Accountants are essential to any business or organization that handles money in any capacity. The role of an accountant is to manage the daily, monthly, and even annual financial transactions, no matter how big or how small. For any commercial or non-profit entity to remain in business, it’s essential to know the amount of incoming and outgoing money at all times and to ensure the incoming funds are more than the outgoing expenditures. Professional accountants monitor and manage these activities to help ensure the success of the business.

An accountant can work almost anywhere for almost any type of business, organization, non-profit, or government agency. This can include healthcare facilities, political campaigns, colleges and universities, manufacturing companies, car dealerships, IT consulting firms, and many others. Accountants can also be independently employed or work for large accounting firms and accounting specializations are almost as extensive as the potential employment opportunities. Keep in mind that the most in-demand accountants complete a master’s degree and their CPA licensure and certification.


Degree Levels

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Associate

An associate degree in accounting frequently requires between 60 and 65 credits, which is around 20 courses. The type of courses will vary based on the degree pathway. A transfer degree pathway designed for students to transfer to a four-year college or university to complete a bachelor's degree in accounting will have more general courses. Associate degrees created for students to secure entry-level positions upon completion of the degree will have more specialized courses.

A few of these might include:

  • Intro to Business
  • Intro to Economics
  • Foundational Accounting

Accounting associate degree programs may also offer internships or experiential learning opportunities so that students have practical experience upon graduation. The time it takes to complete such degrees will vary. Full-time students will often complete degrees in two years, whereas those who are only capable of a part-time commitment to higher education might take up to four years or longer. Remember that some colleges and universities have timelines in which you must complete your degree. Schools are typically quite good at providing flexibility in these programs.

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Bachelor’s

Accounting bachelor’s degrees are some of the most popular degrees at many colleges and universities across the US. This degree level is most often required by employers as a minimum for educational attainment in order to be considered for accounting jobs, including entry-level positions. Students typically must complete around 120 credits to earn a bachelor’s degree, which equals 40 courses or so. This will vary based on the number of credits the school attaches to each course.

A general education will be provided during the first few years, covering the same courses most freshmen and sophomores take. Once students enter into the accounting program, more challenging and specialized courses will become mandatory, such as:

  • Accounting Software
  • Auditing
  • Business Law
  • Economics
  • Ethics
  • Financial Accounting
  • Statistics

Full-time students should be able to complete an accounting degree in four or five years. This will depend entirely upon the student and the school. Some colleges and universities are better than others at pushing students to complete degrees on time. However, if a student chooses to complete an internship for invaluable hands-on experience, this could add time to degree completion. Students who take classes on a part-time basis could take six years or longer to fully complete their degree requirements.

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Master’s

While a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for most employers to fill lower-level accounting positions, a master’s degree is often necessary for management and top careers in accounting, as well as to be able to complete certified public accountant (CPA) licensure. CPA licensure usually requires the completion of 150 credit hours; however, one can take the exam after 120 hours in some states. While a bachelor’s consists of around 120 hours, the extra 30-36 hours you earn during a master’s degree can help you meet the educational requirements for licensure.

If an accountant aspires to secure promotions and positions at the highest levels in the field, a master’s degree with a concentration is often essential to these career ambitions. A master’s can give you access to positions such as chief financial officer (CFO), controller, director and others. A master’s degree in accounting can also increase your earning potential by up to tens of thousands of dollars. Rather than an internship, those earning a master’s degree are usually already employed in the field. Even though the degrees are created for working professionals, it still usually takes between two and four years as a part-time student and between one and two years as a full-time student to complete. However, if you want to finish early, there are some accounting master’s programs which are fast-paced to be completed in one year or less; these are often called accelerated degrees.

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Doctorate

The majority of individuals who pursue a doctorate in accounting do so in an effort to perform accounting research at a professional level or to become an accounting professor. It can take an individual between four and seven years to meet all the requirements to earn this degree. Many students continue to work while they take courses. As this degree is far more demanding than others, it is essential to be able to manage time, responsibilities, and relationships appropriately to be successful in the end.

A PhD in accounting might require between 70 and 120 credits. The number of credits is dependent upon the college or university’s program. Some students will have to complete original research relevant to the industry of accounting and/or a dissertation.

Concentrations

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Public Accounting

A public accounting concentration is ideal for individuals with aspirations of becoming a CPA. These areas of expertise are often available at the bachelor’s and master’s degree level in accounting. The specialized coursework in public accounting will be offered as elective courses taken in conjunction with the regular accounting courses at whatever level you aim to complete. Each of these courses prepares students for unique topics, many of which are included in the CPA exam. Upon successful completion of this concentration and after earning CPA licensure, graduates can work for both individuals and organizations alike.

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Environmental Accountant

Environmental accountants often work for large businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. This concentration allows accountants to specialize in managing the environmental costs directly associated with business actions. As a working environmental accountant, professionals will work closely with management and executives to pinpoint the source of such environmental costs, as a way to help mitigate future expenses and environmental risk. Throughout one’s career as an environmental accountant, individuals can pursue additional certifications and licenses to secure promotions and salary increases.

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Managerial Accounting

A concentration in managerial accounting, also referred to as management accounting, sets the pathway for accountants who wish to work directly for organizations or as management consultants. In these positions, internal data is used to provide information to various departments that result in strategic decision-making. Many courses in this concentration center around corporate accounting and business practices. These professionals will also be responsible for working with or reporting to individuals at all levels of an organization.

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Business Administration

Accountants with a concentration in business administration are often in great demand. A business administration focus helps accountants to understand overall business practices and theories. This helps in creating reports and sharing the information seen as most important in all departments when making decisions. Business administration concentrations in accounting can also lead to leadership roles within various businesses and organizations.

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Auditing

The auditing concentration is a highly specialized area in accounting that remains one of the accounting professions that is most in-demand for employers. Auditing is critical from both an internal and external perspective. This accounting practice helps to eliminate errors and actions that could be seen as unlawful or unethical by outside parties, including the US government. Internal auditors and consulting auditors help to minimize risk and improve upon daily accounting practices. You can find work as an auditor in nearly any field including sports, education, manufacturing, and many more.

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Forensic Accounting

As a forensic accountant, individuals will work in investigative accounting as a way to discover, examine, and mitigate fraudulent and unethical accounting activities. Students who select forensic accounting must be comfortable examining financials using various technology tools in addition to understanding accounting theories and practices. This specialized accounting concentration is available at both the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. To advance their career prospects, forensic accountants often complete the financial forensics certification after completing a degree with this concentration.

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Tax Accountant

Tax accountants can choose between international and domestic tax accounting concentrations. These graduates will specialize in annual tax preparation rather than daily transactions, budgeting, etc. You can concentrate in tax accounting at all degree levels, including an associate degree. Those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in tax accounting might work for accounting firms, tax preparation companies, corporations, or be independently employed. Additional certifications are also available within this field to advance your career.

What Can You Do with This Degree?

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Tax Associate

A tax associate accountant is an ideal role for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. These individuals are responsible for ensuring employers remain in compliance with regulations and laws as outlined by governing bodies, such as the IRS. Tax associates are typically a support role as part of a team. A firm understanding of tax law and accounting software is essential. The average salary for this position is around $56,700.

2

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts work to utilize earned income for businesses and corporations as a way to enhance organizational wealth. These individuals study microeconomics, demographics, and market trends prior to making any investment recommendations to shareholders, owners, executives, or board members. Professional financial analysts will be responsible for both short-term and long-term financial improvements. The average salary is $60,200.

3

Payroll Manager

Payroll managers spend much of their time overseeing the daily processes of payroll activities for both staff and the entire organization. These individuals must have a strong moral and ethical compass as organizational payroll details are highly sensitive. It’s also important to have appropriate interpersonal skills since payroll managers are likely to interact with individuals throughout the organization on a regular basis. The average salary is around $68,200.

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Senior Financial Analyst

Senior financial analysts will require at least several years of exceptional work experience and a bachelor’s degree to earn this title. Some employers will require a master’s degree in accounting or finance on top of other qualifications for promotion to senior analyst. These analysts are responsible for compiling data, examining reports, evaluating risks, determining rewards, and creating presentations. It is essential for senior financial analysts to be able to work with and present to managers, directors, and other individuals in high-level positions, meaning communication skills are important. The average salary is around $78,600.

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Finance Director

As a finance director, individuals will have a wider range of organizational responsibilities including strategic planning, performing team evaluations, scheduling, hiring and firing, and more. This role also requires risk identification and management, improvement implementation, and general business comprehension. The average salary is $92,200.

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Chief Financial Officer

A chief financial officer (CFO) oversees the entire financial operations and financial health of an organization. These financial accounting professionals must ensure the organization complies with all company policies and laws with every financial move they make. They are also responsible for ensuring that each department is working to create financial savings while operating at peak efficiency. The average salary for this position is around $120,200.

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Vice President of Finance

The vice president of finance will work closely with a CFO, other departmental heads, and the financial director. As VP of finance, an individual will have a more hands-on role regarding the budget and financial direction of the department than a CFO. It will be the responsibility of the VP to follow the directives as established by the board, CEO, CFO, and additional shareholders. The average salary is $127,000.

FAQs

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How long does it take to complete an online accounting degree?

The amount of time it takes to complete an accounting degree will depend on several factors. Some degree types will take longer than others, for example, an associate and master’s degree can be completed in two years or less; however, a bachelor’s degree and PhD often take at least four years. This time frame will also depend on whether or not an individual is a full-time student or a part-time student.

2

Does it cost less money to complete an accounting degree online?

Whether or not an accounting degree costs less to take online classes versus in person is entirely dependent upon the college or university you choose. Some higher learning institutions charge the same amount for online degrees as in-person degrees, while others charge less. In some instances, the school will charge the less expensive, in-state tuition rates for all online degree participants. You’ll need to research the cost at any program you are considering attending if cost is very important to you.

3

Which level of an accounting degree is most desirable by employers?

The vast majority of employers require potential candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting. However, a master’s degree is becoming increasingly in-demand, along with specialized concentrations and certifications. An associate degree in accounting can lead to entry-level positions with some smaller employers, giving these degree holders vital access to work experience in the field.

4

Are CPAs and accountants the same?

An accountant and a CPA are not the same. A primary difference is that an accountant simply has to have a degree in accounting, whereas a CPA must have completed specific educational requirements and passed the Uniform CPA examination. CPAs are also held to a higher ethical standard and compliance competency by governing bodies, which often makes them more desirable by employers. They can also defend their employer’s taxes to the IRS if there is an audit, while regular accountants do not have that ability.

Colleges with Online Accounting Degrees

The IRS requires all tax preparers, no matter their level, to pass an Accredited Tax Preparer Competency Exam. As long as you have all materials necessary to study and practice for the exam, you should be ready and able to pass the exam.

If you are an attorney, IRS-enrolled agent or CPA, you do not need to take this exam.

Look for “Study Materials,” which you’ll find on the Competency Test Information page on the website. Study Forms 1040, 6521, 2848 and their instructions. It’s also a good idea to study Forms 8879, 8867 and 8821. Study Circular 230 and publications 17, 224, 596, 1345 and 4600.

You can also look for approved continuing education providers and take a test preparation course. If you can’t find any close to where you live, see if any providers offer test prep courses online.

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Villanova University

This university features a few online accounting degrees at the master’s level. These degrees are offered in coordination with both the law school and the business school. This helps to ensure that all accounting students are prepared to work within the private and public sectors, as well as helping them fully understand accounting laws and procedures. Students can also complete on-campus accounting majors and minors at the bachelor’s degree level with a pathway to the CPA. And all students can benefit from online tools, resources, and webinars offered by Villanova.

Degrees Offered:

  • Minor in Accounting
  • Bachelor of Accounting
  • Master of Accounting with Data Analytics
  • Master of Taxation
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University of Southern California

The University of Southern California (USC) provides an online master of business taxation for working professionals. These advanced accounting courses are specifically designed for individuals who are already tax accounting professionals in the workplace and are looking to continue their education. A minimum one-year of work experience in a tax-related field is a prerequisite to apply for this prestigious program. This online master’s degree in business taxation can also help professionals complete their CPA licensure. USC also offers an in-person bachelor’s degree in accounting, as well as several other master’s degrees in accounting that are offered on-campus.

Degrees Offered:

  • Bachelor of Accounting
  • Master of Accounting, Emphasis on Data and Analytics
  • Master of Accounting
  • Master of Business Taxation
  • Online Master of Business Taxation for Working Professionals
3

University of Connecticut

The University of Connecticut (UConn) has online AACSB accredited accounting programs. UConn features an online master’s degree in accounting that also receives recognition from the United States Distance Learning Association. The school prides itself on offering a highly affordable online accounting master’s degree compared to other accredited programs. Students can also select an online certificate in accounting analytics or an on-campus bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Degrees Offered:

  • Bachelor of Accounting
  • Master of Accounting
  • Certificate in Accounting Analytics
4

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia features a nine-month Master of Business Analytics with a financial reporting and assurance and a tax consulting track. This immersive and fast-paced degree pathway allows students to complete an entire master’s degree in 30 credits. Students will face complex, real-life business problems to solve, as well as being required to create and deliver client presentations. Leadership skill development is another way students succeed and students can pursue an in-person master’s degree in accounting.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master of Business Analytics - Financial Reporting and Assurance/Tax Consulting
  • Master of Accounting
5

University of Scranton

The University of Scranton has an online Master of Accountancy program with highly in-demand features, such as CPA exam preparation, soft skill development, a flexible format, and more. Students can select from either a forensic accounting or accounting analytics concentration. The program is designed to be completed in as little as 10 months and is open to non-accounting majors. You can also complete an online Master of Business Analytics here. Both programs work in coordination with the School of Management and are AACSB accredited.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master of Accountancy
  • Master of Business Analytics
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University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign offers a Master of Accountancy entirely online. It is AACSB accredited and considered a top-three master of accountancy program. This advanced program develops a solid accounting foundation, as well as emphasizing core competencies that lead to expertise. A primary focus of the program centers around analytic methodologies. Professors in this program have first-hand experience working for the most elite accounting employers in the country. Students will benefit from the fact that the program has the country’s leading first-time CPA pass rate and a 98% employment rate upon graduation.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master of Accountancy
7

Bentley University

Bentley University has an online MBA with an accounting concentration. This program allows students to select between online courses or day or night in-person classes. Students can select from a wide array of personalized courses including business analytics, finance, accounting information systems and technology, managerial accounting, auditing, forensic accounting, financial accounting, law and taxation, leadership, and marketing. The program also aims to develop analytical skills and to help students complete technical training. The school has a 99% job placement rate and also offers an in-person accounting bachelor’s degree and PhD in accounting.

Degrees Offered:

  • Bachelor’s in Accounting
  • MBA - Accountancy Concentration
  • PhD of Accountancy
8

University of Georgia

The University of Georgia offers a 100% online master’s in financial planning, as well as an on-campus bachelor’s degree in accounting. The online financial planning program is ideal for individuals with accounting or finance backgrounds in search of advancement in financial careers. Graduates will be able to take the certified financial planner exam and the program also prepares students to be able to offer advice and guidance to clients regarding assets, debts, and income.

Degrees Offered:

  • Bachelor of Accounting
  • Master of Financial Planning
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Indiana University

Indiana University features an online Master of Accounting degree. This online degree is available through the highly regarded Kelley School of Business on the edX platform. An online Master of Finance is also available with a dual degree option to add an MBA with various concentrations. Graduates of such programs go on to become auditors, financial analysts, underwriters, and others. The dual degree reduces almost 20 credits over taking the two degrees separately. You could also complete a Bachelor of Accounting, a Master of Accounting, and a Master of Taxation in person.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master of Accounting
  • Master of Finance
  • Master of Science in Taxation
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Florida State University

Florida State University (FSU) has an online MBA featuring advanced accounting courses for working professionals to complete part-time including an in-person bachelor’s degree in accounting. The professors are some of the best professionals and academics in the state and they teach a highly innovative curriculum. Students also have access to an extensive alumni network and strong career placement. An in-person Master of Accounting is also available with three concentrations including generalist, taxation, and assurance and advisory services.

Degrees Offered:

  • Bachelor in Accounting
  • Master of Accounting
  • Online MBA
  • PhD in BA Accounting Major
11

University of North Carolina

The University of North Carolina (UNC) has a 100% online Master of Accounting, which is also available in-person. This program is designed to advance the career of existing accounting professionals, as well as to improve base salaries. It’s ideal for those who wish to work in the business world. The online program offers peer-to-peer engagement and a 98% job placement rate. You could complete the program in as little as one year. An on-campus PhD in accounting is also available that centers around tax research and innovative accounting.

Degrees Offered:

  • Master of Accounting
  • PhD in Accounting
12

University of Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin has an online Bachelor of Finance degree that can advance careers in a number of accounting and finance fields. This program is designed for careers working with individuals, businesses, or government entities. A dedicated Department of Accounting and Information Systems, which is AACSB accredited, offers accounting degrees and courses that are primarily in-person at this time.

Degrees Offered:

  • Bachelor of Finance
  • Bachelor of BA Accounting major
  • Integrated Master of Accountancy
  • Graduate Master of Accountancy
  • PhD in Accounting
13

Purdue University

Purdue University features an online bachelor’s degree in accounting. Offered courses are ideal for individuals who wish to become auditors or accountants. Students will learn to prepare taxes, create financial and accounting records and reports, analyze figures, and provide fiscal and financial advice. Internships and capstone projects in accounting are also offered as part of the degree program. There are also a variety of concentrations available within the degree such as auditing and forensic accountancy, managerial accountancy, public accountancy, and tax accountancy.

Degrees Offered:

  • Bachelor of Accounting

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