Interested in pursuing an accounting degree? If so, then you should know that you don't necessarily have to attend a brick-and-mortar college to get one. Nowadays, there is a wide range of accounting degree types available through reputable and accredited online programs.
By pursuing your accounting degree online, you could enjoy a greater sense of flexibility—which is ideal when you already have a busy schedule with numerous obligations.
Before getting started with an online accounting program, though, there are some things you should know. With a better understanding of what to expect from an online accounting program, what kinds of jobs you can get with an online accounting degree, and the skills you can gain, you can make a confident decision regarding your future.
The Full Scope of Online Accounting Programs
If you're considering an online accounting program, the first thing you need to do is to decide what type of degree you're drawn to. Typically, you can find both undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting. However, in order to pursue a graduate degree like a master's degree in accounting, you'll need to already have a bachelor's degree under your belt.
For most people starting out in accounting, an undergraduate degree (such as an associate degree or bachelor's degree) is the most sensible option. From there, you can always return to school to pursue a master's degree later in your career if you decide on an advanced degree.
The Key Elements of an Online Accounting Program
So, what exactly can you expect from an undergraduate online accounting program? Ultimately, this varies from one school and program to the next. Associate degrees in accounting, for example, generally require fewer credit hours than bachelor's degrees in accounting. An associate of science degree may be completed in as few as 18 credit hours (or about a year), whereas a bachelor's degree typically requires more than 60 credits and may take several years to complete.
Regardless, online accounting programs should prepare you for real-world practice with classes in such fundamental topics as:
- Accounting principles
- Accounting software fundamentals
- Business basics
In general, a bachelor's degree will offer more in-depth classes that may cover a broader range of potential career paths. For instance, you might expect to take more business-related classes in topics like management, business statistics, analytics, and economics.
In addition to basic coursework, some online accounting programs may also offer concentrations or specific areas of study on which to focus your education. Some examples of these could include forensic accounting, taxation, public accounting, and auditing. If an area of accounting is particularly appealing to you, pursuing a program with a concentration can help prepare you for this type of work.
Benefits and Challenges in Online Accounting Studies
There are many benefits to pursuing an online accounting degree as opposed to a more "traditional" degree on a physical campus. Perhaps the biggest advantage is a more flexible schedule. Rather than having to attend in-person classes in a classroom during specific days and times each week, you can more or less work and study at your own pace with an online program. This can be especially convenient if you already have a busy schedule or other life obligations (such as a job or a family to prioritize).
Likewise, not having to attend classes on campus can save you the time, hassle, and the cost of commuting to and from school each week. And with online programs, you open up the opportunities to attend just about any world-class school without having to relocate. Even if the school is located across the country, an online program allows you to attend and reap the benefits of its curriculum without moving.
Of course, an online accounting program could come with its share of potential challenges. For some types of learners, not attending classes in person can make the material more difficult to grasp. Similarly, working at your own pace requires a certain level of motivation and time management that doesn't come naturally to everyone. Some assume that online classes are inherently easier than in-person classes, but in reality, they could be harder if you're not used to taking online classes.
Still, despite some of the challenges that can accompany an online accounting program, many students find that with a little bit of time management, scheduling, and discipline, they can successfully complete their programs and enter the workforce with confidence.
The Role of an Online Accounting Degree in Career Enhancement
Whether you're interested in an accounting job or a related career (such as auditing or taxation), having an online accounting degree can help elevate your career opportunities and job prospects in the process.
Career Opportunities With an Online Accounting Degree
You may be wondering, "Can I get a job with an online accounting degree?"
The simple answer is that yes, you absolutely can. In fact, there is a variety of potential jobs for which you may qualify after completing an online accounting degree program. Some examples of roles you can pursue with an online accounting degree include:
- Financial examiner
- Public accountant
- Forensic accountant
- Tax preparation expert
How Online Accounting Skills Increase Job Prospects
Is an online accounting degree worth it? The reality is that there are very few jobs in the accounting and auditing realm you can do without some kind of formal degree. These days, more employers prefer to hire candidates with a minimum of an associate degree or bachelor's degree in a related field—and the accounting industry is no exception.
When you have an online accounting degree, you could enjoy a competitive edge over other job applicants. Likewise, having completed an online degree program, you'll already have mastered the essential time management, communication, and technological skills that can make you a compelling candidate for an accounting or auditing position.
Core Skills Developed in an Online Accounting Program
In addition to technical accounting and auditing skills, there are a number of other transferable skills you could pick up in an online accounting program that may serve you well in future roles.
Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills
Accountants, auditors, and financial examiners are required to be sharp thinkers who can analyze and process large amounts of information, often in a very short timeframe. With the experience you gain in an online degree program, you are able to develop analytical and critical thinking skills vital to your success in this field. This, in turn, can help you gain a competitive advantage over other job applicants.
Communication Skills and Professionalism
Being enrolled in an online degree program also warrants being an effective and professional communicator. Since you won't be sitting in class and speaking with your professors or classmates face to face, you must communicate in other ways such as via email.
These skills can transfer well to your future accounting work, as you will likely be sending lots of emails, memos, and other written correspondence throughout your day-to-day tasks. The ability to compose your thoughts and ideas both effectively and professionally will serve you well, especially when communicating with clients or fellow colleagues down the road.
Working in the accounting field inherently demands a fair amount of technological proficiency. In your online studies, not only would you learn to use essential accounting software, but you'd also be required to sharpen other technological skills that you might not otherwise get a chance to work on in a traditional, on-campus degree program.
You might, for example, be expected to put together a presentation that you deliver digitally that involves working with different software, tools, and other technological resources. Being proficient with these programs and tools can come in handy and give you a competitive edge in your future work within the accounting field.
Ethical Awareness and Decision-Making
Many online accounting degrees now include classes on business ethics and decision-making, both of which are imperative skills to possess as an accountant or auditor. A strong sense of ethical awareness can empower you to make the right decisions in the workplace, work your way up the career ladder, and make a name for yourself.
Meanwhile, strong analytical and critical-thinking skills lead to more confident and capable decision-making—all of which are crucial when working in an accounting or similar role.
Evaluating the Worth of Your Online Accounting Degree
Ultimately, you can only expect to get out of an online accounting degree what you put into it. If you put forth a solid effort and strive to get everything you can out of the experience, you can take away some solid skills (both technical and soft skills) that translate well to your future workplace.
Return on Investment Analysis for Online Accounting Degrees
What is the return on investment for an online accounting degree? Because the cost of an online accounting degree program can vary so widely, it's hard to say. With many online programs available for around $220 per credit hour, the cost to complete this type of program can range from just a few thousand dollars to about $15,000.
From there, however, consider your earnings potential with an accounting degree. According to BLS data, accountants and auditors make a median pay of $78,000 per year as of 2022. With this in mind, it makes sense how the cost of an online accounting degree can pay off quickly (and many times over). It is worth noting that actual pay can vary vastly depending on a range of factors, including the type of degree obtained, level of experience, and even the cost of living in the area where you are hired.
Combine all this with the fact that many students in online accounting degree programs qualify for some sort of financial aid, and it's easier to see how completing this program can be worth it.
Is an Online Accounting Program Right for You?
Enrolling in an online accounting degree program can be an excellent way to pursue your degree with a greater sense of flexibility and versatility compared to a regular on-campus program. Of course, not all online accounting programs are created equal—which is why it's so important to do your homework and choose the program that best suits your needs and goals.
At University of the Cumberlands, we take great pride in our undergraduate accounting degree options, including our online Associate of Science in Accounting, online Associate of Applied Science in Accounting, and online Bachelor of Applied Science in Accounting. These programs are designed to prepare students for rewarding careers as accountants, auditors, financial examiners, and more. Learn more about accounting degrees through University of the Cumberlands or start your online application today.