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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
through relevant associations like The Institute of Financial
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.
median annual wage
for payroll and timekeeping clerks was $37,690 in 2012, according to
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
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
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
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.
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:
– Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
– Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs
– 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
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
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
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
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