Accounting Certificate vs Degree

Created by Henry Steele

By Henry Steele - November 13, 2017
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Reading Time: 7 minutes

The accounting field is growing quickly; US News and World Report currently ranks accountant as the #6 best business job, with 142,400 new accounting and auditing jobs opening up by 2024. This is a healthy 11% increase in job demand.

With that type of job growth anticipated, it makes sense that many students and professionals are considering obtaining a degree or certificate in accounting. You can potentially prepare taxes for individual clients, and if you earn a graduate degree, may even perform audits, prepare taxes and offer consulting for the government, nonprofit organizations and corporations.

But should you earn your accounting certificate or accounting degree? What are the differences? Below is an overview of your education options in accounting. Which you choose hinges upon what type of accounting career you want to have.

About an Accounting Certificate – A Good Start

A typical accounting certificate program provides the entry level professional with a basic education for entry level accounting work. Many accounting certificate students use the certificate as a bridge to the next level of their education and/or career.

For example, at the University of California Berkeley’s accounting certificate program, the vast majority of students are working professionals. They may have gotten a bachelor’s degree in another subject but wants to get a basic accounting education so that they can work as a bookkeeper.

An accounting certificate can be a good educational move if you want to get started on your education now, and possibly continue it later. Most accounting certificate programs allow the student to transfer their courses to a bachelor’s or master’s program later. It is important, experts advise, to check if your certificate classes will easily transfer into a degree program later.

At Berkeley, students in the certificate program may take one or two years to complete the seven courses that are required. Part time students may take up to five years to complete it, but the time limit will vary by university.

Berkeley’s accounting certificate program consists of these courses below. The entire program can be completed online:

  • Introduction to Finance Accounting
  • Introduction to Managerial Accounting
  • Intermediate Accounting I
  • Intermediate Accounting II
  • Accounting Ethics
  • Advanced Accounting

With this or a similar certificate, you can get a complete understanding of accounting theories and practice. Many professionals with a certificate can find bookkeeping work at smaller companies. But unless you get a degree in accounting, you will probably be limited to working as a clerk or bookkeeper for smaller firms in certain niches.

But there is no doubt that getting your certificate is a good first step to gaining experience and education in this growing field. If money is an issue, it can be a smart move to get your certificate, get a job, and then hopefully have your employer contribute to your accounting degree tuition.

Some other schools to consider for an accounting certificate include the following:

The University of Scranton – Accounting Certificate

The University of Scranton offers undergraduate accounting certificates that can be a key step to sit for the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam. A popular option at the University of Scranton is the Level II certificate program. It consists of 24 credits, and is open to accounting students who are at least juniors and have completed the Level I program.

The Level II certificate, as well as your bachelor’s degree in accounting, gives you the proper coursework to meet the requirements to sit for the CPA examination in Pennsylvania, but other states may require additional credits.

The accounting certificate programs may be completed within 12 months.

Walden University – Accounting Certificate

Walden University offers a graduate level accounting certificate in managerial accounting. Students learn in the 12-hour program how to effectively analyze, manage and communicate complex financial information that is critical to drive business performance. The graduate level curriculum features courses in best practices and tools for financial management, communication skills, ethical and legal issues and much more.

You may want to earn this managerial accounting certificate to prepare for the CPA exam or the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) examination. Others may wish to earn continuing education credits to maintain various accounting or financial certifications. Note that credits you earn with this program can later be applied towards the Master of Science in Accounting program at Walden University.

Bachelor’s Degree – Entry to Corporate Accounting

The majority of accountants today work in management accounting instead of public accounting. To work in management accounting, a bachelor’s degree is necessary to obtaining an entry-level role. With a four year bachelor’s degree, students also can earn the desirable Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation. This credential will enhance your career prospects once you have completed your bachelor’s degree.

To earn this credential, you must have at least two years of management accounting experience, and pass a two part exam. This exam covers accounting basics such as financial statement analysis, working capital policy, valuation issues, risk management and capital structure.

Some of the courses that you may take in a bachelor’s in accounting program include:

  • Cost Accounting
  • Financial Reporting & Analysis 1
  • Financial Reporting & Analysis 2
  • Principles of Taxation
  • Financial Institutions and Markets
  • Risk Management and Insurance
  • Investments
  • Financial Statement Analysis
  • Business Strategy

However, it is important to note that students who want to become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) must have an additional 5th year of education. Most states mandate that you must have 150 hours of education to sit for the CPA exam; most bachelor’s programs have 120 hours. There are however, a few schools that offer a five year program that combine both a bachelor’s and a master’s in accounting. This can be a smart, economical educational option for students who want to become CPAs.

All CPAs must pass the CPA examination and be licensed by their state’s board of accountancy. All states utilize the four part uniform CPA examination that is produced by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Students are not required to pass every part at the same time, but most states do mandate that you pass all four parts in 18 months.

Some possible bachelor in science in accounting programs to consider are:

Colorado Technical University

The bachelor of science in accounting program at Colorado Technical University has been designed to help students develop necessary accounting skills to succeed in the field, such as taxation, corporate accounting, governmental and nonprofit accounting, and more. The curriculum further provides students with the chance to develop interpersonal, intellectual and communication skills that will contribute to your success in the accounting world. Required courses in this four year, online bachelor’s program are accounting I-III, computerized accounting, managerial and cost accounting, tax, auditing, auditing lab and financial reporting standards.

Two Types of Master in Accounting Degrees

For students who want to earn a master’s degree in accounting and possibly sit for the CPA examination, understand that there are two types of accounting degrees at most universities. The first is for students who have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, while the other is for students who hold a bachelor’s in another (possibly related) field.

For example, the Master of Science in Accounting at Michigan State University is designed for students with a background in accounting. It typically offers the additional 30 credit hours needed to sit for the CPA examination in a single year. That program typically is attended by experienced accountants who opt to become CPAs and enter public accounting.

On the other hand, the University of North Carolina offers a Master of Accounting (MAC) that takes only students who do not have an accounting background. This program typically accepts students with either a liberal arts or business major at the undergraduate level. At UNC, approximately 90% of students eventually go into public accounting with their CPA.

For accounting professionals and students who want to move into the highest possible salary and career position, earning your master’s degree eventually and becoming a CPA is the best option. According to surveys by the AICPA, a CPA is considered among the most trusted advisers in the business world. As many as 50% of small business owners say that they use the services of a CPA always or often.

If you decide to earn your master’s degree and become a CPA, here are some typical courses you may take in a CPA-focused master’s program:

  • Decision-Making Tools for Today’s Financial Professional
  • Analysis and Communication for the Financial Professional
  • Legal and Ethical Issues in Accounting and Finance
  • Managerial Accounting for Organizational Performance
  • Current Trends in Accounting Standards

Other online master’s degree options in accounting include these universities:

Liberty University – Master of Science in Accounting

Liberty University offers a 100% online Master of Science in Accounting that will prepare students with the vital knowledge and skills needed for a great accounting career. This program provides you with the content and hours needed for the 150 hours of formal accounting education required to sit for you CPA examination. Students are trained in industry best practices, and have the option of specializing in audit and financial reporting; business; forensic accounting; financial services; leadership and taxation. Some of the required coursework in this two year, online program includes auditing, research for financial reporting, corporate governance and fraudulent financial reporting, and financial statement analysis.

Southern New Hampshire University – Master of Science in Accounting

CPAs that want to advance their accounting careers, as well as those who have not yet become CPAs, will want to consider an online Master of Science in Accounting from Southern New Hampshire University. This four year program has been designed for auditors, corporate accountings, financial analysts, fraud examiners and much more. Graduates learn the skills they need to transition into higher level managerial roles in taxation, banking, insurance, etc. Students in some cases can complete this online master’s program in as few as 15 months. Concentrations offered are auditing, forensic accounting, management accounting and taxation.

Covered course topics are:

  • Accounting practices and principles
  • Professional auditing methods
  • Cost analysis to make informed decisions
  • How to use IT to evaluate financial data
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Corporate and individual tax preparation

Accounting Career Paths


Students who want to get a basic background in accounting to work as a bookkeeper or accounting clerk will often find the education that they need with a simple accounting certificate program. But those who wish to work for larger companies in an accounting capacity will find that earning a bachelor’s degree will enhance career potential substantially. And those who want to earn the highest salary and make a long term career out of accounting will be best served with a master’s degree and CPA designation.


  • University of California Berkeley. Certificate in Accounting Curriculum. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Accounting Education Options. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Best Jobs – Accountant. (2016). Retrieved from

Henry Steele
Managing Editor
Henry is Managing Editor of He is a seasoned business professional who regularly consults with local business's throughout Southern California. Henry pursued his undergrad in Business and Economics at the University of San Diego and gained valuable life changing experience through a unique internship upon graduation.

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