Learners with graduate certificates in accounting can improve their career options, increase their earning potential, and pursue certified public accountant (CPA) credentials.
Whether a professional wants to advance in their current position or shift to a finance-focused role, an accounting graduate certificate can help them pursue that goal.
Earning a certificate can lead to increased salaries, a return on a student's investment, improved job security, and an expanded professional network. More students realize the value of certificates today — the number of graduate certificates awarded between 2018-2019 grew by 19.6%.
Individuals with graduate certificates in accounting can pursue entry-level and mid-level careers in different sectors as accountants, bookkeepers, financial analysts, and auditors. This guide offers a close look at graduate accounting certificates and how they can benefit professionals today.
Crunch the Data: What to Expect | Courses | Cost | Jobs and Salaries | Certificate or Degree? | FAQs
Why Get a Graduate Certificate in Accounting?
- Prepare for CPA Exam
- The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) requires each learner to obtain a four-year degree and complete at least 30 hours of graduate-level training before sitting for the CPA exam. Graduate certificate programs can fulfill this requirement.
- Competitive Edge
- Professionals with graduate certificates in accounting can stand out from other candidates in the competitive job market. A postsecondary certificate demonstrates a learner's investment in accounting, and their desire to develop their accounting skills. A certificate also indicates that a professional has had recent training in the latest updates within the field.
- Transferable Credits
- Credits from accredited institutions may count toward a master's degree. If students pursue a two-year graduate program in accounting, they can save time and money with transfer credits.
What to Expect From Graduate Accountant Certificates
Graduate certificates in accounting train learners in advanced financial concepts. Students with prior accounting skills can build on their knowledge in reporting systems, business law, auditing techniques, and cost accounting. Graduate certificates in accounting also help many learners prepare for the CPA exam.
The duration of graduate certificate programs vary among schools. Many learners finish their certificates in approximately 12 months. Most programs require 4-6 classes or 12-16 credits.
Always ensure the accreditation status of your prospective school and program. Regionally accredited schools offer the best graduate accountant certificates. Some students can save time and money by transferring previously earned credits toward their graduate certificates in accounting. The credits earned at accredited colleges and universities often transfer to other accredited institutions.
Types of Certificates for Graduates in Accounting
Colleges and universities offer fully online, hybrid, and in-person graduate certificates in accounting. Fully online programs typically deliver the most scheduling flexibility for working professionals' busy schedules. Learners interested in face-to-face classes can consider hybrid or in-person learning formats, which feature part-time and full-time options.
Schools may also provide graduate accounting certificates online in asynchronous or synchronous formats. Asynchronous accounting classes can best serve self-starters with excellent time management skills who need the flexibility of completing classes on their schedules. Synchronous online accounting classes include set class times, offering remote students a more traditional learning experience from the comfort of their homes.
An applicant for a graduate certificate in accounting must possess a bachelor's degree from an accredited four-year institution. Prospective students with non-accounting degrees may need to complete accounting or finance prerequisite courses before applying. Potential prerequisite classes may include financial and managerial accounting, cost accounting, and auditing.
Depending on the program, admission materials may include a personal essay, resume, and college transcripts. Some schools require applicants to have a GPA of 2.7 or higher. Requirements for certificate-seekers are comparable to master's degrees. Master's programs may also require candidates to submit GRE scores.
Popular Graduate Accountant Certificate Courses
Required and elective classes for graduate certificates in accounting cover advanced concepts in the field. Some certificates allow students to select 2-3 elective courses, which help them tailor the program to their interests. Here is a look at three classes typically offered in accounting graduate certificate programs.
- Intermediate Accounting
- This course builds on students' knowledge of foundational theories in accounting, exploring advanced financial statement preparation, time value of money concepts, intangible assets, and footnote disclosures. Instructors introduce students to international accounting convergence topics and advanced accounting software. The class may require a case study analysis as a final project.
- Advanced Financial Management
- Learners explore advanced techniques in financial management, including mergers and acquisitions, cash management, and multinational financial management. Instructors demonstrate how to assess financial decisions based on trends and accounting issues. Students use case studies to analyze financial strategies used by real-world organizations.
- Auditing Theory
- Coursework covers fraud, risk assessment, ethics, analytical procedures, and professional responsibilities. Students learn to design audit plans, evaluate data, and conduct statistical sampling.
How Much Do Certificates for Graduates in Accounting Cost?
Graduate certificate costs vary across programs. Learners can expect to spend about $400-$1,000 per credit. Students may pay around $12,000 for a graduate accounting certificate.
The median tuition cost for one year of a public graduate school, as of the 2019-2020 school year, was $11,673. With two years at this median figure, tuition would cost over $23,000, making a graduate certificate a more affordable option for many students.
The school's prestige, public or private status, and tuition for online classes can affect the overall cost of an accounting certificate. Private schools tend to apply higher tuition rates than public schools.
Academic institutions often charge higher rates for out-of-state students. Students may sometimes save money by taking online classes, as these often require lower rates than in-state tuition. Students can pursue several financial aid options. In addition to submitting a FAFSA form, a certificate-seeker can apply for scholarships and grants or take out student loans.
Graduate Accountant Certificate Jobs and Salaries
Graduate certificate-holders in accounting contend for entry-level and mid-level careers, depending on their experience. After completing certificates, many students sit for the CPA exam and pursue careers as certified public accountants.
Others pursue lucrative careers as budget analysts, financial analysts, and auditors. The following list offers a closer look at some popular careers for professionals with graduate certificates in accounting, along with projected growth figures and salary data.
These professionals provide oversight and supervision for organizations' accounting operations. Financial controllers may prepare statements and business activity reports, supervise employees, and make economic forecasts. Most of these professionals work in finance and insurance. Many financial controllers have a background in accounting or other related areas.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook:+17% from 2020-30
Median Annual Salary:$134,180
These accountants control businesses' operating costs, financial planning, and financial organization. While other accountants primarily report data to stakeholders and tax authorities, operational accountants track their company's spending and offer plausible strategies to improve its performance. These workers often possess CPA licensure.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree plus graduate certificate
Job Outlook:+7% from 2020-30
Median Annual Salary:$73,560
Analysts help businesses and individuals make financial decisions to increase profits. They focus on helping clients find lucrative investments in stocks and bonds. These analysts study market trends, examine financial statements, and evaluate historical financial data to make informed suggestions for clients.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook:+6% from 2020-30
Median Annual Salary:$83,660
Should You Get a Graduate Certificate or a Graduate Degree?
Graduate degrees and certificates share similarities, making it difficult to choose between them. Graduate accounting certificates offer training in master's-level topics, albeit with fewer classes. In this way, certificates can provide advanced training with a shorter time commitment.
Many students choose their educational pathway by considering the overall cost. Since certificates require fewer classes, take less time to complete, and usually cost less, accounting graduate students may choose a graduate certificate over a master's degree.
For some learners, the choice comes down to which program affords them more career opportunities. About 37% of employers in the U.S. preferred professionals to possess a master's degree, compared to only 6% requiring a postsecondary nondegree.
While BLS data indicates that master's degrees, in general, may offer workers more career opportunities, professionals with graduate certificates in accounting can also have strong job prospects. When coupled with a bachelor's degree, an accounting graduate certificate prepares students to sit for the CPA exam. Since about 50% of accountants hold CPA licensure, the job outlook appears bright for individuals with bachelor's degrees and graduate certificates.
Comparing Certificate and Degree Programs
|Key Factor||Graduate Certificate in Accounting||Graduate Degree in Accounting|
|Duration||One year or less||Two years|
|Learning Format||Online, hybrid, in-person||Online, hybrid, in-person|
|Enrollment||Full-time or part-time||Full-time or part-time|
|Admissions Requirements||Bachelor's degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Goal||Entry-level jobs, career changes||Advanced positions, upper mobility in current position|
Difference Between Certificates and Certifications
Certificates and certifications differ significantly. A certificate is a credit-based credential that demonstrates the completion of an academic program. Certificates in accounting come from accredited academic institutions to serve learners with existing knowledge or experience. These institutions develop certificate programs and do not follow a nationally standardized format.
Certifications show that a student passed an exam evaluating skills based upon industry-wide standards. Certifications suit professionals with experience looking to bolster their current credentials and abilities. They also require professionals to complete continuing education classes or exams to maintain their credentials.
Accounting students can use the knowledge they gained in graduate certificate programs to obtain credentials in the field. CPA licensure is a certification commonly pursued by graduate certificate-holders.
Learners need 150 credits to sit for the CPA exam. After completing their bachelor's degree, a graduate certificate in accounting can provide the additional required credits.
Selecting the Right Graduate Certificate in Accounting
Future accounting students should consider several factors when choosing a graduate accounting certificate program. In addition to locating a program that fits their budget, learners should ensure that they apply to programs with courses in their desired format.
Not all programs offer fully online, hybrid, or in-person programs, so certificate-seekers should apply accordingly. For example, hybrid and in-person programs require students to live near or on campus.
Schools that feature online asynchronous classes or part-time enrollment options may best serve learners with jobs or familial obligations. Alternatively, students who wish to progress through their graduate accounting certificates more quickly should seek schools that offer accelerated options.
Prospective learners should only apply to programs with regional accreditation from a body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Accreditation ensures that the program meets high academic standards.
Some programs may also possess programmatic accreditation from accreditors such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.
What are accounting graduate certificates?Graduate certificates in accounting are academic credentials that show satisfactory completion of a college or university's program. Graduate certificates provide learners with advanced training in accounting skills to pursue entry-level and mid-level accounting roles.
Is a CPA a graduate certificate in accounting?No. CPA licensure is separate from a graduate accounting certificate. The CPA credential is a type of certification that professionals can acquire by passing the CPA exam after school. Learners can qualify to sit for the CPA exam after completing a bachelor's degree and several classes at the graduate level.
How much does an accounting graduate certificate program cost?Graduate accounting certificate costs vary among programs. Depending on the school, certificate-seekers can expect to spend about $4,000-$12,000 in tuition and fees.
What can you do with graduate accountant certificates?Graduate certificates in accounting help students pursue entry-level and mid-level careers upon graduation. Certificates also work well for professionals who wish to change career trajectories. Many graduates with accounting certificates choose to sit for the CPA licensure exam.
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