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5 Most Affordable Accounting Online Programs 2021

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By pursuing bachelor’s degrees in accounting, students learn foundational practices in tax preparation, auditing, and financial analysis to qualify for entry-level jobs in the field. Many accountants continue to master’s-level studies, qualifying them to earn certified public accountant (CPA) credentials.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants and auditors earned a median salary of $73,560 as of May 2020. Accountants enjoy flexibility and job security in many different industries.

This page highlights the five most affordable online accounting degrees for 2021, offering an excellent starting point for prospective accounting students. Readers can also find information about degree expectations, career paths, and tips for choosing the right program.

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Jobs | What to Expect | Cheapest Online Accounting Programs | FAQs

What Is Accounting?

The concept of tracking business transactions dates back to 2,000-3,300 B.C., as evidenced by unearthed clay tablets from the period. Luca Pacioli’s 1494 instructional novel on bookkeeping practices, which measures expenses against income, makes him the “Father of Accounting” in the eyes of historians. The Industrial Revolution saw the development of professional accounting organizations. Emerging technologies continue to catapult the field into the future.

As of 2020, the largest accounting employers included accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services; finance and insurance; government; and management of companies and enterprises.

Today, the BLS reports 1,392,200 accountant and auditor positions in the United States, projecting employment in the field to grow by 7% from 2020-2030 and keep pace with the average growth for all occupations. As of 2020, the largest accounting employers included accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services; finance and insurance; government; and management of companies and enterprises.

Accountants maintain financial records for organizations and individuals. They oversee tax preparation and ensure their employers adhere to all necessary regulations. Accountants often possess excellent analytical, communication, and math skills, plus a strong eye for detail. With a bachelor’s in accounting, students can hone these skills and qualify for diverse roles in the field.

A bachelor’s often meets the minimum educational requirement for entry-level jobs in accounting. Some organizations offer advancement opportunities to bachelor’s graduates, while others require additional education beyond an undergraduate degree.

Why Get a Cheap Accounting Online Bachelor’s?

By obtaining degrees in accounting online, students enter a job market that continues to grow along with the overall economy. These in-demand professionals enjoy ample choices when it comes to location, business size, and industry.

An aspiring accountant should consider their career goals and ideal professional role before committing to an online accounting degree. Prospective students may want to consider whether the curriculum emphasizes CPA readiness or attractive concentration options. As a common entry-level expectation, a bachelor’s in accounting paves the way to success in the field.

Even in a field with well-paying job prospects, students often seek out cheap programs. Graduates can enter the job market with more options as they look toward future career goals. Benefits of pursuing an affordable online accounting program include:

Further Education Requirements
Many employers want their accountants to obtain CPA credentials. Specifics vary by location, but most states mandate more than the typical 120 college credits of a bachelor’s degree, making further education a necessity for aspiring CPAs.
Faster Return-on-Investment
By obtaining an affordable degree, a graduate can earn back the money they spent on tuition more quickly. Whether paying off loans or avoiding them altogether, earning an affordable degree can help to minimize debt.
Online degrees carry the same level of prestige as their on-campus equivalents. An affordable degree can offer a solid accounting background that qualifies graduates for excellent job opportunities.

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Jobs for Bachelor’s in Accounting Graduates

Accounting degree-holders qualify for occupations in many different work environments. Graduates can pursue careers as public accountants, auditors, tax experts, or personal financial advisors.

Accountants can earn potentially lucrative salaries. Accountants and auditors made a median annual salary of $73,560 in 2020, while personal financial advisors earned a median income of $89,330. Accounting skills are an important business foundation, and professionals often advance to high-paying managerial roles. Chief executives, for example, earned a median salary of $107,680 as of 2020.

An accountant can expand their career opportunities by earning an accounting master’s degree or pursuing industry credentials like CPA or certified management accountant.

  • Tax Accountant: Employed by organizations, government bodies, and individuals, tax accountants prepare and file tax documents for their clients. They analyze financial documents and help clients to improve their asset management. A tax accountant must hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum, though many employers prefer a master’s degree and CPA credentials.
    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree | Job Outlook (2020-30): +7% | Median Annual Salary: $73,560
  • Personal Financial Advisor: Working directly with individuals as self-employed accountants or members of a larger firm, personal financial advisors help clients organize their financial assets. They make recommendations to help clients meet their financial goals for retirement and college savings. Personal financial advisors also facilitate estate planning.
    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree | Job Outlook (2020-30): +5% | Median Annual Salary: $89,330
  • Budget Analyst: Largely employed in industries like government, educational services, and professional, scientific, and technical services, budget analysts organize their clients’ finances. They analyze expenses and income, working with managers to develop appropriate budgets for the organization. Budget analysts also monitor an organization’s cash flow and make recommendations for budget cuts.
    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree | Job Outlook (2020-30): +5% | Median Annual Salary: $78,970
  • Internal Auditor: Internal auditors monitor their organizations’ financial activities in strict detail, watching for inconsistencies or misuse of funds. They check for fraudulent activities, suggest potential cost-saving measures, and ensure that their companies adhere to financial regulations. They can seek professional credentials like certified internal auditor or certification in risk management assurance.
    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree | Job Outlook (2020-30): +7% | Median Annual Salary: $73,560
  • Top Executive: Responsible for their organizations’ overall strategies, top executives work with managers to set goals, enact plans, and oversee major projects. They monitor financial operations, sometimes reporting to a board of directors. Accountants interested in executive management can pursue master’s-level education, such as master of business administration degrees.
    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree | Job Outlook (2020-30): +8% | Median Annual Salary: $107,680

What to Expect From Bachelor’s in Accounting Online Programs

Accounting degree programs emphasize foundational knowledge in accounting theory and practice, tax law, auditing, financial communication, and ethics. Often geared toward readying students for CPA and other industry credentials, accounting degrees present practical, career-focused curricula.

A typical bachelor’s degree requires about 120 total credits for graduation, including general education coursework. Major courses comprise 30-50 credits. Generally, a bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete. Timelines differ depending on a student’s academic background and how many courses they take each semester. Affordable tuition typically costs $300-$500 per credit hour, though rates vary widely among programs.

Read More About Accounting Programs

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for online accounting degrees vary. Most programs require a high school diploma or GED certificate, and some look for high school GPA minimums in the 2.0-3.0 range.

Other programs require students to complete general education college courses before applying to the accounting program. Students may need to maintain a minimum GPA before qualifying for the accounting major. Some schools require ACT or SAT scores.

Applicants also need to consider how their academic background fits with program requirements. Some online accounting programs require transfer credits, such as those earned through an associate accounting degree or a certificate in accounting, while others offer all necessary coursework through online study. Prerequisite examples include accounting I and II, introduction to business, and economics.

Prospective students can use the Common App to submit one application to multiple schools, streamlining the process.

Degree and Concentration Options

When researching online accounting degrees, prospective students may encounter several types of programs. Degree-seekers should consider the types of jobs they want to pursue and pair them with the appropriate program. Common options include:

  • Bachelor of Science in Accounting: The BS in accounting provides in-depth knowledge of financial analysis, tax preparation, and auditing. Graduates can concentrate in areas like forensic accounting. Related career paths include public accounting, fraud examination, external and internal auditing, and managerial accounting.
  • Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting: The BBA provides a general business core in addition to accounting knowledge, with coursework that includes economics, business law, and statistics. Like the BS, the BBA opens the door to various accounting careers. With a more general business background, graduates may find more flexibility and advancement opportunities.
  • Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration: The BABA prepares students for leadership positions and adds a liberal arts emphasis. Aspiring accountants hoping to qualify for managerial positions might select this degree for a business core that includes courses like international business and operations management.

Popular Accounting Courses

Prospective students can expect to encounter similar major requirements among online accounting degree programs. A typical curriculum requires a core set of accounting courses that provide solid foundations in accounting principles like financial analysis, reporting, and tax knowledge. Many programs allow students to explore their areas of interest through electives.

Some schools also require each student to complete a hands-on capstone project at the end of their program. Required courses in accounting often include:

  • Intermediate Accounting: This course builds on accounting principles. Topics cover foundational subjects of financial statement preparation, income concepts and value measurement, balance sheet and reporting standards, and statement analysis. Most programs require intermediate accounting I and II.
  • Federal Taxation: Federal taxation covers United States tax laws and the Internal Revenue Code, familiarizing students with forms and documents, income determination concepts, tax liability standards for individuals and organizations, and decision-making relating to taxation.
  • Auditing: This requirement for accounting majors teaches financial compliance, electronic data processing auditing, and strategies for communicating audit results to employers. The course also prepares students to use auditing software and design auditing systems for their organizations, including testing strategies.
  • Governmental and Nonprofit Accounting: Sometimes offered as an elective, this course covers accounting theories and procedures specific to state and local government, colleges and universities, healthcare facilities, and other nonprofit entities. Topics include the use of special funds, tax requirements, financial statements and reporting, and budgets.
  • Accounting Ethics: This course covers ethical decision-making in accounting issues. The subject matter considers concepts from a political, societal, and technological point of view. Coursework explores legal, diversity, and other environmental factors.

Making Affordable Accounting Degrees Even Cheaper

Students looking for affordable online accounting degrees can benefit from many cost-saving tactics. Specific program attributes, such as delivery style and school size, can contribute to lower tuition rates. The following list offers several measures students can take to make their accounting degrees more affordable.

Online vs. Traditional Delivery

Many institutions charge lower tuition rates for online degrees, sometimes matching in-state rates for nonresidential distance learners. Online education eliminates the cost of living on campus or commuting. Students can continue to work while pursuing their degrees and even gain accounting experience in the process.

Financial Aid Opportunities

Accounting students can significantly lower the overall cost of their studies by pursuing financial aid opportunities like scholarships, grants, and loans. By filling out a FAFSA, degree-seekers open the door to work-study opportunities, low-interest loans, and need-based aid. Professional associations, nonprofit organizations, and local government agencies frequently offer scholarship opportunities.

Institutional Prestige

An institution’s reputation can play an important part in the school-selection process, but high price tags often accompany prestigious programs. Students can still find equally excellent degrees at more affordable rates.

Aspiring accountants should consider whether their career goals necessitate degrees from prestigious schools. Those hoping to pursue executive roles in large, competitive environments may garner a better return on their investment from more prestigious institutions.

Book Rentals

Students can often avoid buying expensive textbooks and materials outright. Online booksellers like Amazon offer textbook rental programs that allow learners to borrow books at very low rates. E-books and library resources also help reduce the cost of materials.

Credit Loading

When a school charges tuition by the semester rather than per credit, degree-seekers can pack their schedules with extra coursework. This method accelerates the pace of a program, reducing overall tuition costs and allowing enrollees to graduate sooner. Before taking this route, students should carefully consider if their schedules and personalities allow for the increased workload.

Choosing the Right Affordable Accounting Online Program

While affordability is a major factor in the search for an online accounting degree, students need to account for factors like accreditation, program setup, and university resources.

Candidates should ensure the accreditation status of every prospective school. Regional and national accreditation assess schools as a whole, and programmatic accreditation applies to particular programs. CPA licensure requires regionally accredited coursework, and many master’s programs do not recognize credits earned through unaccredited programs.

Aspiring accounting professionals should also consider whether they want to pursue specializations, such as forensic accounting. Some students prefer online accounting degrees that feed directly into master’s-level studies.

For many students, university resources and extracurricular opportunities factor as important elements in the decision-making process. Distance learners can ask how programs include online students in school culture. The availability of online clubs, events, and professional organization chapters may appeal to some learners, as well. Likewise, students can seek access to important resources like career centers, tutoring departments, and library services.

Top Bachelor's in Accounting Programs Top Online Bachelor's in Accounting Programs

Why You Should Get Your Bachelor’s in Accounting Online

Online education increases in popularity each year as schools recognize the rising demand among prospective students. Distance learning can make higher education cheaper and accessible. With the COVID-19 pandemic likely to affect the state of education into 2021 and beyond, online degree options can help future accountants to begin their studies without delay.

Online coursework requires the same focus and attention as face-to-face classes, and students should consider their self-motivation and time management skills before committing to a program.

Accounting translates well to online education. With the help of their faculty, students can arrange any in-person program components, like capstones or internships, from afar.

Online coursework requires the same focus and attention as face-to-face classes, and students should consider their self-motivation and time management skills before committing to a program. Some may crave the energy of on-campus activities, while others prefer to complete their studies from home.

Degree-seekers with jobs, caretaking responsibilities, or financial restraints may particularly seek to take advantage of the opportunities that online education affords.

Cheapest Online Bachelor’s in Accounting Programs of 2021

  1. Trine University

    Angola, IN

    Located in the northeast corner of Indiana, Trine started teaching accounting and business law back when it opened in 1884. During the past 130 years, the school's dedication to fostering student excellence hasn't faltered.

    BS in Business Administration - Accounting

    The Ketner School of Business remains a focal point in Trine University's vision to offer personalized, career-based degrees online. The school takes its name from alumnus Ralph Ketner, who co-founded Food Lion, the national grocery chain. Classes start on an eight week rolling basis for flexible, faster credits.

    Students can learn how to make themselves marketable with the professional development and strategies course starting as early as sophomore year. Other classes focus on communication skills and strategies so students can effectively use what they learned in the workplace. Advanced topics like managerial finance extend beyond basic accounting with a spotlight on leading entire corporations, capital, and potential mergers.

    TrineOnline's Affordability

    As of the 2017 fiscal year, only 4.8% of Trine's graduates had defaulted on their loans within three years of earning their degrees. The school also offers an accelerated program, a flat cost per credit, and free educational resources to replace expensive books.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Private
    • Accreditation: HLC, ACBSP
    • Tuition per credit hour: $399/credit
    • Required Credits: 120 credits
    • Program Length: 1-4 years full time
    • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)
    • Admissions
      • Process: Application, high school transcripts or GED certificate
      • Standardized Tests: SAT or ACT
      • Cost: None
  2. Maryville University of Saint Louis

    Saint Louis, MO

    Founded over 150 years ago, Maryville started providing courses to underprivileged youths and women as part of the school's mission to make higher education more accessible. That legacy continues today as the school offers distance learning programs created with accessibility in mind.

    BS in Accounting

    Maryville's accounting program caters to students' desired career paths through multiple academic tracks within the degree. An early-access program allows students to earn credits toward a master's degree while pursuing their bachelor's in accounting.

    Maryville recognizes that accountants' roles are rapidly shifting. As a result, the school's accounting curriculum includes other desirable topics and skills such as marketing and sales.

    The digital foundations class prepares students to enter a job market that's constantly changing due to developing technology. Even before graduation, students can gain valuable network connections, internships, and potential job placements through Maryville's 30 business partners.

    Maryville's Affordability

    Maryville has frozen tuition for the 2020-21 academic year. The early-access program can save money on a master's degree, and the school's minimal 2.4% loan default rate as of 2017 is the best on this list. For the 2018-19 academic year, undergraduate students paid a net price of $29,357. Of Maryville's students, 99% receive financial aid; grant and scholarship aid packages average $14,968.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Private
    • Accreditation: HLC, ACBSP
    • Tuition: $500/credit
    • Required Credits: 128 credits
    • Program Length: 2.5 years full time
    • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)
    • Admissions
      • Process: Application, high school transcripts or GED certificate
      • GPA: 2.5 minimum
      • Cost: None
  3. Shorter University

    Rome, GA

    Originally founded in 1873 as a women's college, Shorter University celebrates a long history centered around Christian traditions and values. The school continues to infuse Christian values and community service into its curricula while also developing its sports programs.

    Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting

    Shorter's online programs run on eight-week terms for potential fast credit turnaround. The school also offers an accelerated program that lets students earn a bachelor's and master's degree in only four years. Military students can benefit from a host of discounts and programs at Shorter, including a 20% discount on all online courses counting toward a degree.

    Some accounting schools might focus on general accounting skills for a broader appeal, but Shorter doubles down on the business side. Students can take dedicated courses in QuickBooks and other interesting topics like swindles and schemes. The curriculum blends business theory and practice into each course while encouraging students to gain job experience through internships.

    Shorter's Affordability

    Most of Shorter's undergraduate students — 75.6% as of the 2019-19 academic year — receive financial aid. The average aid package over that time totaled $14,468. Military members take advantage of several additional benefits and discounts.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Private
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
    • Tuition: $367/credit
    • Required Credits: 121 credits
    • Program Length: 4 years full time
    • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)
    • Admissions
      • Process: Application, high school or undergraduate transcripts, test scores
      • GPA: 2.25 minimum
      • Standardized Tests: SAT or ACT
      • Cost: $25
  4. Colorado State University-Global Campus

    Aurora, CO

    An offshoot of the main school system, the CSU-Global houses a variety of online programs and resources for degree-seekers. The school provides the tools for students and professionals to thrive in an interconnected, global job market.

    Bachelor of Science in Accounting

    CSU-Global's online accounting program focuses on teaching skills and practices relevant to the modern, global business world. The school offers 26 specializations for an accounting degree. Students can enroll in nuanced courses like government and nonprofit accounting or forensic accounting and business valuation with artificial intelligence.

    Transfer students can bring up to 90 credit hours with them to cut down on their program length. Most CSU-Global accounting alumni (90%) continue on to careers in their intended field, reporting estimated starting salaries averaging over $65,000 per year.

    CSU-Global's Affordability

    CSU-Global offers low prices, plus a tuition freeze that lasts until graduation. With a 3.9% loan default rate based on data from 2017, a CSU-Global accounting degree can be a good investment.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: HLC, ACBSP
    • Tuition: $350/credit
    • Required Credits: 120 credits
    • Program Length: 4 years full time
    • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)
    • Admissions
      • Process: Application, high school transcripts or GED certificate, test scores
      • GPA: 2.8 minimum
      • Standardized Tests: ACT or SAT
      • Cost: $25
  5. Lakeland University

    Plymouth, WI

    Based in the Wisconsin area, LU supplies a liberal arts education with traditions based in the United Church of Christ. With multiple campuses throughout the state plus international locations, learners can use this flexible blend of course deliveries to fit their schedule.

    Bachelor of Arts in Accounting

    LU students have the luxury to switch between online, hybrid, and in-person courses to meet their academic needs. The school offers a fraud and forensics track for accounting majors, which can set up students in a career to identify and report corporate crimes. The program values real life experience and places students in internships with major institutions like Bank First National, Sargento Foods, and the IRS.

    The online accounting program familiarizes students with many aspects of real-world accounting jobs. One of the school's core goals involves teaching desirable universal skills such as problem-solving and asset management.

    LU's Affordability

    LU provides plentiful scholarship opportunities for online students. For example, the William R. Kellett Scholarship offers renewable aid, awarding $5,000 annually to full-time students. With 71.2% of undergraduates receiving gift aids for the 2018-19 year, students have a decent chance to save money.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Private
    • Accreditation: HLC
    • Tuition: $530/credit
    • Required Credits: 120 credits
    • Program Length: 4 years full time
    • Delivery Format: Online (synchronous or asynchronous) or hybrid
    • Admissions
      • Process: Application, high school or undergraduate transcripts
      • GPA: 2.0 minimum
      • Standardized Tests: ACT
      • Cost: $35

What the Best Cheap Accounting Programs Have in Common

All accounting programs emphasize test preparation for career-based certifications, such as the CPA credential. Each school has its differences, but these factors usually unite the best institutions:

  • They are accredited. When a school earns accreditation, it means the school has met the quality standards set by an external entity’s guidelines. Accreditation gives a degree value and affects how credits transfer. The schools on our list are all regionally accredited by one of the following agencies:
    • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC)
    • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
    • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
    • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
    • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
    • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
    • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

    Also take note of these program-specific accreditors:

    • International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)
    • Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
    • Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • They offer academic excellence. “Academic excellence” gets thrown around as a popular buzzword, but we use concrete factors to determine the quality of learning at each school. We look at facts like graduation rate, the number of dedicated faculty, and retention rates to home in on the best schools.
  • They are reputable. Beyond accreditation, we know that other factors affect how future employers and grad schools view a degree. The program rankings are based on the percent of students admitted, admission yield, and the average earnings of alumni six years after graduation. For example, CSU-Global earned its spot on the list with a 68% admission yield for the fall semester of 2019. This yield suggests that the school is more selective and desirable to students who apply there.
  • They are affordable. The word “affordable” might satisfy others, but prospective accountants probably want to crunch the numbers. We base our rankings of affordability on factors like net price, the percent of students who receive aid, and the average amount awarded in each financial aid package.

Questions About the Cheapest Accounting Degrees Online

  • What should I major in to become an accountant?

    Aspiring accountants often pursue BS degrees in accounting. Other options include a BBA or a BABA with a concentration in accounting.

  • Can I get an accounting degree online?

    Yes. Like their in-person counterparts, online accounting degrees offer specialization options and CPA preparation.

  • What can I do with a degree in accounting?

    Accounting degree-holders can pursue careers in personal financial advising, auditing, tax accounting, government accounting, and more. Many top executives hold backgrounds in accounting, making it a great starting point for those hoping to advance to management.

  • How much does it cost to get an accounting degree online?

    While costs vary, students can find many options for affordable online accounting degrees. Generally speaking, the cheapest programs fall in the range of $300-$500 per credit.

  • Is earning a degree in accounting online worth anything?

    An online accounting degree carries the same weight as its on-campus equivalent. In fact, many schools run identical curricula in both formats and feature the same faculty members.

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