The world of business is built on numbers — a lot of numbers. Accountants crunch those numbers and use them to show performance, notice problems or make predictions. Their role is integral to many companies and government agencies.
Students who have earned a degree in accounting can find a wide range of jobs beyond basic bookkeeping. Many work as financial or budget analysts, financial advisers, cost estimators and auditors. Those who earn a certified public accountant (CPA) designation often have additional opportunities for advancement.
There are many types of degrees and specializations to consider when pursuing an education in the field of accounting. Online colleges in accounting, in particular, can provide a flexible and accessible way to attain a degree. On this page, you'll find:
- The best accredited online colleges for accounting
- An expert's view of this field of study
- A look at the different degree types
- Information about earning a CPA certification
- Career options for those with a degree in accounting
Best Online Colleges for Accounting in 2018-19
Students can earn accounting degrees from accredited universities all over America without even leaving their homes. With so many choices, it's important to make a good decision. To help you do so, we have created this list of the 10 best online colleges for accounting, each accredited by a legitimate accrediting agency. We used data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and our unique methodology (details at the bottom of this page) to make this list.
The Global Campus at Davenport University is home to numerous online educational options for those who love numbers. Students can begin their journey with the 64-credit Associate of Business Administration (ABA) in accounting degree program, which emphasizes balancing theory with hands-on learning. The online Master of Accountancy (MAcc) program offers specializations in finance, fraud examination, internal auditing, managerial accounting and professional accounting. Finally, graduate certificate options are available in finance, internal auditing and managerial accounting. All programs are asynchronous, though occasionally a synchronous class meeting may be required.
Purdue University Global-Omaha
*NOTE: Kaplan University has merged with Purdue University Global since this list was made. Please contact Purdue Global University-Omaha to learn whether the merged school can still fulfill your needs.
Those with an eye toward working in accounting can opt to pursue an associate, bachelor's or master's of accounting at Kaplan University. Those at the bachelor's level can choose from concentrations in auditing-forensic, public, tax or managerial accountancy. Those pursuing the master's degree can specialize in tax, government, finance or auditing. Students can choose either online or in-person options for all three degree programs, but the graduate certificate program in accounting is available online only.
Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale
The Fort Lauderdale Online Division of Keiser University offers numerous options for accounting students to earn their degree. In fact, some of these options might not be found elsewhere, such as the MBA in accounting that is taught completely in Mandarin, or the accounting BA that is taught entirely in Spanish. Students who want to begin work as a bookkeeper or accounting assistant may opt for the AA in Accounting, and those with a goal of licensure can look into the BA in Accounting. Students in the online division are offered the same robust support as on-campus students, including professional development, student organizations, access to a wide-ranging library and much more.
Students ready to leap into an accounting career can opt for one of three credentials available fully online through Rasmussen College. The certificate program takes only nine months to complete; meanwhile, the associate accounting degree can be completed in as little as 18 months, as can the accelerated online bachelor's completion program.
Rasmussen's online accounting courses are self-paced, allowing students as much flexibility as possible. Students should be ready to learn standard and advanced accounting skills, business acumen, industry software training, critical thinking, communication skills and internship opportunities.
Southern New Hampshire University
Here's a fun fact: SNHU actually began in 1932 as the New Hampshire School of Accounting and Secretarial Service, so it's safe to say the school's accounting options have a long history indeed. Online undergraduate students interested in accounting may desire to pursue the university's Associate of Science (AS) in accounting online. Graduate students have more options available to them, from accounting, to finance, to accounting finance, to a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with an emphasis on accounting.
Piedmont Community College
Aspiring accountants who prefer the smaller, more personalized community college experience can look to Piedmont Community College in North Carolina. Through online learning, students can earn their certificate, diploma or associate degree in accounting:
- Certificate program: 18 credit hours
- Diploma program: 44 credit hours
- Associate degree program: 69-70 credit hours
Piedmont CC also works with Ed2go to supply individual online courses to its students. Accounting courses through Ed2go start monthly, and may be able to give students a sneak peek at the field of accounting or help them to practice a specific accounting skill.
Minnesota West Community and Technical College
With most of their programs available both on-campus and online, Minnesota West Community and Technical College has plenty of opportunities both for those in the Minnesota area and those beyond. This community college offers programs for an accounting certificate, an accountant diploma, an accountant A.A.S. and an accountant clerk diploma. The 16-credit certificate program can be completed within a matter of months, while the 64-credit diploma and 60-credit A.A.S. require two years of study. The accountant clerk diploma is a unique, 32-credit program that focuses on how to obtain and maintain financial records for a variety of businesses and organizations.
American Public University System
The American Public University System hosts an enormous variety of online educational programs. This includes four online accounting programs that teach varying levels of accounting skills:
- Associate of Science in accounting (2-year)
- Bachelor of Science in accounting (4-year)
- Master of Science in accounting (1-3 years)
- Graduate certificate in accounting (18 credits, approximately 1 year)
For military members and their families, it's important to note that APU also includes the American Military University, which offers flexible scheduling and tuition benefits designed specifically for those in the armed services.
The Christ-centered Liberty University offers a robust School of Business, with numerous accounting options for those who love numbers. Students can begin their educational journey with the two-year associate degree or the four-year bachelor's degree, both offered entirely online. Graduate students can specialize their Master of Science in Accounting with several focus areas, including business, financial services, taxation, leadership, forensic accounting and audit and financial reporting.
Those in other programs, such as business administration or health care administration, can also opt for accounting as their primary specialization… all the way up to the Doctor of Business Administration program, which features the option for an accounting specialization.
Educating students since 1878 and teaching online courses since the 1990s, Champlain College is home to numerous options for those who want a more flexible education. The Robert P. Stiller School of Business offers programs for an AS in accounting and a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, as well as a potential double major in accounting and finance.
Online students who want to take their education to a higher level may elect to pursue either the Master of Science in accounting or the 12-credit accounting graduate certificate. Online courses at Champlain have six start dates throughout the year, with some delivered in 15-week sessions and other in an accelerated seven-week format.
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Accounting and Finance Department Chair
Accounting and Finance Department Chair
Q: What qualities make Davenport's online accounting major an outstanding program?
A: Our online accounting bachelor's degree was created to move seamlessly into our Masters of Accountancy. Students can specialize in Internal Auditing or Management Accounting within the accounting program. The Donald W. Maine College of Business also offers an additional degree in Accounting Fraud Investigation. Launched in 2014, all accounting students are eligible for the Employment Guarantee. Students who apply and meet the requirements of the Employment Guarantee program will be eligible for additional education benefits if they are unable to obtain employment within six months of graduation.
Q: What support does Davenport offer its online student body?
A: We offer a complete suite of student services that support our online students. These include:
- academic and financial aid advising
- career services for resume review, internship opportunities and job placement
- dedicated online library services for research and writing assistance
- wellness counseling for stress and life challenges
Q: How does the online accounting program differ from the on-campus program?
A: Just like on-campus options, all programs at the Global Campus of Davenport University meet the learning outcomes and objectives of the curriculum. Programs in the Donald W. Maine College of Business and College of Technology all require an internship or project-based field experience learning option. Students will be advised of states where internships may be limited due to state authorization policies.
Why Pursue an Online Accounting Degree?
The coursework assigned during degree programs in accounting, off- or on-campus, is designed to prepare students with knowledge of general business concepts and the intricacies of various accounting practices. Upon graduation, students should have a foundational understanding of how to conduct financial operations for an organization, how to use accounting software, and more.
What Online Accounting Courses Can I Take?
Although accounting degree programs vary by institution, the major highlights of accounting curricula tend to be similar in nature. Most students working toward an online Bachelor of Accountancy degree have to take accounting classes (of course), as well as some entry-level business courses and liberal arts classes to fulfill their core requirements. Some level of competency in multiple fields is important, since accounting often involves working with clients in many different industries.
A traditional accounting program may include subjects such as managerial accounting, budgeting, accounting systems, financial analysis, financial reporting, internal and external auditing, taxation and more. Sample accounting courses that may be required or offered as an elective:
- Financial accounting
- Managerial accounting
- Accounting information systems
Other course requirements in related business areas might include:
- Business communications
- Business law
Graduating with an online Bachelor of Accountancy degree can help you launch a career, but for those aspiring to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), upper-division schooling will usually be necessary. Since most states require a minimum of 150 credit hours to take the CPA exam, which is more than you'd earn in a bachelor's degree program, many accounting students go back to school to earn a master's degree in accounting, or an MBA with an accounting concentration.
Advanced degrees in accounting are usually aimed at preparing students to sit for the CPA exam. There will likely be many of the same courses you'd find in an online Bachelor of Accountancy program (since some master's students majored in other fields as undergraduates and need to learn those foundational accounting skills). However, for those with an accounting background looking to develop more technical skills, most programs offer ample electives and specialization areas devoted to topics such as auditing, taxation, and financial statement analysis.
What Skills Are Necessary to Become an Accountant?
Pursuing a degree or advanced degree in accounting is a wise way to become exposed to marketable skills that can be applied in the workplace. Here are some of the most important skills to pay attention to during your program:
- Attention to detail: Accounting is all about the tiny numerical details. One misaligned number in a column could cause an entire organization to commit fraud by mistake; conversely, one seemingly insignificant number could be the clue that cracks a company-wide conspiracy.
- Ethics: Dealing with money, especially in large amounts, requires a strong sense of morality and ethics. Since accountants are basically the police of the financial world, it's vital that they hold themselves to that ethical standard in order to help keep the corporations of the world, both large and small, as honest as possible.
- Communication skills: In order to report their analyses and findings, accountants must file large amounts of paperwork and keep open lines of communication between themselves, their firms and their clients. Believe it or not, the job is not all being hunched over endless manila folders in a solitary office; communication skills are a vital part of an accountant's daily routine.
- Technological skills: Since records are mostly kept electronically, knowing how to work with the necessary tools and programs to access these records is one of the most important accounting skills to learn.
What Accounting Certifications Are There?
If you're interested in pursuing a career in accounting or a related field, you should consider earning an accounting certification. These credentials will open up many career doors, increase your income potential, and signify that you are recognized as a top professional in your field.
Here are three accounting certifications to consider:
- CPA - Certified Public Accountant
The most well-known accounting certification, the path toward becoming a CPA is a long one. First, you must complete a program of study in accounting at a college or university, usually up to the master's level (since 150 semester hours are required, more than a typical bachelor's program provides). Then, you must pass the Uniform CPA Exam. Finally, you must obtain a certain number of professional work hours in public accounting (the required amount and type of experience varies by state) to be awarded your state's CPA license.
Under the CPA Mobility Act, most states allow a licensee to work across state lines for temporary projects or out-of-state clients, but if you move, you'll likely need to apply for a new license. Check the AICPA's map to see which states have firm mobility.
For more information specifically about the CPA exam, check out our Ultimate Guide to the CPA.
- CMA - Certified Management Accountant
For accounting pros who wish to focus on financial accounting and management, the Certified Management Accountant designation is a good one to pursue. It demonstrates that you are qualified to make strategic business decisions. In order to earn a CMA, you must have a college degree, two years of work experience, and completion of the Institute of Management Accountant's (IMA) two-part certification exam.
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
If you're interested in a career investigating financial fraud, earning a CFE certificate is the way to go. To become a CFE, you must join the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), and pass the CFE Exam.
Accounting Career Opportunities
The various careers related to accounting all have promising futures, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. Here are a few career options for students who are studying accounting.
Is accounting not quite right for you? Perhaps one of these related fields might be more what you are looking for.