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Associate Degree in Accounting

An associate degree in accounting is a two-year degree that can help students start their careers in accounting, and it is offered by community colleges, technical colleges, four-year universities, and through online programs. An Associate of Science (AS) in Accounting and an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Accounting are the most common types of associate degrees in accounting, and students can choose from accelerated one-year programs, the typical two-year programs, or part-time, flexible options.

An associate degree can provide the foundational knowledge for students to pursue entry-level accounting positions, or the accounting associate degree can be a step toward completing a higher degree such as a bachelor’s or master’s. Students with an associate degree in accounting may find the degree helps them with the admissions process to other schools, and some credit hours can potentially transfer. The associate’s of accounting does not adequately prepare students to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination, the industry’s standard professional designation, but it can be a stepping stone for continued study.

Graduates with associate’s in accounting who pursue job opportunities after finishing their degree may find positions such as payroll clerks, accounting assistants, and bookkeepers. The average salary for payroll clerks is $43,580, and the average salary for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks is $40,220.1,2

Admission Requirements

Accounting associate’s degree programs typically require a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.0 or higher for admission, and students may also be required to take the ACT or SAT. Some programs require knowledge of high school level mathematics and algebra, although students may take some of these foundational courses while enrolled at the school.

Core Concepts and Coursework

Associate in accounting degree programs teach a broad foundation of accounting principles, offering core subjects in accounting, finance, business, taxation, and mathematics. Many schools also focus on the software or technology currently used in the field, as well as written and oral communication skills. Some programs also include general education requirements that may be prerequisites for a bachelor’s degree. Most associate degree in accounting programs require 60-65 credit hours to graduate. Course titles and curriculum vary by school, but most programs may include classes such as:

  • Accounting I
  • Principles of Financial Accounting
  • Principles of Macroeconomics, Microeconomics
  • Introduction to Business Logic and Ethics
  • Payroll Accounting
  • Accounting Information Systems
  • Business Law
  • Cost Accounting
  • Business Income Taxes
  • Integrated Accounting Applications
  • Accounting Associate Degree Learning Goals

    1. Understand Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

    The Generally Accepted Accounting Principles are the commonly-followed procedures and standards for financial reporting and accounting processes. Graduates with accounting associate degrees should learn a foundational understanding of GAAP, including how to process, report, and make decisions about accounting data. Students learn how to manage accounting records and prepare financial statements.

    2. Practice accurate and thorough quantitative and record-keeping skills.

    Graduates need an eye for detail and accuracy in managing financial records, business accounts, and tax filings. Associate degree programs focus on imparting the necessary quantitative skills needed in the field, and graduates learn how to apply these tools through real-world examples and practical coursework. Those with strong, thorough record-keeping skills can find positions in many different industries.

    3. Perform accounting activities with an understanding of business law and industry ethics.

    Students should have an understanding of basic business law and ethical behavior in the accounting field. Graduates should be familiar with common legal issues and accounting standards and know how to think critically about professional behavior.

    Traditional Accounting Associate’s Degree Programs

    The following profiles focus on traditional accounting associate degrees offered by well-known schools and universities.

    White Mountains Community College (Berlin, NH)

    White Mountains Community College in New Hampshire offers an Associate of Science (AS) in Accounting degree that can be completed in two years. Students gain a background in accounting theory in addition to practicing real-world applications. The curriculum prepares students to manage business accounting records, such as financial statements, tax returns, and daily financial entries. The core curriculum includes classes such as Financial Accounting, Quantitative Decision Making, and Management and Teamwork. Students also learn how to use Windows XP, QuickBooks, Tax Cut software, Microsoft Office, and other packaged accounting software. This program can be completed on-campus or entirely online, and students can work with their academic advisor to transfer credits to another school to pursue a bachelor’s degree if they are interested in continuing their education.

    Central Piedmont Community College (Charlotte, NC)

    At Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina, students can earn an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) in Accounting degree. This 46-credit hour program teaches students how to organize, analyze, and communicate information about financial operations. Students learn how to create and operate an accounting system as well as basic personal and income tax preparation. The curriculum includes some general education requirements in writing, communication, quantitative skills, and the humanities. Students then study accounting principles in classes such as Principles of Financial Accounting, Accounting Software Applications, and Cost Accounting, and in electives such as Payroll Accounting, Business Finance, and Human Relations. Through these varied and foundational classes, students learn accounting skills, computer applications, critical thinking skills, and ethical decision-making. CPCC also offers accounting certificates for specializations in accounting, tax, and professional accounting.

    Moraine Park Technical College (Fond du Lac, WI)

    Moraine Park Technical College in Wisconsin offers an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Accounting degree that can be completed in two years or on a student’s own schedule. This degree can be completed at the Fond du Lac or Beaver Dam campus, and it is also available online. Students learn many different facets of accounting, from financial and cost accounting to payroll, taxes, and auditing, as well as the technical software used in these applications. The coursework focuses on the foundation of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), preparing students to work in many different types of business and accounting industries. Classes include Payroll Accounting, Data Management, Analysis, and Reporting, Income Tax Accounting, and Cost Management. Students also learn teamwork, computer skills, relevant industry technology, and ethical and professional behavioral standards.

    Online Accounting Associate’s Degree Programs

    Most accounting associate degree programs are offered as online degrees that allow students to complete the degree on their own schedule. Below are examples of highly-regarded online associate degree programs.

    Florida Institute of Technology (Melbourne, FL)

    Students studying at the Florida Institute of Technology can earn an Associate of Arts (AA) in Accounting entirely online. This degree can help prepare students for jobs in business, government, or not-for-profit organizations, or students can earn credits applicable to a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Accounting. The curriculum focuses on accounting theory and practice, emphasizing financial accounting, managerial accounting, cost accounting, and accounting information systems and tax. In addition to a foundation in accounting and financial principles, students also take liberal arts classes that teach critical thinking and analytical abilities. Florida Tech also offers a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Accounting or Finance, and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Accounting or Business Administration, all of which can be completed online.

    Portland Community College (Portland, OR)

    Portland Community College (PCC) offers an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) in Accounting degree. This program teaches students how to understand and organize business accounting records, follow budgets, and manage accounts payable, accounts receivable, or payroll. The core curriculum includes courses such as Management Fundamentals, Managerial Accounting, Payroll Accounting, and Income Tax. Through these courses, students learn skills applicable in accounting, tax preparation, financial management, and business, in addition to communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving tools. PCC also offers an Accounting Clerk Certificate, an Accelerated Accounting Certificate, and an Entry Level Accounting Certificate. Students interested in transferring to a four-year accounting program can consult with their academic advisor to complete the Associate of Science Oregon Transfer degree.

    Franklin University (Columbus, OH)

    At Franklin University, students can earn an Associate of Science in Accounting (AS) entirely online. This 64-credit hour program can be completed in 24 months. Students learn accounting theory but also practice applying concepts such as analyzing financial statements and preparing tax filings. Through courses like Financial Accounting, Federal Income Tax, Auditing, and Fraud Examination, students learn the fundamental principles of accounting. Graduates learn how to organize and report financial transactions, as well as manage assets and liabilities to support a business’s profits. Franklin University also offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting, and some academic credit from the AS program can be transferred to this or other programs.

    Accounting Certification with an Associate’s Degree

    Graduates with associate degrees in accounting do not need a professional certification to begin working in entry-level jobs in the industry. The main professional certification in the accounting field is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation, and graduates with associate degrees need to continue their accounting studies to sit for the examination. Those with associate’s of accounting typically work providing assistance to CPAs, or graduates can continue to work toward a baccalaureate, master’s, or doctoral degree or additional certification in accountancy.

    Jobs with a Associate’s Degree in Accounting

    Some graduates with associate in accounting degrees choose to further their studies by pursuing a more advanced degree, but others may enter the workforce in an entry-level position. An accounting associate degree may prepare graduates for positions such as:

    • Bookkeeper
    • Accounting Assistant
    • Payroll Clerk
    • Accounting Technician
    • Auditing Clerk
    • Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable Administrator
    • Tax Preparer
    • Administrative Assistant

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What can you do with an accounting associate degree?

    After obtaining an associate degree in accounting, graduates can either start working in the field in entry-level positions, such as clerks or accountant assistants, or graduates can pursue a baccalaureate, master’s, or doctoral degree. The associate’s degree can be used as a stepping stone toward for specific career advancement possibilities or to further a student’s educational opportunities.

    How long does it take to get an associate degree in accounting?

    It depends on the school, but most associate-level programs are designed to be completed in two years. Some schools offer accelerated, one-year options and other schools offer part-time formats that can be customized to fit each student’s schedule.

    Are associate in accounting credits transferable to other schools?

    Credit transfer details vary by school, but in general, associate degree credits are comparable to the first two years of bachelor’s degree requirements. Students who take general education courses in addition to foundational accounting courses during their associate’s of accounting curriculum may satisfy many prerequisites for bachelor’s degree programs.

    Should I choose an online accounting degree?

    If a student is searching for a flexible degree, an online program may be a good option. Schools that are regionally or nationally accredited and offer courses taught by experienced faculty can provide rigorous, thorough online curricula similar to on-campus study. Those with full-time jobs or who need flexible class hours may benefit from a more self-structured course of study.

    References:
    1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016, Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes433051.htm
    2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016, Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes433031.htm