You know that earning a college degree is often an important step to getting a good job with a livable salary. Still, if you’re not eager to spend four years – or more – earning a bachelor’s degree, you might want to learn more about the highest-paying jobs with an associates degree in accounting.
What to Know About Associate’s Degrees in Accounting
To become a full-fledged accountant, you usually need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Some accountants, especially those who pursue the certified public accountant (CPA) credential, spend even more time in school. However, as you explore your options as a prospective accounting student, you may come across associate degree programs in accounting.
What Are Associates Degrees in Accounting?
Associate degrees are college degrees usually offered by community colleges or technical colleges. Most accounting associate degrees require 60 or so undergraduate credits to attain.
Some of the types of associate’s degrees in accounting that you may encounter include:
- Associate of Arts (AA) degrees
- Associate of Science (AS) degrees
- Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees
Which associates in accounting degree program should you choose?
The distinctions between Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees are generally minor. These differences usually pertain more to whether the curriculum is based more in science or in liberal arts coursework. However, there is a more significant difference between AAS degrees and AA or AS degrees. Applied science associate’s degrees are meant to be applied to the workforce directly. AA and AS degrees, instead, are more commonly a stepping stone to a four-year college education.
If you intend to further your accounting education beyond the associate degree level, an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree may be your best option. The curricula of these associate degree in accounting programs tend to cover the liberal arts and sciences coursework that would help you progress toward a future bachelor’s degree.
Otherwise, you may be better off choosing an AAS degree as your associate’s degree in accounting program. The curriculum of an AAS degree tends to emphasize the vocational and technical skills needed to work in the field of accounting.
Another option you might consider is an undergraduate certificate in accounting. An undergraduate certificate – not to be confused with a graduate certificate – is a lower level of study than an associate’s degree. Unlike an associates degree in accounting, an undergraduate accounting certificate may require as little as one year of full-time coursework.
How Long Does It Take to Earn an Associates Degree in Accounting?
Associate’s degrees are commonly called two-year degrees. Not all students graduate with their associate degree in accounting in two years, though.
Associate degree in accounting students should expect to spend more time in school if they:
- Change majors
- Need to repeat courses to improve their grades
- Transfer schools but aren’t able to transfer all of their credits or courses
- Enroll in an associate degree program that requires more than 60 credits
- Don’t take a full course load each semester (regardless of whether they are categorized as part-time or full-time students)
Why should you spend two or more years pursuing an associate accounting degree? Starting off your career with an associate’s degree in the field of accounting can offer you job prospects with a decent, though not lucrative, wage. Having an associate degree in accounting may also offer the potential for future advancement opportunities.
An accounting AA degree salary is generally on par with the median wage for all occupations, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, the annual wage for the most likely accounting careers with this education is somewhat below that of all associate’s degree earners. That’s why it’s important to learn more about the highest paying jobs with associates degree if you want to maximize your earning potential with an associate degree in accounting.
Jobs With an Associate’s Degree in Accounting
On its own, an associate’s degree in accounting is not likely to land you a job as an accountant or auditor. That’s because these accounting career opportunities typically require additional education. At the very least, you will need a great deal of experience and exceptional work performance to attain these roles with only an associate’s degree in accounting.
Accounting associate’s degrees are more commonly designed as career-focused programs that prepare students for accounting paraprofessional jobs. These jobs for associate degree holders may include roles as clerks, assistants and specialized accounting support paraprofessionals.
Clerk Roles With an Associate’s Degree in Accounting
A clerk is an employee who works in an administrative capacity. Typically, a clerk handles routine office tasks.
Clerk is generally a lower-level role when it comes to seniority. That’s why clerk positions are open to candidates with only an associate degree in accounting. However, the work clerks in the accounting field do is critical to keeping a company’s day-to-day operations of maintaining and updating financial records and producing financial reports running smoothly.
Clerk roles typically don’t have high demands for education or experience. Some amount of postsecondary education – not necessarily culminating in a degree – is valuable if you want to become a clerk. It’s also possible to attain this position with only a high school diploma, according to the BLS.
In fact, more than 40% of industry experts surveyed responded that a high school diploma is the level of education required for new hires in the bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks profession, according to O*NET.
The next most commonly recommended level of education for this profession is a postsecondary certificate, which 21% of industry experts responded. Rounding out the top three most commonly recommended levels of education for this workforce is the bachelor’s degree. Around 12% of industry experts recommended earning a bachelor’s degree.
A clerk’s administrative job duties may be general in nature. Clerks in the accounting field may have somewhat more focused job responsibilities.
Some of the clerk roles you might acquire with an associate’s degree in accounting include:
Bookkeeping clerks, or simply bookkeepers, primarily manage and record financial transactions in an organization’s general ledger. This document keeps track of an organization’s accounts. Bookkeeping clerks record both credits and debits – additions and subtraction of money – in the company’s financial records.
Bookkeeping clerks may also be responsible for other duties pertaining to a company’s accounts. They might post transactions and compile transaction data. Besides posting transactions, a bookkeeping clerk’s duties may include preparing invoices and managing payroll. Some bookkeepers even produce basic financial statements.
Accounts payable clerk, accounts receivable clerks and payroll clerks perform administrative functions related to accounting. Some of the job duties of accounts payable clerks and accounts receivable clerks include posting financial transaction data, calculating interest, monitoring loan payments and financial accounts and overseeing billing vouchers, according to the BLS.
Accounts payable clerks are concerned with paying money to vendors and suppliers. Accounts receivable clerks focus on money owed to the organization from clients or customers. Payroll clerks manage payroll records and operations, including using payroll software to keep track of workers’ hours and pay rates.
The main job of an auditing clerk is to identify inaccuracies and inconsistencies, like payroll discrepancies, in the mathematical calculations and the coding of financial records and reports. Once an auditing clerk identifies these inaccuracies, they take steps to address them.
Auditing clerks may correct minor errors themselves. Resolving discrepancies that arise from minor mistakes entering data or performing calculations may fall under the job duties of auditing clerks. In the case of larger errors or more extensive patterns of inconsistencies, auding clerks bring their findings to auditors. Auditors are the accounting professionals who have the education and experience to examine financial records more closely for issues of fraud, embezzlement or wasted resources.
Earning your two-year degree in accounting is a good step toward accounting careers in bookkeeper, accounting clerk, auditing clerk or general financial clerk roles. Your associate degree in accounting would help you in your work with a company’s financial data. With your associate in accounting degree, you may generate some simple financial records.
Still, you wouldn’t be working as an accountant in these positions. The financial records you would produce as a clerk are less complex than those a fully credentialed accountant might produce. Further, preparing financial statements wouldn’t be your main job duty. Instead, your role would be an office and administrative support worker who handles the day-to-day tasks of keeping track of financial transactions and expenditures.
Accouonting Assistant Positions
Your associate degree in accounting may also qualify you to work in assistant roles in accounting. The most general of these roles is accounting assistant. There are also more specialized opportunities, like payroll assistant.
Accounting assistants are generally more highly educated than clerks. Their job duties tend to reflect that distinction. A clerk may not need a college education – or at least, not a formal degree – but it’s common for accounting assistants to have either an associate degree or a technical degree.
An accounting assistant is expected to have more knowledge of accounting than a clerk, so their job duties are more expansive. An accounting clerk’s tasks are often limited to general administrative tasks and basic day-to-day administrative work of accounting. Job duties for accounting assistants include more extensive responsibilities, such as:
- Preparing financial statements
- Processing financial transactions
- Filing reports
- Helping with audits
- Otherwise supporting the work of professional accountants
If this job description sounds more in line with what you want to do, you will definitely want at least an accounting associate degree.
Specialized Accounting Support Roles Available With an Associate Degree
When you work in the accounting field but you’re not an accountant, your job is generally to serve as an accounting support paraprofessional.
The most specialized of these roles might incorporate the term “specialist” into the job title. The inclusion of “specialist” in the job title reflects the focused job duties these roles entail.
Some of these accounting jobs may include:
- Billing specialist
- Account resolution specialist
- Payment posting specialist
- Payroll specialist
- Accounts receivable recovery specialist
- Accounting specialist
One way to boost your accounting support career without going back to school is by attaining certification. The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers offers the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) certification. You could also pursue the Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB) credential from the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers.
Junior Accountant Roles
Generally, the highest-paying accounting jobs are junior accounting jobs. These are entry-level positions as accountants.
Some clerks ultimately do find employment as entry-level accountants, the BLS reported. If you excel at your work as a bookkeeping clerk or accounting assistant, you might find that other opportunities become available to you. These career opportunities usually don’t open up to candidates with only an associate degree in accounting until after they have gained a great deal of work experience and plenty of on-the-job training.
Current and prospective bookkeepers, clerks and assistants should know that moving up isn’t always possible without going back to school. Most employers expect accountants – even junior or entry-level ones – to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. An associate degree in accounting may not cut it for a firm or accounting department that prefers a bachelor’s degree. Among those employers who do consider candidates without a bachelor’s degree, opportunities usually don’t advance beyond entry-level junior accountant roles.
Junior accountants are “real” accountants, but these are entry-level positions. Junior accountants may have less challenging and less interesting job responsibilities than accountants who rise to roles with more seniority, such as staff accountant and, later, senior accountant.
How Much Can I Make With an Associate Degree in Accounting?
What sort of salaries do associate’s degree jobs in accounting command? Your accountant associate degree salary depends on the job role you end up attaining.
For example, bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks earned a median wage of $45,560 per year as of 2021, the BLS reported. That salary is actually slightly below the $45,760 median wage for all occupations. It’s also tens of thousands of dollars less than the median salary accountants and auditors earned. The average hourly pay for bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks was $22.81 in 2020, according to the BLS.
For experienced accounting assistants across the United States, Salary.com reported a salary range from between $43,600 and $53,900, with a median wage of $48,300 in May 2023.
Depending on the job duties, the level of education required and the structure and hierarchy of the company, you might expect an accounting AA degree salary for this occupation to be on par with that of either an accounting clerk or an accounting assistant. The more specialized knowledge you need, the more money you’re likely to earn. You can generally expect to stay within the salary ranges of accounting assistants and clerks in most AAS degree jobs and Associate of Arts jobs.
You stand to make more money if you can advance to a junior accountant role with your associate degree in accounting. Generally, accountants at the junior level earned between $51,233 and $61,963 per year in the United States as of May 2023, with an average wage of $60,493, according to Salary.com.
With only an associate degree in accounting, though, you’re likely to fall on the lower end of this pay scale for accounting degree jobs. Junior accountants in the 25th salary percentile reported earning $55,073 per year. The 10% of junior accountants who earned the least made $50,138 or less annually as of May 2023. Even so, junior accountants tend to have the highest AAS accounting salary.
For those willing to advance their education beyond the associate’s degree, accounting career opportunities can be a lot more lucrative.
Certified public accountants (CPAs) with less than a year of experience reported earning between $41,000 and $59,500 per year in the field of public accounting as of 2022, the Association of International Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) reported. In corporate accounting roles, accountants with less than one year of experience made between $44,000 and $65,250 per year.
Earning potential increases with experience. Salaries for CPAs with one to three years of experience could climb to the $60,000 and even $70,000 range in public accounting or the $80,000 range in corporate accountants. Senior accountants in public accounting roles reported earnings as high as the high-$80,000 range. In corporate accounting, senior CPAs could make $100,000 or more.
These lucrative six-figure and near-six-figure salaries are reserved for accountants who move into senior-level and management roles. For that, you will need more than an associate degree in accounting. You should plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree – at minimum.
If you decide to go back to school, you don’t have to start over. The credits and classes you took for your associate degree in accounting should still count toward your bachelor’s degree. Some accounting schools offer bachelor’s degree completion programs for students like you. These programs are meant to build upon the foundation you acquired when studying for your associate degree in accounting.
The Best-Paying Industries for Accounting Paraprofessionals
Companies and organizations of all kinds need someone to handle the daily financial recording and reporting tasks. This means there are plenty of accounting jobs you could pursue with an associate degree in accounting.
Bookkeepers and accounting and auditing clerks find work in all kinds of industries. The industry in which you put your accounting skills to work can have a big impact on your wages.
After all, the salary range for this occupation is broad. The lowest-paid 10% of bookkeepers and accounting and auditing clerks reported making less than $29,120 per year as of 2021. The 10% who earned the best salaries reported annual wages above $61,980.
Bookkeepers and accounting clerks who worked for the finance and insurance field reported the highest median wage – $46,910. The professional, scientific and technical services industry paid nearly as much, with a median wage of $46,640.
Next most lucrative, as of 2021, was the wholesale trade industry. Accounting, auditing and bookkeeping clerks in this industry earned a median wage of $45,930. In the healthcare and social assistance industry, the medain salary for accounting clerks was $41,100. Accounting clerks working for the retail trade industry reported a median wage of $37,710.
Industry of employment isn’t the only factor that plays a significant role in earning potential with an associate degree in accounting. Location also affects earning potential for financial clerks. Washington, D.C. paid bookkeeping and accounting clerks the most, with an average wage of $63,060 in 2021, according to the BLS. Bookkeeping and accounting clerks in Massachusetts earned a median wage of $55,520. In California, the median wage for bookkeeping and accounting clerks was $54,260.