The Best Online Accounting Certificate Programs
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An online accounting certificate can prepare graduates for entry-level financial careers and the CPA exam.
Accounting training equips students with practical skills and knowledge for the business and financial worlds. Many organizations seek to hire accounting graduates for their expertise in finance, operations, and management practices.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a faster-than-average 5% employment growth for the business and financial sectors from 2019-2029. While the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly affected the industry, many accounting professionals have continued to work remotely. The pandemic may have even increased the need for accounting expertise, with organizations shoring up their financial health and future-proofing their operations.
Individuals interested in accounting careers can pursue degrees, industry certifications, or accounting certificates. Certificates can help students prepare for entry-level roles, advance within their current careers, and bolster their industry qualifications. This guide provides in-depth information on these credentials, including available career options and a ranking of the best online certificates in accounting.
|#1||Coastal Pines Technical College Waycross, GA|
|#2||Ogeechee Technical College Statesboro, GA|
|#3||Foothill College Los Altos Hills, CA|
|#4||University of Virginia-Main Campus Charlottesville, VA|
|#5||Sheridan Technical College Hollywood, FL|
|#6||University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks, AK|
|#7||Stanly Community College Albemarle, NC|
|#8||Lanier Technical College Oakwood, GA|
|#9||Wiregrass Georgia Technical College Valdosta, GA|
|#10||Georgia Northwestern Technical College Rome, GA|
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The Best Online Accounting Certificate Programs
Online Accounting Certificate Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
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What Is an Online Accounting Certificate?
Online accounting certificates vary based on the program and education level. Some provide basic fundamental training, but others focus on a specialization or provide advanced or graduate-level education. Potential students should start by identifying their goals and what certificates align with those aspirations.
Accounting certificates typically attract new students, business professionals, and accounting graduates. New students can use certificates to build an educational foundation, gain entry-level skills, or earn transfer credits to later continue their studies. Existing business professionals can use certificates to specialize their knowledge and qualifications.
Some students earn graduate accounting certificates online after completing their bachelor's degrees in order to meet requirements for industry certifications. Certified public accountant (CPA) credentials, for example, require 150 undergraduate credits, but most bachelor's programs only include 120, so students need to earn more credits to sit for the exam.
What Is the Difference Between an Accounting Certificate and Degree?
Deciding between an online associate degree in accounting, an online bachelor's in accounting, and an online accounting certificate can be challenging. These credentials can lead graduates down similar professional pathways, but with different end careers.
The main difference between these programs is program scope. Associate degrees usually require 60 credits, and bachelor's degrees comprise 120 credits, while an accounting certificate may feature just 15-45 credits. This means that bachelor's degrees are more comprehensive than associate degrees, while certificates are often an added credential for bachelor's graduates. In general, graduates with higher-level degrees have more career opportunities.
However, these programs often complement each other. Associate degrees usually provide principles and foundations courses, bachelor's programs delve into more intermediate and diverse accounting topics, and certificates often have more specialized content. It's common for students to attend more than one of these programs.
What Can You Do With an Accounting Certificate?
With an accounting certificate, graduates can provide accounting and finance-related services in nearly every industry and organization imaginable. According to BLS employment data, some of the biggest industries for these professionals are finance and insurance, the government, and management.
Professionals with accounting training and credentials can also work in many business and financial jobs, including those outlined below.
Bookkeepers manage financial records for organizations, which involves filling out documents, preparing taxes, and checking forms for accuracy. These professionals may also create reports based on their financial analyses, which management departments use to make informed business decisions.
Students can acquire many of the skills needed to become a bookkeeper through an accounting certificate, including training on accounting software, gaining management skills, and understanding the accounting cycle and business accounts.
Internal auditors analyze organizations' finances to look for errors, inefficiencies, and potential risks or fraud. These professionals typically work within large organizations.
Accounting certificates can help students develop the specialty skills needed for this job, such as auditing, assessing regulations and compliance, and communicating effectively, which auditors use when presenting their findings.
Budget directors have managerial roles within organizations, with responsibilities like setting budgets, monitoring spending, and analyzing the effectiveness of finances. They may also communicate budgets and spending to management, shareholders, or the public.
Accounting certificate training can often delve into budgeting and finance maintenance, which is relevant to this career. Students learn to analyze and evaluate spending, identify risks and opportunities, and compile information to present findings effectively.
Choosing an Online Program
When exploring the best online accounting certificate programs, students need to consider several factors. First, learners should identify which programs best suit their professional goals by researching things like available concentrations and focus areas. They should also consider accreditation status, tuition rate, course format, and schedule flexibility.
Accreditation for Accounting Programs
Accreditation assures students that their schools and programs meet rigorous academic standards. Accounting professionals must earn their credentials from regionally accredited schools to qualify for most forms of financial aid, ensure their credits will transfer, and earn employment after graduation.
In addition to institutional accreditation, students should also look for programmatic accreditation. While not all accounting programs are programmatically accredited, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business recognizes many of the top business and accounting programs.
What to Expect From an Accounting Certificate
Accounting certificates can cover many topics and satisfy different purposes, so coursework differs. Prospective students should expect to encounter unique offerings in every program, but some common certificate program coursework is listed below.
- Financial Accounting: At the basic level, financial accounting courses cover the major concepts of accounting and financial statements. More advanced courses delve into specifics like foreign currencies and nonprofit finances.
- Managerial Accounting: Management accounting courses teach students how managers can apply financial data to improve decision making. Some of the topics covered include costing, profit analysis and planning, and working with accounting software.
- Federal Income Tax Accounting: In this course, students learn the rules and regulations that govern federal income taxes. They explore guidelines for individuals and organizations, along with each of the major sections involved in the system.
- Cost Accounting: Beginner-level cost accounting courses introduce students to goods manufactured statements, costing processes, and how managers use cost information to make better decisions and solve problems.
- Small Business Accounting: Students in small business accounting courses observe the duties of a small business accountant, such as payroll and taxation. They may also learn how small businesses apply cost and management accounting principles.
- Federal Taxation: Federal taxation courses teach students about the various purposes of and requirements for taxes at the individual or corporate levels. They cover topics like income tax requirements, exemptions, and sales tax.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Certificate in Accounting?
The length of an accounting certificate varies by program, but enrollees can complete most programs within one year. Since certificates typically require 15-45 credits, students usually take 2-12 months to graduate.
Some online accounting certificate programs allow learners to complete courses asynchronously. Students can fast-track their training or move more slowly based on their needs, with many programs offering both condensed and part-time schedules.
While most colleges and universities offer accounting certificates, accounting certifications usually come from professional organizations. Certifications recognize professionals who meet or exceed industry standards in specific sub-fields.
To earn an accounting certification, candidates typically need to pass an examination. Once completed, certified professionals must maintain and renew their credentials every 2-5 years, usually by completing continuing education requirements. Below are a few popular certifications.
What Is the Difference Between an Accountant and a CPA?
Accountants do not need a certification to practice, but industry-recognized credentials can help them in their careers. The most common credential that accountants earn is the CPA credential.
The CPA credential recognizes accountants who meet high industry standards for education, experience, and expertise. CPAs can perform duties that regular accountants cannot, such as signing tax returns and performing audits for publicly traded organizations. CPAs also have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients, which governs them to act in the best interest of their clients.
Professional accounting organizations help their members at every career level, including students, new graduates, and experienced professionals. Some organizations represent the profession as a whole, advocating for improved standards, debating policies, and dispersing information to the general public, while others cater to specific demographics, locations, or career specializations.
Members of these organizations often have access to specialized professional networks, training programs, certifications, and industry events. Aome of the largest and most renowned accounting organizations are listed below.
- American Institute of CPAs
- Institute of Management Accountants
- Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance
- National Association of Black Accountants
- The American Accounting Association
Many students earn accounting certificates in order to pursue careers as accountants and auditors, but certificates can prepare graduates for other fields, as well. Certificates can deliver a stand-alone education and access to entry-level careers, as well as career advancement potential.
In the table below, we examine career options that accounting certificate holders can pursue and the median annual salaries for each.
|Accounting Career||Median Salary (2019)|
|Accountants and Auditors||$71,550|
|Tax Examiners and Collectors||$54,890|
Frequently Asked Questions
An accounting certificate can lead to many finance-related careers in the business world. In combination with experience or further training, certificates can even help graduates land management positions.
Several organizations offer accounting certifications for industry professionals, such as the American Institute of CPAs. Candidates typically need to meet education and experience requirements to qualify for credential examinations.
Doug Wintemute is a Toronto-based freelance writer with professional writing interests in higher learning and entertainment. He completed his BA and MA in English at York University, graduating summa cum laude and earning academic merit, research, and writing awards at both levels. Since 2014, he has contributed content and editorial work for award-winning digital trade publications, global SEO copywriting projects, and hugely popular online brands. He can be contacted through LinkedIn.
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