Earning an online accounting degree provides an excellent springboard to a profitable and challenging business career. As of 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median annual salary of $73,560 for accountants and auditors.
This page ranks the best online colleges for accounting. We also outline what to expect from an online accounting program, why online accounting degrees hold significance in today’s competitive job market, and what to weigh when searching for the right accounting school.
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What Is Accounting?
The oldest accounting records trace back to ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium B.C. At the time, people exchanged items at local markets at agreed-upon prices, but without any fiat money underpinning the transactions. To ensure value reciprocity, people recorded peer-to-peer exchanges in clay ledgers, using accounting methods like those we use today.
Like in the ancient Middle East, modern accountants use ledgers to record and store transactions and financial data for individuals and organizations. However, the modern accounting process requires reporting these transactions to centralized agencies, regulators, and tax collectors.
People drawn to accounting often demonstrate conscientiousness, attention to detail, and analytical thinking.
Accountants perform many other duties besides accounting for transactions. They also play vital roles in cost planning, regulatory compliance, financial advising, and executive business decisions. Accordingly, individuals and organizations need accountants for a variety of roles. Common careers include personal financial advisor, tax accountant, fraud examiner, and corporate controller.
People drawn to accounting often demonstrate conscientiousness, attention to detail, and analytical thinking. The field also appeals to individuals interested in trending subjects like inflation, sustainable energy, cryptocurrencies, and decentralized finance.
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Why Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting?
Holding a bachelor’s degree in accounting brings a wealth of advantages. Strong earning potential ranks high on the list. As of 2020, the BLS reported a median annual salary of $89,330 for personal financial advisors and $83,660 for financial analysts. A bachelor’s in accounting also provides 120 of the 150 credits needed to sit for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam.
Earning an online accounting degree offers other benefits besides the financial and credit incentives. We list three below:
Best Accounting Degrees
- Flexibility: Online accounting programs often provide asynchronous courses. This online format allows students to complete their courses at their own pace. For example, learners with daytime commitments can delegate their studies to evenings and weekends.
- Transferable Skills: Online accounting degrees cultivate a diverse skill set that easily transfers across industries and occupations. Highly versatile core competencies include strong administrative, analytical, and program-solving skills.
- Lower Degree Costs: Earning an online accounting degree often costs less than the on-campus alternative. The degree’s affordability makes it an excellent choice for prospective students on a budget.
What to Expect From Accounting Programs Online
Many schools offer accounting programs online or in a hybrid format. Online accounting programs may require some minimal on-campus presence for alumni events, a capstone project, or an internship. A bachelor’s degree in accounting generally requires 120 credits and takes four years to complete.
Online accounting programs typically start with introductory courses in accounting and auditing, federal taxation, and statistical analysis. Subsequent electives and concentration courses cover more specialized content such as financial management, advanced analytics, and cost accounting.
The cost of an online accounting degree varies across schools. Many public colleges and universities charge in-state rates to their distance learners, regardless of residency and physical location. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), public, in-state tuition and fee rates averaged $9,212 for the 2018-2019 academic year.
Prerequisites for an online accounting degree include a high school diploma or GED certificate. Schools may require applicants to hold a minimum 2.0 GPA. Prospective students typically apply in the fall and learn admissions decisions in the spring. However, some online accounting programs accept applications on a rolling basis.
Applicants usually submit an online application, a resume, official transcripts, recommendation letters, personal essays, SAT or ACT scores, and a nonrefundable application fee. Some accounting schools online waive standardized test scores for distance learners. But high test scores can improve the chances of admission.
Online accounting degree programs typically provide several concentration options. Popular specializations include:
- Fiduciary Accounting
- A specialization in fiduciary accounting focuses on financial transactions associated with a trust or estate. Key courses cover subjects like asset reconciliation, income collection verification, inventory allocation on sales of securities, and allocation of trust expenses between income and principal.
- Securities Fraud
- This focus area advances knowledge of how to investigate illegal activities involving securities. The curriculum explores capital gains tax evasion, financial statement fraud, and conspiracy to commit stock fraud. Enrollees also learn how to detect pump-and-dump ploys, Ponzi schemes, and late-day and insider trading.
- Environmental Accounting
- A focus in environmental accounting explores human environmental footprints and their economic impacts. Learners delve into subjects such as emissions management, regulatory credit sale, and tradeoffs between the environment and economic growth.
- Crypto Mining Accounting
- In this concentration, students leverage their basic accounting skills to track and analyze data from the mining of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. Learning outcomes include proficiencies in implementing subledgers, tracking mining revenue earned, and recording rewards from staked coins and tokens.
- Actuarial Science
- A focus in actuarial science delivers advanced knowledge of how to quantify financial uncertainty and risk using mathematics, probability theory, and statistical analysis. Coursework delves into subjects such as stochastic calculus, solvency and liquidity ratios, and enterprise risk modeling and management.
Popular Accounting Courses
Most accounting curricula include core courses, electives, general education courses, and a capstone. Some online accounting programs also require an internship. Students may potentially transfer high school advanced placement credits to skip some core accounting courses and general education requirements.
Core accounting classes explore topics like federal taxation, macro- and microeconomics, and financial statement analysis. Electives may include topics like sports accounting, assurance services, and environmental accounting. Below, we provide sample descriptions for three courses learners may encounter in an online accounting degree program:
How Much Will an Online Accounting Degree Cost?
According to NCES, college students paid an average of $9,212 per year for in-state tuition and fees at public schools for the 2018-2019 academic year. Out-of-state public and private institutions charged an average of $25,442 and $31,875, respectively.
Some schools offer distance learning at a reduced rate. Public universities, for example, often charge in-state tuition rates to remote learners, regardless of residency and physical location.
Students choosing to study on campus should also factor in the price of room and board. On-campus housing and meal plans averaged an additional $11,386-$12,787 per year in 2019, according to the NCES. Other expenses may include commuting, parking, textbooks, and technology like computers, calculators, and software.
Remote learners can save on room and board, commuting, and parking. Students seeking to reduce costs can also explore financing options such as scholarships, fellowships, grants, and loans.
Choosing the Right Online Accounting Programs
Our rankings provide a great starting point when researching potential online accounting programs. However, prospective learners should also consider the following factors:
What Is Accreditation and Why Does It Matter?
- Regional Accreditation
- Students should choose a regionally accredited institution. This type of accreditation allows credit transfers between institutions and signals to future employers that the degree meets stringent educational standards.
- Program-Specific Accreditation
- Program-specific accreditation can also impact a degree’s value. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business sets the gold standards for accounting and business schools.
- Concentration Options
- Consider whether potential online accounting programs offer your preferred concentration. If not, you can inquire about the possibility of creating your own specialization from electives.
- School Size
- Smaller schools may offer a more personalized and less stressful learning environment but may lack the financial resources and course variety of larger institutions.
- Career Services
- The best online colleges for accounting offer extensive career services, such as general career advising, job fairs, resume and letter writing services, alumni events, and networking opportunities.
- Cost and Financial Aid
- Program cost and financial aid can affect your financial health many years after graduation. To keep your expenditures reasonable, look for a school that fits your budget criteria.
Why You Should Attend an Accounting School Online
Today’s accountants need strong computer skills, which makes attending school online an attractive option for budding accounting professionals.
Online accounting programs offer flexibility and affordability. With time saved on commuting and parking, learners can allocate more hours to work and other commitments while pursuing a degree.
Attending an accounting school online may entail reduced tuition rates compared to the on-campus alternative. Many public schools charge in-state tuition to their online students regardless of their residency. Private schools also increasingly offer remote education discounts. Distance learners can also save on room and board, commuting, and parking.
Today’s accountants need strong computer skills, which makes attending school online an attractive option for budding accounting professionals.
Before choosing an online accounting program, prospective students should consider whether the online format works with their learning style. Some schools offer asynchronous online programs. This format allows enrollees to study on their own rather than attending classes. Succeeding in an asynchronous learning environment, however, requires disciplined study habits.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you earn an accounting degree online?
Many schools offer accounting programs online. Employers increasingly regard online and on-campus degrees from top schools as equal in value. Online accounting programs tend to provide greater convenience and affordability than their on-campus counterparts.
Is an online accounting degree worth it?
Attending an accounting program online can provide a high return on investment (ROI) a few years after starting a profitable career. To attain the fastest and highest ROI, explore in-state public schools, affordable online courses, and nonrepayable financial aid.
Can you become a CPA with an accounting program online?
An online bachelor’s in accounting normally only delivers 120 of the 150 credits needed to sit for the CPA exam in most states. To become a CPA, many college graduates pursue a master’s degree in accounting, which provides a minimum of 30 credits.
What can I do with a bachelor's degree in accounting?
Earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting prepares you for a variety of stimulating and profitable career opportunities. Examples of accounting jobs include tax accountant, personal financial advisor, financial analyst, and fraud examiner.
Is an accountant a good career?
An accounting career can be rewarding for individuals who enjoy working with financial data and who possess good analytical, managerial, and problem-solving skills. Graduates may also qualify for supervisory and corporate leadership positions down the line.
Best Online Colleges for Accounting 2021
Pennsylvania State University World Campus
University Park, PA
Penn State’s World Campus offers an online accounting degree that prepares students to sit for the Certified Public Accountant exam. The program’s curriculum takes a survey approach to the discipline, covering a wide range of topics that includes federal income taxes, financial accounting, auditing, and accounting information system. The curriculum includes 120 credits and requires approximately four years to complete. Aiming for convenience, the program delivers all online coursework asynchronously and eliminates in-person requirements. The program also boasts accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, a distinction that less than five percent of business schools worldwide earn.
Colorado State University Global
CSU-Global’s online bachelor’s degree in accounting opts for a survey approach to the discipline, covering a wide range of topics that includes compliance, ethics, finance, marketing, economics, and leadership in addition to the basics of accounting. The program also strives for flexibility, delivering all coursework asynchronously, eliminating in-person requirements, and allowing students to choose between 20 different specializations. Specialization options include public relations, nonprofit management, marketing, and computer programming, among others. No matter the specialization, the program’s curriculum consists of 120 credits, usually takes four years to complete, and includes courses such as federal taxation, intermediate accounting, and a capstone in accounting research and analysis.
Florida Institute of Technology
Florida Tech’s online accounting degree — which aims to prepare graduates for Certified Public Accountant or Certified Management Accountant certification — prizes flexibility above all, delivering all coursework asynchronously and eliminating all in-person requirements. The program blends a foundational liberal arts general education curriculum with professionally-focused courses such as auditing, compensation and benefits, and cost accounting. The program’s 121-credit curriculum, which usually takes four years of full-time study to complete, also includes foundational business coursework in economics, human resources, and marketing. The curriculum does not include a capstone or a thesis.
Regis offers an online bachelor’s degree in accounting that allows students to choose between regular and accelerated tracks. In the accelerated track, each course lasts for eight weeks, allowing students to earn their degrees more quickly. In each case, the program’s curriculum consists of 120 credits, and Regis delivers all program coursework asynchronously and without in-person requirements. Core courses include income tax accounting, business finance, business law, and accounting ethics. All applicants to the accounting program must possess at least some previous work experience and at least some previous college credit.
California Baptist University
CBU maintains an extensive distance learning presence, including an online bachelor’s degree in accounting. The accounting program offers a curriculum with the goal of preparing graduates to sit for the Certified Public Accountant exam. The program’s major curriculum consists of 69 credits and includes upper-division coursework in federal income taxation, cost accounting, and governmental and nonprofit accounting. As CBU maintains an affiliation with the California Southern Baptist Convention, all students must also complete an overview course about the Bible before they graduate. Students can generally earn their accounting degrees in three years at CBU.