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.
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Top 10 Best Online Accounting Certificate Programs
||Colorado Christian University
||University of Alaska Fairbanks
||University of Alaska Southeast
||Fort Hays State University
||Shoreline Community College
||Trinity Valley Community College
||Stanly Community College
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.
Best Online Accounting Certificate Programs for 2020
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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Champlain College, a military-friendly institution in Burlington, Vermont, opened its doors in 1878. The school holds accreditation by the New England Commission of Higher Education and offers programs in over 150 disciplines.
The certificate in accounting requires 16 credits. Learners complete seven-week, asynchronous courses. The curriculum prepares enrollees to assess and maintain financial records to help companies make financial choices. Coursework also covers federal taxes and includes a culminating project. This certificate prepares individuals for certified public accountant exams.
Graduates have earned positions with the Internal Revenue Service, Community Bank, Hilton, and the U.S. Treasury. In-state and out-of-state learners pay equal tuition, but military students benefit from discounted rates. The college also offers online associate and bachelor's degrees in accounting.
Colorado Christian University
Colorado Christian University educates more than 8,000 students and holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. The university's accounting certificate requires 12 credits and features 5-7-week, asynchronous courses delivered through Blackboard.
Learners examine topics like budgets, financial statements, and tax concepts. The program trains enrollees to determine financial steps for companies and may qualify graduates for careers as bookkeepers and accounting clerks.
Graduates can apply certificate courses to the university's bachelor's degrees in accountancy, information systems management, business, project management, and human resource management. CCU also offers related online certificates in nonprofit management and entrepreneurship.
Online students can access virtual library materials and communicate with librarians through Zoom-based Book-a-Librarian meetings.
University of Alaska Fairbanks
The University of Alaska Fairbanks, founded in 1917, has graduated around 35,000 students. The institution boasts a strong research reputation and holds accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
The 30-credit accounting technician certificate examines topics like payroll, income tax, and microcomputer accounting. Learners culminate the degree with an accounting capstone. Graduates can pursue careers in payroll and bookkeeping.
Learners without computer experience may need to complete a prerequisite class in computer business applications. Full-time learners can obtain this top accounting certificate in one year. UAF offers online and over-the-phone math and writing support for distance learners.
University of Alaska Southeast
Established in 1987, University of Alaska Southeast boasts Carnegie Classification and accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
UAS offers an accounting technician certificate that includes general requirements in areas like math and communication, along with accounting coursework in payrolls, spreadsheets, and business. Students must earn at least a "C" in all classes to graduate.
This 30-credit program prepares enrollees for entry-level accounting certificate careers. Graduates can also apply to the university's bachelor of business administration in accounting program. UAS offers online tutoring through its writing center. Distance learners can also access citation guidelines and virtual resources through the school's libraries.
Liberty University, a Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia, opened in 1971. The university offers more than 800 programs through 15 schools and colleges. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges accredits this institution.
Liberty's 21-credit online certificate in accounting examines cost accounting, taxation, auditing, and managerial accounting to prepare learners to assess financial statements and tend to business accounts. This accounting certificate also emphasizes legal concerns for the field. Students take asynchronous courses through Blackboard.
Learners can graduate in one year. Graduates can pursue associate and bachelor's degrees in accounting from Liberty. Admission calls for at least a 1.5 GPA and a high school self-certification form. Tuition does not vary by location. However, military students benefit from reduced rates.
Belhaven University, a product of the McComb Female Institute and the Mississippi Synodical College, embraces Christian traditions and educates more than 4,000 students. The university holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Belhaven offers one of the best accounting certificates in the nation. This 36-credit program examines legal and ethical elements of accounting, along with auditing and taxation. The curriculum helps to prepare learners for the certified public accountant exam. Graduates may qualify for accounting certificate jobs in nonprofit, corporate, and government facilities.
Belhaven offers tuition discounts for military personnel and a scholarship for first responders. Online students can access databases and research guides through the Warren A. Hood Library, which participates in the interlibrary loan system.
Fort Hays State University
Founded in 1902, Fort Hays State University in Kansas boasts more than 15,000 students and a 96% job placement rate for graduates. This military-friendly school's accreditation comes from the Higher Learning Commission.
FHSU delivers a 12-credit accounting certificate that requires coursework in cost accounting, taxation, and governmental and institutional accounting. Students need at least a "C" grade in required coursework to graduate. Graduates can work as auditors, corporate accountants, and tax specialists.
FHSU offers similar certificates in economics, banking, and finance, along with several bachelor's degrees in accounting. Enrollees can join the school's accounting, finance, and economics clubs for research and networking opportunities.
FHSU connects accounting students with scholarships, internships, and field publications, like the Journal of Finance and the Economics eJournal.
University of Virginia-Main Campus
Based in Charlottesville, the University of Virginia holds accreditation from the Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges. The university's accounting certificate targets current professionals and candidates entering the field.
The curriculum includes coursework in auditing, general accounting, and cost accounting. Learners can personalize the certificate through four electives on topics such as federal accounting, fraud examination, and cybersecurity. Candidates can graduate from this 30-credit program in under two years.
Admission calls for a high school diploma. Students with undergraduate degrees may take the certified public accountant exam after earning this certificate. Learners in this part-time program do not qualify for financial aid.
Thomas Edison State University
Thomas Edison State University has conferred more than 56,000 degrees since opening in 1972. This New Jersey public school holds accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The school's 18-credit accounting certificate requires coursework in managerial and financial accounting. The curriculum also includes six elective credits on topics such as federal income taxation and cost accounting. Courses span 12 weeks and may include discussion board posts, tests, and projects.
Students can transfer credits from the last seven years but must complete at least half of their classes at the university. Certificate courses may apply toward the university's bachelor of science in business administration in accounting. TESU also offers online master's degrees in accounting and business administration.
TESU students can access resources through the New Jersey State Library, including databases and photocopies of certain materials.
Southern New Hampshire University
Southern New Hampshire University is a private institution founded in 1932. The university educates more than 138,000 students each year and maintains accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education.
The university's accounting certificate trains students to prepare financial statements and guide companies on finances. Students complete 18 credits of courses like federal taxation, intermediate accounting, and financial accounting. The curriculum also includes six credits of electives.
SNHU also offers a graduate accounting certificate, as well as associate and bachelor's degrees in accounting. These credentials may help learners qualify for the certified public accountant exam.
Casper College opened its doors in 1945. The Wyoming institution enrolled nearly 3,000 students in 2018-2019 who benefited from a 13-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The Higher Learning Commission accredits this college.
Casper offers a bookkeeper certificate that trains learners on the business and financial aspects of bookkeeping careers. Candidates must complete general requirements in math, problem-solving, and communications, along with major courses that address payroll accounting and relevant software, like QuickBooks and Microsoft Excel. The curriculum also includes a review course that prepares enrollees for the certification exam through the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers.
Learners can graduate in nine months. The school's library allows distance learners to access virtual resources, such as e-books, databases, and magazines. Online students can also access self-help materials on topics such as depression and PTSD.
Minnesota West Community and Technical College
Granite Falls, MN
The Minnesota West Community and Technical College began as a merger between Southwestern Technical College and Worthington Community College in 1997. The institution holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
MWCTC delivers an accounting certificate that prepares learners for beginning accounting careers and entrance into accounting degree programs. Students complete 16 credits of courses on topics like principles of accounting and spreadsheet concepts. The department also requires electives in business or accounting.
Students can also earn an accountant diploma by completing 51 credits, which includes an internship. Nonresident learners may earn tuition breaks if they live in a state with which Minnesota holds a reciprocity agreement.
Distance students can access the Library and Academic Resource Center's research databases and citation guidelines. Candidates can also sample an online course before enrolling in the program.
Great Basin College in Elko, Nevada, educates around 4,000 learners each year. This public college maintains accreditation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Students pursuing the accounting technician certificate learn to use financial statements and data to make business decisions for organizations. This certificate requires 30 credits of courses that examine topics in accounting, business, technology, and communication. The curriculum counts toward an associate in accounting at GBC.
Candidates can earn this certificate in one year. Graduates can work as bookkeepers, brokerage clerks, and data entry personnel. Nevada participates in the state authorization reciprocity agreement, which allows out-of-state students to study at reduced rates.
Benefits for GBC distance learners include online tutoring through Skype and email. Online students can also access the library's online resources and attend virtual workshops on studying and test-taking.
Northcentral Technical College
Based in Wisconsin, Northcentral Technical College began in 1912 and holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
NTC delivers a fully online accounting assistant technical diploma that enhances communication and software skills. Students learn how to tend to payrolls and advise companies on economic decisions. The department uses Canvas technology for online courses.
Graduates of the 31-credit program can work as bookkeepers, staff accountants, and accounting assistants. They can also pursue an associate in accounting through NTC. The college offers similar certificates in areas such as small business bookkeeping, supply chain operations effectiveness, and QuickBooks.
Distance learners can search for jobs and review resources on topics like interviews, networking, and portfolios through the career services center. Other virtual benefits include access to e-books and journals through the library, along with counseling resources.
University of California-Irvine
The University of California, Irvine is a public institution that has graduated more than 200,000 students. The school holds accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and offers a fully online applied accounting certificate.
Students in the program learn how to prepare and assess financial statements for corporate decision-making. Coursework also addresses federal income taxation, auditing, and information systems to help learners prepare for the certified public accountant exam. In total, learners complete 10 classes to earn this certificate.
The 1-2-year program targets current professionals and individuals entering the field. The university participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program and offers free online events on topics like GRE preparation.
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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.