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5 Best Accounting Certificates 2021

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Often referred to as the language of business, accounting plays a vital role in organizations of all types. Accountants record and analyze financial data, helping individuals and businesses make informed decisions and maximize financial efficiency.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that accountants earned a median annual salary of $71,550 as of 2019. Accounting careers are projected to grow on par with the national average from 2019-2029. 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 Accounting Certificate?

Accounting certificates can facilitate transitions into entry-level accounting and bookkeeping careers, even without a college degree. Earning an accounting certificate can also enhance the resume of a college graduate, offering further credentials in a quicker timeframe than most degree programs.

Accounting certificate holders can use their certificates to find work in various accounting industry jobs or pursue further education, depending on their educational and professional background. Workers in the field might pursue accounting certificates to complete prerequisites for an advanced accounting degree. Certificate-holders without a degree may find work as a clerk, small business bookkeeper, budget planner, or commercial banking specialist. The following list details more potential benefits of earning an accounting certificate.

The full cost of an accounting certificate is often more affordable than an undergraduate degree in accounting, making it an excellent choice for students who want to further their career without spending a lot of money.

Many accounting certificate programs offer flexible pathways to completion, including online or evening classes. Earning an accounting certificate can benefit students who need to study while working or handling caring duties.

The best accounting programs offer certificates with accounting courses that target on-the-job skill building. Students can learn and enhance professional skills that improve their career prospects.

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What To Expect From an Accounting Certificate

Accounting certificate programs provide students with a broad overview of accounting, although some 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 may be completed in less than two years. Learners may complete accounting certificates online, on campus, or in a hybrid format, depending on the school.

Accounting certificate programs provide students with a broad overview of accounting

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 such as 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 between $200 and $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, saving time and money.

Admissions Process

Prospective accounting certificate students should expect to submit their high school or college transcripts along with their application. For most undergraduate accounting certificates, there are no prior education requirements other than high school or GED certificate completion.

Graduate accounting certificates require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree. Schools may require applicants to hold a minimum GPA of 2.0, but this requirement is often stricter for graduate certificate programs.

Most undergraduate programs do not require previous accounting experience or skill tests for admission. Instead, they weigh each student’s application and academic background, including SAT, ACT, or similar standardized test scores, to determine eligibility for the program.

Different Certificate Types

In addition to undergraduate and graduate accounting certificates, schools offer a few other types of accounting certificate programs. For example, students may choose among in-person learning, hybrid programs, or online coursework. In-person accounting certificates consist of on-campus classes with face-to-face instruction. Online programs feature an online dashboard with coursework presented digitally. Hybrid accounting certificate programs blend online and in-person classes.

Additionally, online accounting courses may be asynchronous or synchronous. Asynchronous classes do not require students to log on at specific times, offering a more flexible learning solution. Synchronous learning requires specific dates and times for students to meet with instructors and join in for lectures.

Accounting certificates can also be generalized or specific to accounting subcategories. Learners may choose to complete specialized certificates such as QuickBooks, office accounting, or payroll accounting, based on interests and future career goals.

Popular Accounting Certificate Courses

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

While courses vary by program, many accounting certificate programs include some variation of the following classes.

  • Introduction to Business

    This course builds a foundation for further study, introducing key business concepts such as management, marketing, finance, accounting, and investments. Many courses also introduce common business technology tools.

  • Introduction to Accounting

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

  • Managerial Accounting

    This course explores accounting’s role in shaping 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 key accounting software, such as QuickBooks.

  • Income Tax

    This course introduces the major principles of income tax returns, often for individuals and sole proprietorships. Many courses also offer a broad overview of more complex tax returns for partnerships and corporations.

How Much Do Accounting Certificates Cost?

Students interested in accounting certificates can expect to pay between $200 and $400 per credit, or a total cost between $2,000 and $12,000, depending on the number of credits required to graduate. However, the cost of an accounting certificate program varies.

Community colleges tend to charge the lowest rates for students living within the county, but may charge higher costs for out-of-county students. State colleges typically assess higher per-credit tuition for certificate programs, but sometimes charge flat-rate tuition for residents and nonresidents. A flat rate is more common for online accounting certificate programs.

Students interested in accounting certificates can expect to pay between $200 and $400 per credit, or a total cost between $2,000 and $12,000

Accounting certificate programs typically require fewer credits than associate and bachelor’s programs in accounting. Many students get a career head start with a certificate while incurring lower educational costs. Doing so may provide a pathway for learners to enter the field more quickly and potentially continue working while pursuing an associate or bachelor’s at a later date.

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

Accounting Jobs and Salaries

An accounting certificate provides qualifications for several entry-level careers in the field, including financial clerk, bookkeeper, and accounting clerk. These jobs may not warrant the same salaries as advanced positions such as accountant and auditor. Still, they build valuable professional experience and serve as practical entry points into the accounting field.

  • Financial Clerk

    Financial clerks perform administrative tasks, including maintaining records and carrying out financial transactions. They may take responsibility for a specific area, such as payroll or new accounts.

    Median Annual Salary: $40,540

  • Bookkeeper

    Bookkeepers create, maintain, and ensure the accuracy of financial records for organizations of all types. Typically using industry-standard software like Excel and QuickBooks, they take responsibility for entering financial data but typically avoid the more complex analytical tasks performed by accountants.

    Median Annual Salary: $41,230

  • Accounting Clerk

    Often working for larger organizations than bookkeepers, accounting clerks may perform more specialized tasks and focus on specific types of accounting, such as accounts payable or accounts receivable. More experienced clerks may code documents, add billing vouchers, and ensure the overall accuracy of account data.

    Median Annual Salary: $41,230

Explore the Accounting Career Guide

Educational Paths in Accounting

While an accounting certificate can open doors for entry into the workforce, many positions in the field require further education, typically in the form of an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree. These degrees build advanced skills and more comprehensive accounting knowledge, which can lead to more lucrative careers with greater responsibility.

Should You Get a Certificate or an Associate Degree?

An accounting certificate is similar to an accounting associate degree in some ways, so prospective students might not know which path to pursue. Still, differences between the two could make one more reasonable than another in specific situations.

An accounting certificate generally takes less time to complete than an associate degree in accounting. With fewer credits, students may also pay less for a certificate than an associate degree, which could provide a low-cost pathway into an entry-level career. Comparatively, an associate degree paves the way for entry into a bachelor’s degree program for students who want a higher level of education.

The table below compares important aspects of an accounting certificate and an accounting associate degree.

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, and professional skill building 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

While the terms are often used interchangeably, distinctions do exist between an accounting certificate and accounting certification. A certificate typically introduces more general knowledge, operating as an abbreviated version of an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Certifications often build specialized knowledge in a specific area or skill set, like QuickBooks or forensic accounting, and may require students to pass an exam to achieve the credential. Graduate-level certifications, such as certified public accountant (CPA), may be required for many advanced positions in the field.

Selecting the Right Certificate Program

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

Always ensure that a school possesses proper accreditation from a regional accreditation agency. Schools without proper accreditation offer no guarantee of credit transferability 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, and public colleges offer lower tuition than private colleges.
Transfer Pathways
Accounting certificate programs often lead into 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 can be completed in a matter of weeks or months. Other schools cater to working students, offering part-time programs that enable students to complete the work at their own pace.
University Resources/Career Services
Many schools offer strong resources for accounting students, which may include career counseling and connections to internships and job opportunities.

Should I Get My Certificate Online?

With online education becoming increasingly common, it is becoming the norm to find hybrid or online accounting programs. Accounting certificates are particularly suited to online learning, which favors flexibility. Students can continue to work and handle family commitments while pursuing an accounting certificate.

Online accounting certificate programs sometimes entail lower costs than traditional certificate programs. Some schools lower the tuition and costs associated with online certificate programs because students do not need to use school equipment or materials to complete the program. However, online learners may incur more costs by buying and using their own materials, such as a computer or required software.

An online accounting certificate program may not be the right choice for some students. Some online programs offer asynchronous delivery, meaning that learners can work at their own pace without specific class meeting times. This process can be challenging for students who prefer more structure.

The Best Accounting Certificate Programs

  1. Lewis and Clark Community College

    Godfrey, IL



    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

    Palatine, IL



    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

    Davenport, IA



    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

    Crystal Lake, IL



    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

    Ankeny, IA



    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

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I get an accounting certificate?

    Many two- and four-year colleges offer accounting certificates on campus and/or online.

  • What's the difference between an accounting certificate and certification?

    An introductory certificate builds foundational knowledge in the field, while professional certifications may build specialized skills for practicing accountants. The terms may sometimes be used interchangeably.

  • How much does it cost to get an accounting certificate?

    Tuition rates vary widely among schools. In general, public schools are cheaper than private schools, and two-year colleges are cheaper than four-year colleges.

  • What can I do with a certificate in accounting?

    An accounting certificate provides preparation for entry-level careers, such as financial clerk, accounting clerk, and payroll clerk. A certificate also provides a springboard into further education, such as an associate or bachelor’s degree.

  • Is an accounting certificate worth it?

    An accounting certificate can help you increase your job options, advance your current career, and earn a higher salary, making it a worthwhile investment for many.

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