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 earn an annual median salary of $71,550, and accounting careers are projected to grow on par with the national average between 2018-2028. 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.
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Top 10 Best On-Campus Accounting Certificate Programs
||Rochester Institute of Technology
||University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus
||University of Redlands
||Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
||University Park, PA
||New York City, NY
||Pacific Lutheran University
What Is an Accounting Certificate?
An introductory accounting certificate prepares students for a variety of entry-level positions in the field and serves as a first step on the path toward further education. These certificates often build general skills in areas such as auditing and analysis, taxation, and bookkeeping. Certificate programs vary in length, but they are almost always shorter than an associate degree, and many can be completed in just a few months.
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, such as 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.
Best Accounting Certificate Programs for 2020
This ranking highlights the top accounting certificate programs around the country. While these programs may offer different focuses and course requirements, they all offer strong professional preparation and affordable tuition, making them practical choices for aspiring accountants.
Students should consider many factors before selecting a school, including cost, enrollment options, and potential credit transfer pathways. The wide availability of accounting certificates ensures that students can find a program that meets all of their needs.
Providence College is a private, Catholic institution founded in 1917 by a group of Dominican Friars. Based in Providence, Rhode Island, the college primarily educates business students. Finance, marketing, management, and accounting make up four of the five most popular majors for undergraduates.
The 12-credit accounting certificate program includes courses in financial accounting, managerial accounting, cost accounting, and legal environment for business. Providence College uses computer labs and team projects to enhance students' professional skills. Part-time learners can complete all four courses in less than a year.
Though not required, students can combine their accounting certificate with a bachelor's program to fast-track a four-year degree.
Located in the Lehigh Valley town of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Muhlenberg College sits between New York City and Philadelphia. Muhlenberg's name honors Henry Muhlenberg, the founder of the Lutheran Church in the United States, and the college still adheres to Lutheran morals and teachings.
Available through evening and weekend classes, the major certificate in accounting includes 48 credits of courses like the principles of macroeconomics, intermediate accounting, and concepts of federal taxation. Part-time students finish this major certificate in roughly two years.
Students can transfer up to 24 credits into the accounting program. Before applying, Muhlenberg suggests that each applicant schedule a meeting with one of the college's academic advisors to create a plan of study.
Rochester Institute of Technology
The Rochester Institute of Technology ranks among the nation's top research universities. Based in Rochester, New York, RIT's campus extends to China, Dubai, Croatia, and Kosovo, giving students the chance to enjoy a global educational experience.
Created to supplement skills for individuals already working in the financial field, the accounting and financial analytics advanced certificate combines data science and statistical analysis.
The 12-credit program requires courses in financial analytics, accounting information and analytics, and introduction to data analytics and business information. Students then choose a three-credit course in either data management for business analytics or data management and analytics.
The curriculum teaches graduate-level courses, so students must hold a bachelor's degree in accounting or finance and meet the requirements for graduate study at RIT.
Assumption College, a Catholic liberal arts school based in Worcester, Massachusetts, has earned a strong reputation for its professional studies and business programs, including its accounting certificate program.
The accounting certificate combines theory and practice through eight courses, including an accounting elective. Required classes cover topics like taxes, cost accounting, and advanced accounting. Students can choose from electives on topics such as corporate and partnership taxes, auditing, and fraud examination.
For students who already hold bachelor's degrees and plan to become certified public accountants (CPAs), Assumption also offers a certificate in accounting with a CPA track. This track requires at least 10 courses worth 30 credits, so students with a 120-credit bachelor's degree can meet Massachusetts' 150-credit requirement for CPA exam eligibility. Assumption offers both accounting certificate tracks entirely online.
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus
Founded in 1787 as the Pittsburgh Academy, the University of Pittsburgh ranks among the oldest universities in the region. The university enrolls over 32,000 students, many of whom pursue a postbaccalaureate education.
Created for working adults who already hold a bachelor's degree, the accounting certificate satisfies Pennsylvania's credit requirements to sit for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. Pitt's 24-credit certificate offers on-campus courses in the evenings on subjects including financial accounting, managerial accounting, and accounting information systems.
Pitt allows students to transfer up to nine credits toward the certificate. Students must earn a minimum 2.0 GPA on all courses.
The University of Redlands boasts a diverse, multicultural student body, representing students from around the world. Students enjoy a 13-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Redlands' fully online accounting certificate prepares students to take the certified public accountant exam in California.
The postbaccalaureate program requires at least 30 credits, and most students complete it in two years. Students take courses like auditing, intermediate accounting, and tax accounting. Redlands recommends that students also complete an accounting ethics elective course.
Redlands charges a per-unit tuition rate; alternatively, students can pay a flat rate for the entire certificate. After earning the certificate, students can apply their credits toward a graduate degree in accounting.
Based in Loudonville in the northern part of New York, Siena College is a small school, educating about 3,000 students. Learners gain access to various study abroad, internship, and service-learning programs.
Created for students without a bachelor's degree in accounting, the accounting certificate teaches students the basic skills needed to begin an accounting career. The certificate comprises 60 credits divided equally between business and accounting courses. Classes cover topics like taxation, cost accounting, and business law.
Learners must complete 30 of the required credits through Siena and earn an overall 2.0 GPA. Some students can use the accounting certificate to earn certified public accountant exam eligibility, though Siena recommends that students first speak with academic advisors.
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
University Park, PA
Based in University Park, Pennsylvania State University is a public institution that offers a graduate certificate in accounting. The program serves students who plan to become certified public accountants (CPAs) or pursue master's degrees in professional accounting.
The 12-credit certificate requires one course in auditing and practice theory. Learners select elective courses to complete the additional nine credits. Those planning to take the CPA exam may need to complete additional courses after earning their certificates, and students looking to begin master's programs at Penn State must earn a minimum "B" grade average.
Applicants must meet Penn State's requirements for graduate school. For the accounting certificate, Penn State expects applicants to hold bachelor's degrees in accounting. Students without bachelor's degrees in accounting may still apply, though they must complete prerequisite courses.
New York City, NY
Known for offering an affordable education that leads to high-growth careers, Pace University extends across New York. Available on the New York City and Pleasantville campuses, the basic accounting certificate serves students who have completed at least 64 college credits and hold junior standing.
The accounting certificate requires 20 credits, split between financial accounting, managerial accounting, cost accounting, and intermediate accounting courses.
Pace allows students to transfer one course into the certificate program. Learners must earn a "C" grade or higher in each course to earn the certificate. Graduates can apply their credits toward a bachelor of business administration in accounting at Pace.
Pacific Lutheran University
Pacific Lutheran University is a small, Lutheran school based in Tacoma, Washington. The university serves over 3,100 students and focuses primarily on liberal arts and professional studies, enhancing education through local mentorships and internships.
Designed for students with a bachelor's degree, the accounting certificate prepares learners for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. The certificate requires 24 credits, most of which cover accounting topics. Students must earn a minimum 3.0 GPA in accounting courses and a minimum "C-" grade in all other courses to graduate.
Because the program only mandates 24 credits, some students may need to complete six more credits to meet the 150-credit requirement to sit for the CPA exam in Washington. The certificate takes part-time learners 1-2 years to complete.
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
The University of Minnesota features five campuses across the state. The university enrolls nearly 31,500 students, and close to 225,000 professionals in Minnesota attended UMN. This extensive alumni network helps students find employment after graduation.
Students can complete the accounting certificate through daytime, evening, or online courses. The 54-credit program requires applicants to possess at least 60 prior college credits. Program topics include taxation, auditing, and business law. Applicants who already hold bachelor's degrees in accounting qualify to sit for the certified public accountant and certified management accountant exams upon graduation.
UNM charges a per-credit tuition rate, with Minnesota residents receiving a discount. Students can transfer up to 40% of the program's required credits toward the certificate.
Holy Family University
Holy Family University is a Catholic school based in the busy financial city of Philadelphia. Learners at HFU enjoy an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Created for students who do not hold bachelor's degrees, the certificate in accounting helps graduates advance their careers.
The accounting certificate requires 8-10 accelerated, five-week courses. Classes meet once or twice a week for 3-4 hours a time. The accounting program fits into working adult learners' busy schedules, and part-time learners can complete the program in as little as one year.
Most graduates work in the Philadelphia area. Accounting certificate students pay HFU's undergraduate, per-credit tuition rate.
Originally founded in Brooklyn, Adelphi University now calls nearby Garden City, New York, home. The school's 42-credit advanced certificate in accounting delivers courses in a sequential order, allowing students to graduate in three years.
Required courses include cost accounting, advanced accounting, and business law. Designed for students with a bachelor's degree in any discipline, the program helps students qualify to sit for the certified public accountant exam in New York.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA from an accredited institution. Adelphi accepts applications at any time of year.
Based in Amherst, New York, Daemen College is a private institution that offers liberal studies degrees, but many students come to Daemen College to enroll in professional programs and advance their current careers.
Available at Daemen's campus in Brooklyn, the accounting certificate requires 30 credits. learners take courses on topics like income tax theory, auditing, and managerial accounting. The certificate accommodates working adults' schedules, following an accelerated format. To supplement their education, students may also partake in paid internships.
While some applicants hold bachelor's degrees, Daemen College does not require any previous college education. The certificate uses sequential courses and takes over one year to complete.
Based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Cedar Crest College aims to educate the next generation of women leaders. Designed for women with bachelor's degrees in non-accounting fields, the postbaccalaureate CPA certificate satisfies Pennsylvania's credit requirements for certified public accountant (CPA) exam eligibility.
The program requires 36 credits of courses on topics including tax, managerial, and audit accounting. Learners can complete accounting courses entirely online, on campus, or in a hybrid format. Cedar Crest College also lets students complete accelerated courses. Accounting certificate students apply through the school of adult and graduate education.
Founded in 1963 by a Catholic bishop, Sacred Heart University offers a career-focused education based on Catholic values. SHU also nurtures entrepreneurial growth and connects graduates with its various partners around the region.
Designed for students with a bachelor's degree, the school's accounting certificate satisfies Connecticut's credit requirements to sit for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. Students without a bachelor's degree can still pursue the program, but they do not qualify for the CPA exam.
Accounting certificate courses include auditing, cost management, and intermediate accounting. Before taking intermediate accounting courses, students must complete a prerequisite accounting course. The certificate requires 18 credits.
Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Wilkes-Barre
As an extension of the greater PSU system, Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Wilkes-Barre offers a world-class education with plenty of flexibility. The small campus in Lehman educates just 460 students with 65 faculty members, so all on-campus learners receive a personalized education.
Best for students with experience in bookkeeping, accounts payable, and similar accounting roles, the financial accounting certificate requires just two courses: introductory financial accounting I and introductory financial accounting II. Penn State Wilkes-Barre offers both courses online, and both courses take seven weeks to complete.
Applicants need a high school diploma or equivalent. Penn State Wilkes-Barre might require some students to complete prerequisite courses.
Texas A&M University-College Station
College Station, TX
Texas A&M's location in College Station is one of the nation's largest campuses, hosting over 69,000 students. The school offers an energy accounting certificate that blends traditional accounting with business courses related to the energy industry.
Along with three required accounting courses and an internship, Texas A&M requires students to select a non-business elective in areas like agriculture, economics, and geology. Full-time students can complete the program in 1-2 semesters. Graduates can pursue accounting roles for energy companies across the country.
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota
Based in Winona, Saint Mary's University of Minnesota is a private, Catholic school that offers a strong student community and ample hands-on learning opportunities.
Designed for students with a bachelor's in accounting degree, the 24-credit certificate in accounting comprises accounting, ethics, and business law courses. Transfer students who previously completed two introductory accounting courses can finish the program with 150 credits, enough to meet Minnesota's requirements to sit for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam.
Most program graduates sit for the CPA exam, but this program also prepares learners for general accounting careers. The school offers rolling admission, and students can begin courses during the spring, fall, or winter semesters.
University of Maryland-Baltimore County
The University of Maryland-Baltimore County is a comprehensive public research institution that hosts around 13,600 students annually.
Designed for students with a bachelor's degree, the 52-credit accounting certificate satisfies the 150-credit requirement to sit for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. Students take a mix of accounting and general business courses on topics like taxation, cost accounting, and principles of microeconomics.
UMBC allows all undergraduate majors to apply for the accounting certificate, though most candidates hold degrees in accounting, economics, or finance. Graduates can seamlessly transfer into UMBC's master's in taxation and accounting programs.
University of Southern Maine
Based in Portland, the University of Southern Maine features three campuses around the city. Students can take advantage of USM's prime location on the water. USM's certificate in accounting prepares students to take the certified public accountant (CPA) exam.
Intended for students with bachelor's degrees in non-accounting fields, the certificate requires 31 credits to meet Maine's 150-credit requirement to sit for the CPA exam. Courses cover topics such as introduction to macroeconomics, introduction to statistics, and managerial accounting. Full-time students can complete the program in one year.
Learners must earn a minimum 2.33 GPA on all accounting courses to complete the certificate. To gain admission, applicants must demonstrate a minimum 2.33 GPA on their bachelor's degree or hold a master's degree.
Belhaven University provides students with an affordable, private, Christian education. Belhaven teaches all programs from a Christian worldview, so applicants should prepare for courses to include some level of Christian teachings.
Available at Belhaven's campus in Jackson, Mississippi, the accounting certificate requires 36 credits and serves as a second major for current college students. Certificate graduates with degrees in accounting or finance meet Mississippi's 150-credit requirement to sit for the certified public accountant exam. Required courses include cost accounting, auditing, and forensic accounting.
Applicants with bachelor's degrees in business administration from Belhaven meet all prerequisites for this certificate. Those from other schools must hold bachelor's degrees and demonstrate the completion of 10 prerequisite business and accounting courses.
Founded in 1772 as a school for girls, Salem College represents the oldest higher education institution for women in the United States. The college currently enrolls over 1,100 women, and students enjoy a lively campus with plenty of clubs and activities.
The certificate in accounting comprises four required accounting courses in principles of financial accounting, intermediate accounting I, intermediate accounting II, and cost accounting. Students also complete two elective courses. The certificate culminates with an accounting assessment exam. Learners must complete at least four of the six courses through Salem College.
Salem College offers this certificate as an alternative to a minor in accounting. Current degree-seeking students can complete the certificate while earning a bachelor's degree.
Founded by the Sisters of Divine Providence in 1963, La Roche University teaches students to become lifelong learners and adapt to the changing global society. Created for working accountants with bachelor's degrees, the accounting certificate requires 24 credits, preparing graduates to meet the 150-credit requirement to sit for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam.
Half of the program's required courses cover accounting topics, while the other half comprise elective courses. Required courses cover topics like auditing, taxation, and cost accounting. Most students complete the program on a part-time basis over the course of a year.
Should I Get an Accounting Certificate?
Students may pursue accounting certificate programs for many reasons. Some may be looking to enter the field, while those already employed in the industry may earn a certificate to advance their careers. Regardless of your goals, a certificate can open many professional and educational opportunities.
What Jobs Can I Get With an Accounting Certificate?
An accounting certificate qualifies you for several entry-level careers in the field, including financial clerk, bookkeeper, and accounting clerk. While these jobs may not boast the same salary as an advanced position, like accountant or auditor, they build valuable professional experience and serve as practical entry points into the accounting field.
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.
Annual Median Salary: $40,540
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.
Annual Median Salary: $41,230
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.
Annual Median Salary: $41,230
Further Educational Paths in Accounting
While an accounting certificate can help you enter 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.
An associate degree builds on the skills gained during a certificate program, preparing graduates to pursue entry-level positions or to transfer to a bachelor’s program. In general, a four-year bachelor’s degree serves as the minimum education requirement for many accounting positions.
To earn CPA certification, many states require students to possess 150 college credits, which extends beyond typical 120-credit bachelor’s degree requirements. Many schools offer master’s programs in accounting specifically designed to meet the education requirements for the CPA exam. Before choosing an educational path, students should check with their state boards to determine the specific requirements for their location.
Typical Accounting Certificate Coursework
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 to Choose an Accounting 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get an accounting certificate?
Many two-year and four-year colleges offer accounting certificates. These programs may be available on campus and/or online.
How long does it take to get an accounting certificate?
While completion times vary among programs, most certificates require less than a year to finish.
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.
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.
What can I do with a certificate in accounting?
An accounting certificate prepares you for entry-level careers, such as financial clerk, accounting clerk, and payroll clerk, as well as for further education opportunities, such as an associate or bachelor’s degree.
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.
Do you need a certificate to be an accountant?
All accountants need at least a bachelor’s degree, so a certificate won’t suffice for many careers in the field. Some positions, such as CPA, require certification in addition to education.