Written by Kathleen Swed

Hosting the largest population in the United States, California also employs the most accountants in the nation. The 148,500 accountants working in the state earn some of the top salaries in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), making the state an excellent choice for those aspiring to join the field.

With a wide suite of household-name companies making their home in California, accountants can find ample opportunities in major corporations, accounting firms, and entertainment giants. Graduates with an accounting degree can pursue careers as certified public accountants (CPAs), personal financial advisors, and consultants. Additionally, the state's strong business sector creates high demand for financial managers and other executives, who often have a background in accounting.

On this page, prospective students can learn more about accounting degrees in California, including state-specific data, degree paths, and career opportunities.

California at a Glance

Population 39,747,267
Per Capita Income $37,124
Fortune 500 Companies 121
Number of Higher Learning Institutions 150

Average Annual Temperature: 59.4 ℉

Annual Precipitation: 22.2 inches

Major Sports Teams San Francisco 49ers, Golden State Warriors, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Sparks, San Diego Padres
Accountants in California 148,500

Top California Schools for Accounting

  • Claremont McKenna College
  • University of Southern California
  • Santa Clara University
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • Pepperdine University
  • Azusa Pacific University
  • Saint Mary's College of California
  • University of Redlands
  • University of San Diego
  • Biola University

Why Go to College for Accounting in California?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 3,727,266 students enroll in postsecondary programs annually in California. Hosting excellent institutions that offer in-person, online, and hybrid programs, the state boasts many opportunities for prospective students.

While California's cost of living remains high, the state provides abundant financial support to students and institutions. Additionally, some online programs allow students living out of state to pay in-state or otherwise reduced tuition rates.

To defray costs for out-of-state students, California participates in a regional program that allows students from participating states to pay reduced tuition at some institutions. The region includes neighboring states, such as Oregon and Utah, and extends as far east as the Dakotas.

Education Statistics for California

The table below illustrates education statistics for California compared to the country as a whole. The information includes numbers of two- and four-year colleges, distance learning statistics, and state-allocated funding for postsecondary education. Readers can also find data on the percentage of the population that completes education at the associate, bachelor's, and graduate levels.

Higher Education Statistics in California
California Data National Data
Number of Four-Year Colleges 264 3,004
Number of Two-Year Colleges 184 1,579
Percentage of Students Enrolled in Distance Education 29.1% 34.7%
Postsecondary Education Appropriations per Full-Time Student $9,078 $8,196
Percent of Tax Revenue Allocated to Higher Education 6.8% 5.8%
Percentage of Adults Over 25 With an Associate Degree 7.8% 8.4%
Percentage of Adults Over 25 With a Bachelor's Degree 20.8% 19.4%
Percentage of Adults Over 25 With a Graduate Degree or Higher 12.5% 12.1%
Sources: NCES, SHEEO, U.S. Census Bureau - American Community Survey

Accreditation for California Schools

Prospective accounting students should ensure the program they choose holds accreditation, preferably from a regional accrediting body. While national accreditation approves certain types of schools, such as for-profit and religious institutions, regional accreditation generally represents the most rigorous standards in higher education, ensuring a quality accounting program.

Many schools only accept degrees and transfer credits from regionally accredited institutions. Additionally, many professional licenses and certifications require an accredited degree. The WASC Senior College and University Commission regionally accredits California schools.

Considerations for an Accounting Degree in California

When researching accounting degrees in California, prospective students should compare their individual career goals with a program's offerings. Concentrations, distance learning options, and cost can also play important roles in the decision-making process. The sections below offer detailed information on accounting degrees and careers in California to help students select the right accounting program.

Accounting Degree Levels

Students should choose the proper degree level for their intended career. There are four accounting degree levels, with each leading to different careers:

Associate Degree in Accounting
Graduates with an associate degree in accounting can pursue jobs such as bookkeeper and accounting clerk.
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Bachelor's Degree in Accounting
A bachelor's degree qualifies accountants to work in many positions, particularly entry-level accountant jobs that do not require certification.
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Master's Degree in Accounting
Master's degree graduates typically qualify to take the CPA exam, which requires 150 college credits and leads to leadership roles in the field.
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Ph.D. in Accounting
Graduates with a Ph.D. in accounting can pursue careers in research and academia.
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Accounting Concentration Options

High concentrations of California accountants are employed in metropolitan areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles, giving them access to opportunities across many large corporations. Aspiring accountants with an interest in technology might find an accounting information systems concentration helpful in landing jobs with companies like Apple, Facebook, HP, and Oracle. Those hoping to spring from accounting into executive management benefit from a management accounting concentration.

Accounting Concentrations

On-Campus Versus Online Program Options

Some students thrive in on-campus programs, while others benefit more from online programs. The following sections outline the differences between on-campus, online, and hybrid programs to help prospective students determine the right format for their needs.


In a traditional on-campus program, students physically commute to take class. This option suits students who prefer to engage in face-to-face conversations with professors and colleagues. On-campus programs offer the advantage of direct access to extracurricular activities and networking events. Students requiring more hands-on guidance may elect to take classes on campus.

Online Programs

Many students gravitate toward online programs because of the flexibility they offer. Online programs may run asynchronously, allowing students to access course materials at their convenience and participate in discussions through online forums. Other programs require real-time meetings via webcam. Self-directed participants with a strong ability to schedule their own work tend to excel in online programs.

Hybrid Programs

In a hybrid program, students balance on-campus courses with online learning. Rather than accessing all materials online, program participants attend some sessions on campus. On-campus requirements might take the form of weekly in-person courses or immersion events that take place over the course of several days.
Percentage of Students Enrolled in Distance Education
Enrolled Exclusively in Distance Education Courses Enrolled in Some but Not All Distance Education Courses Not Enrolled in Any Distance Education Courses
California Students 11.6% 17.5% 70.9%
United States Students 16.3% 18.4% 65.3%
Source: NCES

Paying for Your Accounting Degree

Students can finance their California accounting degrees through many potential sources, such as loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study programs.

Often offered by professional associations and local organizations, scholarships can greatly reduce the financial burden of pursuing a degree. Students should search for scholarships based on their area of study, and consider whether they might qualify for awards based on their particular demographic.

Students must submit the FAFSA to determine their eligibility for federal financial aid. In California, the FAFSA also qualifies students for financial assistance through the California Student Aid Commission.

Average Cost of College Tuition and Fees in California, 2017-2018
California National
Average In-State Tuition and Fees (Public Four-Year) $8,020 $9,037
Average Out-of-State Tuition and Fees (Public Four-Year) $29,173 $25,657
Average Tuition and Fees (Private Four-Year) $33,483 $30,731
Average In-State Tuition and Fees (Public Two-Year) $1,268 $3,243
Average Out-of-State Tuition and Fees (Public Two-Year) $7,504 $7,971
Source: NCES

In-State Versus Out-of-State Tuition

Many public institutions vary tuition rates depending on the student's state of residence. California's public institutions offer lower in-state tuition rates than the national average.

Students living outside of California may pay higher tuition fees than those living within the state. Using averages from the NCES, the table above illustrates the major difference in cost between in-state and out-of-state tuition. However, some programs allow all online students to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of residency.

California collaborates with neighboring states through the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. With programs for both undergraduate and graduate students, the agreement allows students living in the region to attend California institutions at reduced rates.

California's Cost of Living

Students should remember to factor a state's cost of living into their budget plan when researching locations for school. Housing, groceries, utilities, and transportation all make up important lines in any student's budget.

World Population Review serves as an excellent resource for finding this information. The site reports California's cost of living at 151.7, among the highest in the country.

Other School Selection Criteria

When researching schools, students may also wish to take into account personal and professional preferences in areas like school and class sizes, program length, and available resources.

School Size

Some students prefer smaller campuses, while others like the bustle of a larger school. Large schools can feel overwhelming, but may offer more extracurriculars and events, while smaller schools can feel more intimate and offer more personal attention from advisors and faculty.

Student-to-Teacher Ratio

Schools with small student-to-teacher ratios typically offer more individualized attention from faculty.

Program Length

Some schools offer accelerated programs that allow students expedite graduation and/or part-time programs that lengthen the time to graduation.


Prospective students should research the resources at potential schools, including library services, career support, and alumni networking opportunities. Online students should confirm that school resources apply to distance learners.

Careers for Accounting Graduates in California

U.S. News & World Report ranks California's economy as the fourth-strongest in the country. Ranked first for its booming business environment, the state claims a strong base of veteran companies and a constant influx of new businesses. Aspiring accountants can take advantage of career opportunities in major companies, exciting startups, consulting firms, and the entertainment industry.

Tech strongholds in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley employ many accountants in the state. The capital area around Sacramento also boasts a large concentration of accounting professionals.

For those interested in pursuing careers in the country's top accounting firms, the 'Big Four' -- Deloitte LLP, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG -- each run offices in California. Between them, these four companies handle the majority of auditing and corporate-level accounting services in the nation.

The sections below offer details on promising accounting careers in California.

Select Accounting Careers in California

Payroll Clerk

A type of accounting clerk, payroll clerks manage data entry related to employee timesheets and ensure correct payment details. They may calculate tax withholdings, commission earnings, and benefit deductions. Depending on the organization, they may also handle some budget-related tasks. Typically, payroll clerks hold an associate degree, though some employers may require a bachelor's degree.

Job Outlook in California: +1.1% (2016-2026)

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Cost Estimator

Cost estimators analyze data related to materials, labor, and production time to determine how much money a company will need to spend to complete a project. They may also help look for ways to reduce spending over the life of a project. Cost estimators often specialize in areas like construction or manufacturing. Most cost estimators hold a bachelor's degree.

Job Outlook in California: +16.2% (2016-2026)

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Financial Manager

Financial managers oversee their company's financial operations. They work with other executives to form financial goals and implement strategies related to those goals. They handle investment activities, compile reports, study the market and competition, and supervise employees in budget-related roles. Many employers prefer financial managers with a master's degree.

Job Outlook in California: +21.7% (2016-2026)

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California Employment Trends

Projected Job Growth for Accountants

162,000 Employees2016
179,700 Employees2026
California 10.9% increase
1,424,000 Employees2016
1,514,700 Employees2026
National 6.4% increase

Source: Projections Central

* Associate Degree Recommended     ^ Bachelor's Degree Recommended     ~ Master's Degree Recommended

Explore more careers here

By pursuing an accounting degree in California, students can prepare for a wide range of career opportunities in the state. Hosting 148,500 accountants, the state hosts the most accountants nationwide. The BLS also ranks California as the fifth highest-paying state for accountants in the nation.

California's top industries include large tech corporations, entertainment hubs, Napa Valley wine, and tourism, offering accounting professionals a variety of career paths. Salaries in the state consistently outpace the national average, though cost of living in California remains high.

California Requirements for Certified Public Accountants

In California, CPA candidates must complete at least 150 credit hours of college coursework, including bachelor's-level studies. Since most bachelor's degrees require 120 credits, those pursuing CPA licensure must continue their studies, often through a master's degree. Of those 150 credits, students must complete 24 credits in accounting, 24 credits in business, and 10 credits in ethics. CPA candidates must also complete 12 months of general accounting work experience and pass an ethics exam.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is accounting a good career in California?
Accountants in California enjoy job opportunities across exciting industries. They also receive salaries that surpass the national average.
How much do accountants earn in California?
According to the BLS, California accountants earned an annual mean wage of $83,910 as of May 2019, making California the fifth highest-paying state in the nation for accountants.
What accounting jobs are there in California?
The state's thriving business environment creates strong demand for many accounting jobs, such as cost estimator, personal financial advisor, accountant, and budget analyst.
Can I get an accounting degree in California?
Yes. California hosts many accounting programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Does California have online accounting programs?
Yes. California offers a variety of fully online and hybrid accounting programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

California Accounting and Education Organizations

  • California Student Aid CommissionThe California Student Aid Commission supports higher education students in the state through a variety of scholarship and grant opportunities.
  • California Society of CPAsDedicated to promoting the field of accounting, CalCPA supports its members through industry news, leadership opportunities, career resources, and networking opportunities.
  • CalCPA Education FoundationAffiliated with the California Society of CPAs, the CalCPA Education Foundation supports accounting professionals through staff training, onsite learning, and regular webinars. The organization also hosts industry-specific conferences, such as the Entertainment Industry Conference.
  • California Society of Tax ConsultantsHeadquartered in Long Beach, CSTC's mission centers around education, career advancement, and professional standards in accounting. Members can access professional discounts, industry news, local chapters, and conferences and events.

Accounting Programs in California

Prospective students interested in pursuing an accounting degree in California can anchor their research using the following list of accredited accounting programs. The ranking is compiled using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.