Accounting Career and Degree Guide
Online Accounting Courses: Everything You Need to Know
Online accounting courses offer a practical, effective way to become fluent in the language of numbers.
Whether you've been working with numbers for years, or haven't taken a math class since middle school, online accounting courses offer an in-depth, practical and effective way to earn your degree and launch a satisfying career in accounting.
With more than 150 schools offering online accounting courses, there's a huge range of educational options literally at your fingertips. Many are online-only colleges, but dozens of traditional brick-and-mortar universities and community colleges also offer online accounting courses. The online option is ideal for working adults, enabling you to log in and learn at your convenience.
Who are Online Accounting Courses For?
Anyone can attend an online school. Even high school and middle school students are joining the ranks and taking classes online. But for working adults and others with similar obligations, online school seems tailor-made for their particular needs.
If you aspire to be an accountant, then you're in luck if you need to attend school online. Because accounting generally doesn't need labs or clinical classes where you would need to be on-site, learning about the profession, its principles, regulations and fundamentals—such as math and microeconomics—fit nicely into the online learning model.
Still, there are some folks who can benefit from an online degree program more than others. Let's take a look at some of the lifestyles and situations where online learning may be the best way to fulfill educational goals that were previously thought impossible:
- Single and working parents
- People in remote or rural areas who have no access to school
- People who relocate frequently
- Military personnel
- People who work better in a low-pressure environment
- People with disabilities that make mobility difficult
- People who are self-employed or work long hours
- Anyone who wants the freedom to attend class on their own time
What Should I Look for in My Online Accounting Program?
The paramount thing to look for when researching online accounting degrees is accreditation. Accreditation is a seal of quality that's issued by professional industry peer groups and other educational agencies and institutions. It's a designation that ensures your program has been carefully vetted and approved by meeting an accepted level of quality—as well as ensuring your curriculum is up to date as far as current industry standards and regulations.
Fortunately for accounting students, there are several accreditation credentials to look for. Business-specific credentials include the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Council for Higher Education (CHEA), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and the Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). There are also regional accrediting agencies across the country, depending upon where your college is located.
Accreditation offers several critical advantages to students:
- You are able to apply for federal financial aid (FAFSA) if you attend an accredited program
- Your credits should transfer entirely more easily if you decide to further your education later, or move to another school
- Most future employers prefer students to earn a degree from an accredited school
Your online program should also offer the same benefits that traditional school students receive. While most services are available over the Internet, don't sell yourself short by not taking these important benefits into consideration. Some of these may include the following:
- Academic and admissions advisors who should be assigned to help you navigate coursework and enrollment
- Admission to the school's electronic library resources
- Computing and IT help resources
- Job placement, career guidance and resume services
- Participation in commencement and graduation
- Alumni Association benefits, such as events, seminars and workshops for graduates
How Do Online Accounting Courses Work?
As an online student you are in charge of your schedule and your pace of learning. In fact, the one skill you'll need to cultivate as an online student is time management. Even though virtual learning is flexible and you typically have no set time to attend class and read coursework, you'll still be required to turn in assignments and complete quizzes and exams on time. Your biggest challenge will be to yourself and meeting your educational commitments. In this regard, online school is no different than a traditional classroom program—and in some instances may be more difficult for some students.
However, don't think you are all alone while attending school online. With all of the above named resources and your instructors and classmates, you will still get a very connected, cooperative college experience, all from the comfort of wherever you decide to log on.
What Will My Virtual Classroom Be Like?
Your classroom will be your desktop, your tablet or even your phone in some cases. Most online students designate a space in their home that offers the quiet and space they'll need, but you can also work at the library, a Starbucks or wherever you can find a Wi-Fi connection. Since online learning is largely flexible, most people have a set time to get online and study, confer with classmates and professors, and turn in assignments or take tests. You may find that you need to accommodate a set schedule on some occasions in order to attend a special lecture, take an exam, or meet as a group in order to discuss an assignment or a project.
Some schools have proprietary tools for online students, meaning they create their own eLearning platforms for their students' use. However there are some popular, widely-used software applications that keep students in an online setting connected to their professor, the curriculum—and each other. Let's take a look at a couple and what they offer.
Blackboard Learn is still the top learning management system (LMS) used in online programs. This is largely because of its ease of use and also because it's an integrated system that includes a wiki, blog, chat, class email, and discussion board to keep online courses connected. All these features enhance the virtual lectures, exams, ability to turn in and get assignments and access text-based materials. With Blackboard Learn, you can also keep track of your grades. Schools from large state universities to community colleges to strictly online schools all use this software.
Moodle is another LMS used in the virtual classroom, and its primary benefit is immediate feedback as far as quizzes, tests and performance while you study the assigned curriculum.
Online Accounting Classes: 4 Questions to Ask
With many start dates, virtual classrooms and mobile apps, school is probably more flexible and efficient than you remember. As you investigate online options for accounting courses, ask schools how they will support your goals. For instance:
1. Math Refresher
Has it been a while since you've been in a math class? Ask if the school you're considering offers a math review or refresher course. Often formatted as go-at-your-own-pace tutorials, these bite-size courses are a great way to build your confidence and brush up on key terms and concepts before starting your formal accounting coursework.
2. Student Support
Many colleges facilitate online communities geared toward individual majors or specific interests. These virtual hubs can be a great way to connect with other accounting students and get help with issues that arise along the way—whether it's a math question or a resource for working moms.
3. Accounting Software
Does the school align its accounting curriculum with contemporary business needs? Ask if accounting classes will incorporate popular software, such as Intuit's QuickBooks, into the program. While you don't need expert-level computer skills to jump into an accounting class, expect to use the Microsoft Office basics—Excel, Word and PowerPoint—to complete projects and presentations.
4. Online Teaching Tools
Many schools use a platform called Blackboard to deliver online accounting courses. Typically, you'll log in once a week to listen to a live lecture and participate (in real time) by keyboarding your comments and questions. Course delivery software should also include a discussion board where the instructor posts questions, and students post their answers. You'll also submit your homework—projects, essays and quizzes—via the online teaching platform. Before you register for classes, ask the school if you can test-drive its software.
Online Accounting Classes: Associate's Degree
Many online schools offer "stackable" accounting coursework, in which you can start by earning a certificate and progress all the way to the master's level. If you're starting from scratch, a two-year associate's degree (which might require less time if you've already earned some college credits) will provide a firm grounding in the basics of accounting.
Depending on the school, typical coursework in an associate's program will include some combination of the following:
- Principles of Accounting (series) – Learn about the three most common types of accounting: financial, managerial and cost. You'll work with balance sheets, income statements, retained earnings statements and cash flow statements—all of which help to measure the financial health of a business. These classes, typically offered in a series of two or three, will train you to think about numbers from a management perspective.
- Statistics – How do you visualize, interpret and present data? An introductory course in business statistics will equip you with the skills to evaluate and analyze business data as you create reports, tables and charts. After this class, terms like "business forecast," "probability theory" and "linear regression" will be part of your everyday vocabulary.
- Microeconomics – How do decisions made at the "micro" level—by individuals and business managers—affect the supply and demand of goods and services around the world? How do government attempts at regulation affect business outcomes? In a microeconomics class, you'll learn how small decisions affect the larger economic picture.
- Macroeconomics – Understand the forces that drive the ups and downs of the larger economy, from income and employment to government policy. You'll go beyond individual markets to look at the national and global factors that affect the performance of the economy as a whole.
- Federal Tax – Here's the accounting class that covers tax concepts, from gross income to adjusted, deductions to exclusions. You'll go beyond simple W2 wages to see how investments, business income (or loss) and transactions factor into a tax return. You'll also learn about factors that influence tax laws.
Online Accounting Classes: Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's in accounting can help fling open the doors to a wide range of jobs, from government agencies to the video game industry and everywhere in between. Although it varies from school to school, the bachelor's coursework will shake out something like this:
- Intermediate Accounting (series) – You'll gain a thorough understanding of both the theoretical and practical aspects of accounting by diving into balance sheets, financial reports, income statements, cash flow statements and much more. In this series of two or three classes, Instructors often use case studies and pose ethical queries to bring the material to life.
- Business Law – From contracts and crime investigation to estates and ethical dilemmas, learn how the U.S. legal system applies to the business world. Expect to examine actual cases to understand how business law relates to the global economy.
- Applied Statistics – Also called business math or quantitative analysis, this class will challenge you to apply research and statistical skills to solve financial problems and make business decisions. You'll delve into banking, credit, finance and investments as you master the material.
- Auditing – Put your investigative skills to work in this class, where you'll learn how to evaluate a company's records from top to bottom, including financial reports, internal controls, and Electronic Data Processing systems. You'll also examine business practices through the lens of legal liability and professional ethics.
- Advanced Taxes – Hone your knowledge of the federal tax system with increasingly complex investigations into partnerships, corporations, estates and trusts. An advanced class will teach you to plan and research taxes in conjunction with business decision-making.
- Accounting Information Systems – Learn how to integrate accounting software with the principles of the field. From general ledgers and accounts receivable to invoicing, inventory and payroll, you'll get a thorough grounding in the computerized accounting applications most commonly found in business.
- Principles of Management – Accounting isn't just about crunching numbers. A management class will give you a solid grounding in management theory and practice, illustrated with real-world problems and scenarios. In a class with other working professionals, students might have the opportunity to share case studies drawn from their own work lives.
- Accounting Electives – Once you've mastered the core classes, you'll choose from a wide range of elective accounting courses that reflect the diversity of the field. From government and non-profit accounting, to international business and fraud examination, you'll pick the classes that round out your education and help put you on course to a new career.
No longer restricted to number-crunching, today's accounting professionals are highly valued experts who guide decisions at every level of business. By studying this wide-ranging field, you'll gain the skills to analyze and interpret financial data and, just as importantly, to communicate clearly with executives and other business stakeholders. Online accounting courses are the flexible, efficient way to become fluent in the language of numbers.