Accountants prepare financial documents, advise clients on financial decisions, and file tax returns. They can work in several specialties, including public accounting, auditing, managerial accounting, and cost accounting. A growing and lucrative field, nearly 1.4 million accountants currently work in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants and auditors make over $70,000 a year on average, with strong projected growth in the next decade.

Earning an online accounting degree prepares graduates for opportunities in the field. For example, with an associate degree in accounting, graduates can pursue opportunities as bookkeepers and accounting clerks. A bachelor's degree meets the entry-level requirement for most accounting career paths. Accountants with a master's degree meet the qualifications for in-demand certifications like the CPA credential. This guide introduces online accounting degrees and offers tips on how to choose the best program for your career goals and interests.

Accounting Degree Types

Associate Degrees

Associate Degrees

Tuition Range: $7,000-$36,000

Duration: 2 years

Average Salary: $50,000

Common Job Titles:

Bachelor's Degrees

Bachelor's Degrees

Tuition Range: $32,000-$212,000

Duration: 4 years

Average Salary: $69,000

Common Job Titles:

Master's Degrees

Master's Degrees

Tuition Range: $15,000-$56,000

Duration: 1-2 years

Average Salary: $69,000

Common Job Titles:

Doctoral Degrees

Doctoral Degrees

Tuition Range: $67,000-$132,000, with most schools providing stipends and tuition waivers that cover most or all of tuition.

Duration Range: 4-6 years

Common Job Titles:

Differences Between a Traditional and Online Accounting Program

Both traditional and online accounting programs prepare graduates for careers in different accounting specialties. However, the delivery format can shape a student's experience. In traditional programs, for example, students meet with faculty members and other students in person. Traditional degrees require set class times, unlike online programs, which offer asynchronous schedules.

Accredited accounting programs meet the same standards regardless of the delivery format. An accredited bachelor's in accounting online usually uses the same curriculum and offers an identical diploma to the institution's on-campus program. Similarly, an associate in accounting online from an accredited college must meet the same graduation standards as an on-campus program.

Prospective students can evaluate several factors when choosing between a traditional or online accounting degree. For example, students should consider the strength of their local programs, the flexibility of their schedule, and the relative total cost of a traditional or online program.

Benefits of an Online Accounting Program

An online accounting degree offers several benefits over an on-campus degree. First, the online learning format offers flexibility and accessibility for students, which particularly appealing to working professionals. In fact, many online accounting programs design their curricula for working students, which lets professionals increase their earning potential without a gap in wages.

Second, online programs offer cost savings over on-campus programs: Online students often save on tuition, commuting, transportation, and housing costs.

Third, accredited online accounting degrees meet the same high academic standards as on-campus degrees. As a result, employers increasingly value candidates with online degrees. A December 2018 survey by Northeastern University found that a majority of HR professionals consider online credentials equivalent to in-person credentials. A similar percentage believe that the college or university's reputation plays a larger role than the delivery format in the value of an educational credential.

How to Choose an Online Accounting Program

Prospective students considering online accounting programs can easily feel overwhelmed with their options. Researching several key factors -- including cost, accreditation status, and reputation -- can help narrow the choices. By following these tips, students can identify the best programs for their skills and career goals.

Ensure Accreditation

Accounting students should always choose an accredited college or university for their online accounting degree. Accreditation benefits students in several ways. First, an accredited degree meets the requirements for more certifications and licenses. For example, many states require an accredited degree, which can be a master's in accounting online, to earn a CPA license. Additionally, accredited institutions qualify for federal financial aid, and credits earned from accredited schools will more likely transfer to other programs.

Accounting programs with programmatic accreditation meet the highest standards for accounting education. Similarly, institutions with regional accreditation meet the highest academic standards. Prospective students can check a program's accreditation status online.

Look Beyond Your Location

An online accounting degree offers a major benefit over on-campus degrees. Students can consider top programs from across the country without relocating. In fact, many online programs design their curricula for working students, meaning accounting students can continue working while completing their degrees.

Online accounting programs also let students pursue specializations that local programs may not offer. For example, students interested in forensic accounting can earn a concentration in the specialty rather than a general accounting degree.

Consider Local Options

While online programs allow students to attend out-of-state schools without moving, some students may still prefer a local option. Attending a local college through an online program offers students the best of both worlds. Online students benefit from the flexibility of a distance learning format, while a local campus offers networking opportunities and the ability to meet in person with faculty members when necessary. Prospective students should evaluate local options to determine whether an online format better fits their educational needs.

Estimate Total Cost

Prospective students often compare tuition costs when looking for the most affordable accounting degrees. However, tuition is only one part of the total cost of the program. Students should also consider technology fees, the cost of books, and any online learning fees when estimating the cost of an online accounting degree. Online students often benefit from in-state tuition discounts when attending public out-of-state schools.

Reach Out to Students and Alumni

Contacting current students and alumni can help prospective students choose the right accounting program. Asking questions about the program, its placement record, and its support for students and alumni provides valuable information when evaluating programs.

These contacts can also serve accounting students well throughout their careers, as alumni networks help connect new graduates with job opportunities. Similarly, contacting a faculty member or advisor to ask about graduation rates and recent placements can help prospective students select a program.

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