Types of accounting degrees

Becoming an accountant usually requires some type of training.†You can start with training that is short in duration and gives you an opportunity to get an entry level job with somewhat limited career growth potential.†Or you can spend more time getting a degree that may give you better options for career advancement in the long run.†In this article, we discuss various types of accounting degrees: certificate, associate degree, bachelorís degree, masterís degree, and doctoral degree in accounting.

1. Types of accounting desgrees

Accounting training varies by the method of education and duration.†It can be in person, online, or hybrid (in person and online combination).†It can be relatively short in duration (e.g., a certificate) or it can take a long time (e.g., PhD).† Due to this variability, the amount of time, money, and effort it will take to complete an accounting degree depends on your career goals, availability of time and funding, and preferences.†It is helpful to carefully consider all cons and pros of each accounting degree before you dive into it.

These are the most typical accounting degrees:

  • Certificate in accounting
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

Certificate in Accounting

Certificate in accounting (diploma in accounting) is the simplest and quickest accounting degree.†This degree usually takes about 1-2 years and can be completed by taking day or evening classes.†This is a good choice for people who donít have financial means or time to spend on another accounting degree, or who want to try this profession first before committing to more demanding training.†A certificate in accounting usually gives you enough training to be a bookkeeper, accounting clerk, or payroll accountant.†Students receive this degree in community colleges, university extensions, or smaller accounting educational establishments.†Several examples of certificates in specific accounting areas include: payroll accounting clerk, income tax preparer, bookkeeper, management accountant, and fraud examiner.

Associate Degree in Accounting

An associate degree in accounting usually takes about two years and can be completed at community colleges or universities.†This degree requires studying a broader range of subjects compared to a certificate in accounting and includes classes such as financial accounting, managerial or cost accounting, financial analysis, business law, statistics, economics, and so on.†Usually, educational credits earned while completing an associate degree can be later transferred to a bachelorís degree program (please check each program as there may be limitations).†Therefore, an associate degree may be a good starting point of an accounting career as it gives you an option: you can start working after just two years of education or transition to a four-year bachelorís degree.†Students who graduate with an associate degree can expect to apply for entry level accounting jobs: bookkeeper, auditing clerk, payroll clerk, accounts payable clerk, accounts receivable clerk, accounting assistant.

Bachelorís Degree in Accounting

A bachelorís degree in accounting takes about four years to complete.†This is one of the more popular accounting degrees.†Admission to a bachelorís degree may be more rigorous and require writing or SAT tests.†Aside from a deeper dive into accounting and business subjects, a bachelorís degree requires students to take non-business classes (English, physics, calculus, etc.) allowing students to become more well-rounded and educated individuals.

As noted earlier, some students start their accounting education by completing an associate in accounting and then transferring to a bachelorís degree in accounting; this may provide cost savings on tuition as an associate degree in accounting usually costs less compared to the first two years of a bachelorís degree.

A bachelorís degree in accounting can be earned in conjunction with another major to have a dual-major degree (e.g., finance and accounting majors).†Additionally, even though not as relevant as for masterís degrees, there may be specialization in bachelorís degree programs (e.g., accounting information systems, public accounting, or taxation).

For those who are interested in becoming certified in their accounting career, a bachelorís degree is an essential step towards a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation because most states in the US require 150 educational credit hours to receive a CPA license.†A bachelorís degree usually provides about 120 credit hours.

Masterís Degree in Accounting

Masterís degree in accounting is the next step after the bachelorís degree and takes about 1-2 years to complete.†Getting a masterís degree is helpful for those wishing to obtain a CPA license because this degree provides enough additional hours (after a bachelorís degree) to be eligible for CPA certification.† Students engaging in a masterís program take classes in advanced accounting topics such as advanced accounting, in-depth taxation or tax research, graduate level corporate financial management, business analytics, and ethics, among others.

A masterís degree in accounting is not required but is certainly an advantage as a lot of employers look for advanced accounting degrees in job applicants.

Getting into a masterís degree program usually requires a bachelorís in accounting (or related field with a sufficient number of business and accounting credits), good GPA (grade point average), and graduate program entry exam (e.g., GRE or GMAT).

Alternative Masterís Degree Programs

In addition to the traditional masterís degree in accounting, there are alternatives providing similar or better accounting training depending on your intended career path.†One alternative is an MBA (master of business administration) which may include concentration in accounting.†MBA programs are focused more on managing business than just accounting and prepare students to a broader range of possible management positions.†Another alternative is a masterís degree in taxation which concentrates on preparing students for jobs in taxation areas.†Naturally, students enrolling in this degree take more tax classes.†Finally, some students interested in a law degree along with an accounting degree may pursue a dual (joint) degree where they get both law and accounting degrees at the bachelorís or masterís level

Doctoral Degree (PhD) in Accounting

A doctoral (PhD) degree in accounting takes the longest to complete, is likely one of the most difficult accounting degrees, and is considered to be a terminal degree which means there are no other accounting degrees higher than this one.†Students who pursue a doctoral degree in accounting are interested in conducting research and teaching as long-term career goals at a university level.

Doctoral degrees take about four to five years to complete.†During the first several years students take graduate level classes in accounting research, statistical methods, economics, finance, and so on.†The last several years of a doctoral degree include conducting actual research for and writing a dissertation paper which is required for the graduation.

Students need to have at least a bachelorís degree to apply to doctoral degree programs and desire to go through a challenging and stimulating training program with the intent of working in academia (most of the time) after graduation.† Having a masterís degree is not required but may be helpful.

Students who want to study for a doctoral degree in accounting go through a very competitive selection process.† Application usually includes GRE or GMAT tests, essays, references, and interviews with faculty members.

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