Students who wish to pursue an accounting degree have myriad distance learning options. Many traditional colleges and universities, for example, now offer many of their accounting courses and degree programs fully or partially online. Students use Blackboard systems and other tech resources to chat with professors, coordinate with peers, submit assignments and take exams. These institutions view their online programs as similar in quality to their classroom programs, and award the same diploma to online accounting degree recipients as they do to traditional accounting graduates. Fully online schools also provide a variety of accounting degree options, including real-time and self-paced opportunities.
Accounting is known as the language of business, and students enrolled in online accounting degree programs learn the fundamentals of business, finance, and analysis. A bachelor’s degree is the most common requirement for entry- and mid-level positions in accounting in both government and the private sector. There are three main types of undergraduate online accounting degrees:
Although every accounting program is different, each one should have certain core elements. These are absolute musts for anyone serious about earning an accounting degree online, and then moving on to professional work in the field.
The school or online accounting program should be accredited by at least one of the following: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Distance Education and Training Council (DECT), or one of the six regional accrediting agencies in the U.S. Accreditation means an independent agency has reviewed a school to ensure it meets quality academic standards on an ongoing basis and has the financial resources to meet these standards. Accredited online accounting programs have received an official stamp of approval that’s recognized by other schools, employers, and the government.
The program should prepare graduates to pass the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. The CPA credential is a requirement for career advancement in the accounting field. It typically requires 150 hours of coursework, so someone with a bachelor’s online accounting degree will still need to complete an additional 30 hours of study. Nevertheless, an undergraduate accounting degree should serve as the foundation for passing the exam. The CPA exam pass rate for graduates of an online accounting degree program should be higher than or align with the national average of around 50%, as reported by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).
Specific online accounting degree curriculum requirements vary from program to program, but students should expect to complete courses in the following areas:
|General business and management|
|Introductory, intermediate and advanced accounting|
|Financial accounting and financial management|
|Cost accounting and management|
|Accounting information systems|
|Business law and ethics|
Online accounting students should graduate with the knowledge to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam and obtain entry-level positions in CPA firms, corporations, government, and the non-profit sector. They’ll work in areas that include auditing, financial accounting, management accounting, taxation, forensic accounting, and budget analysis. According to an AICPA study, accounting and auditing are the most common areas of assignment for new graduates at CPA firms. Of the graduates hired by CPA firms in 2012:
The CPA credential is considered the highest standard of quality in the accounting profession, and is earned by meeting the “three E” requirements – education, examination, and experience. An online accounting degree should prepare graduates for the CPA exam, a 14-hour test that tests knowledge in four areas:
As previously noted, almost all states require CPA candidates to complete 150 hours of coursework before they are qualified to take the CPA exam. Bachelor degree holders will need to complete an additional 30 hours of coursework through either a certificate or graduate program. Other CPA certification requirements can also differ by state. To learn about a particular state’s requirements, visit the state board of accountancy website. A list of links to state boards is available on the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy website.
Accountants commonly hold more than one certification. In addition to the CPA credential, an accountant may also be certified in any of the following:
Practical experience is one of the major requirements for being able to take the CPA exam, as well as for landing an entry-level position. Students enrolled in online accounting programs are able to participate in a variety of internship programs that offer hands-on, real world experience. They may even be able to earn academic credit for their internship work.
A typical internship will require the student to work under the guidance of a manager and/or CPA. Interns generally analyze audit figures, post checks, prepare invoices, verify daily revenue, prepare balance sheets and perform other accounting duties. Many internship programs provide formal training opportunities, and some even allow interns to interact with clients.
Most accounting internships are paid, and are either offered during the summer or during the school year. Internship programs are available at CPA firms and corporate accounting or finance departments (see our Internships section). Employers prefer to hire interns with high grade point averages as well as excellent math, communication and computer skills.
Taught by Brian J. Bushee, this accounting course is part of the Wharton Foundation Series. It's designed to improve fluency in financial accounting, the language of business. Students learn how to read, understand, and analyze most of the information provided by companies in their financial statements.
This accounting course examines the underlying concepts, processes, and accountability functions of accounting and the scientific foundation for why accounting fulfills such an important role in both ancient and modern societies. It is taught by Susan Crosson and Greg Waymire.
Professor Kevin Kimball teaches students how to prepare, interpret, and use financial data to make business and financial decisions. Emphasis is placed on mastering the expanded accounting equation, the full accounting cycle, preparing the financial statements, and understanding key financial ratios.
Through this accounting course, Professor Larry Walther introduces the basic financial statements used by most businesses, as well as the essential tools used to prepare them. This course equips business students for success in university-level accounting classes, and serves as a refresher for upper division accounting students.
Prof. Elizabeth Dreike Almer provides a comprehensive study of the principles, conventions and postulates of financial accounting. Appropriate preparation of GAAP financial statements and financial disclosures, including exposure to the judgment inherent in financial reporting, are covered. The course focuses on the responsibility of accountants for maintaining professional accountability to the public interest in the face of institutional pressures.
This accounting course explores the tools and methods managers use to make the best-informed decisions possible. It covers the various methods and theories that managers deploy when tracking costs and profits, as well as how managers report the overall performance of a firm or department for internal use. Upon completion, students will be better prepared to make informed decisions within a firm.
Each year, the AICPA Accountemps Scholarship awards $2,500 to as many as ten accounting majors who plan to become CPAs.
The AICPA Minority Scholarship is designed to encourage minority students to choose accounting as their major. For over four decades, this program has provided over $14.6 million in scholarships to approximately 8,000 minority accounting scholars.
Each year, one student receives the Medal of Inspiration award and a $5,000 cash scholarship at the AICPA’s annual meeting. Recipients must either have 1) experienced extreme hardships in pursuing their education, and demonstrated an unusually high level of success in spite of that adversity, or 2) done something particularly inspirational that had tremendous impact on someone else’s life.
This $6,000 scholarship, awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association, is available to two undergraduate or graduate students enrolled in full-time study preparing for a career in state and local government finance.
The IMA Memorial Education Fund Scholarship and the Stuart Cameron and Margaret McLeod Memorial Scholarship awards between $1,000 and $5,000 to students who wish to pursue a career in management accounting.
Awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association, this $6,000 scholarship goes to an upper-division undergraduate or graduate student of public administration, governmental accounting, finance, political science, economics, or business administration with a specific focus on government or nonprofit management.
NABA annual scholarships range from $1,000 to $5,000. Recipients must be members of an ethnic minority enrolled in a full-time accounting, finance, or business program.
NASA awards scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,000 to undergraduates enrolled part-time or full-time in accounting at an accredited two-year or four-year U.S. college or university.
The Public Company Auditing Oversight Board invites schools to nominate students for scholarships. Students must be enrolled in a bachelor's or master's degree program in accounting, have aptitude in accounting and auditing, and demonstrate high ethical standards.
Awarded by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, this scholarship awards $1,000 to $10,000 to students who wish to pursue a career in fraud examination.
This scholarship awards $1,000 to a junior or senior accounting, finance or information systems major at an accredited business school who is passionate about both business and the arts.
The Surety Foundation, the educational arm of The Surety & Fidelity Association of America (SFAA), provides paid intern placements and scholarship awards of up to $5,000 to outstanding undergraduate minority students studying insurance/risk management, accounting, or business/finance.
The ASCPA Awards several scholarships with a variety of criteria to students studying accounting at an Alabama college or university.
The AKCPA awards scholarships from the Paul Hagelbarger Memorial Scholarship fund, with a minimum award amount of $2,000 to students who intend to pursue a career in public accounting in Alaska.
The Arizona CPA Foundation offers a variety of scholarships to students majoring in accounting at Arizona colleges and universities.
The Student Education Fund scholarship program awards up to $2,000 to accounting majors at four-year Arkansas colleges and universities who intend to become CPAs.
The CalCPA awards more than 17 scholarships through its various chapters in the state.
Each July, the Educational Foundation awards scholarships to Colorado residents who are upper division accounting majors at Colorado colleges and universities with accredited accounting programs.
The CTCPA offers the $750 Frank Frago Community Service Award Scholarship to encourage and recognize undergraduate accounting majors who have shown leadership through continued commitment to community service.
Students may be eligible for up to $2,000 to help cover the costs of the 4th and 5th years of their accounting track at a Florida college or university.
The Georgia Society of CPAs awards scholarships to rising junior or senior undergraduate accounting majors who reside in the state of Georgia.
The HSCPA Scholarship program is administered through the Hawaii Community Foundation. Search for Scholarships on the HCF website and select Accounting to view the criteria for the HSCPA scholarship. One application will make you eligible for multiple scholarships.
The Idaho Society of CPAs awards scholarships to Idaho residents who are juniors or seniors majoring in accounting at a college or university in Idaho.
The Illinois CPA Society has a variety of scholarships available to students and CPA candidates studying in an Illinois college or university.
Undergraduate scholarships are available to accounting students who are entering their junior year of college, are residents of Indiana, and attend an Indiana college or university.
The Kansas Society of CPAs awards High School Merit Scholarships to high school seniors who will be attending a Kansas college or university and majoring in accounting. Awards range from $500 to $1,300.
Outstanding accounting student leaders attending a Kentucky college or university are eligible to apply for a college scholarship from the Kentucky Society of Certified Public Accountants Educational Foundation. Since 1988, the Foundation has provided scholarships in amounts from $1,000 to $2,500.
Each year LCPA offers $1000s in scholarships to accounting majors in Louisiana in varying quantities and amounts depending on the number of qualifying applicants.
The MACPA's Educational Foundation, Inc. awards scholarships to accounting majors at Maryland colleges and universities.
MSCPA offers several scholarships, including the $2,500 Kathleen M. Peabody Memorial Scholarship, to students enrolled in accounting programs at a Massachusetts college or university.
The Michigan Society of CPAs does not offer undergraduate scholarships, but does provide scholarships to accounting majors completing their fifth/graduate year.
MNCPA awards 25 $1,000 scholarships annually to Minnesota residents attending a Minnesota college or university and majoring in accounting. Recipients must intend to sit for the CPA exam.
The Society awards scholarships to accounting majors studying in four-year colleges in Mississippi and who are Mississippi residents.
Each year the MSCPA’s Educational Foundation awards approximately $40,000 in scholarships to students who are majoring in accounting at Missouri universities/colleges.
MSCPA awards four $1,000 scholarships each year to Montana residents and accounting students attending Montana schools.
The Nebraska Society of CPAs awards scholarships to accounting students who have completed their junior year; accounting majors who plan to sit for the CPA exam; and students who have the interest and capabilities of becoming a successful accountant and who are considering an accounting career in Nebraska.
The New Hampshire Society of CPAs awards scholarships to New Hampshire residents who are accounting or business majors entering their senior year at an accredited four-year college or university, or a graduate student who is pursuing a master’s degree in accounting or business in an accredited program.
The Society awards a need-based $2,500 Excellence in Accounting Scholarship to New York residents attending a New York state college or university and who have declared a major in accounting.
The North Carolina Society of CPAs offers a variety of scholarships to students majoring in accounting at a North Carolina college or university.
The Society awards a $1,000 Board of Directors Scholarship to an NDSCPA student member or affiliate who intends to write the CPA Exam and become a CPA.
The Ohio Society of CPAs awards scholarships to students attending an NCA and/or AACSB-accredited college or university in Ohio, and who are Ohio residents.
The Oklahoma Society of CPAs offers several scholarships to students enrolled in accounting programs at an Oklahoma college or university.
Full-time Oregon college/university undergraduate accounting majors are eligible to apply for scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $3,000.
PICPA offers a variety of scholarships and awards ranging from $500 to $5,000 to accounting majors studying at Pennsylvania schools.
The RI Society of CPAs awards $10,000 in Christiansen Scholarships, and $1,200 for the recently established Cheryl A. Ruggiero Scholarship for women accounting students.
The SCACPA provides scholarships to South Carolina residents who are rising junior or senior accounting majors at a South Carolina college or university.
The South Dakota CPA Society offers the Accounting Program Completion Scholarship and several Accounting Excellence Scholarships each academic year.
TSCPA offers several scholarships to students enrolled in accounting programs at a Tennessee college or university.
The VSCPA Educational Foundation awards scholarships to deserving accounting students studying at a Virginia colleges or university.
The Washington CPA Foundation awards scholarships annually to qualified accounting majors who are at least juniors, attend an accredited 4-year university in the state of Washington, and plan to become CPAs in the state of Washington.
The GWSCPA awards $3,000 to $4,000 scholarships to accounting students attending institutions of higher education in Washington, DC.
Scholarships are awarded to students attending a Wisconsin college or university with an accounting program that qualifies the applicant to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam.
A website created by the AICPA for college students and aspiring CPAs, it provides information on everything you need to know to become a CPA.
AICPA’s magazine for prospective CPAs covers different career avenues, rising stars, and what the future might hold when you get to the business world.
An informative blog designed for CPA exam candidates, accounting students, and career CPAs.