Accounting certificate programs cover a wide range of student needs and career goals. Their relatively short duration – often less than a year – allows students to quickly apply new skills to the workplace in both entry level and professional roles.

Programs that address basic topics, such as taxation, auditing and accounting, are designed for students with no formal accounting education and can help high school graduates prepare for the workforce. Certificates concentrating on advanced topics, such as corporate taxes or forensic accounting, allow seasoned accountants to prepare for licensing and certification, as well as expand their professional knowledge and skills.

After graduation, some certificate holders take positions as accounting and auditing clerks, while others advance within the accounting field. Certificates can also be closely integrated with bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, allowing students to broaden their accounting knowledge while obtaining a higher degree.

Purpose of an Accounting Certificate

A 2012 study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce documented how certificates can provide students with preparation for specific jobs and serve as stepping stones to college degrees. Certificate programs are growing in popularity and more than one million are earned every year.

Undergraduate Certificate Programs in Accounting

  • These programs provide an option for people interested in finding entry-level jobs in accounting that do not require a degree, such as bookkeeper and accounts payable clerk.
  • Students thinking about pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting might choose to start with a certificate program. The fundamental courses provide an introduction to not only the accounting field, but also the expectations of college-level classes.

Graduate Certificate Programs in Accounting

  • Students who already have an accounting degree or relevant field experience may choose a graduate certificate program as a source of professional development through advanced training. Some programs also offer the opportunity to specialize in an area of accounting, such as taxation.
  • Graduate certificates are sometimes designed to include preparation for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam and to count toward the 150 credit hour requirement for licensure.

It’s important to understand that certificates and certifications are not the same thing. Certificates provide academic coursework with the goal of enhanced knowledge and skills; while certification (e.g., CPA, CMA) usually involves an examination that leads to industry recognized credentials. Certificate programs can be a helpful step in meeting certification requirements.

Common Career Paths with an Accounting Certificate

There are several accounting positions that do not require a college degree, offered in a variety of public and private sector organizations. Certificate programs can provide the basic skills needed to be competitive for these positions, which involve basic accounting tasks and working under the supervision of accountants or other business professionals.

Bookkeeper

Job Description

Bookkeeping jobs include tasks related to recording financial transactions, maintaining fiscal records, creating statements and tracking customer or client accounts. The primary industries hiring bookkeepers are professional services, insurance, wholesale, healthcare and retail.

Employment Outlook

Demand

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the demand for bookkeepers, accounting and auditing clerks will experience average growth of 11% between 2012 and 2022.

Trends

Students pursuing a bookkeeping certification take courses that prepare them to work in offices using automated bookkeeping systems and software. More and more sophisticated tech is used in accounting to efficiently complete data-intensive tasks.

Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual salary for bookkeepers, accounting and auditing clerks was $35,170 in 2012.

Additional Learning

There are no special training requirements. However, those working in these roles may choose to earn professional development certificates, including certificates focused solely on bookkeeping, run by associations like the Institute of Financial Operations. On-the-job training is also common after a clerk is hired to learn more about the accounting expectations of the company and industry.

Accounting Clerk

Job Description

This general job title includes multiple finance functions within an organization, ranging from office tasks to accounting responsibilities. The work can also be divided among more specific roles, such as:

  • Accounts Payable Clerk: Maintain and file financial records and receipts; issue payments owed by the company to an outside organization; communicate with contractors about bills
  • Accounts Receivable Clerk: Maintain financial records and files; collect and record payments made to the company or organization; contact customers about invoices
  • Auditing Clerk: Review records and reports for accuracy; make corrections and document problems

Employment Outlook

Demand

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts demand for bookkeepers, accounting and auditing clerks to experience average growth of 11% between 2012 and 2022.

Trends

The increasing use of spreadsheet applications, databases and specialized accounting software packages means that accounting clerks need to develop computer skills and be willing to learn new systems as required.

Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for bookkeepers, accounting and auditing clerks was $35,170 in 2012.

Additional Learning

Special certification and training are usually not required for these positions. On-the-job training can be expected once hired, and some employers may want clerks to seek additional education and certification like the payroll, tax and spreadsheet options available through the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers.

Certificate Program in Accounting

1. Accounting Certificates

Certificate programs generally include coursework centered on a specific topic. Depending on the level of study and goals of the program, students may be required to complete prerequisite courses in basic accounting or already have a degree. Undergraduate certificates usually have fewer prerequisites.

While certificate programs are considerably shorter than full degree programs, the number of courses required varies from 5 to 10 or more, totaling 15 to 45 credits. Some certificate programs can be completed in less than a year, while others take several years to complete, especially if enrolled as a part-time student. Recently the possibility of earning an accounting certificate online has opened up, affording students the flexibility to earn their credentials when it’s most convenient for them.

The range of topics covered in an accounting program includes business, economics, auditing and taxation. Since certificates can be specialized, students may also choose from more focused options. A certificate in bookkeeping, for example, provides more in-depth coverage of automated accounting systems, ledgers and payroll administration; while a certificate in forensic accounting specifically addresses fraud detection and reporting, litigation and financial statement analysis.

2. Courses

Certificate students usually take a prescribed sequence of courses; however, there may be some room for customization. Specific classes vary by school and program level. Topics and course titles can include:

Accounting and Accounting Systems

  • Government Accounting
  • Financial and Cost Accounting
  • Payroll Systems
  • QuickBooks Accounting
  • Intensive Analysis of Accounting Principles and Practices

Taxation

  • Federal Income Tax Concepts
  • Introduction to Corporate Taxation
  • Estate and Gift Taxation

Auditing and Analysis

  • Auditing and Attestation
  • Financial Statement Analysis
  • Introduction to Forensic Accounting

Business

  • Business Ethics for Accountants
  • Business Law
  • Management Planning, Control and Effective Budgeting

3. Accreditation

The accreditation process ensures higher education institutions and programs meet a minimum standard of academic quality. Independent external reviewers use a set of established metrics to review components related to curriculum development, faculty qualifications, student support services, financial resources, academic services and resources and student achievement. Accreditation is not a mandatory process, but many employers and educational institutions will not recognize the academic credentials awarded by a school without it. It’s up to the student to confirm the status of an accounting certificate program’s accreditation, especially if he or she is interested in:

  • Applying to Undergraduate or Graduate Programs: Certificate students may choose to continue their accounting education in an undergraduate or graduate program. These applications include submission of official transcripts of previous coursework, and non-accredited courses are often not recognized.
  • Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA): Certificate courses can count toward the requirements for CPA licensure. To take the CPA exam, most State Boards of Accountancy require completion of 150 credit hours from an accredited school.
  • Transferring Credits: Certificate students who think they might want to pursue full degree programs later on, may want to transfer their certificate courses toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Most schools will not accept transfer credit from non-accredited institutions.

Students should verify that the schools they are interested in attending have earned regional or national-level accreditation. Accounting programs often have additional, specialized accreditation through one or more of the following organizations:

  • AACSB – Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
  • ACBSP – Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs
  • IACBE – International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education

Next Steps

It’s never too early to begin planning your career and researching the options. What will you do after you graduate? A certificate program can help those with no prior education in accounting to:

  • Enter the workforce. An accounting certificate prepares graduates for many entry-level jobs in accounting, including the roles mentioned previously on this page. These programs include development of basic knowledge and skills, and may be designed with local employment needs in mind.
  • Pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree. A certificate program can transition to a full-degree, helping to both prepare students for college-level work and introduce students to the accounting fields. Some programs are designed to transfer to bachelor’s or associate programs at the same institution.

A certificate in accounting can help experienced professionals to:

Program Database

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.