Accounting certificates allow students to study generalized accounting or a certain accounting topic in detail and may prepare students for next steps in their work or educational career. Some certificates are designed for recent high school graduates without a specific accounting education who are preparing for entry-level accounting positions. These certificates are ideal for those trying to gain work experience in the field before starting an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Other certificates are aimed at experienced professionals in the accounting field who want to expand their professional skill set. These certificates are designed for those who have already earned or are in the process of pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and those preparing for licensing and certification designations.
Depending on the school and scope of the certificate, program lengths can vary from a few months to a year or more. Some certificates can be completed on a part-time basis or fully online, and many certificate credits can be transferred and applied to degree programs.
After graduation, those who have earned introductory certificates in accounting can pursue entry-level positions in the field such as bookkeepers, accounting assistants, or auditing clerks. The mean annual wage for these positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $40,220, and the available positions can vary by industry.1 Graduates from advanced certificate programs, such as Certified Public Accountant preparation certificates or specialized auditing certificates, may increase their earning potential or advance in their careers in the accounting field.
The admission requirements for accounting certificate programs depend on the focus of the certification. Some of the more foundational certificates may only require a high school diploma or GED, while others may require the standard admissions and test scores required for the school’s associate or bachelor’s degree program. Advanced post-degree programs may require a certain level of work experience or educational study before admission in addition to transcripts from previous degrees earned.
Core Concepts and Coursework
Certificates in accounting provide foundational knowledge for those interested in starting a career in accounting or beginning advanced study in the field. Certificates range in curriculum, but most foundational certificates offer courses in business, accounting, economics, and taxation. Many programs are between 15 and 45 credit hours. Courses vary by school, but many certificates includes classes such as:
- Principles of Financial Accounting
- Payroll Accounting
- Financial Accounting
- Income Tax, Federal Tax
- Accounting Information Systems
- Financial Reporting and Analysis
- Introduction to Business
- Cost Accounting
- Microcomputer Accounting
- Managerial Accounting
Accounting Certificate Learning Goals
1. Understand basic accounting concepts common in entry-level accounting positions.
Students in entry-level accounting certificate programs will receive a broad overview of accounting principles and should be able to apply foundational accounting skills that are valued in entry-level positions, such as financial record keeping, tax preparation, and payroll administration.
2. Perform accurate quantitative and record-keeping skills.
Those with accounting certificates should also be able to reliably report financial information, budgets, and payroll activity. Accounting accuracy, as well as high professional standards and ethical behavior, are critical in the accounting field.
3. Prepare for further study or for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Examination
For those interested in an undergraduate or graduate degree, an accounting certificate should provide foundational knowledge to help further study. Graduates with bachelor’s or master’s degrees can also choose to complete an accounting certificate as a part of their preparation for the CPA examination.
Traditional Accounting Certificate Programs
Those interested in pursuing an accounting certificate on a campus can choose from a variety of certificates, from those designed for entry-level job training to those based on advanced accounting knowledge.
Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
Northeastern University offers an undergraduate Certificate in Accounting that is available both on-campus and online. This 18-credit certificate is ideal for those seeking entry-level positions in the accounting field or those interested in improving their accounting skills for their current management or bookkeeping position. Students learn how to organize and prepare financial records and analyze core business functions through courses in Financial Accounting, Cost Accounting, and Financial Reporting and Analysis. The program curriculum can be started at three different points during the year, and applicants must have a high school diploma or GED to be considered for admittance.
Villanova University (Villanova, PA)
Students at Villanova University can earn a Certificate in Accountancy through the School of Business. This certificate program requires a bachelor’s degree for admission, and the curriculum is designed for students with bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts or non-business majors who want to gain accounting knowledge. Those pursuing a career in business or non-profit accounting, or self-employed individuals or small business owners can learn accounting fundamentals. The 36-credit certificate includes courses such as Principles of Financial Accounting, Federal Income Tax, Auditing, and Accounting Information Systems. The coursework can help prepare students to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination, although additional education may be needed.
Delta College (University Center, MI)
At Delta College, those interested in an entry-level job in accounting can complete a Certificate in Accounting. Students learn foundational accounting concepts and also practice using industry-relevant accounting software. The curriculum covers how to understand and monitor business transactions, keep account records, monitor funds and receipts, and prepare financial reports. The core courses include Principles of Financial Accounting, Business Communication, Principles of Managerial Accounting, and Operational Business Taxes, and classes are offered at night, on weekends, and also online. Students can apply these credits to an Accounting Associate in Business Studies degree at Delta College, or consult with an academic advisor to transfer to another school to pursue a bachelor’s in accounting.
Online Accounting Certificate Programs
Many accounting certificate programs are available online, and students can choose from a wide range of certificate programs offered across the country.
University of Alaska Fairbanks (Fairbanks, AK)
The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers a Certificate for Accounting Technician online. This certificate is ideal for those interested in entry-level positions in bookkeeping, payables and receivables, payroll, and small-business operations. This is a one-year program, but course credits can be transferred to other programs at the school, such as the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Applied Accounting and the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Accounting. The core curriculum covers foundational subjects in accounting, business, QuickBooks, and income tax. Classes are available in the evening to accommodate working students. Prerequisite basic computer skills are required for this program.
Champlain College (Burlington, VT)
Students can earn an online Certificate in Accounting through Champlain College. This certificate can be used as a credential for those interested in entry-level positions in accounting, or it can be used as a step toward an associate or bachelor’s degree. The certificate can be completed entirely online in less than a year. The curriculum covers the fundamentals of accounting, including the reporting and interpretation of financial information, financial decision-making, federal tax laws, and bookkeeping skills. These courses are also part of Champlain’s core curriculum for an accounting associate degree and bachelor’s degree, so students have the option of continuing their studies after earning the certificate. In addition to accounting knowledge, the coursework focuses on professionally-relevant skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication. This program is 15 credits and applicants with a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher are preferred.
Northwest Iowa Community College (Sheldon, IA)
Northwest Iowa Community College offers a certified bookkeeper program that can be completed online. This training program is designed for those with professional accounting and bookkeeping experience who want to advance in their careers and increase their future job opportunities. Students learn accounting concepts and foundational financial analysis in addition to applicable skills like preparing payroll transactions and valuing inventory. The bookkeeping certificate emphasizes internal controls, fraud prevention, and professional ethics in the industry. This certificate is self-paced and can be completed in six months. The completion of the program prepares students to sit for the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) examination. NICC also offers an online payroll practice and management certificate.
University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
The University of Virginia offers an undergraduate Accounting Certificate that can be completed online. This degree is designed for those looking for entry-level accounting positions, as well as mid-level professionals interested in sitting for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination. Students with a high school diploma can complete the certificate to gain a foundation in accounting, auditing, taxation, commercial law, and managerial finance. Those with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, business, or a related field can use the Accounting Certificate program to strengthen their accounting expertise and prepare for the CPA examination. The curriculum includes classes such as Cost Accounting, Auditing, Federal Taxation, and Fraud Examination. This part-time, online certificate can take as few as 20 months to complete, or students can follow their own schedule.
Accounting Certification with a Certificate
An accounting certificate indicates a professional designation, but it is usually only a stepping stone in the accounting field. Students can use this certificate to find work in entry-level positions in accounting. However, to obtain the professional Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation or other common certifications like Certified Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), or Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), individuals will need to pursue additional educational opportunities. Those with accounting certificates generally work providing assistance or support to CPAs or similar accounting professionals, or they can use the certificate as a foundation for a baccalaureate, master’s, or doctoral degree in accounting.
Jobs with a Certificate of Accounting
Some people who complete accounting certificates may continue on with their education and obtain a more advanced degree, but others may choose to gain work experience in entry-level accounting positions. An accounting certificate can prepare individuals for jobs such as:
- Accounting Assistant
- Auditing Clerk
- Financial Reporting Clerk
- Accounting Technician
- Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable Administrator
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between an accounting certificate and accounting certification?
Accounting certificates teach students a certain body of knowledge, such as accounting fundamentals or information about a particular industry specialization. Accounting certifications are professional designations that are usually achieved through an examination and industry-relevant credentials, such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Certified Management Accountant (CMA). A certificate program can help students meet professional certification requirements.
How do I know what certificate is right for me?
Many different certificates in accounting are offered, and students need to research to decide what program is best for them. Consider the admission requirements of a program, the timeline and flexibility, and the knowledge and skillset taught during the program. If possible, talk to current students and faculty about opportunities open to recent graduates. Choose the certificate that matches your academic background, future educational and career aspirations, and schedule and budget.
Does a school’s accreditation matter?
The accreditation of a school means that the curriculum and institution meet a minimum standard of academic quality. Accreditation is not mandatory, but many employers and educational institutions will not recognize certificates or degrees awarded by an unaccredited school. Students interested in furthering their education or advancing in the field are advised to choose accredited institutions. A few examples of accounting program accreditation organizations are listed below:
- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
- Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
- International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE)
What if I want to pursue a different degree after obtaining the certificate?
Many accounting certificate credits can be transferred to other institutions, but details vary by school. Some community colleges and technical schools have partnerships with particular four-year universities, and schools that offer advanced degrees in addition to certificates often have overlapping curricula. Talk to the program academic advisors to find out what credits can transfer where.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016, Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes433031.htm