Study Accounting Online
From classes to accreditation, get the 4-1-1 on earning your accounting degree online.
When it comes to the job search, an accounting degree is the apple of many a hiring manager’s eye. In the U.S., the credential is the second most sought-after degree, according to a 2015 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Demand for qualified accountants is expected to grow by 10 percent through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price of admission to this growing field? In almost every case, it’s a four-year college degree.
Ready to see your options for earning your accounting degree online?
Online Accounting Degree Programs
More than 150 schools offer online accounting degrees. The virtual format is ideal for working adults, whether you’re starting college from scratch or finishing up that degree you began years ago. Many colleges are online-only, but their brick-and-mortar counterparts are also stepping up to offer online accounting degrees with the built-in flexibility that working adults demand.
When the Internet is your classroom, there’s no commuting and no need to relocate. You’ll log in to class in each week to listen to a lecture and type your questions and comments in real time. Most schools use a technology called Blackboard to offer online courses. Whatever the software platform, it should include a forum where the instructor posts assignments and students post homework, projects and quizzes.
Otherwise, an online accounting degree program is cut from the same cloth as its on-campus cousin: same classes, same credit requirements, and the same accounting degree at the end of the journey. There is one important difference, however: In many cases, online accounting courses cost less than the on-campus versions, according to a 2015 study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
Before enrolling in any accounting degree program, check that the school has received accreditation by either a national or regional agency. Accreditation is a third-party seal of approval. It’s your assurance that the college meets standards for quality, rigor and teaching expertise.
Accreditation also has a big financial impact on students. Only those enrolled in accredited schools and colleges can qualify for federal student loans and grants.
For online accounting programs, there are a few types of accreditation:
1. Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
The AACSB sets the gold standard for business schools, where most online accounting degrees are offered. This accreditation is widely recognized by corporate recruiters, and some employers require it as a condition of tuition reimbursement.
2. Accreditation Council for Collegiate Business Schools and Programs
Also recognized by the U.S. department of Education, ACBSP focuses on outcomes to help in its assessment of a school’s standards for teaching and excellence.
3. Distance Education Accrediting Commission
Exclusive to online learning, this agency emphasizes programs that demonstrate a commitment to innovation, student achievement and educational excellence.
Check to see that the school you’re considering has gotten a stamp of approval by any one of these three accrediting agencies.
Accounting Degree: Beginning Coursework
Just starting your college journey? To keep things manageable, you might begin with a two-year associate’s degree or an accounting certificate. Either of these will give you a firm grounding in the language of numbers and spreadsheets. These online certifications might also open the door to an entry-level position as a payroll or accounting clerk.
Most online accounting degree programs will include some combination of the following in their beginning coursework:
1. Principles of Accounting – What’s the difference between financial, managerial and cost accounting? You’ll find out in your online accounting courses as you learn the tools that measure the financial health of the business: of cash flow statements, balance sheets, income statements, retained earnings statements and more.
2. Statistics– More than number-crunching, a beginning course in statistics will equip you to evaluate and analyze business data as you create reports, tables and charts. This class will help introduce terms such as “probability theory” and “linear regression” to liven up your dinner conversations.
3. Microeconomics– When individuals and businesses make financial decisions, their actions ripple around the world, affecting the global supply and demand of goods and services. A beginning microeconomics class will fine-tune your ability to connect small, everyday decisions to broader economic outcomes
4. Macroeconomics– Which economic forces—from income to employment to government policy— drive the ups and downs of the larger economy? In a beginning macroeconomics class, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the factors that shape economies worldwide.
5. Federal Tax– Tax preparation is a staple of most accounting careers. Start your journey with a class that considers the tax implications of investments, business income (or loss) and transactions. This class will also cover the factors that influence tax laws.
Accounting Degree: Continuing Coursework
An online bachelor’s degree in accounting can set you up a wide range of jobs in every conceivable industry, from retailers to software makers, shipping companies to government agencies. Although it varies from school to school, the bachelor’s coursework in accounting usually includes:
1. Business Law – How does the U.S. legal system affect the business community? This wide-ranging class covers everything from contracts and crime to estate planning and ethics. Expect to examine actual cases to understand how business law affects the global economy.
2. Applied Statistics – Sometimes this class goes by the name of business math or quantitative analysis. In it, you’ll learn how to apply research and statistical skills to make sound business decisions. As you master the material, you’ll cover such topics as credit, banking, investments and finance.
3. Auditing – An auditor is like the accounting world’s gumshoe, evaluating a company’s records from top to bottom to uncover any evidence of wrongdoing. Put on your detective’s hat and learn to investigate clues lurking in financial statements, internal controls, data processing systems and more. Legal liability and professional ethics are important topics in this class.
4. Advanced Taxes – Deepen your knowledge of the tax system with by investigating how it applies to corporations, partnerships, trusts and estates. An advanced class will teach you to plan and research taxes in conjunction with business decision-making.
5. Accounting Information Systems – Accountants delegate most of their number-crunching duties to sophisticated software applications. This class introduces the most common tools for managing such functions as invoicing, inventory, payroll, accounts receivable and more.
6. Principles of Management –This class introduces the theory and practice of business management, illustrating concepts with real-world problems and case studies. If your class includes other working professionals, you might have a chance to share situations drawn from your own work life.
Online Accounting Degree: Questions for Schools
Just because you’re earning your degree online, don’t lower your expectations for student support.
- Does the college offer academic tutoring when you hit a rough spot in your studies?
- Is there a staff person dedicated to offering guidance on financial aid options?
- Does the school facilitate an online community for accounting majors? These virtual hubs can be a great way to connect with other accounting degree earners get help along the way—whether it’s a statistics study group or a advice on child care.
When you’re relying exclusively on technology to access your courses, professors and fellow students, a solid behind-the-scenes operation is key to your success as a student.
- Before you enroll in the school, ask to test-drive its online course delivery system. Is it intuitive and easy to use?
- Does the school make classes and archived lectures available on a 24/7 basis?
- Is there a mobile app?
- What technical support is available from the school’s information technology team in the event of service disruptions?
If the school you’re considering has been accredited, it’s already hiring qualified instructors. But the online format demands specialized skills from professors.
- Have the accounting professors taught in the online format before? For how long, and how many classes?
- What practical business world experience do the instructors bring to their classes?
Get Going on Your Online Accounting Degree
Far from the bean-counter stereotype of yesteryear, today’s accounting professionals are trusted advisers who help guide business fortunes. Whether the economy is cycling through a boom or a bust, employers need professionals who can navigate financial statements, manage budgets, prepare taxes, oversee payrolls and advise on strategic business decisions.
It’s time to make your move. Start searching for the accounting program that’s right for you.
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