Associate Degree in Accounting

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Updated May 31, 2024

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An associate degree in accounting can kick-start your career while positioning you for future degree upgrades. Explore your options and learning formats with this program guide.

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Associate degrees in accounting concentrate on foundational concepts and fundamentals. They also offer flexibility: Graduates can pursue entry-level accounting positions or continue their studies in a bachelor's program.

Learning accounting fundamentals in an associate degree program can qualify you for entry-level accounting jobs like bookkeeping and clerking roles. The degree can also help you reduce your graduation timeline if you eventually pursue a bachelor's program, as many schools offer transfer credit evaluation for associate degrees. This transferability can be valuable for aspiring certified public accountants, who need at least a bachelor's degree to earn licensure.

This degree guide covers the essentials of associate-level accounting programs, including degree types, popular courses, and career options. Draw on it as you build your education and career development plans.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Why Get an Accounting Associate Degree?

  • Acquire Practical Knowledge: The fundamental accounting concepts that associate-level programs cover build a useful, versatile knowledge base. Many schools teach students about popular accounting software platforms in their associate programs. These courses help you improve your accounting tech literacy while equipping you with important skills that employers require for entry-level roles.
  • Quick Workforce Entry: Full-time students normally take two years to complete associate degrees in accounting. This efficient timeline helps lower education costs while preparing learners for rapid workforce entry. With an associate degree, you may find yourself earning a professional-level salary while emerging from school with less debt.
  • Create a Flexible Educational Foundation: Schools usually set up their associate degrees to cover the same material featured in the first two years of a bachelor's program. This gives you options — you can apply your knowledge in the workforce, transfer into a four-year bachelor's program, or both.

Different Associate Types

Schools usually apply one of three degree designations to their associate programs in accounting: associate of science (AS), associate of applied science (AAS), and associate of arts (AA) credentials. All three program types cover very similar concepts and topics. However, subtle distinctions often differentiate the AS, AAS, and AA paths.

AS and AAS programs typically involve more required coursework in technical and quantitative reasoning areas like business math or computer science. Meanwhile, AA programs usually offer greater flexibility in terms of electives.

No matter which type of degree your program leads to, employers are likely to accept your credentials if you earn them at an accredited institution.

Popular Accounting Associate Courses

Each school offers its own courses, but associate degrees in accounting generally cover a similar set of foundational material. Typically, accounting associate degree students take core classes that cover the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed as an accounting professional. Common courses include:

  • Introduction to Financial Accounting: This introductory class explores fundamental accounting concepts. Topics include financial transaction tracking and recording, accounting cycles, assets and liabilities, inventory, and cash and accrual accounting.
  • Accounting Software: Accounting professionals regularly use spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel and specialized platforms like QuickBooks. Some schools group all popular software into one course, while other institutions offer separate classes that each highlight specific tools.
  • Cost Accounting: Associate degrees in accounting typically cover cost accounting as a required course. Cost accounting focuses on tracking transactions in a manner that allows businesses to optimize their financial decision-making. Topics include overhead, product costs, direct costing, and variable costing.

Should You Get Your Degree Online?

Online education has made great strides in recent years, emerging as a popular alternative to in-person learning. Multiple schools offer fully online associate degrees in accounting, and others run hybrid programs that blend virtual and campus-based coursework.

Online classes can run synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous classes take place on set schedules, facilitating live faculty and peer interactions in real time. Asynchronous classes feature prerecorded lectures, which lets you engage with coursework on a more flexible schedule.

Accounting translates well to both asynchronous and synchronous online learning formats because of the field's reliance on technology. However, you must carefully consider pros and cons when deciding whether the virtual classroom is right for you.

On the plus side, online programs can help you reduce costs while offering a more flexible, convenient approach to education. However, distance learning requires self-direction and independence, and typically trades off the social aspects of the traditional college experience. Consider these factors as you think about whether an online format is right for you.

Accounting Jobs and Salaries

According to Payscale data from May 2024, accounting professionals with an associate of applied science degree earn average annual base salaries of $57,000 per year.

An associate degree in accounting typically leads to career paths at entry or supporting levels. While some of these jobs have limited growth potential, they can offer professional experience that you can leverage to move into other roles with higher wages or even help you meet experience requirements for CPA licensure.

Accounting Clerk

Accounting clerks perform supporting technical duties that typically include tracking and recording transactions, updating records, and managing client accounts. Some clerking positions have a specific focus reflected in job titles such as billing coordinator, payroll clerk, or auditing clerk.

  • Job Outlook (2022-32): -6%
  • Average Annual Salary (May 2024): $43,620

Source: BLS, Payscale

Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers keep track of their employers' financial data and transactions. Their main duties revolve around recording data, updating records, and preparing financial documents. Due to technological advancement, the bookkeeper role is changing — software has automated many manual tasks bookkeepers once performed, so the profession has evolved to include a stronger focus on analytical insights.

  • Job Outlook (2022-32): -6%
  • Average Annual Salary (May 2024): $47,870

Source: BLS, Payscale

Tax Preparer

Tax preparers assist both individual and business taxpayers with their annual tax returns. They mainly focus on reducing the client's immediate tax liabilities while remaining legally compliant. To offer tax preparation services to paying clients, you must have a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) from the Internal Revenue Service.

  • Job Outlook (2022-32): 1.5%
  • Median Annual Salary (2023): $49,010

Source: BLS, BLS

Should You Get an Associate Degree or a Certificate?

An associate degree in accounting is not your only option if you want to pursue career-focused education. Schools also offer undergraduate certificate programs in accounting, which impart essential skills and concepts and typically do not require general education courses. Some certificate programs require students to be enrolled in a bachelor's program, so research admissions details for these credentials before applying.

Associate and certificate programs in accounting have several crucial differences. The following table offers a snapshot comparison of the two program formats.

Comparing Associate and Certificate Programs
Key Factor Accounting Associate Accounting Certificate
Program Length Four semesters Usually 2-3 semesters, though some programs offer paths to graduation in as few as 9-11 weeks
Admission Requirements High school diploma or equivalent Some certificate programs require only a high school diploma or its equivalent, while others require enrollment in a bachelor's program or previous college coursework
Academic Focus
  • Developing foundational knowledge of essential accounting concepts and techniques
  • General education coursework
  • Providing students with the flexibility to pursue entry-level careers or to continue their schooling at the bachelor's level
  • Some certificate programs seek to quickly train students for entry-level careers, while others build targeted skills needed for professional advancement
  • Advanced certificate programs typically require college coursework
Learning Content
  • Financial, managerial, and cost accounting
  • Taxation
  • Auditing
  • Accounting technologies and software platforms
  • Business math
  • Business communications
  • Financial, managerial, and cost accounting
  • Taxation
  • Auditing
Sources: California State University, Los Angeles, Davenport University, Santa Monica College, Southern New Hampshire University, University of Louisville, University of Washington

Common Questions About an Associate Degree in Accounting

What is a two-year accounting degree called?

Two-year accounting programs typically lead to an associate degree. However, degree designations vary by school. In most cases, associate programs in accounting lead to an AA, AS, or AAS credential.

Is a two-year accounting degree worth it?

Two-year degrees can be worth it for people who want to learn accounting fundamentals and pursue entry-level jobs in the field. Payscale data from May 2024 reports that workers with only an accounting clerk certificate earn an average annual salary of $46,000 per year, while professionals with an associate accounting degree earn an average of $57,000 per year. Thus, pursuing an associate degree can offer a positive return on investment.

What is the difference between an accounting associate and certificate?

An associate is a two-year degree, while a certificate is a nondegree credential. With a two-year degree, you have a direct path into the upper years of a bachelor's program, which may not be available to certificate-holders. Some employers may prefer or require a degree over a nondegree credential.

What is the difference between an AA and AS degree in accounting?

AA programs generally offer more flexibility in their electives, while AS programs often dedicate elective courses to business math, computer science, and other technical content. However, the two degrees are very similar, and employers usually consider them interchangeable.

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