Transfer students switch schools for a variety of reasons. Financially motivated students may choose to start their accounting degrees at a community college to save money; other students transfer because the academic program at a different school is simply a better fit for their interests and career goals. Some students have more specific transfer situations, such as military students who earned college credits while in the service, or international students who moved to the United States and want to continue their education here. Nearly 10% of all students complete their degrees through multiple institutions, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Many colleges and universities are welcoming to transfer students, offering generous transfer policies, plus other resources to ease the process and make it as smooth as possible. Do your research before beginning the accounting program application process to increase your chances of success.

How to Choose an Online Accounting Program

Make sure to choose accounting programs that accept transfer students, and contact their enrollment advisers to learn each school’s specific transfer policies. Also make sure to learn whether the accounting departments at your chosen institutions are accredited. Accreditation demonstrates a school’s credibility and dedication to continual improvement. Key accreditation agencies include the Higher Learning Commission, Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, and Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

Also make sure to inquire about the the length of your chosen accounting programs. Some are as short as 12 months, while others may take two to four years. Find out if your degree must be completed on a part-time or full-time basis, or if the department offers more flexibility than that. Many part-time programs cater specifically to working professionals. If you’re looking into online programs, determine whether the classes are offered synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous programs invite you to participate in live, real-time web conferences, while asynchronous elements include previously recorded videos, lectures, and other assignments. You should also look into the plan of study, the different types of classes offered, and concentrations, areas of emphasis, internships, practicums, and other accounting major requirements. Find out if the curriculum requires a final capstone and/or thesis project. Many online programs offer 100% distance learning, but some programs may mandate a few on-campus requirements or other in-person commitments. As for cost, tuition usually fluctuates based on how many credits you’re taking, but ask about the total cost of education, which includes books, materials, and other miscellaneous fees. Find out if there are any extra technology fees associated with taking classes in an online format.

Type of Accounting Degrees

Those interested in accounting have a variety of degree options to choose from, including associate, bachelor of science, or bachelor of arts. Consider some important differences before deciding which accounting degree is right for you.

An associate degree in accounting is the first step beyond a high school diploma or accounting certificate. Most associate programs comprise 60 credits and take two years to complete, giving students basic, fundamental accounting knowledge. It’s affordable and can be completed relatively quickly. After earning an associate degree, many students transfer their credits to a four-year university.

Those who do not earn their bachelor’s degree often get jobs as bookkeepers or accounting clerks. However, to become a certified public accountant, you must earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting from a four-year college. A bachelor’s degree is the next step up from earning an associate degree. Accounting students can choose between a bachelor of science (BS) and a bachelor of arts (BA), the main difference being that a BA includes more general education coursework in finance, while a BS requires more specific, major-related courses involving the technical or practical aspects of accounting. Both of these undergraduate degrees consist of 120 credits, and can be completed in four years of full-time study. Those who’ve already earned an associate degree can transfer their credits and complete the bachelor’s degree in just two more years.

Average Salary by Degree and Years of Experience
Degree 1-4 Years 5-9 Years 10-19 Years 20+ Years
Associate’s Degree, Accounting $39,578 $45,186 $49,404 $53,065
Bachelor of Science (BS / BSc), Accounting $52,806 $67,501 $79,117 $91,504
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Accounting $52,494 $69,217 $78,771 $89,425

Typical Accounting Program Entry Requirements

Online accounting program students must meet certain requirements. For instance, most schools require students to hold a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent. Some ask you to demonstrate writing skills by submitting a short essay, while others might request a phone interview with an admissions adviser or enrollment counselor, or a campus visit to tour the school and ask questions. Many schools like to see SAT or ACT scores and at least one letter of recommendation, while some do not require any letters of reference or standardized test scores, but do mandate an entrance exam (such as a collegiate readiness assessment, in which you must demonstrate your ability to handle college coursework).

After learning and completing your school’s application requirements, make sure to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for scholarships and other forms of financial aid.

How Do You Apply for an Accounting Program?

Application Materials

Required application materials vary depending on the online accounting program. Generally speaking, applicants should prepare the following items:

  • College Application: All schools require transfers students to complete and submit an online college application form. Some have a specific deadline for enrollment, while others allow you to apply at any time. You can find the application on the school’s website.
  • High School Transcript: Since most online programs require a high school diploma. GED, or equivalent, you must submit your high school transcript to demonstrate proof of completion. To get a copy of your high school transcript, call your school directly. Either someone in the registrar’s office or counseling office can help you.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Some schools require letters of recommendation from professional references. To obtain a letter of recommendation, ask someone who can vouch for your credibility, such as a teacher, professor, supervisor, or manager.
  • SAT or ACT Scores: Typically, colleges that want to see your SAT or ACT scores will want official score reports sent directly to them from test administrator, such as the College Board, which is a nonprofit organization that prepares the SAT. You must call or submit an online request to get official test scores sent to your school of choice.
  • College Transcript: Send in official college transcripts with your college application. You can order these transcripts through your school’s registrar office to obtain an official of your college transcripts.
  • Application Fees (or Fee Waiver): Many schools require applicants to pay a non-refundable application fee, usually between $40 and $70. However, some schools do not require a fee, or offer a fee waiver to some applicants. If there is a fee, you will be asked to pay it via credit card when you submit your online application, or by mail via check or money order.

When Should I Begin the Application Process?

Deciding when to begin the application process depends on your chosen school and accounting program. Some four-year colleges, such as Arizona State University, recommend that transfer students begin the application process a year ahead of their planned enrollment, to ensure a smoother transition. On the other hand, some schools, such as Western Governors University, do not have application deadlines, so students start and complete their applications at any time.

How to Transfer Colleges

Some colleges have transfer agreements, which allow students to easily move credits from one to the other. The following checklist briefly breaks down the steps you need to take to transfer your college credits:

  1. Research your prospective transfer schools
  2. Check accreditation status and articulation agreements
  3. Contact school advisers
  4. Confirm that your credits will be transferred over
  5. Research financial aid options
  6. Begin application process

Types of Transfer Students

Students decide to transfer colleges for a variety of reasons, and each type of transfer has its own unique considerations:

  • Community College to Four-Year College Transfer: Students who have earned an associate degree from community college may decide to transfer their credits to a bachelor’s program.
  • Four-Year College to Four-Year College Transfer: Some students transfer from one four-year college to another because they feel one school is a better fit for them, or offers a program better suited for their individual interests and career goals.
  • Military Transfer: Many military students transfer credits that they earned while on active duty in the service. Some may decide to transfer to a school that’s more military-friendly, in which case they can use their educational benefits.
  • International Transfer: International students may decide to move to the United States and want to transfer credits they earned in their home country. Most schools have specific admissions requirements for international students, for example, a test for non-native English speakers.

Transferrable Credits

It’s up to the admitting school to decide whether your previous credits will transfer. In other words, a school’s admissions office has the right to reject credits earned at other institutions of higher education. Transferring between public schools in the same state is usually the easiest way to go, and some schools create articulation agreements to further simplify the transfer process. When looking into a school’s transfer policy, pay close attention to policies about course equivalency, course levels, and quarter systems versus semester systems.

  • Course Equivalency: Course equivalence is especially important if you’re transferring credits form a community college. Each school has its own equivalency guidelines: One may accept credits from your community college’s basic financial accounting class to count toward its equivalent 100-level class. However, another school may only accept those class credits as general elective credits.
  • Course Level: Generally, it’s easier to transfer credits for lower-level coursework (e.g. 100- and 200-level courses) than it is for upper-level courses. For example, you may be able to transfer credits from a basic managerial accounting course without issue, but have to retake a higher-level business strategy course, because upper-level courses tend to be so content-specific.
  • Quarter vs. Semester Transfers: Consider whether your prospective school runs on a semester or quarter system. Most run on a semester calendar, which includes longer courses and more time in each class. To get a tentative idea of how the quarter credits transfer to semester credits (and vice versa), use this general formula.

What if My Credits Don’t Transfer Over?

Schools have the right to reject transfer credits based on their own transfer policies. In some cases, schools may reject credits altogether, or accept credits only as general elective coursework, rather than as specific accounting-related courses. Students have the option to file an appeal if they’re not satisfied with how their credits transferred. Some schools have students fill out a transfer credit appeal form, while other schools may ask for a written request.

Most schools require a course grade of “C” or better to successfully transfer credits, though some have stricter requirements. Many online schools have more lenient transfer policies than traditional colleges. Contact your prospective school’s admissions office to speak with a transfer adviser to confirm that your credits will transfer over before applying or enrolling in courses.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, transfer students lose approximately 43% of their credits when they switch from one school to another, and students who transfer from private for-profit schools to public schools lose more than 94%.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Transfers

When you attend a school in the state in which you reside, you pay in-state tuition, which is much more affordable than out-of-state tuition. Some schools have a tuition policy for distance learners that allows them to pay in-state tuition, even if they do not live in the same state as the school. Transferring credits from one school to another in the same state is ideal, because many community colleges and public state schools have articulation agreements, allowing students to easily transfer credits from one to the other. The following table shows the price differences between in-state and out-of-state schools.

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

Benefits of Transferring From a Community College to a Four-Year School

Associate degrees generally cost less than the first half of a bachelor’s degree, because associate programs require less time, and community colleges are less expensive than four-year schools. In fact, the primary benefit of earning an associate degree from a community college and then transferring your credits to a four-year school is affordability. This is the most affordable path to earning a bachelor’s degree. It also offers the most flexibility, since you can begin your program without committing to a four-year university.

Many states have articulation transfer agreements between community colleges and state universities, allowing students to transfer credits from one school to another without any issues. Many articulation agreements also lay out a joint admissions agreement, which allows students who were already admitted in one school to be automatically admitted into another. The following table compares tuition at public two-year schools to tuition at public four-year schools:

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

Other Factors to Consider When Transferring

Starting your accounting degree at a community college and transfering to a four-year university is ideal for some students, but there are some drawbacks to consider. It’s possible that not all of your credits will transfer, meaning you may have to retake certain courses. Also, community college coursework may be easier than coursework at a four-year university, which may leave some students underprepared when they get into a bachelor’s program. Transferring accounting schools also means going through the admissions and application processes. The acceptance rate for transfer students may be lower than the regular student acceptance rate, because limited space is available for transfer students.

Accreditation

Accreditation is a comprehensive review process that demonstrates a school’s academic excellence and dedication to continual improvement. When researching online accounting programs that accept transfer students, find out about each school’s accreditation status. Before enrolling in a program, make sure it’s accredited by a reputable agency, ideally one of six regional agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Other reputable accounting-related accrediting agencies include the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. It’s easiest to transfer credits from regionally accredited programs, plus enrolling in a school that’s not accredited may keep you from receiving financial aid. Find out whether your prospective schools are accredited by checking the CHEA database of accredited schools.

Scholarships for Transfer Students

Transfer students have many financial aid options, including loans, grants, and scholarships. The following is a list of scholarships to consider as a student pursuing an online degree in accounting:

AICPA Transfer Scholarship Award
Who Can Apply: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (CPA) offers 25 scholarships each year to students transferring from two-year colleges to four-year schools. Applicants must plan to complete their degrees in accounting and become licensed CPA professionals, and have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Amount: $5,000


The Roshan Rahbari Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: The Silicon Valley Community Foundation offers four scholarships for California residents who are currently enrolled in community college and plan to transfer to a four-year college. Students must demonstrate financial need and hold a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Amount: $5,000


Transfer Times
Who Can Apply: Transfer Times offers two scholarships each year to students who are enrolled at a two-year community college or technical college. Finalists are chosen at random and must submit an essay to be considered for selection.
Amount: $6,000


HSF Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Hispanic Scholarship Fund is offered to Hispanic students who are currently attending community college and plan to transfer into full-time accredited not-for-profit, four-year universities. Applicants must hold a minimum GPA of 2.5.
Amount: $500 to $5,000


AICPA Scholarship Award for Minority Accounting Students
Who Can Apply: The AICPA provides financial support to minority students pursuing an accounting degree. Applicants must plant obtain CPA licensure, and have already completed 30 semesters hours of college coursework.
Amount: $3,000 to $5,000


Striving for Greatness Accounting & Finance Scholarship
Who Can Apply: PM Business Advisors awards scholarships to students who are enrolled in a full-time college or university, and plan to sit for the CPA exam within the next three years. Applicants must be well-rounded individuals who demonstrate academic excellence in accounting and have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0.
Amount: $2,500


EFWA Accounting Scholarships
Who Can Apply: The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting offers multiple scholarships to women in the field of accounting. Scholarship are available specifically for those who are in their sophomore, junior, and senior years of their bachelor’s degree in accounting.
Amount: $1,000 to $4,000


Independent Accountants Association of Illinois Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Independent Accountants Association of Illinois Scholarship Foundation offers two awards each year to students pursuing a career in the field of accounting at an Illinois college, community college, or university. Applicants must have a minimum “B” average in all accounting subjects.
Amount: $1,000


Connecticut Rising Sophomore Accounting Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Educational Trust Fund of the Connecticut Society of CPAs offers multiple scholarships to support students pursuing an accounting degree. This scholarship is designed specifically for students in their freshman year who plan to complete their sophomore year at a four-year university.
Amount: $1,500


VSCPA Educational Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: The Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants offers a variety of scholarship for students who are pursuing degrees in accounting at an accredited college or university in Virginia.
Amount: $1,500