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5 Best Accounting Certificates 2021

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Accounting plays a vital role in all types of organizations. Accountants record and analyze financial data. They also help individuals and businesses make informed decisions and maximize financial efficiency.

Aspiring accounting professionals can enroll in introductory certificate programs. Graduates can pursue jobs as accounting clerks or bookkeepers. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $42,410 in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Entry-level accounting roles can serve as stepping stones to higher-paying positions.

An accounting certificate offers a practical pathway to a career in accounting. This page covers what to expect from accounting certificate programs, including common courses, career paths, and top schools for accounting certificates.

Why Get an Undergrad Accounting Certificate?

Accounting certificates can help individuals begin entry-level accounting and bookkeeping careers. People with high school diplomas, GED certificates, and degrees in another field can pursue accounting certificates. These certificates can improve college graduates’ resumes, building their credentials more quickly than most degree programs.

Accounting certificate-holders can find work in various accounting industry jobs. They can also pursue further education. Accounting certificates can help professionals complete prerequisites for advanced accounting degrees.

Certificate-holders without degrees may work as clerks, small business bookkeepers, budget planners, or commercial banking specialists. The following list details the benefits of an accounting certificate:

Budget-Friendly
Accounting certificates are often more affordable than undergraduate degrees in accounting. This makes a certificate an excellent choice for students who want to further their careers without spending a lot of money.
Flexibility
Many accounting certificate programs offer flexible pathways to completion, including online and evening classes. Accounting certificate programs can benefit learners who need to study while working or tending to other responsibilities.
Skill-Building
The best accounting programs offer certificates with skill-building accounting courses. Students can learn and enhance professional skills that improve their career prospects.

What to Expect From Accounting Certificate Programs

Accounting certificate programs provide students with a broad overview of accounting. Some also target specific accounting areas, such as income tax preparation or small-business accounting.

Unlike undergraduate accounting programs, accounting certificates generally require no more than 30 credits and take less than two years to complete. Depending on the school, learners may earn accounting certificates online, on campus, or in a hybrid format.

Certificate programs typically start with introductory courses in business, accounting, and accounting tools and software, like Microsoft Excel and QuickBooks. Later coursework covers more complex and specific accounting subjects. These may include payroll accounting, tax preparation, financial statement analysis, and business ethics.

The cost of accounting certificates varies among schools. On average, students can expect to pay $200-$400 per credit. Some colleges and universities allow certificate-holders to transfer certain earned credits toward an associate or bachelor’s degree program from an accredited institution.

Admissions Process

Applicants need at least a high school diploma or equivalent to qualify for an accounting certificate program. Some schools require a minimum age of 18.

Prospective accounting certificate students must fill out an online application, including information about where they live. The application may also ask students about their interests and instruct them to list any previous college experience. Some schools charge an application fee of about $30-$50, though amounts vary. Others do not charge for the application.

A certificate in accounting application usually requires minimal additional materials than an associate or bachelor’s degree. These higher-level programs may require a minimum GPA, SAT or ACT scores, an essay, and recommendation letters.

Students who enroll in an online accounting certificate program need certain technology to complete their studies. Requirements can include internet access and a computer that can run the software their program teaches.

Different Types of Accounting and Finance Certificates

Accounting certificate programs come with a variety of concentrations and delivery structures. Learners can find an in-person program and attend classes on campus. Alternatively, they can choose an online program and study from home. Hybrid programs blend these two styles, offering a combination of online and on-campus courses.

Even within the online learning world, students can opt for synchronous or asynchronous delivery. Synchronous formats require enrollees to attend real-time classes, usually by using a web camera. With asynchronous courses, the instructor posts materials that students access on their own schedules.

Students can choose an accounting certificate program that targets a specific concentration. Undergraduate accounting certificates focus on bookkeeping, accounting principles, and payroll accounting. Other options include popular industry certifications, such as a Quickbooks certificate. While helpful to the job search, these types of certifications do not grant college credit.

Explore online accounting certificates Take a look at bookkeeping certificates

Popular Accounting Certificate Courses

Accounting certificate programs provide a foundational understanding of key accounting topics. Most introduce the major principles of accounting, business operations, taxation, and accounting software, such as QuickBooks and Excel. Students also develop skills in general areas like research and communication.

Many accounting certificate programs include some variation of the following classes.

Introduction to Business

This course builds a base knowledge for further study. It introduces key business concepts such as management, marketing, finance, accounting, and investments. This course may also introduce common business technology tools.

Introduction to Accounting

This course familiarizes students with the foundational principles and practices of accounting. These include double-entry bookkeeping, financial statement preparation, journalizing, and payroll.

Managerial Accounting

This course explores how accounting shapes management and decision-making strategies. Common course topics include cost concepts, capital budgeting, responsibility accounting, and variance analysis.

Computer Accounting Applications

Software tools play a major role in accounting practices, enabling accountants to easily maintain, organize, and access financial data. This course typically introduces accounting software like QuickBooks.

Income Tax

This course explores the basic principles of income tax returns, often for individuals and sole proprietorships. It may also cover more complex tax returns for partnerships and corporations.

How Much Does a Certificate in Accounting Cost?

Students interested in accounting certificates can pay $5,760-$9,230, depending on the number of credits required to graduate. However, accounting certificate programs vary in cost.

Community colleges tend to charge the lowest rates for in-state students. Out-of-state learners may pay higher rates at community colleges. State colleges typically charge higher tuition rates for certificate programs.

Accounting certificate programs usually require fewer credits than associate and bachelor’s programs in accounting. Therefore, certificates are less expensive and faster to earn than traditional degrees. Certificate-holders may enter their field quickly and pursue an associate or a bachelor’s at a later date.

Some certificate-seeking students may qualify for financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and federal student loans.

Top Online Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.


Accounting Jobs and Salaries

An accounting certificate qualifies graduates for several entry-level careers in the field, including financial clerk, bookkeeper, and accounting clerk. These jobs may not pay the same salaries as advanced positions like accountants and auditors. Still, they build valuable professional experience and serve as practical entry points into the accounting field.


Financial Clerk

Financial clerks perform various duties, including transactions, customer service, and recordkeeping.

Employment Outlook

  • Demand: The BLS projects the number of available financial clerk positions to decline by 2% from 2020-2030.
  • Trends: Payroll, new accounts, and credit clerk roles may decline due to growing levels of automation. The BLS projects clerk jobs in billing and posting, insurance, and gambling to grow from 2020-2030.
  • Salary: BLS salary data from 2020 indicates that financial clerks earn a median annual salary of $41,520.

Additional Learning

Financial clerks typically undergo additional company-specific and/or industry-specific on-the-job training.


Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers record financial transactions, maintain fiscal records, create statements, and track customer or client accounts. Industries hiring bookkeepers include professional services, insurance, wholesale trade, healthcare, and retail.

Employment Outlook

  • Demand: The BLS projects demand for bookkeepers to decline by 3% from 2020-2030.
  • Trends: Students pursuing bookkeeping certificates learn to use automated bookkeeping systems and software to keep up with technological advances.
  • Salary: The BLS reported the median annual salary for bookkeepers was $42,410 as of 2020.

Additional Learning

Bookkeeping positions do not call for special training. Workers may earn additional professional development certificates from associations like the Institute of Financial Operations. Such certificates increase candidates’ competitiveness in the job market.


Accounting Clerk

Accounting clerks complete many financial functions within an organization. Accounting clerks may work in specialized roles, such as:

  • Accounts Payable Clerks: Maintain and file financial records and receipts, issue payments owed by companies to outside organizations, and communicate with contractors.
  • Accounts Receivable Clerks: Maintain financial records and files, collect and record payments made to companies, and contact customers about invoices.
  • Auditing Clerks: Review records and reports for accuracy, make corrections, and document problems.

Employment Outlook

  • Demand: The BLS projects jobs for bookkeepers, accounting, and auditing clerks to decline 3% from 2020-2030.
  • Trends: The increased use of spreadsheet applications, databases, and specialized accounting software packages means accounting clerks need up-to-date computer skills.
  • Salary: The BLS reports that the median annual salary for accounting clerks was $42,410 as of 2020.

Additional Learning

These positions typically require some college. However, many professionals also receive on-the-job training. Some employers may want clerks to seek additional credentials through the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers.

Should You Get an Accounting Certificate or an Associate Degree?

An accounting certificate resembles an accounting associate degree in some ways, so prospective students might not know which path to pursue. Still, a certificate and a degree have some notable differences.

An accounting certificate generally takes less time to complete than an associate degree in accounting. With fewer credits, students may pay less for a certificate than they would for an associate degree. This could provide a low-cost pathway into an entry-level career.

Comparatively, an associate degree paves the way to a bachelor’s degree program for students who want a higher level of education. Those with associate degrees may also pursue higher-level positions than those with a certificate alone.

Comparing Certificate and Associate Programs

Accounting Certificate Accounting Associate Degree
Program Length A few months up to two years Two years
Job Outlook Entry-level careers such as clerks or small business bookkeepers; Professional upskilling for those with degrees Entry-level careers like payroll or financial clerks, bookkeepers, and tax preparers
Course Load 30 or fewer credits; 15 credits per semester full time About 60 credits; 15 credits per semester full time
Admission Requirements Minimum 2.0 GPA, high school diploma or equivalent for undergraduate certificate; bachelor’s degree for graduate certificate Minimum 2.0 GPA and high school diploma or equivalent; Some schools require standardized test score submission (SAT, ACT, ACCUPLACER) or completion of a pre-college high school curriculum.

Difference Between Certificates and Certifications

An undergraduate certificate in accounting differs from a professional certification in accounting. Certificate students take courses and earn college credit. Depending on its focus, the curriculum may cover basic principles in accounting, payroll accounting, and accounting software programs. Graduates can transfer their earned credits toward an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Professional certification requires learners to focus on one subject in great detail. Quickbooks certification, for example, demonstrates proficiency with that software. Certification may require learners to complete training sessions, show work experience, and pass an exam.

A certificate in accounting can prepare students to earn industry certifications. Some certifications require applicants to complete college credits before they qualify. For example, a graduate certificate can help aspiring accounts meet requirements for the certified public accountant credential.

Learn about accounting certifications

Selecting the Right Certificate in Accounting

When researching potential accounting certificate programs, students should consider the following factors.

  • Accreditation: Always make sure a school holds valid regional accreditation. Schools without proper accreditation cannot guarantee credit transfer or adequate professional preparation.
  • School Size: Larger schools may offer more extensive resources but less individual support for students. At the same time, smaller schools may have fewer available courses and less flexible enrollment options.
  • Cost/Financial Aid: Cost ranks as a top concern for most students. In general, two-year schools offer lower tuition than four-year schools. Public colleges offer lower tuition than private colleges.
  • Transfer Pathways: Accounting certificate programs can lead to full degree programs at other area schools, including many four-year colleges. Students should research available transfer options, particularly if they plan to earn an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree.
  • Program Length: Some schools offer accelerated certificates that take only weeks or months to complete. Other schools cater to working students, offering part-time programs that allow students to complete the work at their own pace.
  • University Resources/Career Services: Many schools offer strong resources for accounting students. These may include career counseling and connections to internships and job opportunities.

Questions About Undergrad Accounting Certificates

  • How do I start a career in accounting?

    Most students start working toward an accounting career by pursuing a degree or certificate in accounting.

  • Is an accounting certificate equivalent to an associate degree?

    Associate degrees usually take more time and money than certificate programs. However, associate degree programs typically provide better preparation for bachelor’s degree programs.

  • How long does it take to get an accounting certificate?

    Certificate programs vary in length. Undergraduate certificates in accounting can take six months to two years to complete.

  • What can I do with an accounting certificate?

    Undergraduate accounting certificate programs prepare students for further education and jobs such as bookkeeper, clerk, and accounting assistant.

  • Can you become an accountant with an accounting certificate?

    To become full accountants, professionals typically need at least a bachelor’s degree.


The Top Accounting Certificates

  1. Lewis and Clark Community College
    Location

    Godfrey, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Based in Godfrey, Illinois, Lewis and Clark Community College (L&C) offers career training programs, workforce development education, and GED certificate prep. The school opened in 1970 with 450 students and today serves about 12,000 learners.

    Certificate of Proficiency in Accounting or Certificate of Completion in Accounting

    Aspiring accounting specialists and clerks can pursue L&C's 18-credit certificate of completion or 30-credit certificate of proficiency. These programs equip graduates with the skills and knowledge to provide technical administrative support to financial management professionals.

    Certificate candidates begin with required classes in financial accounting and managerial accounting. They then enroll in other economics, accounting, personal finance, and computer literacy courses. Graduates must earn a C or better in all required accounting courses.

    Applicants should hold basic knowledge of bookkeeping practices, accounting fundamentals, and computers.

    Applying to L&C

    Prospective students need to submit an application. Applicants who graduated high school less than four years ago must send transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. Other degree-seekers should contact the school to schedule a placement test.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: HLC
    Tuition: $125/credit (in district); $375/credit (out of district); $500/credit (out of state); $500/credit (international); $146/credit (out of district and out of state, online)
    Required Credits: 18-30 credits
    Program Length: 12 months (certificate of completion); 4 semesters (certificate of proficiency)

  2. Harper College
    Location

    Palatine, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Established in 1965, Harper College (Harper) now serves more than 35,000 learners, making it one of the nation's largest two-year colleges. Enrollees can learn at the main location northwest of Chicago, at an extension campus, or online.

    Accounting Bookkeeper/Clerk Certificate

    Harper's eight-credit certificate prepares graduates for careers as accounting clerks. The program kicks off with an introduction to accounting courses and a class in Quickbooks. Additional course offerings explore database software, word processing programs, and spreadsheets.

    Upon graduation, certificate holders should feel at ease with common accounting tools. Graduates can apply the certificate's stackable credits to a series of programs culminating in an associate degree.

    Applying to Harper

    Harper offers several admission paths for high school students, learners over age 19, online degree-seekers, and military service members and veterans. Applicants should contact Harper for more information.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: HLC
    Tuition: $134/credit (in district); $391/credit (out of district); $466/credit (out of state and international)
    Required Credits: 8 credits
    Delivery Format: On campus

  3. Eastern Iowa Community Colleges
    Location

    Davenport, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC) serve multiple communities along the Mississippi River. The district enrolls more than 7,000 students in associate, college transfer, and vocational training programs and provides workforce and community education for another 30,000.

    Certificate in Accounting and Finance for Non-Financial Managers

    EICC's certificate program equips graduates with fundamental accounting and finance skills. Enrollees learn the seven steps in the accounting cycle before exploring cash and cash flow. The program concludes with an exploration of business report assessment and analysis.

    Designed for learners without financial management experience, the program's three courses address accounting and finance, financial analysis and planning, and cash. Enrollees enjoy online access to discussions, readings, audio recordings, and quizzes. To complete the certificate, students must make at least one discussion comment each week and earn 80% on quizzes.

    Applying to EICC

    Applicants to this non-credit program may complete an online registration form or call the school to register. Enrollees receive a web address and password to access the learning platform.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: HLC
    Tuition: $495/program
    Required Credits: 4.8 continuing education units
    Program Length: 48 Hours
    Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)

  4. McHenry County College
    Location

    Crystal Lake, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    McHenry County College (MCC) offers six associate programs, 29 career training degrees, and 61 certificates. The school serves students at its main campus in Crystal Lake, Illinois, and at several satellite campuses and online.

    Accounting Certificate

    MCC prepares degree-seekers for junior accounting roles in industry, government, and business. Graduates can seek positions as credit analysts, tax collectors, and financial examiners. Program courses include financial accounting, income tax accounting, and computer applications for accounting. Outside the classroom, degree-seekers can take advantage of free accounting tutoring and a high school accounting bowl.

    The school's educational options also include bookkeeping and tax practitioner certificates. These stackable credentials can lead to progressively higher-paying jobs in the field.

    Applying to MCC

    Applicants should submit an application along with a $15 fee. Prospective students must also send high school transcripts and either take a placement test or submit ACT or SAT scores.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: HLC
    Tuition: $112/credit (in district); $370/credit (out of district); $464/credit (out of state); $112/credit (online)
    Required Credits: 36 credits
    Program Length: 48 weeks
    Delivery Format: 100% online

  5. Des Moines Area Community College
    Location

    Ankeny, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    With 12 central Iowa locations, Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) has educated students since 1966. Today, the school serves more than 72,000 learners from 37 countries and all of Iowa's 99 counties.

    Accounting Certificate

    DMACC's accounting certificate program equips degree-seekers with financial knowledge and relevant job skills. Courses include information computing, QuickBooks accounting, business math, and finite math.

    Program participants gain skills in communication, transaction analysis, and accounting software. They also learn to solve problems on a calculator, manage reports, and perform double-entry bookkeeping tasks.

    The program's courses transfer into either the school's accounting and bookkeeping diploma or its accounting specialist program. Certificate candidates must earn a C or better in all accounting coursework and maintain a 2.0 GPA.

    Applying to DMACC

    Enrollees may begin in any semester. Applicants must submit an application, satisfy the school's assessment requirement, and attend an information or registration session if required.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: HLC
    Tuition: $170/credit (in state); $340/credit (out of state)
    Required Credits: 13-15 credits
    Program Length: 2 semesters
    Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous) or on campus

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