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Degrees for a Career in Accounting
There are four levels of accounting degrees, from associate to doctorate. Each has different prerequisites and coursework, and will prepare you for different roles and career options.
Before you begin your accounting education, it's important to understand what each degree offers and where it can take you. This allows you to make the best decision based on your interests and career aspirations.
Each accounting degree is designed to prepare students for a different career path. Here are the types of programs available:
A good choice for anyone who wants an entry-level position below the role of accountant or to enter into the job market as soon as possible.
The most common degree for someone entering the accounting field, it offers a variety of job options for graduates.
A graduate degree is helpful in rising to a management position and may be required for specialized certifications. Depending on your goals, you can pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a focus on accounting or a master's in accounting.
Mainly sought by people who want to teach at the college level or conduct research.
Many schools and universities offer online accounting degrees at all levels, so you should be able to find a good fit for your education and scheduling needs. Online programs are especially beneficial for people who need flexibility, including working parents. They also save time and money, especially if you live in a rural area because students don't have to drive to and from campus.
Today's online degree programs are designed to deliver the same level of education as their in-person counterparts. Some programs will have live lectures, but many will have pre-recorded lessons you can access at your convenience. Some will be a combination of recorded and real-time interaction.
Studying online is a popular option with many working professionals who are seeking a graduate degree, says Angel Chatterton, senior instructor of accounting at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She says the average age of her online students is around 40, although she's had students as old as 72.
Some programs will have live lectures, but many will have pre-recorded lessons you can access at your convenience. Some will be a combination of recorded and real-time interaction.
Many of Chatterton's online students have families and full-time jobs, and she says they're evenly split between men and women. To accommodate students' busy schedules, she and her colleagues hold online office hours on evenings and weekends.
As a bonus, studying online brings together people from a wide geographic area. Chatterton has had students from Australia, England, the Caribbean, and Indonesia.
"I love the fact that we get a global audience because we get some really great stories," Chatterton says.
Which Degree Is Right for You?
As you explore accounting programs, consider your lifestyle and what you envision for your career. Some things to think about:
Keep in mind you can continue your education as you are working in the field. Many colleges and universities have programs designed for working people so you can hold a job while studying for a higher degree. Many companies are supportive of employees continuing their education, and some offer tuition assistance programs or other incentives to earn a higher degree.
One of the most important considerations when selecting an accounting program should be whether the institution is accredited.
Accreditation means a school meets set standards of academic excellence and will deliver a quality education that will prepare you for your profession. Both traditional campus and online schools can earn accreditation.
Accreditation means a school meets set standards of academic excellence and will deliver a quality education that will prepare you for your profession.
Accreditation is crucial while you're a student and beyond:
In addition to institutional accreditation, which includes the entire school, there is accreditation for programs. It's usually granted by a professional organization. While it's not as standardized as institutional accreditation, it indicates a stamp of approval from a professional organization.
The following national organizations accredit accounting programs, and all list the programs on their websites.
Written and reported by:
With professional insight from:
Senior Instructor of Accountancy, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign