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. There are two primary types of accounting certificates. 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. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that around 815 not-for-profit colleges and universities in the US offer accounting certificate programs.1
Table of Contents
- Learning Goals
- Program Options
- Admission Requirements
- Core Concepts
- Select Program Profiles
- Jobs with an Accounting Certificate
- Frequently Asked Questions
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 and to meet the 150-hour rule.
Accounting Certificate Program Options
Certificates in accounting can either be entry-level generalist accounting certificate programs or advanced accounting certificate programs offering specialized study. Entry-level certificates teach students the basics of the field and give them a foundation to work in entry-level positions such as bookkeeper and accounting clerk or prepare them for further education. Advanced accounting certificates are for those who already have a background in the field and are looking to specialize in a certain area of accounting, to accumulate enough credit hours to take the CPA exam and become CPAs, or to gain advanced knowledge in the field in order to advance their careers. Both types of certificates can take a few months to a year or more to complete, based on the number of credit hours required and whether the coursework is taken on a full- or part-time basis.
Online Degree Program Formats
Another important factor to consider when choosing an accounting certificate program is program format. Increasingly, schools are offering their programs either online or in a hybrid format for busy or working students. Depending on your learning style and preferences, a traditional on-campus program may be right for you or an online accounting certificate may be a better option. Online certificates also allow you to choose programs that may be out-of-state or far away, giving you more options.
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 admission 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 certificate programs are between 15 and 45 credit hours. Courses vary by school, but many certificates include classes such as:
- Accounting Information Systems
- Cost Accounting
- Financial Accounting
- Financial Reporting and Analysis
- Income Tax, Federal Tax
- Introduction to Business
- Managerial Accounting
- Microcomputer Accounting
- Payroll Accounting
- Principles of Financial Accounting
Select Accounting Certificate Programs
Traditional Entry-Level Programs
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.
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 as well as 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.
At Delta College, those interested in an entry-level job in accounting can complete the Certificate in Accounting program. 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.
Traditional Graduate Programs
The Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst offers a Graduate Certificate in Forensic Accounting at the Newton campus near Boston. All credits in the certificate program transfer to the school’s Master of Science (MS) in Accounting program and meet continuing professional education (CPE) requirements for CPAs in the state. The graduate certificate is made up of four courses and 12 credits that focus on fraud investigation, auditing, and building skills that will help graduates track discrepancies in financial transactions. The program can also be taken entirely online for students who want more flexibility, and start dates are available for the fall, spring, or summer terms.
San Francisco State University (SFSU) offers an Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International accredited Graduate Certificate in Accounting that allows qualified students to reach the 150 credit hours required to practice as a CPA in California and many other states. Students are able to tailor their programs to focus on various areas of accounting with focus areas like Financial Accounting; Tax and Managerial Accounting; and Audit, Business Law, Accounting Information Systems, Ethics, and Not-for-Profit. Each focus area requires three courses or nine units. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 or greater GPA as well as the completion of an introductory financial accounting course within the past seven years. Classes are held at SFSU’s Downtown Campus.
Online and Hybrid Programs
The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers an Online Certificate for Accounting Technician. 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.
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 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 expand 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.
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 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.
Jobs with an Accounting Certificate
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. 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. An accounting certificate can prepare individuals for jobs such as:
- Accounting Assistant
- Accounting Technician
- Accounts Payable and/or Accounts Receivable Administrator
- Auditing Clerk
- Financial Reporting Clerk
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.
Can I get certified in accounting with an accounting 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 CPA designation or other common designations 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 an associate’s, baccalaureate, or master’s degree in accounting.
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.
How long does it take to earn a certificate in accounting?
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.
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.
How much do bookkeepers and accounting clerks make?
The average annual wage for these positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was $42,960 in 2019, and the available positions can vary by industry.2 The top-paying industry for these positions is the federal postal service, with an average annual salary of $69,080.2
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019 Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes433031.htm