If the trajectory of your academic career were illustrated on a map, the end would be your graduation day, and the start would be the day you begin researching an accounting program. Choosing an accounting program is not a simple task; you are undertaking a major investment of time, energy, and money.

The cost of a program, its length, admission requirements, location, learning format, reputation, and much more factor into your decision-making process. Is the college's tuition comparable with other colleges? Is the school nearby your home or work? These are some of the crucial questions you should consider.

Before you commit to a college, read this guide to consider the crucial factors that differentiate each accounting program.

Program Delivery: Online vs. On-Campus

One of the hardest choices for an accounting student may be deciding between online or on-campus learning. There are advantages and disadvantages to both learning formats. In the end, you need to think about the pros and cons, and your educational needs. Will online learning work for you?

The clear advantage to online learning is the convenience. Many online programs are taught asynchronously, which means you can take classes and do assignments on your own time from home or anywhere with an internet connection. And taking classes online costs less since you do not pay for transportation, parking, or room and board.

However, online learning requires you to be technologically savvy and, more importantly, self-disciplined and organized. There is also a misconception that online learning is easier than traditional learning; this is not the case. Online coursework is typically as demanding as traditional coursework. Your professor will expect you to submit assignments, essays, and take quizzes by set deadlines. Plus, you will have to participate in online discussions and video chats. Online learning also lacks face-to-face interaction, so if you need that personal interaction in your education, online learning may not be a good fit for you.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Online Accounting Program

Hybrid/Blended Learning: If you are on the fence about enrolling in a fully online program, you may want to consider hybrid/blended learning. What is a hybrid program? Hybrid accounting degree programs combine online and in-person classes. With hybrid learning you get the convenience of an online class, plus the face-to-face interaction of a traditional class.

Much like online learning, students enrolled in hybrid learning classes participate online in class discussions and on message boards. The professor posts assignments and quizzes online with set deadlines. Unlike online learning, however, hybrid learning requires that students visit campus one Saturday a month or two evenings a week for traditional face-to-face learning. While most work is done online, the programs are often cohort-based so you will get to know your classmates. If you are unable to commute to school due to your work schedule, or you live out-of-state, a fully online program is likely a better fit.

Synchronous or Asynchronous: You will hear the terms "synchronous" and "asynchronous" frequently in the world of hybrid and online learning. Synchronous learning means students do most of their coursework online on their own time, but the professor also holds real time online lectures and discussions. Students who thrive off of personal interaction will enjoy synchronous learning. The class format also works well for students who are not self-starters and need more structure. This also means you cannot make your own hours, so the set schedule may, at times, conflict with your work or family life.

Asynchronous learning is the exact opposite. Students enrolled in asynchronous classes have loose assignment and exam deadlines, and there are no set virtual classroom times for asynchronous programs. Students can ask questions on message boards and speak to their professor during online office hours, but otherwise they are studying independently. While this offers you a great deal of flexibility, asynchronous courses can feel lonely and it may be difficult to keep motivated without the support of classmates. If you cannot decide between the two, consider that many programs are a combination of asynchronous and synchronous learning.

Class Size: The size of a class impacts the quality of your learning experience, even when you are studying online. Think of it in terms of the student-to-faculty or student-to-teacher ratio: the more students there are the less time you get with your professor. If your teacher is managing a large class that means you have fewer opportunities to reach out for help since you will be competing for her time with your other classmates. A "good" student-to-faculty ratio is 18:1, which means there 18 students for each faculty member.

Class size can seem inconsequential as online learning is becoming increasingly more common. However, the number of students in your online class matters. Online students interact online and participate in video and chat discussions. There are also a finite number of online office hours one professor can take. To get an idea of how large your online class may be, check the program's student-to-faculty ratio or the class size limits. As a guideline, remember that an online class of about 15 to 20 is average. Anything above that is considered large.

Personal Learning Style: The idea of online learning may appeal to you. It sounds ideal to make your own schedule and study from anywhere. In reality, online learning does not benefit every type of learner. Specific students will excel more in an online learning environment, while others may struggle with the lack of traditional structure and in-person support.

To see if online learning is right for you, think about — from an honest perspective — your learning style and ask yourself these questions: Are you a relatively independent learner, or do you need the support of an instructor and classmates? Do you value face-to-face discussions? Are you a good self-starter? To a certain extent, online accounting programs are designed for different types of learners. The advancements in technology also help. For obvious reasons, visual and auditory learners benefit the most from YouTube videos, video chatting, and online presentations that are a part of every accounting online class.

The presentations and online coursework also works well for reading and writing learners who can go at their own pace. Unfortunately, kinesthetic learners may have difficulty in online environments since there are not as many hands-on activities.

Internships or Practicums: Online accounting students may be required to take practicum courses or internships, however this is not the norm in most online accounting programs. When programs require practicum courses they are typically about three credits. Practicum/internships give students the chance to receive work experience in accounting before they graduate. These short-term internships are usually available near the campus. Colleges may be flexible and allow you to use your work experience — provided it is in the field of accounting — in place of an internship or practicum course.

Make sure to review your online accounting program's curriculum and see if practicum or internship requirements are listed. Also ask if the internship/practicum can be completed near you or if the college accepts work experience. Those factors will make a difference because, if you have a full workload and a busy home life, it is difficult to travel and make time for an internship.

Choosing an Accredited Program

There are many online programs to choose from, and not all of them are accredited. When a college program is accredited you can rest assured that the money and time you are putting toward a degree will be recognized when you graduate and enter the workforce. Accreditation simply means that the accounting program and its curriculum have been reviewed by an independent accrediting agency and have been found to meet certain quality standards. This does not simply matter for quality assurance and reputation, but it is also required to receive federal financial aid. Additionally, if you ever want to transfer or pursue a higher degree, you will want to make sure your educational credits are recognized by an accrediting body.

How do you know if a program is accredited? Online and on-campus programs are accredited by the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which is an organization made up of national accrediting agencies. Online and on-campus programs are each reviewed and accredited similarly. You can find out if a college program is accredited by searching CHEA's database and directories, which includes more than 23,000 accredited programs.

National vs. Regional Accreditation

Accreditation is a badge of pride that colleges and universities proudly announce on their websites. What does accreditation mean, you may wonder? There are two types of accreditation: regional and national. Regionally accredited colleges are recognized by the Department of Education, and is regarded as more prestigious than a national accreditation. Most traditional colleges and universities are regionally accredited, whereas vocational schools are nationally accredited.

Regional accreditation is more than simply a prestigious stamp; it also means that these institutions can receive federal funds. Also, when you attend a regionally accredited college, you can be sure (in most cases) that your college credits will be recognized by other regionally accredited institutions when you transfer. You may, however, run into problems transferring credits from a nationally accredited college to a regionally accredited college, while regionally accredited college credits are generally accepted at nationally accredited colleges. To find out if a college is accredited, search the Department of Education database or browse the CHEA directory.

Programmatic Accreditation

Within every college are specialized programs such as accounting, business, journalism, engineering, and architecture. How do you know if those programs are reputable? There is something called programmatic accreditation, or specialized accreditation. The process of program accreditation — just like college accreditation — is voluntary. During the programmatic accreditation process an independent specialized agency evaluates that program's faculty, curriculum, information technology, and teaching methods.

Unlike colleges, which are almost always either regionally or nationally accredited, programs are not always accredited. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, or AACSB, oversees accreditation for business and accounting programs. About 187 accounting programs and 816 business schools around the world are accredited by the AACSB. One third of the graduates who go on to become CPAs have graduated from AACSB accredited schools, according to the National association of State Boards of Accountancy. To see if your accounting program is accredited by the AACSB, check the directory.

Career Goals

Your career goals will heavily influence which accounting program you choose. Different careers are open to graduates with associate's, bachelor's, or master's degrees in accounting. A program's specialized coursework also determines what job you may land after graduation. If you want to be a CPA, auditor, or tax planner, it is important to look for an accounting program that will prepare you to take those certified exams. Likewise, programs offer concentrations in business, fraud examination, auditing, or taxation. These specialties help students hone skills that are useful in landing a specialized accounting job. Being honest about where you see yourself after graduation can help direct your decision-making process. Keep reading to explore some of the additional factors that determine what accounting careers are open to you.

Degree Level

Depending on your level of degree, certain accounting careers will be open to you when you graduate. Even if you have yet to begin your studies in accounting, it is helpful to have an honest idea of what types of jobs you will be able to land with an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree. Keep reading below to explore our guide on each accounting degree, the careers associated with them, and the potential salaries.

Associate Degree: A two-year associate degree in accounting explores the foundational knowledge in business, economics, and accounting for entry-level careers as bookkeepers or payroll clerks.

Bachelor's Degree: A bachelor's degree in accounting provides a foundation in corporate-level financials, auditing, and cost analysis. Graduates become public accountants, auditors, or go on to pursue a master's degree.

Master's Degree: This advanced degree teaches accounting theory and principles, often preparing students to pass the CPA exam. Graduates become auditors, corporate accountants, CPAs, or tax auditors.

Doctorate Degree: A Ph.D. in accounting is a research-heavy degree in which students hone the analytical and writing skills required to work in academia or government agencies, where most graduates are employed.

Accounting Specialities

Accounting specialties provide a well-rounded education and make graduates more marketable once they hit the job market. Taking a specialty in college also gives students the chance to understand their strengths and what type of job they want. Not every school offers a large selection of specialties, and it is more common for graduate programs to offer concentrations of study than bachelor's degrees programs. Nonetheless, below are six specializations that are commonly available for accounting students:

  • Auditing: A concentration in auditing teaches students the skills to examine a company's financials and detect fraud and/or mismanagement. Students gain familiarity with the Generally Accepting Auditing Standards, or GAAS, as well as the Professional Ethics Rules and U.S. Securities laws.
  • Financial Accounting: Students in financial accounting learn to analyze and oversee financial accounting records, a core element of managing a company's operations. Students also learn to manage balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements. They are additionally introduced to the generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, which governs all financial accounting.
  • Forensic Accounting: Forensic accounting teaches students to merge accounting and investigative skills to examine financial statements. Students learn to identify fraud and implement prevention measures. They are also taught the basics on fraud litigation, including preparing analytical data that can be used in court.
  • Government Accounting: Government accounting covers accounting in the private sector and government accounting, which deals with the finances of public entities. Students become familiar with fund accounting, per the rules and regulations of the GAAP.
  • Management Accounting: Management accounting deals with the management, analysis, and improvement of the financial health of an organization. Graduates who work in management accounting work internally alongside an organization's management and executive team to inform business decisions.
  • Public Accounting: With public accounting, students learn about external accounting. Public accounting teaches students how work in government agencies and private companies to examine, collect data, and audit the financials of an organization.

Explore Accounting Careers

Accounting graduates have a range of career options in the private and public sectors. Of course, the available jobs and your salary potential depends on your degree level and work experience. What type of job is waiting for you? Explore these careers to see the educational and training requirements, and the salary potential.

  • Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks: Bookkeepers and accounting clerks record a company's regular business transactions, working with the accounts payable and receivable departments. No degree needed, but college credit is preferred. The average salary is $39,240.
  • Accountants and Auditors: Accountants and auditors work in tandem and are employed by individuals or companies to maintain the finances, prepare statements, perform audits, and pay taxes on time. A bachelor's degree or higher is required. The average salary is $69,350.
  • Financial Analysts: Financial analysts evaluate market trends and help businesses make sound investment decisions and monitor current investments. They also work as fund managers, risk analysts, and portfolio managers. A bachelor's degree is required. The average salary is $84,300.
  • Budget Analysts: Budget analysts review, develop, and analyze budgets in organizations to boost profits, and examine cost-benefit analysts. They also review programs and financial proposals. A bachelor's degree is required. The average salary is $75,240.
  • Financial Managers: Financial managers manage the finances and investments of a company, preparing financial reports and working with executives to increase profitability. They also help with mergers and acquisitions. A bachelor's degree is required. The average salary is $125,080.
  • Personal Financial Advisers: Personal financial advisers provide advice on investments, taxes, and financial planning. advisers also help individuals with planning for retirement or other financial goals. A bachelor's degree is required. The average salary is $90,640.
  • Tax Examiners and Collectors: Tax examiners and collectors work for government agencies to assess what people and businesses owe on taxes. They also collect those taxes. A bachelor's degree is required. The average salary is $53,130.
  • Top Executives: Top executives are the heads of companies and tasked with overseeing the day-to-day activities as well as forecasting and meeting future goals. A bachelor's degree is required. The average salary is $104,700.
  • Postsecondary Teachers: Postsecondary teachers work in colleges and universities to teach and develop curriculum. Some also work in research settings within colleges or for non-governmental organizations. A Ph.D. is required. The average salary is $76,000.

Cost and Financial Aid

Education is a huge investment. When you are exploring your options, it is crucial to understand the true cost of each accounting degree. Programs vary in price, but what influences the cost of each program? There are several factors that make one college more expensive than another.

First, associate degrees will almost always be cheaper than bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degrees. Additionally, the length of a program and whether you attend part time or full time will also impact what you ultimately pay. On top of tuition, you must also factor in additional fees such as course materials, books, and technology charges. Below you will find more information about what influences your college tuition and your different options for federal financial aid and student loans and grants.

Public vs. Private Schools

When it comes to college, there are two types of institutions: public and private. Before you choose an accounting program, you should understand the differences between the two. While they may not appear all that different, for students the most noticeable difference is the price of tuition. The tuition at public colleges is almost always less expensive than private schools, thanks in part to the former's funding.

Public colleges receive state funds, whereas private colleges are primarily funded through private donors and by tuition. The state funding offsets costs to make public colleges and universities cheaper for students. While private colleges are usually more expensive, merit-based scholarships available at these schools help reduce tuition and fees. The good news is that financial aid, scholarships, and grants are available at both private and public schools.

Another key difference to consider is the size of the institution. Public schools have more students per faculty member, but they also have a greater variety of degree programs and extracurricular activities. On the other hand, private colleges are smaller — with better teacher to student ratios — and they tend to offer more specialized degree programs.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Schools

While attending a public school is typically less costly than private school, there is an exception: out-of-state tuition. Colleges usually require students to have lived in the state for a year or longer, or that their parents have lived in the state for at least one calendar year. The cost of your accounting program will be exorbitantly higher if you do not meet the college's residency requirements. Consider that the average in-state tuition for a public college is 2018 in $9,970, according to the College Board; the average out-of-state tuition for 2017-2018 is $25,620.

On the whole, residency requirements vary from state to state, so be sure to check the admissions criteria before you commit to an accounting program. Also, keep in mind that there are some circumstances when residency requirements can be avoided. For example, out-of-state students with impressive academic records are sometimes offered merit-based scholarships that allow them to receive in-state tuition. Students may also be able to petition for in-state tuition. Read on to find more information about in-state and out-of-state tuition prices for four-year colleges.

In-State vs. Out-of-State College Tuition Prices
  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public 4-year In-State College $9,670 $9,970
Public 4-Year Out-of-State College $24,820 $25,620
Private 4-Year Nonprofit College $33,520 $34,740

Two-Year vs. Four-Year Schools

To cut down on the cost of tuition, many students opt for a two-year associate degree at a community college rather than a four-year bachelor's degree. An associate degree is — in most cases — cheaper than a bachelor's degree. And two years at a community college is almost always a better deal than paying for two years at a four-year college. This, of course, may not be feasible for every student. For instance, if you want a career that requires a bachelor's or master's degree, you cannot avoid going to a four-year college.

One option for budget-minded students is to begin at a community college to complete general education credits for a significantly reduced price. They can then transfer to a four-year college to pursue their accounting major. While community college is cheaper, a four-year college may be worth the price, considering the experience. Unlike community colleges, four-year schools have more extracurricular activities, clubs, and student engagement opportunities.

If you are curious about the exact prices of a four-year versus a two-year college, examine the table below.

Two-Year and Four-Year College Tuition Prices
  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public 2-Year In-State College $3,470 $3,570
Public 4-Year In-State College $9,670 $9,970

Online vs. On-Campus Programs

Another way to save money on your education is to take an online accounting degree program, which is likely to be cheaper than an on-campus program. Students pursuing an online bachelor's degree on average pay about $345 per credit, while those earning a master's degree pay about $615 per credit, according to a 2015 study by The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research. Online programs are similar to on-campus programs when it comes to the coursework. Best of all, online students need not fret about financial aid. Undergraduates and graduate students are still eligible for federal loans and grants while studying online.

Costs are reduced when you take courses online, and some programs even provide online learners with laptops. Online programs are also more flexible with offering in-state tuition to out-of-state students. Additionally, online students save money on things that on-campus students normally pay for such as room and board, transportation, parking fees, and childcare. For more information, review the following table to see what on-campus students pay annually in room and board fees.

Room and Board Fees
  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public 4-Year In-State/Out-of-State College $10,480 $10,800
Private Nonprofit 4-year College $11,850 $12,210

Program Reputation

The saying goes: reputation is everything. What does a college's reputation matter when it comes to your decision-making process? Everyone wants to go to a respected college and attend a reputable accounting program. Choosing the right accounting program means you must weigh the factors that influence a program's reputation. How are colleges and accounting programs ranked? Accounting.com has a methodology to ranking its accounting programs, including weighing the CPA exam pass rate and the school's accreditation status. Here is more on some of that criteria:

CPA Exam Pass Rate: If you are interested in pursuing your CPA after completing your accounting degree, it may matter to you how many other alumni have passed the exam. To find that information, the program may advertised it on their website, or you can search the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy's Report on the CPA Exam, University Edition.

Graduate Job Placement Rate: One of the main reasons to get a college degree is to increase your salary potential and employability. The graduation job placement rate will let you know which programs and colleges turn out the most employable students. To check a college's graduate job placement rate, visit the QS Quacquarelli Symonds.

Teacher Credentials: When you invest in a college education, you want to feel confident that your teachers are credible. The regional or national accrediting bodies set certain guidelines for teacher credentials. To see those qualifications, visit your school's accrediting agency.

Accreditation Status: Whether a college is accredited or not plays a major role in its reputation. Colleges are either regionally or nationally accredited. Your college will generally have a separate web page that explains where it receives accreditation.