Considered by some to be the second-oldest profession worldwide, there will always be a need for accountants. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that job prospects for accountants will grow by 11% through 2024. While there is some degree of specialization within the field, the broad description of accountants is as individuals who prepare and examine financial records. The average accountant or auditor is employed full time and typically works a 40-hour week; additional hours are common during high-volume time periods, such as tax season.
An accountant’s duties revolve entirely around numbers and financial records. The nature of the financial records is somewhat dictated by the specialization of the accountant, be they a tax accountant, auditor, or management analyst, among other professions within the industry. With few exceptions, accountants are expected to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. Professional titles, such as "Certified Public Accountant", are awarded when certain criteria -- a bachelor’s degree, a minimum number of years of experience, and the passing of a standardized CPA exam -- are met. The median annual income of accountants is $68,150, with the top 10% earning $120,910, and the bottom 10% earning $42,140.
What Are The Best Online Colleges For Accounting Programs?
Purdue Global University provides nontraditional learners with a catalog of 180 online degrees, offering a robust online accounting program with certificate, undergraduate, and graduate options. Those pursuing entry-level careers in accounting enroll in the 90-credit Associate of Applied Science in Accounting program or the 180-credit Bachelor of Science in Accounting program.
The AAS and BS curricula include the study of managerial accounting, finance, marketing, and federal taxes. Students demonstrate mastery of the content when they apply their knowledge in a capstone project or during an internship. The BS track prepares learners for the CPA exam and offers flexibility with concentrations in tax, public, managerial accountancy, and auditing/forensic accounting. Learners who already have a baccalaureate degree in accounting or finance can acquire advanced competencies in the 52-credit Master of Science in Accounting program. The MS prepares learners for the CPA exam and provides customized curricula with concentrations in finance, tax, and government accounting.
Capella University Minneapolis, MN
With a bachelor’s in accounting from Capella, students learn how to establish accounting systems for businesses and organizations, organize and interpret financial information, leverage functional technology, and apply appropriate professional and ethical standards relevant to accounting. The Bachelor of Science at Capella University requires 180 credit hours and will take 5-10 weeks to complete, depending on course load. Capella offers both a GuidedPath, which requires weekly assignments and due dates, and a FlexPath format, which is more lenient with deadlines but has additional admissions requirements.
Fortis College Mobile, AL
Students in the accounting program at Fortis will learn to prepare financial statements such as balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow reports. They will also learn to utilize software packages to prepare financial statements and analyze cost data to determine profit and breakeven points. In addition to learning the basics of managerial and financial accounting, Fortis students will get a general education in marketing, economics, business management, mathematics, psychology, and sociology including career development skills. More information about costs and length of programs can be requested from their website.
Keiser University Fort Lauderdale, FL
Keiser University’s Bachelor of Arts in Accounting focuses on the accounting, business, and communications skills needed in today’s business environment. The program provides the unique skills needed in various areas of accounting such as taxation, auditing, managerial/cost, financial, governmental, and accounting information systems, as well as general business courses. Students must earn 120 credit hours to complete the program. They may choose between online or residential programs, depending on their location. Keiser University also offers an associate degree and graduate degree program in accounting.
Walden University Minneapolis, MN
Walden University accounting programs include a graduate certificate in auditing, as well as a bachelor’s degree and Master of Science in Accounting. Each program is designed to expand the student’s knowledge of business accounting and help them reach the next level of their career. The Bachelor of Science requires up to 135 credits to complete and costs roughly $62,000. Financial aid is available. For those seeking a master’s degree, Walden offers the Accelerate Into Master’s (AIM) program, which allows students to apply part of the bachelor’s program towards the completion of the master’s program.
Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
Liberty University offers a variety of online and in-person accounting options. Depending on your level of education and goals, you can pursue options such as a Bachelor of Science, Master of Business Administration in Accounting, Associate of Arts in Accounting, or an undergraduate certificate. Each program is frequently updated to remain current with the latest industry information and best practices. Faculty members are leaders in the industry and make themselves extremely accessible, ensuring that their students gain both a quality education and practical experience. The bachelor’s program requires 120 total credit hours, with at least 50% of the major taken through Liberty. Costs can range from $250 to $650 per hour, depending on the chosen program.
Saint Leo University Saint Leo, FL
Saint Leo University’s accredited programs include associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, as well as a doctoral program. Each program is designed to provide increased knowledge in the field of Accounting. The School of Business' online accounting degree establishes a foundation for students who wish to continue their education to become a certified public accountant (CPA) or certified management accountant (CMA). Every program is 100% online, however students will still have the opportunity to engage with other faculty, students, and staff in the School of Business. The bachelor’s program requires 120 credit hours to complete, including six credits of religion as well as courses in common knowledge, creative arts, and humanities.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Accounting Program?
While online accounting programs vary from school to school, much of the coursework is quite similar. Most accounting programs cover the same core topics, though some upper-level coursework may differ. Some programs can take longer to complete than others depending on the requirements and course offerings.
Curriculum for an Online Accounting Degree
- Financial reporting: In this course, students learn about the standards and rules of financial reporting in the U.S. and around the world. Coursework covers how to research and apply these rules in different scenarios that professional accountants regularly encounter and how to produce accurate financial reports.
- Managerial and cost accounting: In this course, students learn about control, budgeting, and management planning as they relate to its practical use by managers when making important business decisions. Students learn how to apply problem-solving and analytical skills in a business setting to create business strategies and analyze cost information.
- Tax: In this course, students examine all facets of the U.S. income tax system and how it pertains to individuals and businesses. The course provides students with foundational knowledge about how the entire system functions, what the U.S. tax principles are, and how they impact investments, business structures, and purchasing decisions.
- Auditing: In this course, students learn about one of the most vital functions provided by accountants: auditing. This course covers interpersonal skills and communication, analytical techniques, professional ethics, and applying sound judgment. Students also learn how to ensure that regulators, investors, and clients report reliable financial information.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Accounting Degree?
Online accounting degrees are offered either as bachelor's or master's programs. Some universities offer structured programs for those interested in earning a bachelor's in accounting and a master's in accounting before sitting for the CPA exam. These accelerated programs allow students to decrease the amount of time it takes to become a certified accountant. Most online bachelor's degrees take four years to complete, while master's programs take an additional one-and-a-half to two years to complete. Colleges that offer the combined program options of bachelor's, master's, and CPA certification usually last around five years.
Online accounting programs also vary in the way they are delivered. Some offer courses asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework individually and at their own pace. Other programs organize students into cohorts who move through the curriculum together and regularly collaborate on coursework.
Advanced Accounting Degrees and Certifications
While a bachelor’s degree is required for entry-level positions in an accounting career, those that desire a senior or executive position will benefit from having graduated from a master’s program and obtaining some common certifications. Certifications such as the CPA, CGMA, CISA, and CFE all require extensive study and experience in order to acquire. When preparing for certifications, a master’s program will, most likely, provide the educational base and the two years experience needed to be eligible to sit for the exam. Certifications can cover general accounting or focus on a highly specialized role. Some of the more specialized certifications are:
Careers in Accounting
Accounting, like many careers, holds a variety of possible specializations and career options. Some common entry-level positions could include working at a tax shop or as a bookkeeper. Other options include:
- Cost Estimators: Cost estimators collect and analyze data in order to estimate the time, money, materials, and labor required to manufacture a product, construct a building, or provide a service. They generally specialize in a particular product or industry.
- Financial Analysts: Financial analysts provide guidance to businesses and individuals making investment decisions. They assess the performance of stocks, bonds, and other types of investments.
- Personal Finance Advisors: Personal financial advisors provide advice on investments, insurance, mortgages, college savings, estate planning, taxes, and retirement to help individuals manage their finances.
Salary Outlook for Accounting Program Graduates
Graduates with an accounting degree can pursue a wide variety of careers as government accountants, cost estimators, and certified public accountants. The demand for these jobs should remain relatively steady, as accountants who manage a business's funds are always a necessity. Most accounting professionals command an average annual salary of roughly $60,000. Certified public accountants are among the higher-paid professionals in the accounting industry due to the high volume of clientele they serve for tax-related tasks and the stability they offer to businesses.
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
- Following the successful completion of education hours, work experience, and a comprehensive exam, being awarded this designation denotes a student’s skills in compliance, forensic accounting, and other areas.
- Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)
- The CGMA license is a globally recognized certification for management accountants. Offered since 2012, the requirements for this certification depend on which of the sponsoring institutions the student belongs to.
- Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
- Like the CPA designation, the CMA license affords more flexibility than some other accounting certifications. This globally recognized license is earned by accounting professionals demonstrating competency in strategic assessment, budgeting, and other skills.
- Certified Informations Systems Auditor (CISA)
- The CISA license is among the more specialized accounting certifications. Accountants who receive this designation from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association are skilled in information systems control, auditing, and security.
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
- CFEs focus their career on tasks related to fraud, including identification, prevention, and investigation. As instances of fraud increase and companies become more susceptible, demand for CFEs has risen in recent years.
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
- The CFA designation is another targeted license among accounting certifications. CFAs are involved in investment analysis and portfolio management. The exam for this certification comprises three levels relating to topics such as ethics, economics, and money management, and must be completed sequentially before the CFA license can be earned. CFAs are globally recognized, and earning this certification specifically enhances the skills used by portfolio managers. Some CFAs also become research analysts or consultants.
Professional Organizations in Accounting
There are many different professional associations to join as an accountant, many of which provide excellent networking opportunities and informational resources. While some organizations focus on specific aspects of accounting, others cater to a more general accounting community. Joining an organization that fits your needs can help you to advance your career as well as gain valuable insight into the profession. Some professional associations include:
- American Association of Finance and Accounting
- The Institute of Internal Auditors
- Institute of Management Accountants
- Professional Association of Small Business Accountants
- Young CPA Network
Financing Your Online Accounting Program
There are many different ways students can pay for their degrees. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which qualifies students for federal financial aid in the form of loans, grants, and work-study programs. There is also an array of scholarship available for students that are awarded based on academic performance, area of study, demographics, and more.
Scholarships for Accounting Students
There are a wide variety of scholarships for students to choose from, some of which are offered exclusively for undergraduate and graduate accounting students. These scholarships vary a great deal in terms of the amount offered and the requirements placed on applicants. Below is a collection of scholarships that are ideal for accounting students.
NSA Scholarship Foundation
Paul S. Mills Scholarship
Frank L. Greenhouse Government Scholarship
AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship
Laurels Fund Scholarship
ALPFA Scholarship Program
To determine the best online Accounting programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school's commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 7 best online Accounting programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school's ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category's ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.