Accountants fulfill an important role in our society. They are trained to properly account for a company’s money and make sure the business’ debt to the government are met. The skills of an accountant include recording daily financial activities, compiling weekly, monthly, and annual reports, and completing tax returns. Accountants go to school to attain the skills needed to complete these tasks and the lowest level accounting degree that can be obtained is an associate in accounting. After completing this two-year degree, a student can continue their education up to and including a doctorate in accounting or a related field. Along with these degrees, there are many certifications accountants can complete, the most common being the certified public accountant (CPA) license.
What is an Associate Degree?
An associate degree is an entry-level degree. They typically take two years to complete and consist of either four semesters or eight quarters of study, depending on the college structure. Associate degrees are most often offered at community colleges and technical schools, but many colleges and universities also offer two-year programs. Many associate degree programs are structured so that if students want to continue their education, they can seamlessly transition into a bachelor’s degree program in the same or similar subject without having to repeat certain classes. Associate degrees are 60-80 credit hours depending on the major and if any internships are required. Courses are a combination of general electives and major courses and the degree prepares a student to gain employment at an entry-level of their chosen field of study.
Where Do You Earn an Associate-level Degree?
Most associate degrees are earned at community colleges or technical schools. A community college is as its name describes: a small school in a town or city that offers education in different fields of study to its residents. Programs are typically of the trade variety, with some business programs included such as accounting. A technical school is similar to a community college, but the focus of study is usually on skilled trades such as carpentry, welding, or computer tech but, in some communities, these schools also offer business courses as well. These schools and programs are often linked to nearby colleges and universities so that students that finish at the community college and want to continue their education can do so without the hassle of starting from scratch.
Online Vs. Traditional Education in Accounting
Whether you choose to pursue a degree online or in a traditional on campus setting there are things to consider. Many colleges and universities offer their on-campus programs as they are online, while other schools have programs specifically created for an online setting. There are also schools that only offer online options. In a traditional setting, you’ll have to attend classes in person on campus, which can be a challenge for someone with work and personal responsibilities. However, not everyone is capable of the self-discipline required to complete a degree entirely online. Also, some online courses are text driven, while others are virtual versions of the traditional program, and this also might not fit into a person’s busy schedule or be the optimal way for them to learn. When choosing the best option, consider your time constraints, whether or not you need personal face-to-face interaction with your instructors, even if its virtual, and then choose the right program for you. In the case of online programs, you’ll want to make sure both the school and the accounting program are accredited by the associations mentioned below. This is an issue for traditional schools as well, but it’s especially important to research an online school, especially if it is not attached to an already accredited and established college or university.
Admission Requirements for an Associate Degree in Accounting?
Although it’s typically easier to get into an associate degree program than a bachelor’s accounting degree program, there are still requirements those who want to pursue an associate degree must meet. The requirements vary by school, but some of the most common requirements are listed below.
- High school diploma or GED – To get into a school of higher learning, prospective students must have either graduated from a high school and earned a diploma or sat for and passed the General Education Diploma (GED) exam.
- Transcripts from the last school attended – School transcripts are often required as part of the application process, whether you most recently attended high school or another college-level program.
- Application – Prospective students must apply for entry. Some schools require an application fee, while some do not.
- SAT/ACT exam scores – Some colleges require students to have taken either the SAT or the ACT. Community colleges usually do not require this, but four-year colleges that offer associate degree programs often do.
- Minimum GPA requirements – Just like the ACT/SAT requirement, community colleges don’t always have a GPA requirement, while colleges usually do.
Why Earn an Accounting Degree?
Some people might choose to seek out an associate degree instead of a bachelor’s for various reasons. One reason could be they aren’t sure if college is for them and getting an associate degree can act as a litmus test to see if they can handle the demands of getting a degree. Others might pursue an associate degree to see if their chosen course of study is right for them. Since community colleges are often much less expensive than going to a traditional college or university, if they decide not to continue their schooling, the financial risk is much lower. Others still might be looking to enter the workforce quickly and therefore an associate degree fulfills that requirement. Finally, not every career requires a bachelor’s degree and a person can be completely trained to work in the field with a two-year degree. If they decide they want to pursue more education, the associate degree is usually transferable to a bachelor’s degree program.
Why a Degree in Accounting?
Accounting is a diverse field with many opportunities for employment. When most people think of accountants, they think of an uptight employee with a pocket protector and a calculator. But there are many different kinds of accountants and they work in many different industries. For example, accountants help track down people who commit fraud and identity theft, they prepare taxes, and they help companies and individuals complete their financial statements, so they know where they stand financially. Getting into the field can be accomplished with an associate degree and opportunities for management and jobs with even more opportunities can be obtained with additional education and/or work experience. Another perk of studying accounting is that the industry is growing and jobs are available at all levels, so if you want to work as a bookkeeper, focus on one aspect of the accounting cycle, or become an investigator or auditor, there are plenty of opportunities for you in the field.
What’s Involved in an Accounting Degree?
An associate degree in accounting covers the basics in accounting. Students will learn about the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), which are the rules that accountants use when doing their work. There is also a strong emphasis on learning the procedures of the accounting process such as accounting equations, debits and credits, how to post to a general journal and general ledgers, how to compile the main financial statements (balance sheet, income statement, and statement of owner’s equity), and how to make adjustment and reversal entries. The associate degree program doesn’t stray from traditional accounting principles too much, but those with an associate degree can be prepared to work as a full-charge bookkeeper or in a specialized department such as accounts payable or accounts receivable.
Common Accounting Courses
As a student enrolled in a two-year accounting program, you will most likely study some of the following courses:
- Introduction to Accounting Part I, Part II
- Money and Banking
- Intro to Management
- Managerial Accounting
- Cost Accounting
- Business Law
- Business Ethics
- Business Statistics
What to Consider When Choosing an Associate Program for Accounting
Graduating from a school with regional accreditation is important because schools and organizations will often only work with people who have degrees from other accredited schools. The Council of Higher Education Association (CHEA) recognizes certain schools for regional accreditation. Schools that are accredited though the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges are two of the largest and most recognized agencies that offer accreditation but there are other accrediting organizations that also ensure a school is offering a quality educational experience and cover specific regions around the US. Before choosing a school, make sure it is regionally accredited and that the accounting program is accredited as well. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business or AACSB is an organization that helps to recognize the best schools that offer accounting degrees on all levels. Not attaining a degree from an accredited school could lead to a lack of work opportunities and, in the event that you decide to return to school to continue your education, none of your credits from your associate degree being counted, which would mean you would have to start your education all over again. Before choosing a school make sure their accreditation is recognized by the organizations listed above.
What to Consider When Choosing an Associate Program for Accounting
An MBA is also a terrific option for a student who holds a bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting. An MBA steeps professionals in a general knowledge of business including management, marketing, finance, and leadership, among other topics. Professionals can pursue an MBA with a concentration in accounting, finance, and many other possible areas.
When accountants complete the core MBA courses, they have a more well-rounded view of business. Then their accounting concentration hones their knowledge and skills for auditing, taxation, and more. The MBA enables them to move into positions in the C-suites. In particular, an MBA might qualify an accountant to become a CEO, CFO, or even CIO.
Doctorate or PhD
After attaining a master’s degree in accounting, some choose to continue their academic momentum and complete a doctoral degree. This level of academic achievement is not common in the business world, but firms are still likely to value an executive with such a degree. Perhaps the best application for this degree is to pursue a career path in academia. Accountants who have both practical experience and a PhD are sure to land tenure-track positions. In fact, some accountants pursue a doctoral degree later in their working life so that they can become part-time college professors in their retirement years.
Formal education is a vital part of any accounting career, but so is certification. The most prominent certification is that of a certified public accountant (CPA). This credential can stand alone as proof that the professional has passed the CPA examination, but many apply to their state Board of Accountancy for full licensure. A CPA license allows the professional to sign tax filings and they are generally highly esteemed throughout the business world.
Accountants also seek certification as fraud examiners, information systems auditor, management accountant, and internal auditor. Certified fraud examiners pursue careers as internal or external auditors, compliance officers, private investigators, or law enforcement agents. This is an exciting career path for those who love balancing accounts while chasing bad guys.
Certified information systems auditors marry the practices of accounting with information systems. They audit systems, manage information technology, and even take cyber security roles. A CISA certification might help an accountant land a position as a chief information officer (CIO).
A certified management accountant (CMA) is often found holding positions such as chief financial officer (CFO), budget analyst, finance manager, or controller, among other jobs. Their certification proves their expertise in all aspects of finance.
Finally, a certified internal auditor (CIA) is an accounting professional who works with all levels of an organization. Their job is to assess all of a firm’s operations. Their risk management expertise makes them particularly valuable and many work as consultants.
Available Careers with an Associate in Accounting Degree
- Internal Auditor – This employee provides an assessment of a firm’s operations from the production line to the executive suites.
- Forensic Accountant – These specialists investigate fraud as part of a law enforcement team but can also provide risk management services to their employers or clients.
- Tax Accountant – They work with businesses, individuals, or major corporations to prepare tax documents for quarterly and annual filing. A licensed CPA is qualified to sign off on these filing documents.
- Management Accountant – These managers work with their firm to conduct specialized audits that seek to answer specific business questions. Their audits are held internally for the purpose of improving efficiencies and expanding the bottom line.
- Information Systems Auditor – These auditors perform audits on a firm’s information systems and helps to manage the firm’s IT assets. Information system auditors help manage a firm’s hardware and software and they can also protect intellectual property with cyber security measures.
A master’s degree in accountancy will help any professional boost their salary. While several of the top certifications don’t require even a bachelor’s degree, when an accountant who holds a master’s degree combines their academic achievement with a certification, their earnings soar. Some schools show their graduates gaining an average of 10% more upon graduation with a master’s degree in accounting. MBA students are shown boosting their salaries into the low six figures. That does not include bonuses or other added compensation. Furthermore, when a master of accounting graduate adds a certification to their credentials, they’ll surely see their earnings rise even more.
Essentially, a master’s degree ensures its holder the top salary range in accounting. With only an associate or bachelor’s degree, professionals can earn a substantial salary, but their earnings won’t match those of colleagues who complete a graduate program. Furthermore, master’s degrees open up opportunities in upper management, top consulting firms, and more. Not only do earnings rise but so does professional satisfaction and accomplishment.
Accountants are vital to the life of nearly every organization, especially those in the business community. They provide the necessary internal audits that determine where the firm can do better. They also prepare and file tax documents, help the firm avoid risk, and manage, audit, and protect the firm’s information systems. Thus, the outlook for those in accountancy is quite good.
While Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that work for professionals at the bookkeeper level may be dropping off, mostly due to advances in accounting software, but upper-tier accountants are expected to see their field grow. The BLS shows that accountants and auditors can expect to see their field grow at an average pace of around 4% each year. Affiliated professions such as budget analysts are expected to grow at a similar pace. However, management analysts are projected to expand their field by 10%, more than twice the rate of general accountants. Accountants who enter into computer and information systems management are likewise expecting to increase their numbers by 10% or more through 2029. Financial managers are likewise expected to experience a growth spurt of 15% in the same time frame.
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