Basic Differences in Programs
When deciding whether to pursue an associate or bachelor's degree in accounting, it can be helpful to consider the curriculum of the programs as well as possible careers. While accounting associate and bachelor's degree programs include some of the same coursework, bachelor's degree programs take twice as many credit hours to complete. However, students who earn bachelor's degrees are prepared for more lucrative employment opportunities. Additional differences between these programs are detailed next.
Associate Degree in Accounting
Earning an associate degree in accounting takes two years of full-time study, and students spend their time in both general education and accounting-specific courses. They also gain experience with various computer applications and software programs, including Microsoft Excel and QuickBooks. Common course topics include financial accounting, managerial accounting, cost accounting, management, organization, marketing, computer applications, writing, public speaking, and science.
Career Information for Associate Degree
After graduating with an associate degree in accounting, graduates can get jobs as public accounting assistants at corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies. Graduates are also able to begin careers as bookkeepers. Job duties for these workers can include:
- Posting financial transactions
- Recording cash, checks, and vouchers
- Inputting debits and credits into accounting software
- Verifying accounting data accuracy
- Preparing financial reports, such as income statements
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks earned a median salary of $38,390 in 2016. Employment opportunities in this field were expected to decrease 8% over the 2014-2024 decade.
Bachelor's Degree in Accounting
A bachelor's degree program in accounting includes at least 120 credits and takes students four years to complete. Students in this program take 60 credits or more of business and accounting-related coursework and 60 credits of general education classes and electives. Because Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure often requires 150 credits of completed coursework, some bachelor's programs include 30 or more additional credits. Core business and accounting courses address such topics as business law, financial accounting, managerial accounting, marketing, finance, management, and fraud examination.
Career Information for Bachelor's Degree
After earning a bachelor's degree in accounting, students can seek entry-level employment with accounting departments in corporations or government agencies. Opportunities are also available to become a CPA, Certified Management Accountant, or Certified Internal Auditor. These three credentials require the successful completion of examinations after meeting eligibility requirements. For example, prospective CPAs must complete an additional 30 hours of coursework beyond a bachelor's degree program before sitting for the four-part Uniform CPA Examination. Accountants and auditors are responsible for preparing and evaluating financial documents and records. They make sure that regulatory standards are met and that organizations are conducting financial operations in a way that maximizes efficiency. Specific job duties include:
- Preparing tax returns
- Organizing financial records
- Assessing accounting records for legal compliance
- Meeting with business leaders to advise on efficiency improvements
The BLS reported that accountants and auditors could see an 11% employment increase between 2014 and 2024. Job growth in this field will stem from factors such as globalization, economic growth, and the complexity of the current regulatory environment. In 2016, these professionals earned a median salary of $68,150.
Although both associate degree programs and bachelor's degree programs in accounting cover the basic principles of the field, bachelor's degree programs provide more extensive education and can prepare individuals for higher level professional certifications in the field.