Online Bachelor's Degree Programs in Accounting

Finding the Right Accounting Program & Exploring Careers

Updated on: 04/01/2020
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Accounting professionals play critical roles in both public organizations and private enterprises. They track revenues and liabilities, prepare and examine financial statements, and generate strategic insights.

Professional designations such as certified public accountant (CPA) require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a business discipline with an accounting concentration. Affordable online accounting degrees are a crucial first step for those aspiring to join this practical, in-demand, and well-paid field.

Read on to explore the most affordable online degree programs in accounting.

Top 10 Bachelor's Degree Programs in Accounting

  1. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College - Saint Mary of the Woods, IN
  2. Peirce College - Philadelphia, PA
  3. Trine Online - Fort Wayne, IN
  4. St Catherine University - Saint Paul, MN
  5. Dickinson State University - Dickinson, ND
  6. McKendree University - Lebanon, IL
  7. Alaska Pacific University - Anchorage, AK
  8. Walsh University - North Canton, OH
  9. Misericordia University - Dallas, PA
  10. Concordia University - Saint Paul, MN

The Best Online Bachelor's Programs in Accounting for 2020

The following rankings chart highlights the best and most affordable online bachelor's degree programs in accounting. Use it to launch your search for a high-quality accredited program.

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Methodology
  • Accredited public or private not-for-profit institution
  • At least 1 online associate degree or certificate program in subject area (2-year schools)
  • At least 1 online bachelor’s or master’s degree in subject area (4-year schools)
  • Annual in-state tuition below $5,000 (2-year schools)
  • Annual in-state tuition below $25,000 (4-year schools)
Colleges receive a total score based on performance in the following categories:
  • Average in-state net price for first-time/full-time undergraduates
  • Count and breadth of online programs available
  • Student-teacher ratio
  • 6-year graduation rate (4-year schools only)
  • % of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the college
  • Average $ of financial aid students receive directly from the college
  • Availability of academic/career counseling services
  • Availability of job placement services for students and graduates
  • 3-year loan default rate
  • AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*
*PBV is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or ‘bang for your buck’ – of an online degree.
Our college rankings are backed by data collected and analyzed from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, a program managed by the National Center for Education Statistics. Surveying over 7,500 colleges annually, it is among the most longstanding and trusted providers of U.S. postsecondary information.
  • Most recent “Final Release” data available to date
Rank Logo School Tuition # of Online Programs Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid Credit For Experience Placement Service Counseling Services Description & Additional Information Toggle
1 Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Saint Mary of the Woods, IN
$16,337 Tuition
57% Graduation Rate

Established in 1846, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods began as a seminary for the higher education of women. In 2015, the school expanded to allow men into all of its programs. Students can choose from a variety of on-campus and online programs, including an online bachelor's in accounting. The 125-credit bachelor of science in accounting covers foundational topics such as managerial and cost accounting, accounting information systems, and individual tax preparation. The curriculum prepares students for several professional certifications, including certified internal auditor and certified management accountant. The school awards up to 30 credits for prior learning assessments and offers all students free access to its online tutoring service. SMWC holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

2 Peirce College Philadelphia, PA
$6,395 Tuition
35% Graduation Rate

Based in Philadelphia and founded in 1865, Peirce College focuses on educating nontraditional and working learners. In addition to on-campus programs, the school offers a variety of online programs, including an affordable, fully online bachelor's in accounting. The 121-credit bachelor of science in accounting typically takes four years to complete. Core courses include global dimensions in business, applied management concepts, and an accounting capstone project. Graduates can pursue credentials such as certified public accountant, certified management accountant, and certified fraud examiner. Students can transfer up to 90 credits toward the degree. Peirce's online bachelor of science in accounting holds programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. Peirce holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

3 Trine Online Fort Wayne, IN
$14,712 Tuition
50% Graduation Rate

Trine University is a private institution that offers a variety of online undergraduate and graduate programs through Trine Online. Trine's online offerings include many business-related degrees, such as an online bachelor's in accounting. The 120-credit bachelor of business administration with a concentration in accounting covers topics like advanced accounting, income tax, and corporate finance. Learners culminate the degree with a business internship or a capstone simulation. The program prepares learners to earn certified management accountant and certified public accountant (CPA) credentials. The school recommends that students seeking CPA credentials work with their advisor to tailor the degree to their state's certification requirements. Online students take flexible, asynchronous courses through the Moodle learning management system. Trine holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

4 St Catherine University Saint Paul, MN
$20,157 Tuition
56% Graduation Rate

Established in 1905, St. Catherine University is a private, Catholic institution in the Midwest that offers an online bachelor's in accounting. The 120-credit degree holds programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. Students take courses on topics like cost accounting, business analytics, and legal environment of business. The degree qualifies graduates to sit for the certified public accountant certification exam. Students culminate the degree with a professional business portfolio. The school delivers online courses asynchronously through the Brightspace learning management system. St. Kate's holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

5 Dickinson State University Dickinson, ND
$6,768 Tuition
34% Graduation Rate

Established in 1918, Dickinson State University offers accredited degrees in a flexible online format, ideal for nontraditional students. DSU's online catalog includes an online bachelor's in accounting. The 121-credit bachelor of science in accounting allows students to take courses part time or full time. Core courses include computerized accounting, government and nonprofit accounting, and financial institutions and markets. Graduates can pursue certified management accountant, certified fraud examiner, and certified internal auditor credentials. The program also partially qualifies learners for certified public accountant (CPA) credentials. Students can work with an advisor to tailor their degree plan to CPA credentials. Online students access coursework through the Blackboard learning management system. DSU holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

6 McKendree University Lebanon, IL
$19,676 Tuition
54% Graduation Rate

The oldest four-year higher education institution in Illinois, McKendree University offers diverse undergraduate and graduate programs, including many online options. The school's 120-credit online bachelor of business administration with a concentration in accounting typically takes two years to complete. Students take core courses on topics like taxation of individuals, managerial cost accounting, and taxation of business entities. The program culminates with a business-related capstone project. The school allows students to extend their degree to meet the educational requirements for certified public accountant credentials. Online students take asynchronous courses through the Blackboard learning management system. Many online students follow a degree track that allows them to earn a bachelor's in accounting and master of business administration in five years. MCK holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

7 Alaska Pacific University Anchorage, AK
$18,932 Tuition
56% Graduation Rate

Based in Anchorage, Alaska Pacific University is a liberal arts institution that offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs. In addition to on-campus programs, the school offers many online programs, including an accounting bachelor's degree tailored to working learners. The 128-credit online bachelor of arts in accounting examines topics such as auditing, law and citizenship, and business finance. Students can customize the program to prepare for certified public accountant, certified internal auditor, and certified management accountant credentials. Online students take flexible, asynchronous coursework through the Blackboard learning management system. APU holds regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

8 Walsh University North Canton, OH
$19,609 Tuition
59% Graduation Rate

Based in North Canton, Ohio, Walsh University is a Catholic liberal arts institution that offers a fully online bachelor's in accounting. The 124-credit bachelor of business administration with an accounting concentration typically takes three years to complete and allows students to take courses at an accelerated pace. Core courses include auditing, managerial accounting, and fraud examination. The curriculum aligns with Walsh's CPA Readiness Program to qualify graduates for certified public accountant and certified managerial accountant credentials. Students culminate the degree with an internship, gaining hands-on experience in the field. Applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA for consideration. Walsh holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

9 Misericordia University Dallas, PA
$24,669 Tuition
69% Graduation Rate

A small private school based in Dallas, Pennsylvania, Misericordia University offers a fully online bachelor's in accounting. The 121-credit program features an accelerated format that allows students to graduate within 2.5 years. Learners take core classes on topics including principles of accounting, auditing, and advanced financial accounting. In addition to coursework, students complete a six-credit internship at a local approved site. Students must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA to graduate. Applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA. The bachelor of science in accounting holds programmatic accreditation from the International Accreditation Council for Business Education. Misericordia holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

10 Concordia University Saint Paul, MN
$18,591 Tuition
59% Graduation Rate

Concordia University-Saint Paul offers small class sizes and relatively low tuition rates. Students can choose from a variety of on-campus and online programs, including an online bachelor's in accounting. The 120-credit bachelor of science in accounting typically takes three years to complete and prepares graduates for careers in business, government, and nonprofit organizations. Core courses include corporate finance, federal income tax, and managing finances and business strategy. The curriculum prepares students for certified public accountant and certified managerial accountant credentials. Online students take asynchronous coursework through the Blackboard learning management system. Applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA for consideration. CSP holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

11 The College of Saint Scholastica Duluth, MN
$24,007 Tuition
69% Graduation Rate

A private Benedictine college based in Duluth, Minnesota, the College of Saint Scholastica offers a variety of online degrees, including an online bachelor's in accounting. The 128-credit bachelor of arts in accounting typically takes 2-3 years to complete. Learners take core classes on topics like accounting information systems, cost accounting, and auditing. Students can tailor the program to meet the educational requirements for certified public accountant and certified management accountant credentials. Online students access asynchronous coursework through Zoom and Blackboard. Students can earn transfer credits through prior learning assessments and the College Level Examination Program. CSS holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

12 Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton, FL
$9,486 Tuition
52% Graduation Rate

One of the most affordable public universities in the state, Florida Atlantic University hosts around 30,000 students across five campuses and an online division. Students can pursue an online bachelor's in accounting that takes around 2-3 years to complete. The 120-credit bachelor of business administration in accounting prepares students for graduate study. Students can also customize the degree to prepare for certified public accountant, certified management accountant, and certified internal auditor credentials. Some accounting coursework requires students to pass the Accounting Competency Exam as a prerequisite. Students must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA to graduate. FAU's business school holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. FAU holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

13 University of Michigan Flint, MI
$12,519 Tuition
46% Graduation Rate

The University of Michigan-Flint offers an affordable tuition rate and a diverse online catalog, which includes an online bachelor's in accounting. The 120-credit online bachelor of business administration in accounting typically takes 2-3 years to complete. Learners take classes on topics like accounting information systems, cost accounting, and financial statement analysis. Students can pursue an optional internship to gain hands-on experience in the field. Learners can also tailor the degree to meet the educational requirements for certified public accountant and certified management accountant credentials. Many business students take advantage of UM-Flint's entrepreneurship events and student organizations, which include the National Association of Black Accountants. UM-Flint's business school holds programmatic accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. UM-Flint holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

14 Bay Path University Longmeadow, MA
$21,100 Tuition
59% Graduation Rate

Based in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Bay Path University is a private institution that offers diverse undergraduate and graduate programs, including many online options. Students can pursue a fully online bachelor's in accounting that comprises 120 credits. The bachelor of science in business with an accounting concentration prepares students for graduate study as well as entry-level jobs in accounting firms. Most students complete the online program within three years. Core courses cover topics like cost management, financial reporting, and federal tax income concepts. Learners culminate the degree with an e-portfolio that synthesizes degree knowledge and skills. The e-portfolio allows students to display electronic badges that they can earn with their degree in areas such as technological literacy and multicultural awareness. Bay Path holds regional accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education.

15 Anderson University Anderson, SC
$21,641 Tuition
59% Graduation Rate

A small private school based in Anderson, South Carolina, Anderson University offers a variety of online undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a bachelor's in accounting. The 128-credit bachelor of science in business with an accounting concentration typically takes 2-3 years to complete. The program's business core examines areas such as Uniform Commercial Code, financial management, and global business management. Concentration courses include cost accounting, current topics in accounting, and auditing. Students culminate the degree with a summative business exam. The school typically caps course sizes at 30 students to ensure a personalized learning experience. The business school holds programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. AU holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

16 Maryville University Saint Louis, MO
$26,540 Tuition
72% Graduation Rate

Established in 1872, Maryville University offers a career-oriented online bachelor's in accounting. The 128-credit program typically takes 2-3 years to complete. Core courses include accounting theory, forensic accounting and ethics, and advanced managerial accounting. Students also gain expertise in the applications and information technology tools used in the financial services industry, such as Quickbooks. Students can optionally pursue an early access accounting track that prepares them for an advanced degree and leads to certified public accountant credentials. Online students take asynchronous courses through the Canvas learning management system. Maryville holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

17 Regis University Denver, CO
$26,273 Tuition
69% Graduation Rate

The only Jesuit institution in Colorado, Regis University offers high-quality liberal arts programs, affordable tuition, and flexible online options. The 120-credit online bachelor's in accounting offers full-time and part-time enrollment options. Learners take classes on topics like accounting ethics, business finance, and cost accounting. The program culminates with a two-semester capstone project. Learners who take all available accounting electives meet the educational requirements for certified public accountant credentials. Students enjoy the option to earn the bachelor's in accounting in tandem with one of the school's graduate business degrees. Regis holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

18 DeSales University Center Valley, PA
$28,244 Tuition
71% Graduation Rate

Based near scenic Center Valley, Pennsylvania, DeSales University offers 34 fully online majors, including an online bachelor's in accounting. The 120-credit program features an accelerated format and typically takes two years to complete. Core courses include quantitative business analysis, the legal environment of business, and corporate financial reporting. Students can pursue an optional concentration in forensic accounting that examines theories on white-collar crime and crime and society. Currently, only applicants who are at least five years out of high school may apply to DeSales' accelerated online programs. DeSales' business programs hold accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. DeSales holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

19 University of Minnesota Crookston, MN
$12,135 Tuition
48% Graduation Rate

The University of Minnesota-Crookston began offering four-year degrees in 1993. Today, the school offers dozens of undergraduate degrees on campus and online, including an online bachelor's in accounting. The 120-credit bachelor of science in accounting typically takes three years to complete. Core courses include principles of management, accounting systems, and income tax. The curriculum also features a strong technology component, with required coursework on spreadsheet applications and online learning. The program qualifies learners to sit for certified internal auditor and certified management accountant exams. Learners also enjoy the option to earn their degree with a taxation certificate. Students take asynchronous courses through Moodle. UMC holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

20 University of Mary Bismarck, ND
$17,216 Tuition
55% Graduation Rate

Established in 1959, University of Mary is a private liberal arts institution that offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs, including many online options. The school's growing online catalog includes a fully online bachelor's in accounting. The 124-credit program prepares learners to pursue graduate study or entry-level jobs in corporate, government, and nonprofit settings. Courses cover topics like fraud examination, auditing, and fund accounting. Students can tailor the degree to meet the educational requirements for certified public accountant credentials. Applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA. The business school holds programmatic accreditation from the International Accreditation Council for Business Education. Mary holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

21 SUNY College at Plattsburgh Plattsburgh, NY
$13,614 Tuition
68% Graduation Rate

SUNY College at Plattsburgh hosts undergraduate and graduate students through diverse on-campus and online programs. Students can earn a 120-credit online bachelor's in accounting that takes about 2-3 years to complete The program prepares learners to earn certified public accountant credentials. Learners take courses on topics like cost accounting, income tax, advanced accounting, and business law for accounting majors. After earning 57 credits, students can pursue an optional professional internship. Currently, the program only accepts transfer students with an associate degree from a regionally accredited institution. The business school holds programmatic accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. SUNY Plattsburgh holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

22 Point Park University Pittsburgh, PA
$21,713 Tuition
60% Graduation Rate

Point Park University offers many affordable degrees designed for nontraditional learners, including an online bachelor's in accounting. The 121-credit bachelor of science in accounting includes core courses on topics like federal taxation, advanced accounting theory, and business communications and research. During a culminating capstone project, students analyze a real company's business model and create a business operations plan. Students document their findings in an e-portfolio presented to faculty. Applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA. Students can earn transfer credits through prior learning assessments. Point Park holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

23 Washington State University Pullman, WA
$17,297 Tuition
59% Graduation Rate

Founded in 1890, Washington State University is one of the oldest universities in the Pacific Northwest. The school boasts many online undergraduate and graduate programs, including an online bachelor's in accounting. The 120-credit bachelor of science in accounting examines topics such as accounting and culture, accounting systems and auditing, and cost accounting. Students must complete a series of courses to earn business administration certification before advancing to upper-level classes. In addition to coursework, students must complete a study abroad experience or an internship. WSU's accounting bachelor's program holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. WSU holds regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

24 Missouri State University Springfield, MO
$10,235 Tuition
54% Graduation Rate

One of the largest schools in the Missouri State University system, Missouri State University-Springfield serves around 27,000 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The school offers an online bachelor's in accounting that comprises 125 credits. The program satisfies the educational requirements for certified internal auditor and certified management accountant credentials. The school also encourages students to work with their advisor to tailor their degree plan to their state's educational requirements for certified public accountant credentials. Online students take asynchronous courses through Blackboard. All of MSU's business programs hold accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business- International. MSU holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

25 Linfield College McMinnville, OR
$29,664 Tuition
65% Graduation Rate

Linfield College-McMinnville Campus is a private institution that offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs, including many online options. Online learners looking for an affordable finance degree should consider Linfield's online bachelor's in accounting. The 125-credit bachelor of science in accounting prepares graduates to earn certified public accountant credentials. Required courses include principles of accounting, marketing, and financial management. All accounting students can access free online tutoring through Linfield's online tutoring portal. Students can complement the degree with optional certificates in marketing or project management. Linfield holds regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

How Much Can You Make in an Accounting Career?

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows that accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $70,500 in 2018. Many factors influence earnings, including experience, certifications, education level, and geographic location. Professionals who work in or near major metro areas as well as experienced mid-career and late-career professionals typically earn the highest salaries.

BLS projects demand for accountants to match typical growth rates for all professions between 2018 and 2028. Earning an accounting degree is the most direct educational path to becoming an accountant, but you can follow other routes. For instance, you might elect to train in a general business or economics field, then pursue accounting at the graduate level.

Professionals with broader academic backgrounds often find it easier to qualify for the jobs below. For example, personal financial advisors benefit from a wide knowledge of finance-related topics, including accounting as well as investing, insurance, and finance.

Job Description

Accountants and auditors prepare financial records, review them for accuracy, and ensure that these records comply with laws and regulations. They may work for businesses, government agencies, or individuals. Accountants and auditors also recommend ways to increase revenues and profits. Some specialize in areas such as financial accounting, managerial accounting, or fraud examination, and accountants can also earn the CPA credential.

Job Description

Budget analysts help companies organize their finances by preparing budget reports, monitoring spending, and making recommendations on funding requests. They analyze budget proposals and suggest changes, oversee the status and availability of funds, and estimate future financial needs. Budget analysts also work with project managers, agency heads, and chief operations officers to oversee the institution's finances.

Job Description

Personal financial advisors help individuals manage their finances by providing guidance on investments, mortgages, savings, taxes, and retirement planning. They meet with clients to discuss their financial goals, answer questions about financial planning, and recommend investments. Personal financial advisors also work with clients to plan for college savings.

Job Description

Financial analysts help individuals and businesses make investment decisions. They measure the performance of different investments, recommend investments, and oversee their client's portfolio. Financial analysts may also analyze current and historical financial data, project future earnings, and monitor economic and business trends. They also create reports and examine financial statements.

Job Description

Tax examiners and collectors determine how much individuals and businesses owe in taxes and collect that revenue for the federal, state, or local government. They review tax returns, conduct audits, and investigate overdue taxes. Tax examiners and collectors may also review tax returns for inaccurate credits or deductions, investigate problems in income tax returns, and evaluate financial reports to ensure they follow tax laws and regulations.

Sources: BLS

Job growth and salaries vary depending on the location. Demand for accountants and auditors also varies; for example, Washington, D.C., employs a high number of accountants due to professionals working for the federal government. Cost of living also influences salaries, with accountants in D.C., New York, and California earning some of the highest annual wages. Because these factors vary, prospective accounting students should study the data below to learn more about local job demand and salaries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an online accounting degree right for me?

If you have a keen eye for detail, strong mathematical skills, and an analytical aptitude for business and finance, an accounting career may interest you. Successful online students demonstrate self-starting capabilities, excellent self-discipline, and self-directedness at learning.

Does an online accounting degree meet certification requirements?

Accounting certification requirements vary by state. However, eligibility guidelines for designations such as the CPA line up closely. Most affordable online accounting degree programs indicate that they meet certification requirements by stating the program has a CPA track. A career advisor at your desired school can confirm whether the program meets your state's requirements.

How does accounting compare to finance?

Accounting and finance fields overlap, but there are key differences. Accounting focuses mainly on tracking money as it moves into, through, and out of a business or organization. Finance takes a more abstract, bigger-picture view, examining economic opportunities as a vehicle to achieve future organizational health or growth.

Who are the "Big Four" in accounting?

Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers comprise the Big Four accounting firms. These prestigious firms hold stable leadership positions in the accounting industry and account for more than 80% of all audits performed on publicly traded American companies. They also rank among the top employers of newly minted accountants and accounting graduates.

How long does it take to become an accountant?

Timelines vary depending on your career path. Affordable online colleges offering bachelor's programs in accounting guide emerging professionals to certification in 4-5 years. If you study accounting or a related discipline with an accounting concentration at the master's level, your timeline could extend to six years or longer. However, you will gain additional credentials, potentially making the tradeoff worthwhile.

Find the Best Online Accounting Program for You

Accreditation

When evaluating affordable online colleges, always look for accreditation. To earn your CPA and other standard professional designations, you need a degree from an accredited institution. Most employers and experts prefer regional accreditation, which signifies a school's state-run, nonprofit status, or its focus on traditional academics. Regional accreditors also hold schools to higher standards when analyzing academic quality.

The U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation vet and authorize national and regional accrediting bodies. They also maintain comprehensive databases listing the accreditation statuses of higher learning institutions. As a business subject, accounting degrees may also hold program accreditation from agencies such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, or the International Accreditation Council for Business Education.

Specialties and Fields of Study in Accounting

Many affordable online degrees in accounting offer specialization options. By choosing a specialization, you can distinguish yourself in the job market and potentially boost your earning potential.

Degree-seekers can consider these five valuable accounting specializations:

Forensic Accounting

Forensic accountants determine whether organizations use underhanded or illegal tactics to hide fraudulent activities or engage in other forms of deception or tax evasion. Many forensic accounting specialists go on to work as auditors for governments or private enterprises.

Tax Accounting

Businesses and organizations of all sizes must meet complex tax compliance requirements. Accountants who specialize in tax-related topics help their employers find hidden savings and ensure that they follow all federal, state, and local tax laws. Tax accounting programs, including those at the most affordable online colleges, feature intensive tax code modules.

Financial Accounting

Financial accounting specialists focus their attention on preparing, examining, and analyzing balance sheets, financial statements, and mandatory financial disclosures. They track and document revenues, liabilities, profits, and losses, and determine when and how to report relevant information. These professionals play a major role in investor relations. Many work for large, publicly traded companies.

Managerial Accounting

Specialized training in managerial accounting gives individuals the leadership skills and abilities to oversee entire accounting departments. These programs offer a wide-ranging view of business fundamentals and economics, producing versatile, well-rounded graduates with a broad set of job-ready skills.

Personal Financial Planning

Managerial or financial accounting specializations often include a cost accounting course, which teaches students how to analyze and forecast profits, create budgets, and produce financial reports.

Common Courses Taken for an Online Accounting Degree

Since each school offers its own unique take on accounting education, class specifics vary. However, the learning outcomes of accredited accounting programs include a shared fundamental skill set. Degree-seekers often take the courses below in online accounting degree programs.

Principles of Accounting

This foundation course provides an overview of the essential concepts, processes, methods, and systems professional accountants use. Degree-seekers explore the procedures and accounting controls used to track revenues and expenses, payables and receivables, inventory, and other key business assets.

Macroeconomics and Microeconomics

Professional accountants need a strong working knowledge of economic systems and how they function on both the large-scale and small-scale levels. This course introduces key macroeconomic and microeconomic concepts, such as monetary policy, interest, inflation, supply and demand, and household consumer behavior.

Cost Accountancy

These classes expand on foundational courses, helping learners understand concepts such as budgeting, cost flows, and inventory tracking. Students also develop their familiarity with widely used accounting documents such as income statements and balance sheets.

Auditing

Learners engage with classical and emerging auditing theories and techniques, and they learn how to analyze financial documents and use electronic data processing systems. Coursework also explores auditing standards with regard to evidence, ethics, and documentation. Learners also discover how to plan, follow, and evaluate auditing plans and programs.

Accounting Software and Information Systems

Contemporary business practices make extensive use of electronic and digital accounting and information systems. Accountants require strong working knowledge of major accounting programs, software products, and tax preparation systems.

Internships in Accounting

Most affordable online bachelor's programs in accounting offer internship opportunities, either as electives or requirements. Students typically complete internships after they have gained a sound working knowledge of accounting principles to apply them in professional settings.

While your school or department may help you in your internship search, you may need to find an internship on your own. If field placements count as degree requirements, your school will likely maintain active lists of available opportunities. If you live in or near a city with a Big Four accounting office, check for openings. Local firms, small and mid-sized businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies also rank among the leading sources of accounting internships. You can apply directly or find opportunities through networking and internet searches.

Companies frequently schedule internships over summer breaks, but they may also occur over 1-2 semesters. Take time to learn about the company, the people you will be working with, and the overall office culture. You can extract major benefits, including skills development and valuable professional networking contacts.

Attending Online vs. On Campus

Online learning offers several compelling benefits, including convenience, flexibility, cost advantages, and individually tailored pacing options.

Most online accounting programs follow an asynchronous format, which means that instructors deliver lectures in pre-recorded formats and allow students to engage with other learning materials on their own schedules. As such, you can complete your work at convenient times instead of commuting to campus for scheduled classes. If you wonder how to afford college, this flexibility offers an excellent solution by allowing learners to continue working while earning their degree.

Online students reduce costs in several ways. For example, they do not incur on-campus or room-and-board fees. Additionally, many schools offer tuition discounts to students in exclusively online classes. Others grant in-state tuition rates to all online learners, regardless of their physical location.

Pacing options is another major advantage for online learning. Motivated students in asynchronous programs can move through coursework faster and graduate sooner. Similarly, you can also slow down if you need extra time to grasp a particular concept or if your schedule demands it.

Learn more about cheap online degrees and how they work.

A Career in Accounting

Image of Nikki Winston

Nikki Winston, CPA, is an accounting expert, CPA exam review instructor, and host of The WERKin' Mommas podcast. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Nikki advises companies from startups to well-known global organizations on how business decisions impact financial statements. Having worked in corporate America for almost two decades, Nikki has managed a $26 billion portfolio of securitized assets, built a robust operational risk management function for middle-market companies, and created accounting policies and procedures for clients in the post-merger integration phase.

What concentrations do online accounting programs offer?

Accounting programs offer a variety of concentrations in areas such as public accounting, auditing, forensic accounting, managerial accounting, and financial accounting. These specializations allow students to focus their coursework on their interests and future professional field. Students who concentrate in public accounting, for example, can pursue the CPA credential with additional coursework after graduation.

Why did you choose an accounting career? Has accounting always interested you?

I chose accounting because I love numbers, and I have an inquiring mind. Accountants don't make the news but report it. We have to ask lots of questions, slice and dice numbers, and draw conclusions based on the information given. I also knew that pursuing an accounting career would mean my skills would always be in demand.

I grew up wanting to be a doctor. I love babies and was always intrigued by the pregnancy cycle. I even completed a fellowship at a local hospital in high school. When I got to college and saw the amount of science required to become a doctor, I went with my second choice: accounting. I'm glad I made the switch.

What were some of the most crucial skills that you gained in your studies that apply to your job every day?

I learned how to sift through data. In accounting we often refer to analysis paralysis where you spend so much time examining data that you get lost in it. Data is everywhere. In accounting, you receive lots of data -- payroll, sales, expenses, inventory, interest expense -- that you must sift through and determine what's relevant.

I also learned how to think through scenarios that happen in business every day. I had a professor who taught accounting in a practical sense, taking headlines from The Wall Street Journal. Every day, he'd walk into class with the paper, read a few excerpts from the article, and ask us what the accounting would look like.

I distinctly remember when the Sears & Kmart merger happened. He asked us about intercompany accounting for the transaction. I'm so grateful for that teaching because I learned real-world accounting very early. Even today I find myself reading a news article about a business going bankrupt or merging with another and thinking through what the journal entries would be.

What was the job search like after earning your undergraduate degree? Did you feel prepared to make the transition from student to professional?

I was fortunate enough to land a job shortly after graduation. I used my school's career services center, created a resume, and completed mock interviews to prepare. I began in manufacturing as a financial analyst but that role quickly morphed into one where I wore many hats. The title was a little misleading because I was not looking at stock markets and checking LIBOR rates all day. I was responsible for journal entries and balance sheet reconciliations, but my curiosity about how things worked led me into other areas such as production, financial statement analysis, and inventory audits.

I thought I was prepared for professional life, but it felt like it happened in a nanosecond. Our payroll manager suddenly went out on extended medical leave, and I stepped into the role. I had no clue what I was doing, and payday was just around the corner. In a matter of days I had to figure out how to pay hundreds of factory workers and the salaried personnel with little guidance. I had to manually process time cards, print check runs, and answer employees' questions. While it was stressful, I'm glad I got that exposure early on. It helped better prepare me for future moments when adapting quickly to business situations and being short-staffed sometimes became the norm.

What advice would you give to accounting students who want to get the most experience they can out of their undergraduate studies?

Learn as much as you can outside the classroom. A large part of what we learn in undergrad is technical. The concepts can be dry and complex at times. Look at what's happening in the business world. Read newspapers, magazines, and join professional associations to help it all make sense.

I also advise students to complete as many internships as possible. Working in accounting firms or industry-related accounting helps you build expertise and develop a network. It gets you exposure to accounting professionals who can guide you through your career and potentially offer you a job.

Why did you pursue a graduate degree? What degree did you earn?

My graduate degree is in management. I pursued it as a personal goal. I waited several years after undergrad before I returned to school. My career was quickly advancing. I was doing a lot and had managed diverse teams. I learned a ton about organizational behavior, communication, and information systems -- skills that can transfer to any profession. I love to learn so I thoroughly enjoyed my graduate studies.

You've held many different accounting roles. Do you think your career path was representative of the average accountant? Why or why not?

My career path was atypical on purpose. In undergrad I aspired to work as a staff accountant, senior accountant, accounting manager, and controller. However, I was involved in so many different things in my first job, and I began to see the many options available.

I have friends who went into public accounting with the goal of making partner. The pathway to partnership is laid out as is the one to controller, but I wanted to go outside those lines and see what was out there. I'm proud that I have experience in general ledger work, payroll, operational risk, financial analysis, securitization, joint venture accounting, operational risk, and developing employee engagement programs.

How important is continuing education in accounting? Do you plan on earning some type of continuing education credential?

Continuing education is essential to accounting success. As businesses evolve, so does our industry. During tax season we talk about new tax laws. Hiring managers might even ask candidates about these things in interviews to determine how much time they invest in learning. You must continue learning or you will get left behind.

What advice would you give to accounting students debating whether to earn their degree online or on campus?

As someone who has earned degrees in both the traditional on-campus format and online, my advice is to do what works best for you. I earned my accounting degree from the Max M. Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience, both inside and outside the classroom. In my graduate program, I was on bedrest and pregnant with my second child so my only option was online learning.

With online learning I did not have to commit to being in a classroom at a certain time or being onsite to meet my instructors. I could start my assignments in the middle of the night if I desired. It requires great discipline, which helped me when I returned to work full time. I had flexibility to get my school work done on my schedule. Online learning also tends to be less expensive. Ultimately it depends where you are in your life and making the decision that best fits your lifestyle.

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Accounting

Even the most affordable colleges require students to make sizable investments in their education. Fortunately, online students enjoy the same access to financial aid, student loans, scholarships, and grants as on-campus students.

If you require financial aid, start by completing the FAFSA. The FAFSA program automatically evaluates your eligibility for federal programs.

Try to finance your schooling with need-based grants and merit-based scholarships whenever possible. Unlike student loans, these forms of financial aid do not require repayment.

Scholarships for Accounting Students

AICPA Scholarship for Minority Accounting Students

Who Can Apply: Members of racial or ethnic minority groups enrolled as accounting majors in U.S. colleges or universities may apply for this renewable award.

Amount: Up to $5,000 per academic year

Accountemps/AICPA Student Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students holding affiliate membership in the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants may apply for this scholarship by enrolling in an accounting-related undergraduate or graduate degree program.

Amount: $10,000

Cargill Global Scholars Program for U.S. Students

Who Can Apply: First-year and second-year university students who have achieved high levels of academic excellence in accounting programs may apply.

Amount: $2,500 per year (renewable for up to two years)

NSA Scholarship Foundation Awards

Who Can Apply: The National Society of Accountants fosters the success of future accountants with this scholarship, open to U.S. citizens enrolled part time or full time in an accounting program. Applicants need a cumulative 3.0 GPA.

Amount: $2,200

Wiley CPAexcel Student Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students enrolled in accounting programs who intend to become CPAs may apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $500

After Graduation: Options for Accounting

Advancing Your Accounting Degree

CPA licensure requires a bachelor's degree at minimum. However, many accounting students advance their credentials by earning their master's or doctorate. With an online master's in accounting, you can enjoy access to a wider variety of jobs and higher salaries. Master's students can also specialize in niche accounting disciplines, preparing them for entry into focused, high-demand career tracks such as forensic accounting and auditing.

By obtaining prestigious Ph.D. credentials, you can maximize your employability by differentiating yourself from master's degree-holders. Professionals with doctoral degrees in accounting also enjoy superior earnings along with career development paths that lead to college-level teaching jobs and professorships.

Certifications and Licensure

In the United States, state-level agencies handle CPA licensure. However, the journey to becoming a CPA shows a high level of uniformity from one jurisdiction to the next. In general, the process requires a bachelor's or master's degree, passing the CPA exam, then obtaining the necessary professional experience before applying for full licensure.

To become a licensed CPA, educators often reference the three Es: education, exam, and experience. After completing your degree, you can take the CPA exam and find a job in a public accounting capacity. In most jurisdictions, you are eligible for your CPA license once you complete at least two years of full-time work after passing the exam.

Other professional designations, such as the chartered financial analyst (CFA) and certified fraud examiner (CFE), feature similar criteria. However, work experience requirements vary, and aspiring CFEs also benefit from coursework or concentrations in forensic accounting and auditing. You may also need to complete additional training in a specialized CFA- or CFE-track program.

Exact requirements vary by state, so check with your local licensing body for specific details. If you have not yet decided where you would like to practice, use the state where your college or university is located.

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