licenses are regularly required. The most familiar certification is the certified public accountant (CPA). Since the educational requirements for a CPA is 150 semester hours (or credits), many CPAs obtain their master’s degree in accounting while fulfilling the necessary CPA hours. In fact, many of the best online colleges for accounting design their master’s degree programs as a CPA pathway. Most managerial-level and consultant-level positions require accountants to be CPAs.
Other popular and in-demand accounting certifications are the certified management accountants (CMA) and the certified in financial forensics (CFF). Both of these certifications grant an understanding in a specialized area of accounting, allowing for higher earning potential. The CMA is often pursued by accountants or CPAs who wish to enter into management or consulting positions, while the CFF is usually pursued as a credential on its own, allowing recipients to work within the fields of financial fraud and criminal activity. Another common certification in accounting is the certified accounting paraprofessional (CAP). A CAP usually assists or works below a CPA. To obtain this certification, degree-holding accountants must pass the five-part examination. The certification also requires continued education each year, the primary reason why many recipients obtain this license while pursuing the demanding CPA requirements.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average post-secondary student is awarded nearly $10,000 in grants and scholarships each year. Since accounting is such an in-demand and growing field, many institutions and organizations encourage students to pursue this career by assisting in the funding of their education. While there are a substantial number of scholarships and grants available to accounting students in particular, online accounting degree majors also have access to scholarships for business and business-related degrees as well.
- NSA Scholarship Foundation
The NSA Scholarship Foundation is a program that awards and assists students that are dedicated to a career in accounting. Eligible students are in an accounting program and have earned at least a 3.0 GPA.
- Amount: $500- $2,200
- Deadline: April 2018
- The Minorities in Government Finance Professional Development Scholarship
The Minorities in Government Finance Professional Development Scholarship is an annual prize awarded to outstanding minorities pursuing a career in government finance. Applicants must be an upper-division undergraduate with a high academic performance record. Applicants must also be preparing for a career in state or local government finance.
- Amount: $9,000
- Deadline: April 2018
- The Paul S. Mills Scholarship Program
The Paul S. Mills Scholarship Program awards annual scholarship prizes to students pursuing careers in financial services. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and prepare a 500-word essay on why they wish to pursue a career in the field of financial services field and why the scholarship is important to them.
- Amount: $1,000
- Deadline: March 30, 2018
- The Frank L. Greathouse Government Accounting Scholarship
The Frank L. Greathouse Government Accounting Scholarship is awarded to students that are preparing for careers in state and local government finance. Eligible students are registered in a full-time program that is related to a finance field and are at least in their junior year.
- Amount: $9,000
- Deadline: April 2018
- Women in Transition Scholarship
Women in Transition Scholarship is a renewable prize from the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting Scholarship, a group dedicated to the advancement of women in the accounting profession. The scholarship is awarded to a woman who is the primary source of support for her family and returning to school to pursue an accounting degree. Applicants must be enrolling as a freshman into a bachelor’s degree program in accounting. The award is renewable for up to four years if the recipient maintains a 3.0 GPA.
- Amount: $16,000 over four years
- Deadline: April 30, 2018
- Women in Need Scholarship
Funded by the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting Scholarship, the Women in Need Scholarship is awarded to female sophomore students that are the primary source of support for their families. Applicants must be completing their sophomore year in a bachelor’s degree in accounting. The award is renewable for up to two years if the recipient maintains a 3.0 GPA.
- Amount: $2,000 per year for 2 years
- Deadline: April 30, 2018
- The Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA) Scholarship
The Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA) Scholarship is awarded to deserving Latino students who aspire to be leaders in the fields of finance and accounting. Applicants must be of Hispanic heritage with an ALPFA membership. Applicants must also be full-time students and have completed the freshman year with a 3.0-3.4 GPA and demonstrate financial aid.
- Amount: $2,500 – $10,000
- Deadline: June 1, 2017
- The Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship
The Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship is annually awarded to a student enrolled in a business-related program who has an interest in a career in fraud examination. Eligible applicants are enrolled in a full-time four-year business program. Applicants are also encouraged to meet with a local Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and request a letter of recommendation.
- Amount: $10,000, $5,000, $2,500, and $1,000
- Deadline: January 2018
- AICPA/Accountemps Student Scholarship
The AICPA/Accountemps Student Scholarship is awarded to outstanding accounting students who show the potential to be future leaders in the CPA profession. Applicants must be enrolled in a four-year AACSB and/or ACBSP accredited accounting program (or an accounting-related major). Applicants must also plan to become a CPA, have an AICPA Student Affiliate membership, and maintain a 3.0 GPA with at least 30 credits completed.
- Amount: $10,000
- Deadline: April 1, 2018
- AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship Award
The AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship Award is given to a bachelor’s degree-holder in a non-accounting discipline who wishes to pursue graduate studies in accounting. Applicants must be pursuing both graduate studies in accounting and the CPA licensure but cannot have started the graduate program yet. Eligible applicants must not have earned more than 12 credits in accounting or business during their undergraduate program.
- Amount: $5,000
- Deadline: April 1, 2018
Joining a professional organization in nearly any field has its benefits, but in a regulated and specialized field, such as accounting, it’s often considered a necessity. Most organizations provide countless networking opportunities and both educational and career development resources, such as courses and certificates, but there are many more opportunities available when part of a professional organization. Students and new graduates who join memberships have access scholarships, internships, and entry-level careers. Working professionals find value and benefits from joining professional organizations in gaining inside information on upcoming policy changes and industry standards. There’s also access to continuing education courses and discounts on conferences and other industry materials. The following is a list of some of the best and most influential professional organizations in the accounting field.
- American Association of Finance and Accounting: The American Association of Finance and Accounting (AAFA) is a professional network for the recruiting and staffing of finance and accounting professionals. With more than 40 metropolitan search firms in the country, the AAFA is the ideal source for companies looking to outsource an accountant or accounting firm, or for accountants or accounting firms looking to expand their profiles.
- Institute of Management Accountants: With almost 100 years of history, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) is an international association of accountants and financial professionals in business. Hosting more than 85,000 members in over 300 professional and student chapters, the IMA is dedicated to helping its members strengthen their skills and advance their careers. The IMA also develops and provides one of the industry’s best certifications, the certified management accountants (CMA).
- The Institute of Internal Auditors: The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) is the global voice of the internal audit profession. With more than 185,000 members in over 165 North American chapters, the IIA seeks to provide its professional members with global networking opportunities, education on standards and policies, and world-class training and certification. Members also have access to member-only webinars and conferences.
- Professional Association of Small Business Accountants: Professional Association of Small Business Accountants (PASBA) is a united organization of accountants who provide services to small businesses. In addition to the standard networking opportunities and conferences, PASBA allows member accountants to pool their resources together to provide each member with access to a wealth of information and resources, far more than what each individual accountant has on their own.
- National Society of Accountants: The National Society of Accountants (NSA) is the collective voice for accountants in the United States. The NSA is dedicated to delivering its members relevant industry updates, advocating for the profession and its professionals, and providing educational and career development opportunities. The NSA produces a few different publications for its members, the primary piece being the Main Street Practitioner, a member-only publication that is produced five times a year with insider information, industry trends, and accounting best practices.
- American Institute of CPAs: For more than a century, the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) has been representing CPAs and the accounting profession nationally. The AICPA is in charge of creating accounting regulations, rules, and standards, including the rules for audits of private companies. In addition to developing and grading the CPA examination, AICPA provides educational materials to its members, offers access to conferences year-round, and develops and distributes several industry-leading publications, such as accounting and auditing guides, The Global CPA Report, and several annual tax guides.
The specialized field of accounting has many different sections that professionals spend years familiarizing themselves with. The educational requirements to become a certified public accountant (CPA) are demanding because there is so much ground to cover. Students must take 150 credits at the college level simply to sit for the exam, which is approximately five years of full-time schooling. Still, approximately 50% of students fail the CPA exam on their first attempt. Since the rules and regulations vary within public accounting, corporate accounting, the financial sector, and other areas of accounting, there is a lot of information to digest. Even top students at the best online colleges for accounting find it difficult to absorb and retain all the information. Since the accounting field is so vast and specified, open courseware has become one of the most powerful resources for professionals and students alike.
Whether it’s to prepare for the CPA exam, to stay sharp over the summer while in school, or to expand a professional portfolio, the available open courseware in accounting can help. While the majority of courses cover accounting basics, there are plenty of options for specialized learning, such as business analysis, legal studies, management accounting, and corporate finance. The following list covers some of the most popular accounting courses available for free online.
- Accounting 1: Dave Krug, Johnson County Community College
- Accounting Principles I: The Saylor Foundation
- Accounting and Its Use in Business Decisions: ALISON
- Accounting in 60 Minutes: A Brief Introduction: Udemy
- Accounting Standards: Create Team
- Accounting: Creating a Profit & Loss Statement: Kutztown University Small Business Development Center
- Accounting: Preparing a Balance Sheet: Kutztown University Small Business Development Center
- Accounting: Preparing a Cash Budget: Kutztown University Small Business Development Center
- Advanced Financial Accounting: Mian Ahmad Farhan, Virtual University of Pakistan
- Analyzing and Accounting for Regional Economic Growth: Karen R. Polenske, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Business Accounting Basics: Open University of Hong Kong
- Business Analysis Using Financial Statements: Peter Wysocki, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Computerized Accounting Unit 1 and 2: JoLynn Hightower, Texas State Technical College
- Corporate Finance for Health Care Administrators: Jack Wheeler, University of Michigan
- Cost & Management Accounting: Mian Ahmed Farhan, Virtual University of Pakistan
- Diploma in Business and Legal Studies: Alison
- Finance and Capital Markets: Accounting and Financial Statements: Khan Academy
- Financial Accounting: George Plesko, Kin Lo, and Richard Frankel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Financial Accounting: S. P. Kothari, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Financial Accounting I and II: Mujahid Eshai, Virtual University of Pakistan
- Financial and Management Accounting: Serhan Duran, Middle East Technical University
- Financial and Managerial Accounting: George Plesko, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Fundamentals of Accounting: Alison
- Fundamentals of Financial Accounting: Alison
- Introduction to Balance Sheets: Alison
- Introduction To Business: Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges
- Introduction to Cash Accounting: Alison
- Introduction to Financial Accounting: Saylor
- Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting: Sugata Roychowdhury, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Introduction to Internet Presentation Tools: Peter Juvinall, Illinois State University
- Macroeconomics: Talat Afza, Virtual University of Pakistan
- Management Accounting and Control: Joseph Weber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Management Accounting and Control: Mozaffar Khan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Managerial Accounting: Saylor
- Payroll Accounting Unit 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6: Donna Hill, Texas State Technical College
- Payroll Applications: The Saylor Foundation
- Principles of Accounting: Bobbie Gershman, Northern Virginia Community College
- Principles of Accounting I: Bruce Fried, College of Southern Maryland
- Principles of Accounting I and II: Liberty University
- Principles of Accounting I and II: Tom Caswell, Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges
- Principles of Finance: Saylor
- Principles of Managerial Accounting: Anthony Catanach & Noah Barskey, Villanova
- Regional Energy-Environmental Economic Modeling: Karen R. Polenske, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Taxation I: Liberty University
- Taxes and Business Strategy: George Plesko, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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