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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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 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.

The Top Accounting Certificates

An accounting certificate prepares you for entry-level careers or further academic study in this high-paying field. Our 2022 ranking highlights some of the country's top accounting certificates. Learn more about our ranking methodology below.

#1 Online College in Wisconsin

Moraine Park Technical College

School Information
Location Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Graduation Rate 57%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 31% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin-based MPTC offers associate and certificate programs in more than 100 career fields. The college runs additional campuses in Beaver Dam, Jackson, Ripon, and West Bend.

Accounting Assistant Technical Diploma

MPTC's accounting assistant technical diploma builds foundational accounting skills through classroom instruction and hands-on training. Students learn how to complete basic financial tasks, including preparing payroll and processing transactions.

The program typically lasts two semesters. Enrollees take classes like computer literacy, income tax accounting, and introduction to finance. After earning their certificate, students often pursue an associate degree in accounting.

MPTC offers credit-for-prior-learning opportunities to students with relevant job experience. Working students with previous accounting training can sometimes skip course requirements, completing their degree faster.

Applying to MPTC

Applicants need either a high school or GED/HSED diploma. To determine class placement, they should submit either ACT scores or take the ACCUPLACER test. 

Program at a Glance

  • School Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $141 per credit for in-state learners; $211 per credit for out-of-state learners
  • Required Credits: 35 
  • Program Length: One year
  • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous), on campus, or hybrid (online and on campus)
#2 Online College in Wisconsin

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College

School Information
Location Fennimore, Wisconsin
Graduation Rate 62%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 26% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Fennimore-based Southwest Tech serves many Wisconsin counties, encompassing an area of 3,800 square miles. The school offers several academic programs, technical certificates, and career training.

Accounting Assistant Technical Diploma

Southwest Tech's accounting assistant technical diploma trains students in basic accounting principles and practices. The program focuses on accounting for corporations, partnerships, and sole proprietorships. Learners can choose from specializations in business spreadsheet applications or business taxation.

Students take classes like payroll applications, math with business applications, and career planning in business. Enrollees build skills in basic computer applications like Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and QuickBooks.

Southwest Tech maintains articulation agreements with several Wisconsin colleges. Students often transfer to four-year colleges to earn a bachelor's in accounting. The school also maintains a direct transfer agreement with Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio.

Applying to Southwest Tech

Applicants need a high school or GED diploma. Southwest Tech also considers ACT or ACCUPLACER scores. Candidates can complete a class placement assessment as part of their registration process.

Program at a Glance

  • School Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $2,500-$2,820 per semester
  • Required Credits: 34
  • Program Length: One year
  • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous), on campus, or hybrid (online and on campus)
#3 Online College in Iowa

Iowa Lakes Community College

School Information
Location Estherville, Iowa
Graduation Rate 52%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 35% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Estherville, Iowa-based Iowa Lakes serves students throughout Algona, Emmetsburg, Spence, and Spirit Lake. Founded in 1967, the school ranks among the top community colleges in Iowa.

Accounting Diploma

Iowa Lakes' accounting diploma builds foundational skills for all types of accounting, including public, private, and governmental. Students gain a broad understanding of major accounting cycle steps, payroll procedures, and financial statement preparation.

Typical classes include human relations, business correspondence, and computer accounting. Students also complete a bookkeeping review course that prepares them for the Certified Bookkeeper exam. Learners complete an individual projects course during their final semester. The class includes an accounting simulation for a retail business.

After earning their accounting diploma, many students continue on to the school's associate of applied science in accounting program.

Applying to Iowa Lakes

Applicants submit high school or GED transcripts, along with transcripts from any other colleges attended. Iowa Lakes also requires scores from either the SAT, ACT, or ACCUPLACER.

Program at a Glance

  • School Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $191 per credit for in-district learners; $196 per credit for in-state learners; $202 per credit for out-of-state learners
  • Required Credits: 35
  • Program Length: 1.5 years
  • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous), on campus, or hybrid (online and on campus)
#4 Online College in New Jersey

Middlesex County College

School Information
Location Edison, New Jersey
Graduation Rate 23%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 22% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

A public community college based in Edison, New Jersey, MCC serves students throughout Middlesex County. More than 10,000 students enroll at the school annually. Learners pursue both technical and academic programs.

Accounting Certificate of Achievement

MCC's accounting certificate of achievement program serves students with an associate degree in any subject. Certificate candidates need credits in general education, including mathematics. The certificate focuses only on accounting courses, building specialized knowledge in the field.

Students complete five classes, including financial accounting, managerial accounting, and cost accounting. The program explores strategies for communicating financial information within business organizations.

Many graduates pursue careers in bookkeeping, tax preparation, and accounting. Graduates may also transfer into accounting bachelor's programs. MCC maintains articulation agreements with many New Jersey colleges, including Rutgers and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. 

Applying to MCC

Accounting certificate candidates need an associate degree or higher in any field. Applicants may also need permission from the department chairperson to enroll in the program.

Program at a Glance

  • School Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: $167 per credit
  • Required Credits: 20
  • Program Length: N/A
  • Delivery Format: On campus
#5 Online College in Wyoming

Western Wyoming Community College

School Information
Location Rock Springs, Wyoming
Graduation Rate 35%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 54% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Rock Springs-based WWCC has offered technical and academic education since 1959. The school now serves more than 7,000 students annually. WWCC enrolls learners across Wyoming's Sweetwater County.

Accounting Certificate

WWCC's accounting certificate introduces key skills in business and accounting practices. Typical classes include college math, technical writing, and introduction to information management. Enrollees also study accounting computer software, including spreadsheet applications, word-processing applications, and QuickBooks.

The program curriculum includes one business elective. Some options include economics, business administration, and finance.

Certificate recipients can pursue entry-level careers in accounting or bookkeeping. Graduates can also continue their studies with WWCC's associate programs. WWCC maintains articulation agreements with many four-year colleges throughout the state, including the University of Wyoming.

Applying to WWCC

Applicants must submit official high school transcripts or transcripts from degree-equivalency programs, including the GED or HiSET. WWCC administers different placement tests, including the College Level Examination Program and the ALEKS Math placement test.

Program at a Glance

  • School Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $150 per credit for in-state learners; $360 per credit for out-of-state learners
  • Required Credits: 35
  • Program Length: One year
  • Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous), on campus, or hybrid (online and on campus)

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.

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