In an uncertain economy, you may hope to find a lasting career that does not require a long-term educational commitment, and wonder whether you can get an associate’s degree in accounting. If you’re interested in this field, obtaining an associate’s degree is the first step and an excellent way to break into this rewarding and crucial industry. Earning an associate’s degree in accounting can enable you to change your career or get started in a new one in two years or less.
College students looking for an affordable entry into an accounting career might ask, “Can I get an associate’s degree in accounting?” Many choices of associate’s degree are available for accounting students, and the number is only getting larger. As colleges adapt to the changing economy, new programs are becoming available for professional and working students.
Many accredited programs are available fully online, even at traditional brick-and-mortar schools. With concentrations in marketable disciplines such as business law and healthcare administration, today’s accounting associate’s degrees are designed to make students employable immediately after graduation.
Finding a Program
Earning an associate’s degree will typically take one to two years for full-time students and somewhat longer for those students choosing a part-time educational route. Programs are available in both traditional on-campus and online formats. Business, technical and community colleges all offer a selection of accounting concentrations. They are generally structured for students who want a more conventional approach to learning and are looking to benefit from the social aspects of school and from face-to-face interaction with instructors. Online accounting courses are abundant and afford students the flexibility to balance work and family obligations with educational goals. It is important to find a program that is accredited through state and national agencies to obtain the highest standards for quality education.
The growth of the education industry has created new opportunities for accounting majors. Every semester, schools all over the country compete to attract students to their accounting programs. Every state has at least one accredited college that offers an associate’s degree in accounting, and many schools offer a choice of online or in-person classes. Getting an associate’s degree in accounting is a good choice for students who want to maximize the return on their investment in education.
A graduate from an associate’s program can work in an accounting firm or continue earning credits toward a bachelor’s degree. In many cases, accountants who are fresh out of college can work in a firm while taking classes in their free time. The salary from an entry-level clerking job could cover the cost of any additional education. Students taking this route might graduate with substantially lower debt than the average college graduate.
Choosing a Specialty
Regardless of which degree type you choose, all students pursuing an associate’s degree in accounting will benefit from a solid foundation of basic accounting skills. With an understanding of cost accounting, financial statement analysis, taxation, and accounting technology, the student can determine what type of accounting best fits their career goals. Areas of study include asset management, tax requirements, auditing, environmental accounting, international accounting, mergers and acquisitions, forensics and fraud examination, financial reporting, managerial accounting, risk management, and strategic planning. A thorough understanding of the skills needed and the responsibilities of each position will help in choosing the right accounting track. Because an Associate’s degree program is shorter than a Bachelor’s program, courses tend to focus on career-specific information, such as bookkeeping and payroll skills.
From healthcare administration to tax auditing, new degree concentrations are constantly becoming available. As the economy evolves and the education industry expands, workers in licensed professions such as accounting can choose from a growing list of specializations. Accounting specializations include public, international, fiduciary, governmental and managerial accounting. Because accounting is a highly technical and regulated profession, most career specializations require at least a bachelor’s degree. However, some accounting careers offer entry-level work with only an associate’s degree.
The healthcare industry is one example of a rapidly growing industry with a need for entry-level accountants. Colleges across the country offer Associate of Science programs in healthcare accounting, and many programs are available fully online. Additional specializations for entry-level accountants include payroll, bookkeeping and accounts receivable.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has compiled data for positions available for students who receive an associate’s degree in accounting. Factors such as company size, geographic location, demand, and skill level affect salary. The industry in which an accounting associate works also affects salary. The median annual salaries for entry-level accounting positions, by industry, are:
Insurance and finance: $42,860
Technical services: $43,540
Many organizations encourage staff members to obtain additional training through employee scholarship programs. By taking advantage of these academic opportunities, advanced career levels can be achieved without additional expense to the employee.
The earning potential for an accounting graduate with an associate’s degree depends on a few factors. One primary factor is the student’s career specialization. Other deciding factors include location, work experience and professional skills. In general, a college graduate with an associate’s degree can expect to earn $836 per week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers with only a high school diploma earn a median weekly salary of $712, so an associate’s degree could increase yearly earnings by around $6,500.
These figures don’t tell the full story, however, as some associate’s degrees are worth more than others. For example, a worker with an A.S. in Healthcare Accounting can find employment in hospitals and clinics throughout the country and earn substantially more than the national average. Although the B.L.S. doesn’t provide data for entry-level healthcare accounting salaries, it states that bookkeeping and accounting clerks earn a median annual salary of $41,230.
Types of Associate’s Degrees in Accounting
Various types of associate’s degrees are available throughout the U.S. From familiar options such as tax accounting to new specializations such as environmental or healthcare accounting, the choices are constantly growing. The most common types of associate’s degrees in accounting are the Associate of Science and the Associate of Applied Science. In some schools, associate’s degree concentrations are available in subjects such as business law, auditing or bookkeeping.
Choosing a specialization isn’t always possible for an associate’s degree student, but it can increase his or her job prospects after graduation. Specializing an associate’s degree, when possible, can also make it easier to complete a bachelor’s program at a later date. Many of today’s online programs are designed to take less time to complete than traditional programs. Online schools frequently offer bachelor’s completion programs for students who have already earned an associate’s degree.
The duration of an associate’s degree program depends on the format and type of the program. In general, associate’s degrees take three to four semesters to complete, but many online schools advertise 12- or 18-month programs with no residency requirements and rolling start dates.
The course load of an A.S. or A.A.S. in accounting includes introductory courses in tax accounting, business ethics, financial auditing and general accounting principles and practices. While the course load of an A.S. may be nearly the same as that of an Associate of Arts, potential earnings may be higher with an A.S. Graduates of both A.S. and A.A. programs can enroll in bachelor’s completion programs, as long as their existing credits are properly accredited. By following the technical degree track with an A.S. or A.A.S., accounting majors can set themselves up for greater challenges and rewards in their educations and careers.
Fully online accounting degree programs are available from a wide variety of accredited colleges. Partially online programs are also available from traditional brick-and-mortar schools, including community colleges. No matter where a student lives in the U.S., he or she can enroll in a fully online, accredited associate’s degree program.
These programs often have rolling start dates and self-paced semesters, so scheduling constraints are much less of a problem than they were in previous decades. Students with full-time jobs and family obligations can take as long as necessary to complete an online degree program while those without scheduling constraints can finish very quickly.
Community colleges are publicly funded through municipal governments around the country. They cater to the unique needs and challenges of local students, so rural community colleges tend to offer a much different experience than urban ones. While tuition costs at community colleges are often lower than costs at four-year universities and for-profit schools, there are important differences between two- and four-year colleges. For example, community colleges usually don’t offer unique accounting specializations such as business law or healthcare administration.
Many community colleges offer partially and fully online associate’s degree programs in accounting, which can be much more affordable than the programs at for-profit colleges. Public and nonprofit online colleges are another option for accounting students looking for an affordable associate’s degree program.
Getting the Most from an Associate’s Degree
With careful planning, a student can use a relatively low-cost associate’s degree as a foothold to enter a high-paying career in accounting. An associate’s degree in accounting is really a type of specialized business degree, and it has one of the best cost-to-benefit ratios of any two-year college degree.
While top accounting firms require their recruits to have at least a bachelor’s degree, entry-level clerking positions are available at most large companies that employ accountants. For accountants seeking a secure, high-paying job, these big firms are ideal. They will often pay for their employees to continue taking classes while they work. In exchange, the employees will be required to sign a contract to stay with the company for a certain number of years. In this scenario, a clerk could continue working toward a four- or five-year degree while earning a salary from a corporate accounting firm.
The Job Search
One of the benefits of enrolling in an accredited degree program is receiving job placement assistance. Public and private colleges often make deals with local firms to help them recruit new employees from recent graduates. These local firms may offer internships to students who are still enrolled in classes. With internships and job placement assistance, the job search for accountants and accounting clerks can be fairly straightforward.
Not all schools are able to offer the highest level of job placement assistance, however. Job placement benefits depend on the availability of jobs in the area. Students can still find high-paying work without job placement assistance, but they may need to move to another city or state. Before making any major decisions about where to live or go to school, it’s a good idea to research the job market to get an idea of where employers are hiring.
The Best States for Accountants
According to the B.L.S., the best states for accountants to work are California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois. Accountants in New York earn a median annual salary of $98,650 while California has the largest number of accountants at 148,500. The federal district of Washington, D.C., has a small number of highly paid accountants earning a median salary of $103,930 per year.
Other states with good prospects for accountants include Colorado, Delaware and South Dakota. The sparsely populated state of South Dakota has a relatively high concentration of accountants with roughly 11 employed per 1,000 jobs. While New Jersey has a lower concentration of accounting jobs, it has one of the highest median annual salaries for accountants at $91,960. Accounting jobs are located in big cities and rural areas across the country, so a university’s location shouldn’t be an obstacle to a lucrative accounting career.
Job Outlook for Accountants
Accounting jobs are expected to grow at the same rate as the overall economy over the next 10 years. Demand for accountants is expected to be concentrated in the healthcare and tax accounting fields. As the global economy becomes more tightly integrated, international chartered accountants will be in higher demand.
Knowledge of tax codes and monetary exchange systems will be important for accountants entering the job market over the next decade. Each year, about 125,700 accounting jobs will be added to the U.S. economy. Having an associate’s degree in accounting could be an advantage during a job search. Although the top firms will have their pick of the year’s best recruits, there are many other job openings available for accountants. With formal education and work experience, accountants should have no problem finding employment in most regions.
By developing the proper accounting, communication, and technological skills needed for today’s complex business models, college graduates will find endless opportunities in accounting. With so many methods of obtaining degrees on-campus and online, you can get an associate’s degree in accounting, and change your salary, your career, and your life in a relatively short time.
As today’s job market increasingly requires college training, many students are finding creative ways to minimize their time in school. One way is to get an associate’s degree with great earning potential, such as an A.S. or A.A.S. in accounting. A little planning and perseverance can go a long way for anyone asking, “Can I get an associate’s degree in accounting?”
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