By pursuing an online accounting certificate, students can earn foundational knowledge in a field full of opportunities. An online accounting certificate prepares professionals for both entry-level jobs and further academic studies, making it a practical investment that opens a variety of choices for graduates.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that demand for financial clerks will grow at the same pace as the national average for all occupations, a growth rate of about 5% between 2018 and 2028. As industries hire employees across all industries, the need for payroll specialists, billing and posting clerks, and new accounts clerks also increases — a positive prospect for newcomers to the field of accounting.
On this page, you can find information about the best online accounting certificate programs, including common courses and educational outcomes, available career paths, and how to choose the right online program.
What is an Accounting Certificate?
An online accounting certificate prepares students for entry-level positions in the field. Professionals with a certificate qualify for jobs as bookkeepers or accounting clerks. Students may pursue the certificate in advance of further education, like an associate degree, or to prepare them for the transition from a two-year to a four-year program.
Online accounting certificate programs cover foundational accounting skills, typically over the course of a year. Professionals learn to organize tax documents and to understand their organization’s financial workings. Online programs use mostly or totally distance learning, with no or minimal in-person requirements.
Though the terms seem similar, a certificate in accounting differs from an accounting certification. With a certificate in accounting, graduates qualify for entry-level positions in the field and need further education to pursue an accounting certification. To work as a certified public accountant (CPA), applicants must complete a certain number of college-level hours and complete an exam.
Some schools offer post-baccalaureate certificates, available to graduates with bachelor’s degrees. These certificates can help aspiring CPAs to complete the necessary credit hours and to qualify for the exam.
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Best Online Accounting Certificate Programs
The following ranked list offers information on the top online accounting certificate programs in the country. The rankings use well-vetted resources and national databases to weigh multiple factors, such as program structure, cost, and class sizes. Updated regularly, the rankings can serve as a helpful resource for prospective students as they conduct their search for the right program.
Like with any college choice, students face a range of personal considerations when selecting an online accounting certificate program. While these rankings present information on some of the best options, applicants should take their own needs and career goals into consideration before choosing a program.
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Northcentral Technical College
Founded in 1912, in Wausau, Wisconsin, NTC emphasizes life-long learning, continuous improvement, community service, and diversity. The college boasts more than 400 transfer agreements with over 50 institutions, including the University of Wisconsin.
NTC's fully online accounting assistant technical diploma prepares graduates for entry-level accounting positions. The 32-credit diploma requires two semesters to complete, longer than some online accounting certificate programs. Students develop proficiency with industry software and build interpersonal skills.
The program explores topics like accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll preparation and processing. The curriculum includes courses in basic accounting, Excel, 10-key, and payroll accounting. NTC offers a prior learning credit option for most of the program's required courses.
Applying to NTC
Prospective accounting diploma candidates must fill out NTC's online application. The school has waived its typical $30 application as of April 2021.
Program at a Glance
School Type: Public
Tuition: $139/credit (in state); $208/credit (out of state)
Required Credits: 32 credits
Program Length: 2 semesters
Delivery Format: 100% online or on campus
Should I Get an Accounting Certificate?
With an accounting certificate, professionals can qualify for a variety of entry-level jobs in a promising field. Graduates can test the waters in an interesting career and decide whether to pursue a higher degree. The certificate also provides an academic background, with transferable credits into many associate or bachelor’s degree programs.
What Jobs Can I Get with an Accounting Certificate?
Graduates with an accounting certificate can pursue a variety of jobs such as financial clerks, administrative assistants, and bank tellers. According to BLS, financial clerks number among the highest paying of these positions at a median annual salary of $40,540, whereas bank tellers earn $31,230 per year. By obtaining a college-level certificate, however, employees may qualify for more opportunities and faster advancement in their careers.
Employed in industries like insurance, credit intermediation, and healthcare, financial clerks take care of clerical tasks related to their organization’s financial workings. They may produce invoices, maintain records, and work with customers when questions arise. The BLS reports that demand for financial clerks is growing along with the national average for all occupations, projecting a 5% increase between 2018 and 2028.
Annual Median Salary: $40,540
Bookkeepers oversee the financial records for their organization, either as a whole or in parts. They keep track of expenditures and record income, compiling reports for managers to review. Depending on the organization, they may assist with payroll, billing, and purchasing. According to the BLS, computer innovations continue to precipitate a decline in demand for bookkeepers, with a 4% decline in the field projected between 2018 and 2028.
Annual Median Salary: $41,230
Often encompassing specialized duties related to payroll or accounts payable, accounting clerks tend to work for large companies. Typical tasks include financial data entry, application of interest charges, and loan monitoring. Common industries include tax preparation and bookkeeping, retail, and wholesale trade. The BLS projects that demand for accounting clerks will decline by 4% between 2018 and 2028 due to technological innovations in the field.
Annual Median Salary: $41,230
Further Educational Paths in Accounting
With a certificate in accounting, students can obtain the academic background they need to further their studies at the undergraduate level. They may continue to pursue an associate degree or bachelor’s degree.
Depending on their individual career goals, some students may even decide to pursue a master’s degree in accounting. As professionals complete higher levels of education, they open doors to further job opportunities, with advanced responsibilities and higher earning potential.
Accounting professionals hoping to qualify as CPAs must complete education beyond a certificate in accounting. Prospective students may wish to pursue this credential in order to qualify for a wider range of job options, as many employers prefer CPAs to fill accountant positions.
While specific requirements vary by state, aspiring CPAs can expect to complete 120-150 hours of college-level education. If a license requires 120 credits, a bachelor’s degree suffices. When asked to complete 150 hours, professionals may need to obtain a master’s degree or complete graduate certificate programs.
For licensure, accountants must also pass the CPA exam, which includes sections on auditing and attestation, financial accounting and reporting, regulation, and business environment and concepts.
Read about undergraduate accounting certificates
Typical Accounting Certificate Online Coursework
The academic requirements for online accounting certificates differ by program, ranging from about 16-36 credits. Since different schools emphasize different approaches, students should carefully consider the curriculum before enrolling in a program.
While structures vary, most accounting certificate programs strive to provide students a basic foundation in accounting. With a firm grasp on accounting structures, software, and ethical expectations, students learn the necessary skills to enter the workforce or to continue their educational path. The list below offers a few examples of courses that may appear in an online accounting certificate curriculum.
- Cost Accounting: In this course, students study the collection and use of raw data in business decision-making. Topics include the relationship between financial data and product planning and performance measurement.
- Managerial Accounting: Courses in management accounting cover cost accounting from a leadership perspective. Topics include cost-volume-profit analysis, budgets, standard costs, and inventory costing alternatives.
- Accounting Information Systems: This course covers important accounting documentation techniques such as flowcharting while also preparing students to work with common accounting software programs. Topics may also include the basics of revenue and expense cycles.
- Taxation: Sometimes split into two levels, taxation courses prepare students to assist individual, corporate, and nonprofit clients in tax preparation. Accounting students learn to help their clients take advantage of tax benefits and file without penalty.
- Auditing: Covering basic topics in auditing theory, auditing practice, and the legal liability of auditors, this course ensures that students leave with a fundamental understanding of the ethical requirements auditors must follow. Additional topics include audit planning, audit evidence, and types of audit reports.
How to Choose an Accounting Certificate Program
Prospective students considering an online accounting certificate should weigh various program attributes before making a final decision. Some important factors include accreditation, specialized tracks, student-to-teacher ratio, program length, and available resources for distance learners.
Regional accreditation sets high standards of excellence for the institution as a whole. Many schools only accept transfer credits from regionally accredited programs, making it a strong priority for prospective students.
Some programs offer accounting certificates specifically aimed at certain career paths. Students may wish to seek out a program geared to tax preparers, payroll clerks, or accounts receivable clerks.
When weighing the merits of a program, the ratio of students to teachers in a class can indicate the level of personal attention participants can expect. Students who wish to make a strong connection with faculty may look for smaller class sizes.
A student’s situation outside the classroom and their educational goals can play a part in determining how much time they can commit to a program. Students with family or work obligations may only be able to pursue a program part time which will take longer to complete. Those hoping to land full-time work quickly may elect for shorter programs; students looking to prepare for further studies might want to look for longer programs with more in-depth coursework.
All students require support from their institution during their studies. Students should consider whether the college or university provides technical support, library services, tutoring, and career counseling to distance learners.
Should I Get My Accounting Certificate Online?
An increasingly popular option for postsecondary students, online education provides flexibility while serving curriculum as rigorous and engaging as in-person programs. Because the careers associated with an accounting certificate program typically require no in-person requirements — such as student-teaching — the subject fits perfectly into the structure of an online learning environment.
When researching online programs, students should consider their own study habits and situation alongside the structure of the degree. Some programs operate asynchronously, with all materials available for students to view and complete at their convenience. While a self-controlled schedule may be the most flexible option, some participants find that real-time classes utilizing webcams or other synchronous technology allow for connection with faculty and peers as well as an imposed structure that keeps them on track.
Regardless of the presentation style, online programs require the same dedication as those operating on campus. To succeed, students must exercise excellent time management skills and self-motivation.
Students may also wish to note whether the school offers in-state or discounted tuition for distance learners as well as whether the institution’s resource and networking opportunities are available remotely.
More About Accounting Certificates
How do I get an accounting certificate?
To apply for an accounting certificate program, prospective students should hold a high school diploma or equivalent and prepare to submit transcripts. Some schools require a GPA minimum or proof of English proficiency.
How much does it cost to get an accounting certificate?
It depends. Some schools allow out-of-state online learners to pay in-state or otherwise reduced tuition. Others make no distinction between online and in-person classes when it comes to tuition and fees.
Is a certificate in accounting worth it?
With an accounting certificate, graduates qualify for entry-level jobs in the field, where they can gain important experience. Students also build an academic background in accounting to prepare them for further education.
What can I do with a certificate in accounting?
Accounting certificate-holders qualify for jobs as accounting clerks, financial clerks, bookkeepers, and other entry-level positions in the field. They may also seek out more general positions, like administrative assistants.
What's the difference between an accounting certificate and certification?
Completing an accounting certificate means earning foundational knowledge in the field, along with about 16-36 college credits. Certification represents a professional credential that accountants seek after fulfilling 120-150 credit hours and passing an exam.
Are online accounting certificates accepted?
An online accounting certificate merits strong consideration from employers, as it represents a base of knowledge in the field. By earning a certificate through an accredited program, students can later count the college credits they earned toward a higher-level degree.
Can I take accounting classes online?
Yes, many accounting certificate programs operate fully online, with no in-person requirements. Students can also find online programs at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels.