Compiled and Written by Accounting.com Staff
Last Updated: March 2020
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
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
It's important to understand that certificates and
certificationsare 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
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
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.
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.
There are no special training requirements. However, those working
in these roles may choose to earn
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Financial and Cost Accounting
Intensive Analysis of Accounting Principles and Practices
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 Ethics for Accountants
Management Planning, Control and Effective Budgeting
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
Students should verify that the schools they are interested in attending
national-level accreditation. Accounting programs often have additional, specialized accreditation
through one or more of the following organizations:
– Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
– Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs
– International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education
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:
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