Which Undergraduate Accounting Option Is Right for Me – a Certificate, Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree?

As a prospective undergraduate student, you may already know that you want to study accounting. What you may not know is which level of degree you want to pursue. Certificates, associate’s degree programs and bachelor’s degree programs are all available to new college students, and differentiating between these different programs can be a challenge. First, you need to understand what each kind of program is and what the outcomes will be.

Undergraduate Certificate Programs in Accounting

Accounting certificate programs require substantially less time than associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs, but they also cover substantially less information. In as little as a year, you can learn the basics of accounting practices and financial statements. While your educational preparation is quick, your job opportunities will be limited to the most entry-level, like clerks and some (not full-charge) bookkeeper roles. Only students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree can use a certificate program to attain professional certifications like certified public accountant (CPA).

Associate’s Degrees in Accounting

An associate’s degree is a two-year program that provides students with a solid understanding of the fundamental accounting principles and practices. An associate’s degree alone is unlikely to qualify you for staff accountant jobs or prepare you to seek the most sought-after professional certifications. It will, however, get you ready for entry-level accounting roles. With an associate’s degree in accounting, you can attain jobs like payroll clerk, full-charge bookkeeper, accounts payable clerk and accounts receivable clerk, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Accounting

A bachelor’s degree in accounting is the traditional four-year education path for students who aspire to become CPAs or attain another top-tier certification – in fact, CPA candidates will need spend five years in college, not just four, before they can take the CPA exam. If you want to work at a prestigious accounting firm, like one of the Big Four, you will certainly need a bachelor’s degree. Students who intend to ultimately earn a master’s in accounting or a master of business administration (MBA) degree will need a bachelor’s degree to gain acceptance into a graduate program. If you intend to open and run your own accounting firm, then a bachelor’s degree in accounting is probably your best choice.

Of course, you always have the option of earning an associate’s degree in accounting at a community or junior college and then finishing your undergraduate work at a four-year college or university.

Ultimately, which undergraduate option is right for you depends on your future academic and career goals. Do you want to quickly train to become a clerk? Would you rather take a little more time to prepare for a career with somewhat more responsibility, like a full-charge bookkeeper? Or would you like to spend five years preparing to become a CPA, earning a bachelor’s (and perhaps master’s) degree on your way to a staff accountant job? There’s no right answer – only an answer that makes sense to you.