Certificates in Accounting


Updated April 1, 2024

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Are you looking to pursue entry-level accounting roles, shift careers, or bolster your financial skills? Discover details on online accounting certificates below.

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Colleges and universities offer accounting certificates at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These offerings are either independent programs or pathways within larger degrees.

Both levels of certificate allow students to explore a subject without committing to full programs. However, their focus differs — undergraduate accounting certificates cover more broad topics, while graduate certificates focus on more advanced, niche areas of the field.

You can pursue an accounting certificate to sharpen your skills, strengthen your resume, and increase your earning potential. By itself, an undergraduate accounting certificate may not be enough to qualify for certain professional roles, but in conjunction with additional education, these programs can demonstrate your credibility to prospective employers. With a graduate certificate, you can pursue a career change or advance within your current company.

Experts have reported an ongoing shortage of accountants in recent years. As businesses look to fill these roles, they may look to people with accounting certificates.

Thinking about pursuing an accounting certificate? This guide covers the benefits of completing these programs, differences between certificates and certifications, common online accounting courses, and more.

Popular Online Programs

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

Why Get an Undergraduate Certificate in Accounting?

  • Learn Fundamentals

    At the undergraduate level, online accounting courses in a certificate can build a strong foundation for future study in the field. For example, business majors can expand the scope of their major by pursuing a certificate in accounting.
  • Prepare for Certification

    Certification typically requires you to pass an exam. By focusing your studies on a certificate, you can develop familiarity with subject material that may appear in the credentialing examination. Though certified public accountants (CPAs) need 150 credits, completing a certificate can prepare you on the road to certification.
  • Apply Credits to A Degree

    If you're pursuing a certificate or online accounting courses independently of a degree, some schools allow you to later transfer certificate credits toward your degree program. By applying your certificate credits to a formal degree, you can save time and money on a four-year program.

Why Get a Graduate Accounting Certificate?

  • Explore Advanced Accounting Subjects

    Graduate accounting certificates, much like master's degrees, go beyond fundamentals to more specialized subjects. These certificates may focus on management-level skills for students looking to pursue executive roles.
  • Change Careers

    If you're considering shifting to a new profession, a graduate certificate allows you to explore a new subject without having to commit to a full degree. Though employers may seek candidates with full degrees, adding a certificate to your existing education can help you stand out in a competitive job market.
  • Pursue Promotions

    Companies tend to hire from within. By completing a graduate certificate, you can demonstrate to your employer that you are determined to develop your skills. Investing in yourself signals a long-term view of your commitment to your company and profession.

Graduate Certificates and Certifications

While graduate certificates and professional certifications offer valuable career advancement opportunities, they have different requirements and applications.

Graduate certificates show that you have completed specialized academic coursework or career training. However, they do not equate to professional certification or licensure. The online accounting courses completed in a graduate certificate program provide a solid foundation in a particular area of study.

On the other hand, professional certifications usually require you to take an exam to show mastery of specific skills. Often, they also require proof of professional experience and continuing education to maintain the credential.

The CPA certification is a prestigious title in the accounting field, which necessitates passing the Uniform CPA Examination and meeting state-specific requirements. Notably, graduate certificates can serve as prerequisites or stepping stones toward these certifications.

Professionals often pursue both paths — a graduate certificate can boost your theoretical understanding and academic credentials, while certification can enhance your professional standing. In this sense, they can be seen as complementary rather than competing choices.

Popular Online Accounting Courses for Certificates

Undergraduate accounting certificate classes typically explore fundamental areas of the field, while certificates at the graduate level delve into more specialized subjects.

When offered within degrees, accounting certificates strengthen more general programs, like business. The following list explores several popular online accounting courses available in certificates.

  • Financial Accounting: In this undergraduate accounting certificate class, students learn about record-keeping and statement analysis. Enrollees can develop their decision-making skills and apply their knowledge of investments, assets, and liabilities in various financial sectors. Prospective accountants can benefit from this foundational course.
  • Auditing: This class, available at the undergraduate level, prepares students to apply ethical standards to reviewing organizations' financial records. Auditors ensure that businesses comply with regulatory standards through an in-depth analysis of expenses, income, and company procedures.
  • Advanced Cost Accounting: Students in this graduate-level accounting certificate course can bolster their management abilities such as differential analysis and advanced budgeting. Other topics include cost allocation issues, transfer pricing, and capital budgeting. Enrollees in MBAs, for example, can graduate with more credibility as business leaders.
  • Regulation: In a graduate-level regulation class, enrollees apply their understanding of business law to financial reporting and compliance. Coursework may use real-world case studies to provide insight into practical examples of finance concepts, including generally accepted accounting principles. This course shares similarities with auditing, as both classes ensure that businesses meet legal requirements for financial transactions and reporting.

Reasons to Earn Your Certificate in Accounting Online

Earning a certificate in accounting online translates well to the structured, quantitative nature of the coursework. Online classes strengthen your time management skills, an important tool in the professional world.

When choosing an online program, consider if it's 100% online or hybrid, which combines online and in-person instruction. Some may prefer the complete flexibility of online learning, while others might benefit from occasional face-to-face interactions.

Additionally, consider whether instructors deliver the courses through asynchronous or synchronous learning. Asynchronous delivery allows you to watch recorded lectures and complete assignments at your convenience, while synchronous learning includes set login times. The right choice depends on your learning style, schedule, and personal commitments.

Next Steps After Getting an Accounting Certificate

It's never too early to begin planning your accounting career. Graduates with accounting certificates can take the following steps to advance their careers.

  • Enter the Workforce

    An accounting certificate prepares graduates to pursue entry-level accounting jobs.
  • Pursue an Associate, Bachelor's, or Master's Degree

    Credits from a certificate program often transfer to degree programs, which can save students time and money on a degree.
  • Earn CPA or CMA Certification (for Experienced Professionals)

    Higher-level certificates can help those with prior degrees meet CPA or certified management accountant requirements.

Questions About Certificates in Accounting

Is it better to get a certificate or a degree in accounting?

It depends on your professional goals. Most accounting roles require a formal degree in the field, so earning a degree can benefit you in this case. However, if you're looking to improve your skills in a subset of accounting, or to pivot careers, a certificate may be a better option.

Is a certificate in accounting the same as a CPA?

No. A certificate in accounting is earned through a series of online accounting courses, while CPA (short for certified public accountant) is a certification requiring 150 academic credits and professional experience, depending on the state.

Is it worth getting an accounting certificate online?

Yes — earning an accounting certificate online allows you to master a specific area of the field and demonstrate to current and prospective employers that you are dedicated to ongoing skills improvement.

Which is the easier way to earn an accounting certificate: online or on campus?

Both programs offer the same level of academic difficulty. However, completing an online program can provide greater scheduling flexibility and wider program reach.

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