An associate degree in accounting offers the opportunity to develop work-related skills while gaining fundamental knowledge of a broad range of academic disciplines. The two-year time frame means that students enter the job market more quickly than they would by pursuing a bachelor’s degree, though with less earning power.
Applicants should have at least a high school diploma or GED and may be required to take assessments of their math and writing skills before beginning the program. These evaluations help determine academic preparedness and identify the need for additional prerequisite classes.
Prospective accounting students at all levels should make sure any program in which they are interested is accredited. Accreditation is a critical component of the credit transfer process, financial aid eligibility and is often an expectation of employers.
Many associate degree graduates move directly into the workforce after graduation, filling positions as accounting clerks, assistants and bookkeepers. Others choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree or complete professional certifications in specific areas of accounting to enhance their skills and knowledge.
Why an Associate Degree?
Students interested in an accounting career will find several benefits to pursuing an associate degree. Typically these programs are completed in two years, allowing graduates to enter the workforce sooner while still providing the basic skills and knowledge needed for professional accounting.
If you’re considering pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the future, completing the general education requirements (e.g. social sciences, humanities, math, English) at the associate level is helpful to shorten the time spent completing the higher degree. Salaries for entry-level positions requiring only an associate are usually lower than those necessitating a bachelor’s; however, a two-year program means you can begin earning an income sooner and with less debt, since these programs require fewer courses to graduate.
Common Career Paths with an Associate Degree
There are several occupations that commonly require a minimum of an associate degree in accounting or a related field. These opportunities are found within a wide-range of employers in both public and private sectors, and they generally involve providing assistance to Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and other advanced accounting professionals. While these employment options are similar to those found with an accounting certificate, earning an associate degree provides more opportunities for advancement, especially for those who pursue additional training, experience and education.
Bookkeepers and bookkeeping clerks are responsible for maintaining an organization’s financial records. This can include tasks related to recording cost and income transactions, creating financial statements, preparing bank deposits and tracking accounts. This work exists in many industries, including professional services, insurance, wholesale, healthcare and retail.
On-the-job Training: Most companies provide some on-the-job training to new bookkeepers. This can include working closely with more experienced employees and supervisors to learn internal policies, procedures and expectations for the role.
Certifications: Bookkeepers may choose to pursue the Certified Bookkeeper credential, which is offered through the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. This process includes an exam and documentation of relevant work experience.
Accounts Payable Clerk
This accounting role is usually part of a larger office or team working on finance related tasks within an organization. Accounts payable clerks are responsible for maintaining records and filing reports, performing basic accounting functions and issuing payments owed by the organization for products and services. These clerks may also have direct contact with clients and customers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for financial clerks in general will increase 11% between 2012 and 2022.
The increasing use of technology to perform accounting tasks means that clerks periodically need to learn new systems and procedures. They may also be required to follow financial trends in their industry of employment, e.g. insurance, healthcare, manufacturing.
On-the-job Training: On-the-job training provides the opportunity for new hires to work directly with more experienced clerks. Those entering accounts payable roles can expect to learn more about the organization and required tasks while performing their jobs.
Certifications: While not usually required for employment, accounts payable clerks who have an associate degree and at least one year of experience may pursue the Certified Accounts Payable Associate (CAPA) designation through The Institute of Financial Operations.
Accounts Receivable Clerk
Accounts receivable clerks work within accounting and finance offices to maintain financial records and perform basic accounting functions related to collecting and recording payments made to an organization. These clerks may directly communicate with customers about payments and invoices.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall demand for financial clerks will increase 11% between 2012 and 2022. Billing clerks working in health care services may find an increase of up to 18%.
The increased use of technology to assist with financial recordkeeping, data analysis and automated billing are likely to affect the role of accounts receivable clerks. Persons working in these positions will need to learn new systems and stay current within their industry, e.g. health care, insurance, loan and credit, banking.
On-the-job Training: Accounts receivable clerks can expect to gain knowledge and skills through on-the-job training with more experienced clerks.
Certifications: There are no certification options specifically designed for accounts receivable clerks, however, those working in these roles may choose to earn professional development certificates through relevant associations like The Institute of Financial Operations.
Payroll clerks assist with a variety of accounting tasks related to employee compensation. These clerks track employee hours, maintain administrative records, calculate wages and distribute paychecks. This role is often connected to both finance and human resource functions within an organization.
Payroll functions and tasks are increasingly handled by automated systems and software applications. Clerks responsible for payroll and timekeeping tasks will have to develop technology skills in order to stay current and relevant in their roles.
The median annual wage for payroll and timekeeping clerks was $37,690 in 2012, according to the BLS.
On-the-job Training: Many payroll clerks add to the knowledge and skills they learn in school with on-the-job training. This training takes place after being hired and is usually led by a more experienced clerk in the organization.
Accounting Assistants perform a variety of tasks that support an organization’s financial needs. These tasks can range from general office tasks (i.e., filing, phone and email correspondence) to bookkeeping and billing, and they often involve working with and for senior accountants.
Current employment announcements call for skills in basic accounting functions, office procedures and accounting software, as well as organization and communication. The accounting assistant role is often specific to each organization, requiring flexibility and a willingness to learn.
Associate degree students can expect coursework covering foundational accounting topics, as well as introductions to business and economics. Math courses are another part of the curriculum, along with general education requirements that provide knowledge in a wide-range of disciplines and fulfill prerequisites for a bachelor’s degree.
The requirements to earn an associate degree are different in each program, but they usually include 60-65 credit hours of coursework. Some programs offer internships and other for-credit opportunities to gain practical experience. Full-time students can expect to complete the associate degree in two years, and there are some programs that offer accelerated one-year degree plans.
2. Core Concepts
Students graduating with an associate degree in accounting are expected to know and understand these central concepts:
provide documentation of financial data to managers and other stakeholders such as shareholders and clients
a framework of practice and procedure guidance widely used by accounting professionals
Federal Income Tax
a government issued tax that is paid quarterly and/or annually by both individuals and corporations, based on their income or revenue
Spreadsheet Functionality and Modeling
use of software programs, such as Microsoft Excel, to format, store, sort and analyze financial data, as well as predict trends
use of a variety of tools and systems to store and track financial information and monitor progress of accounting-related tasks within an organization
providing analysis of costs associated with developing or providing services; providing managers with the information required to make decisions about budget planning and reducing costs
Oral and Written Communications
strategies for effective communication in professional business settings
Each associate student will work with an academic advisor to develop a degree outline that includes a specific course sequence. This plan covers topic areas in three primary categories: accounting; business, economics and math; and general education.
Associate programs provide students with basic knowledge and skills in accounting functions and concepts. Example Courses:
Introduction to Cost Accounting
Accounting Theory and Applications
Spreadsheet Software Applications
Survey of Taxation
Foundations in Business, Economics and Math
Courses in these subjects prepare students to apply their accounting knowledge in a range of work settings. Example Courses:
Principles of Microeconomics
Essentials of Business Law
Introduction to Ethics
Applied Mathematics for Business
Essentials of Marketing Technology
Two-year programs include some general education courses, which provide a broad background and knowledge in the arts and humanities, math and science, social sciences and writing and communication. Example Courses:
Introduction to Psychology
Biology: Basic Concepts and Biodiversity
Introduction to Language, Culture, and Social Interaction
Interpersonal Skills for Tomorrow’s Leaders
Accredited programs have been evaluated by external reviewers to ensure a basic level of academic quality. This process assesses a program according to specific standards that cover areas related to curriculum development, faculty qualifications, student support services, financial resources, academic services and resources and student achievement. It’s important to confirm that an accounting program is accredited in order to:
Transfer Credits: Most schools will not accept transfer credit from institutions that are not accredited. This is critical if a student has earned previous credits he or she would like to transfer into an associate program, or if a student is interested in transferring associate degree credits into a bachelor’s degree program in the future.
Receive Financial Aid: The U.S. Department of Education does not provide federal financial aid to students attending schools that are not accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.
Become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA): For students who plan to eventually take the CPA licensing exam, most states require completion of 150 credit hours from a school accredited through an agency recognized by the State Board of Accountancy. It’s important not to waste any time taking courses that will not count toward this requirement.
It is up to prospective students to confirm that the schools they are interested in attending have earned regional or national-level accreditation. Accounting programs should also be accredited by an agency that specializes in the field, such as one of the following:
AACSB – Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
ACBSP – Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs
IACBE – International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education
Students interested in an associate degree program in accounting should determine their own objectives and compare multiple options. Rankings are just one way students can compare academic degree programs.
What are your plans after graduating with an associate degree? This is just the first step in your accounting career. Think about the following possibilities as you continue to develop your goals and choose a career path:
Enter the the workforce. Associate degree graduates are eligible for many entry-level accounting jobs, including the roles mentioned previously on this page. As a student you have access to career advising resources that can help you learn more about the accounting field and connect with companies interested in hiring new graduates.
Pursue a bachelor’s degree. Many associate programs are designed to transfer to bachelor’s programs, where you can further develop your skills and open additional career and employment options.
Our program database allows you to filter search results based on your goals and interests, including, type of program and institution, online or on-campus delivery, location, school size, tuition and accreditation. Explore all of the options available through our interactive search and add the school profile pages to your research of associate degrees in accounting.