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Associate Degree in Accounting: Everything You Need to Know

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An associate degree in accounting can lead to jobs working with financial records, financial data, and business transactions. These roles can be found in government, nonprofit organizations, and businesses.

In this Article

An associate degree is the lowest accounting degree in this field. It offers a broad view of the profession, and is the quickest path to entering the field. Earning your associate degree can be a good way to gain an entry-level position, especially for those who want to work in the field as they pursue a bachelor's degree

Earning an associate degree is "a good choice for anybody at any age," says Angel Chatterton, senior instructor in Accountancy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Many people will get their associate degree at a community college where "you can go at your own pace, and at a pace that's reasonably priced. I'm a big fan of that," Chatterton says. "I think it's a really good experience. It's a good place to start if you're a little nervous, or the cost-point is a little high for you at a four-year college."

Associate Degrees

Several different options are available for an associate degree in accounting, each with a different focus and coursework.

Associate of Arts in Accounting: An associate of arts (AA) in accounting can be earned at many schools. You'll study business strategies, tax laws, financial planning, and ethical issues surrounding finance and banking. Since this is a liberal arts degree, your general education courses may include social sciences, English, and history. 

An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Accounting: An associate of applied science (AAS) in accounting will cover basic accounting principles, as well as analytic skills and problem-solving. You may also study math, payroll, and tax law. Other business topics, such as business law, business administration, and business communications, are often covered, too. 

Associate of Science (AS) in Accounting: An associate of science (AS) degree in accounting will give you a business- and technology-focused education. In these programs, you'll study management techniques, business strategies, and financial planning. You might also study subjects like marketing, payroll, and business ethics. 

Prerequisites

To be accepted in an associate degree program, most schools will require that you have a high school diploma or a GED. Some schools may also require you to have high school math or algebra, while others allow students to take these classes concurrently with your program's coursework.

Other requirements can include:

  • A high school grade point average of at least 2.0
  • Scores from the ACT or SAT test 

Curriculum

Associate degrees are designed to give you practical knowledge in a condensed time frame so you can begin your career sooner. The curriculum at most schools will be fairly structured to ensure students achieve learning goals, although there may be opportunities for a few elective courses. 

Your coursework will likely include classes such as:

  • Accounting principles
  • Business law
  • Business math
  • Cost and managerial accounting
  • Payroll systems
  • Income tax accounting
  • Financial accounting

Associate degrees are designed to give you practical knowledge in a condensed time frame so you can begin your career sooner.

Accounting Internships

Internships generally are not required for associate degrees. However, you may want to pursue one if your program helps students find internships. You can gain valuable experience and contacts through an internship, and some interns are offered full-time positions after graduation.

Program Length

Usually, you'll need about 60 credits to earn an associate degree or about half of what is required for a bachelor's degree. That translates to two years of full-time school, although there are some accelerated programs available.

Students who need more flexibility due to work or other obligations have numerous options for part-time studies. Many programs, especially online, offer flexible starting dates and the ability to set your own pace.

Certification

There are no professional certifications in accounting for those with an associate degree. However, if you want to demonstrate a greater level of knowledge after earning your associate degree, you can pursue a certification in associated professional fields. These designations show you have expertise in the field, and may boost your job prospects and earning potential.

Examples of these credentials include: 

If you want to demonstrate deeper knowledge after earning your associate degree, you can pursue a certification in associated professional fields.

What Can You Do with an Associate Degree?

With an associate in accounting, you'll be qualified for a number of entry-level jobs, including:

  • Accounts receivable clerk
  • Accounting assistant
  • Billing clerk
  • Bookkeeper
  • Payroll clerk

Advancing Your Education

An associate degree may just be the beginning of your education. If you want to become a certified public accountant (CPA), certified management accountant (CMA), or forensic accountant, you'll want to consider pursuing and bachelor's degree. And if you want to pursue an accounting role at the highest levels of the profession, a master's in accounting could help get you there.

Professionals who want to branch out into other areas of business or become leaders or executives may want to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.


mj grenzow

Written and reported by:

M.J. Grenzow

Contributing Writer

angel chatterton

With professional insights from:

Angel Chatterton

Senior Lecturer of Accountancy, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign