Online accounting degrees guide

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The advantages of getting an accounting degree online

The main benefit of online programs is that they provide you the flexibility you need to attend courses at your convenience – whenever and wherever you like. If you are employed full time, being able to manage classes around your schedule is a great advantage.

Even if there are online programs that grant you the possibility to attend courses live, the majority record their entire coursework so that you always have full access to the information. This provides a two-fold benefit – you have the possibility to watch the lectures when you have the time and then watch them again and again until all the information they present is clear and assimilated.

Other significant benefits are that online formats tend to have more flexible entry requirements and are usually less expensive than traditional on-campus programs. Also, online you have the possibility to earn your degree faster thanks to accelerated programs. This creates a win-win situation where you save both time and money, but we’ll talk about this later in more detail.

Online accounting education has come a long way

Nowadays, if you have a computer, a camera with a decent resolution, and a stable internet connection, chances are you can enroll in an online education program located on the other side of the world. Unlike a decade ago, when you could count the number of online educational programs available nationwide on your fingers, today the offering is much richer. Most institutions have degree program formats that are either hybrid – which is a combination of virtual and on-campus classes – or fully online.

From prestigious universities to communal colleges, schools have understood the need to accommodate the needs of students who – due to various reasons – are unable to attend classes in the traditional way. The convenience factor plays an important role in this shift, alongside reasons like location, fees, or availability to attend classes at certain times due to students being in full-time employment.

And there’s even more good news. All the above information applies to accounting degree programs, too. Basically, you can find the entire spectrum of accounting degrees – from undergraduate certificates and associate degrees to bachelor’s, master’s and beyond – offered as online programs by institutions all over the country.

How to choose your online accounting program

A good online program will offer you all the necessary information, support, and resources you need to accumulate a specific body of knowledge, gain industry-related skills, and earn a degree. However, before looking into all of that, you should check if the institution and program you are interested in are duly accredited.

There is nothing perfect in this world, and this applies to online programs. To start, the shorter duration of your online studies means that you receive information less detailed than in a traditional on-campus format, or – where the curriculum stays the same – you have to learn more in a shorter time frame.

Another downside is that by earning your degree online, you’ll lack on-campus experiences such as peer-to-peer networking and face-to-face guidance from teachers. This does not mean that these interactions will not exist, but they will be more limited in virtual education than in on-campus programs.

It’s good to know that virtual education is not for everyone. If you don’t have excellent organizational skills, tend to procrastinate and lack motivation and self-discipline, online education programs may not be the right choice. Compared to an on-campus program, in virtual programs you must do everything – from studying to exam-taking – on your own and, most importantly, around a very well-established daily schedule.

Check that your program is accredited

The presence of a valid recognition is proof that an institution and the programs it offers meet a specific – usually high or very high – level of educational standards as established and recognized by the state or nationwide. Thanks to the standardized accreditation processes, employers usually consider accounting degrees earned via an accredited online program just as valuable as degrees earned following the traditional route.

It is independent, third-party bodies that grant schools an accreditation based on a rigorous evaluation process and regular monitoring. You can find more information on nationally-recognized accrediting organizations available on the website of the U.S. Department of Education.

Find out if the graduate certificate program you are interested in is a recognized one by checking it with the following reputable organizations:

  • the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE).

Benefits of accredited programs

Most institutions that offer both traditional and virtual formats will give you the possibility to transfer mid-way from an accredited online program to an on-campus one should you decide that this format works better for you.

Also, if you earn a degree online at an institution that’s accredited by a specialized organization, you can typically use those credits towards another higher-education program. It is essential to know that only if you hold a degree from an accredited university can you qualify to take an exam to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or obtain other accounting licenses.

Is your online program right for you?

Once you know that the online program you want to enroll in is accredited, there are different ways to determine if it is also the right choice for you. You can look at the coursework and compare it to curricula from other similar programs to learn what type of information you’ll receive.

Another important thing to find out is if the program’s teachers have both professional and academic accounting experience. This is critical because teachers who also possess work experience in the accounting field can help you gain practical skills and theoretical insights.

A good accounting program offers support services, resources, information, office hours with professors, and a high-quality online program should be no exception in providing this same quality in education, support, and access to information.

What type of degree should you choose?

Start by knowing what accounting degree you want to earn. It’s essential to know what type of accounting career you want to have, and to do that, you need to look at your short- and long-term career goals. For example, an associate’s degree or an undergraduate certificate can help you begin your accounting career and qualify for entry-level roles.

Suppose you want to be considered for mid-range accounting positions and have a shot at becoming a CPA or obtaining other necessary accounting certifications. In that case, you should choose to earn a bachelor’s degree. If your main goal is to have a management position, you may need to consider earning a degree that can help you get there – like a master’s degree or an MBA in accounting.

How to finance your online accounting degree

Tuition fees are a major factor in the decision-making process of choosing a degree. Program accreditation proves once again helpful, as it is an essential requirement when it comes to your eligibility to receive financial aid towards the payment of your studies.

If your program is duly accredited, a good thing to do is learn if you qualify for federal student aid by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal aid can take many forms, starting with grants, work-and-study programs, or loans. Federal loans usually have lower interest rates than private ones and more flexible repayment plans.

If you have high SAT, ACT, or GPA scores, or you are a member of an underrepresented community or a minority population, chances are you can qualify for a scholarship from the state or the institution where you are studying.

Organizations or associations in the accounting field also offer scholarships to students at various stages in their academic career. One such example is the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) – the most extensive accounting association in the United States – that offers scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students who major in accounting.

Duration of studies and tuition fees

The duration of accounting degrees varies from one institution to another and is based on your chosen program format. The same applies to the cost of tuition, which is determined by the institution that offers it and the state you choose to study in. For degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2017-2018 academic year you could pay on average an annual tuition fee from $8,928 at a public community college up to $35,074 at private universities.

Undergraduate Certificate

Undergraduate certificate programs take up to 1 year or between 20 and 30 credit hours to complete, online and accelerated formats can cut that duration in half.

The cost of tuition also depends on the program format and the institution that offers it. You can expect to pay a per-credit fee starting at $100 for lower-ranked institutions and reaching $200 for more competitive programs.

Graduate certificate

Graduate certification programs usually takes around 1 year or between 15-30 credit hours to complete, depending on the program format. It’s good to know that certain universities only allow working students to take a limited number of classes per semester.

The tuition fees can range from $200 for lower-ranked institutions to $500 for more competitive programs.

Associate’s degree

On average, you can earn an associate’s degree in accounting in 2 years (4 semesters) or a total of 60 credit hours. It’s also worth knowing that most institutions offering 4-year bachelor’s degree programs allow you to enroll using the number of credit hours earned in your associate’s degree.

Bachelor’s degree

Earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting will generally take you 4 years or 120 credit hours at most universities. Still, you may complete it in less time if you already hold an associate’s degree, and you’ll be able to transfer your credit hours from that program towards your bachelor’s degree. Most institutions offer full-time programs, but there are part-time formats available.

Master’s degree

You will graduate with a master’s degree in accounting in 1-2 years or around 35 credit hours at most institutions. You may complete it in less time if you already hold an associate’s degree, and if you are able to transfer your credit hours. You can choose a full-time or part-time program, a hybrid format, or an entirely online program.


The duration for most full-time MBA in accounting programs is 2 years or around 30 credit hours. However, you can opt for an accelerated MBA, which cuts the total program duration down to 18 months. You can qualify for this type of program if you already have significant work experience in your desired field of study.

Doctoral degree

When doing your research, you can choose a full-time, on-campus program, an online format, or a hybrid version that combines the 2 options. Based on your choice, earning a Ph.D. in accounting degree can take 4 to 6 years to complete, or between 70 and 100 credit hours.

American Accounting Association (AAA)

The AAA gathers under one roof an extensive community of accountants from all walks of life, including the academic field.

National Society of Accountants (NSA)

NSA is a society with a core mission of helping tax and accounting professionals further their knowledge.

American Association of Finance and Accounting (AAFA)

The AAFA connects accounting organizations, firms, and professionals throughout the United States.

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)

NASBA acts like a forum for the 55 State Boards of Accountancy in the US, which administer the Uniform CPA Examination. In partnership with AICPA, NASBA facilitates CPA examination for professionals oversees.

Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)

FASB is an independent organization that sets the standards for public and private organizations following Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) in the field of financial accounting.