Degrees Needed for Accounting Programs

The three types of accounting programs are associate’s degree accounting programs, bachelor’s degree accounting programs, and master’s degree accounting programs. You can enter an associate’s or bachelor’s degree accounting program after finishing high school or completing your GED. You can earn your master’s degree in accounting in an additional one to three years of study after completing a bachelor’s degree. Associate’s degree accounting programs usually take two years, and bachelor’s degree accounting programs usually take four years.

In associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree accounting programs much of the subject matter is similar, although the complexity varies. You will study math, statistics, tax law, economics, finance, and business. Associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs provide an overview of these subjects and may also have some general education requirements in other areas, such as the humanities and the sciences. The courses you take in a master’s degree accounting program will be tailored more toward a specific aspect of accounting, such as auditing or business management. By the time you begin a master’s degree accounting program, you should have a sense of what specifically interests you about accounting, and you should concentrate your studies in that area.

The type of accounting program that is best for you depends on your career goals. A master’s degree accounting program offers you the greatest chance for advancement in your career, although it also requires that you specify your interests and course of study. An associate’s degree offers the fewest career options upon graduation; however, you will be able to start working much sooner than if you were in a bachelor’s degree program. You can also begin your accounting career with an associate’s degree and later transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Usually, earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting after you have your associate’s will take an additional two to three years. You will receive transfer credit for some of the courses you took at community college and therefore will have less to complete than someone beginning a bachelor’s degree accounting program straight out of high school.

The different types of accounting degrees available offer flexibility in that you can test your affinity for accounting with an associate’s degree before committing to a bachelor’s degree. You can also work as an accountant before entering a master’s degree accounting program.

Applying to School

There are many steps involved in applying to accounting programs. Each program should have detailed descriptions of its application on its website. The application components for a bachelor’s degree at a traditional college or a master’s degree at a university will be more complex than the components needed to apply to a technical school for an associate’s degree.

Bachelor’s degree accounting programs and master’s degree accounting programs both require a standardized test.

Bachelor’s degree accounting programs require either the ACT or SAT, and master’s degree programs require either the GRE or the GMAT. It may be a good idea to study for and take the standardized test before applying; that way, you can concentration on one aspect of the application at a time.

The application itself will likely consist of your academic transcript, letters of recommendation, an essay or personal statement, an application form, and an application fee. If you are applying to bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree accounting programs, you will need to include a copy of your high-school transcript. If you are applying to master’s degree accounting programs, you will need to include your college transcript. Most accounting programs look for applicants with a solid B average, but having a slightly lower grade-point average will not automatically disqualify you.

Your letters of recommendation and your written personal statement will give the admissions committee a chance to get to know you as a person. Both the content and quality of your writing are important for your written statement. Some accounting programs may allow you to choose the essay topic yourself, and others may require you to decide among topics of their choosing. Either way, the essay is an opportunity for you to express your values and goals.

Make sure you ask teachers, professors, or employers with whom you are close to write your letters of recommendation. You may want to ask each recommender to focus on a particular aspect of your performance. That way, you can ensure that your recommendation letters reflect all of your positive qualities.

The application fee for accounting programs will vary by program. Application fees for technical schools will likely be slightly less expensive than the fees for traditional colleges. Application fees for accounting programs are typically between $15 and $100.

Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree is the shortest accounting degree program. Earning an associate’s degree in accounting usually only takes two years, whereas earning a bachelor’s degree often takes four years, and earning a master’s degree can take up to another year or two after earning a bachelor’s degree. Many accounting employers require a bachelor’s degree and prefer a master’s degree; however, many entry-level accounting jobs are available to those with associate’s degrees in accounting. You can transfer to a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting after earning your associates degree. In this sense, pursuing an associate’s degree in accounting first gives you an opportunity to experience an accounting program and decide whether it is right for you before committing to a bachelor’s degree accounting program.

You can earn an associate’s degree in accounting at most community colleges. Usually the only qualification to enroll in an associate’s degree accounting program is either a high school diploma or GED. It is unlikely that you will encounter mandated prerequisites for an associate’s degree accounting program, but you may be able to attain higher placement in the program if you have previously taken classes that provide a solid background for accounting. If you are still in high school and thinking of attending an associate’s degree accounting program after you graduate, consider taking courses that will help you prepare for college. Advanced math and statistics courses will help you understand the classes you will take in your accounting program. If your high school offers classes in economics or even accounting, these will provide a great basis for an associate’s degree program.

Your coursework in an associate’s degree accounting program will likely combine technical job-training courses and theoretical courses related to accounting that will help you put your work in context once you graduate and begin your career in the accounting field. Technical courses will include bookkeeping and classes on computer software currently used in the accounting field. Your bookkeeping courses will literally teach you how to document your future employer’s financial exchanges. The computer software used by accountants is always evolving, but learning what is in use at the moment will make you a good candidate when you apply for jobs. You will likely also take technical classes on tax law and how to manage a company’s payroll systems.

Theoretical courses will include many mathematics and statistics classes. Some of the skills you learn in these classes will apply directly to your future career in the accounting field, and some will apply indirectly. Nevertheless, having a keen understanding of math and statistics will help you see the underlying value and reasoning behind the daily tasks you perform working in the accounting field.

Many people who graduate from associate’s degree programs in accounting end up working as bookkeepers and clerks of accounts payable and accounts receivable. A bookkeeper keeps track of an employer’s financial transactions. Clerks of accounts payable oversee the money that an employer pays others, including employees. Clerks of accounts receivable oversee all of the funds going into a business.

Although the accounting career prospects are greater if you attend a bachelor’s or master’s degree accounting program, an associate’s degree accounting program is a quick way to start your accounting career and provides a solid foundation in the field.

Bachelor’s Degree

Most people who work in the accounting field have completed a bachelor’s degree accounting program. Bachelor’s degree accounting programs are the most common type of accounting programs, and are required for employment in many accounting careers. A bachelor’s degree accounting program usually takes four years. Some accounting programs offer a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program that takes five years.

To enter a bachelor’s degree accounting program, you need a high-school diploma or GED. Some people entering bachelor’s degree accounting programs also have completed an associate’s degree program in accounting. If you are transferring to a bachelor’s degree accounting program from an associate’s degree accounting program, you may be able to use many of the college credits you have already earned at your community college and enter the bachelor’s degree program with advanced standing. If you already have an associate’s degree in accounting, you likely will be able to complete a bachelor’s degree accounting program in two or three years.

Most bachelor’s degree programs in accounting do not require specific prerequisites. However, you may need to take some additional classes in math and statistics during your first or second year of college if you do not have a broad background in these subject areas. If you are still in high school and want to apply to bachelor’s degree programs in accounting, be sure to take whatever advanced math or statistics courses your high school offers. Having a solid understanding of math and statistics will give you a head start on the things you will learn in your bachelor’s degree program. Also consider taking high-school classes in economics, business, finance, or accounting if they are available. These will also give you a strong basis for the accounting courses you will take in a bachelor’s degree accounting program.

The course work in a bachelor’s degree accounting program includes many math and statistics courses, as well as courses in tax law, economics, finance, business, management, and marketing. You will gain a general understanding of how the market works and how to interpret market data in a way that will be meaningful to future clients. You will also learn how to legally and ethically maintain financial documents. In management courses, you will learn how to interact professionally with your future colleagues, employers, and clients.

Many colleges will also require a range of general education requirements that will span many disciplines. To complete general education requirements, you will likely take courses in English, science, the arts, and possibly a foreign language. Some colleges also require a certain number of elective courses before graduation. Taking general education and elective courses will help you maintain a well-rounded understanding of the world and, although they may not include all of the hard or soft skills you will use as an accountant, they can give you insight as to how people use accounting and why it is important.

A bachelor’s degree in accounting opens the door to careers in many different aspects of accounting, such as auditing, technical accounting, forensic accounting, financial planning, and even consulting. Because many employers require at least a bachelor’s degree, entering a bachelor’s degree accounting program can be the most efficient way to start your career if you are certain that accounting is right for you and you can commit to four years of college.

Master’s Degree

Before obtaining a master’s degree in accounting, you need a bachelor’s degree. Some master’s degree accounting programs are conjoined with bachelor’s degree accounting programs. Usually these dual-degree programs take five years to complete. If you decide to earn a master’s degree in accounting and are not enrolled in a five-year combination degree program, your master’s degree will likely take two years to complete. Some students take an additional year depending on how quickly they complete the coursework.

Not all participates in master’s degree accounting programs have a background in accounting. Many have bachelor’s degrees in accounting, business, finance, or a similar field. However, some have bachelor’s degrees in the humanities, sciences, or any number of other disciplines. You do not necessarily need a background in accounting to apply to a master’s degree accounting program. An accounting background will certainly help you understand the material, but it is not a requirement for application to all master’s degree accounting programs.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in another field and decide to enroll in a master’s degree accounting program, you may need to complete some prerequisite coursework. These classes could include math, statistics, business, finance, and economics. Each master’s degree accounting program has its own specific list of necessary prerequisites. If you have already finished your bachelor’s degree, you can likely take your prerequisite classes at a community college.

A master’s degree accounting program has a much more specific field of study than a bachelor’s degree accounting program. If you have already been working in the accounting field or have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, think about which aspects of accounting interest you the most as you explore master’s degree accounting programs.

There are two kinds of degrees you can earn in a master’s degree accounting program: a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting, or a Master’s of Accounting (MAcc).

The courses you will take to earn a MAcc will be similar in subject matter to the courses you would take in a bachelor’s degree accounting program. You will likely study statistics, math, economics, business, finance, and tax law, but in greater detail that relates to a more specific field of accounting. Earning a MAcc degree is a great preparation to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. Many courses taught in a MAcc program are geared toward preparing students to pass the CPA exam.

An MBA with a concentration in accounting is a more general degree that prepares you to work in the business world in a more varied capacity. Accountants who pursue an MBA with a concentration in accounting may go on to work as financial planners or consultants. Others, however, may pursue CPA certification and work as auditors or accountants. An MBA with a concentration in accounting is for someone who takes an interest in the managerial aspects of business. A MAcc is for someone with a particular interest in auditing or taxes.

Although many entry-level positions in the accounting field require a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree is almost necessary if you want to advance your accounting career. Most employers prefer a graduate degree for senior or managerial positions. You will be a much more marketable employee with a master’s degree than if you stop after earning a bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree will also help you specify your skills within a niche of accounting that interests you.

Doctoral Accounting Programs

A doctoral degree, also called a PhD, is an advanced degree that allows you to teach at the university level and perform research. Many people who complete bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting go on to work as accountants, but a few continue in academia to earn their doctorate. Others spend some time working as accountants, then decide that they prefer an intellectual, academic atmosphere and return to school to pursue a PhD in accounting.

Earning a PhD in accounting usually takes at least four years, although in many cases it can take five or more years. This discrepancy is due to some flexibility in the schedule and how quickly you are able to complete your coursework and academic research. You also need to obtain at least a bachelor’s degree before entering a PhD accounting program, although many students in PhD accounting programs have also earned their master’s degrees. This means that if you pursue a PhD in accounting, you could spend about ten years total as a student in accounting programs. Doctoral degrees are ideal for students who find that they are most at home in an academic environment and enjoy being in school.

Doctoral accounting students spend the first two to three years of their accounting programs completing course work, and the next two or more years performing research and preparing a dissertation. A dissertation is an academic paper on a subject of your choosing that must be approved to receive your degree. Some students finish their dissertations quickly in about two years, and others take more time. The research portion of your doctoral accounting program will likely begin with seminars on how to conduct research properly in the accounting field to prepare you to develop your dissertation. The courses you will complete during the beginning of your doctoral accounting program will be in financial theory, economics, and psychology. Although these subjects are somewhat less technical than the skills you learn during a bachelor’s or master’s degree accounting program, they will help you understand the factors that drive changes in the accounting field and how accounting affects business and the economy as a whole.

There are two types of PhD accounting programs–archival and behavioral. A behavioral degree has a strong emphasis on psychology. In a behavioral degree doctoral accounting program, you will likely study what psychological factors influence the business world and how these pertain to the accounting field. For an archival degree, your accounting program will emphasize math and economics. Different accounting programs may be stronger in different degree types, so keep this in mind as you choose an accounting program.

During your bachelor’s or master’s degree accounting program, think about what you enjoy about being in academia. If you enjoy classroom discussions and research, a PhD in accounting might be a good choice for you. Similarly, when you are working in the accounting field, think about what you prefer about working in the field to being in a more academic environment. If you enjoy working as an accountant more than being in the classroom, then a PhD in accounting is probably not for you. However, if you find yourself missing academia and wanting a closer relationship to research in the accounting field, then you might consider getting your PhD. Universities provide stipends for PhD accounting students. Although your income will not be as high as if you were working as an accountant, you will still be able to get by.