Earning an Online Accounting Certificate

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Interested in getting your foot in the door in the accounting profession but don’t have the time to attend traditional college? An online accounting certificate can lead to entry-level accounting positions in almost every industry. There are a variety of accounting certificate programs available online, including online forensic accounting certificates, online certificates in accounting for certified public accountants (CPAs), and online undergraduate certificates in accounting.

Requirements for the best online accounting certificate programs usually include completing 18-30 college credits that cover courses like financial accounting and federal taxation. Completing an online accounting certificate takes less time than earning an associate degree, and a variety of institutions of higher learning offer these programs.

What Are the Requirements to Get a Certification in Accounting?

To begin most online accounting certificate programs, you need to show proof of a high school diploma or GED, though some have coursework prerequisites like college algebra. There are also post-baccalaureate, online accounting certificate programs, which require a bachelor’s degree. For most programs, applicants don't need to submit SAT or ACT scores.

What's the Difference Between an Accounting Certificate and Degree?

It's important to note that a certificate is not the same thing as a degree. In general, certificates are not as in-depth as degrees. Degrees include general education requirements in courses like math and writing, while certificates generally include only coursework specific to accounting. The advantage of a certificate program is that it usually takes less time than a degree program. An online accounting certificate serves as a great way to stand out in the job market or further specialize an existing degree.

Online Accounting Certificate Curriculum

Professionals can apply skills obtained in online accounting certificate programs directly to careers in accounting. Coursework caters toward entry-level positions to help graduates find work quickly, though specific curricula vary. Some common courses included in online accounting certificate programs include those shown below.

  • Introduction to Financial Accounting: In this course, students learn the basics of the financial accounting process, including financial reporting, transaction analysis, management of cash flow, and liabilities. The course emphasizes organizing information to ensure good decision-making.

  • Income Tax: Students in this course learn about taxation. Areas of emphasis include individual income taxation, gross income, capital gains, deductions, and alternate tax methods. Students work directly with various IRS forms.

  • Cost Accounting: This course covers managerial accounting. Students learn to make decisions about profitability and planning. Additional concepts include capital budgeting and various accounting systems, like activity-based costing.

  • Financial Reporting and Analysis: Financial reporting is a major job function for accounting professionals. This course covers financial reporting objectives, especially as they pertain to stakeholders, investors, lenders, and regulatory bodies. Other topics include receivables, assets, depreciation, and inventories.

  • Auditing: This course delves into the complex world of audits, covering auditing standards, related ethics and legal responsibilities, internal controls and audit evidence, and the process for generating audit reports.

What Can You Do With a Certificate in Accounting?

One of the major benefits of an online accounting certificate is finding job opportunities that pay more than positions available to those with only a high school diploma. For example, according to PayScale, financial clerks — who need only a diploma — average a $34,000 salary. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median salary for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks — who need at least a certificate — is $40,240.

Salary by Experience Level for Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

  • Entry-Level (<1 Year):
    $33,000

  • Early-Career (1-4 Years):
    $38,000

  • Mid-Career (5-9 Years):
    $40,000

  • Experienced (10-19 Years):
    $42,000

Source: PayScale

Average Salary for Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

2018 Median Pay: $40,240

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Accreditation for Online Certificate Programs

Accreditation is an important factor to consider when researching online accounting certificate programs. Accrediting bodies assess colleges against educational standards to ensure they are serving students well. There are three kinds of accreditation: regional, national, and programmatic. A regional accreditation indicates that a school uses a liberal arts approach to education, which is why regionally accredited schools are often considered the most prestigious. National accreditation, on the other hand, tends to be geared toward trade schools.

Students pursuing accounting certificates should also look for programmatic accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). The AACSB is a global business education network and the ACBSP confers accreditation on business programs worldwide.

There are two major entities that regulate the accreditation process: the Department of Education, which is a federal agency that oversees educational policy in the United States, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which oversees accrediting bodies and offers an online database of accredited universities and colleges.