You know that earning a college degree is an important step to getting a good job with a livable salary, but you might not be eager to spend four years – or more – earning a bachelor’s degree. As you explore your options, you may come across associate’s degree programs in accounting.
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 and the potential for future advancement opportunities. An accounting AA degree salary is on par with the median wage for all occupations, although the annual wage for the most likely career with this education is somewhat below that of all associate’s degree earners, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
What to Know About Associate’s Degrees in Accounting
Associate’s degrees are usually offered by community colleges or technical colleges, and they tend to 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
The distinctions between Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees are generally minor and pertain more to whether the curriculum is based more in science or in liberal arts coursework. However, there is a more significant difference between Associate of Applied Science degrees and AA or AS degrees. Applied science associate’s degrees are meant to be applied to the workforce directly, while AA and AS degrees are more commonly a stepping stone to a four-year college education.
If you intend to further your accounting education beyond the associate’s degree level, an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree may be your best option. Otherwise, you may be better off with an Associate of Applied Science degree, the curriculum of which tends to emphasize the vocational and technical skills needed to work in the field of accounting rather than the liberal arts and sciences coursework that would help you progress toward a future bachelor’s degree.
Associate’s degrees are commonly called two-year degrees, but not all students graduate in two years. Students who take extra courses due to transferring schools, changing majors, repeating courses to improve their grades or enrolling in a degree program that requires more than 60 credits should expect to spend more time in school. The same is true for students who don’t take a full course load each semester, regardless of whether they are categorized as part-time or full-time students.
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 and may require as little as one year of full-time coursework.
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, at least not without a great deal of experience and exceptional work performance. Accounting associate’s degrees are more commonly designed as career-focused programs that prepare students for accounting paraprofessional jobs. These jobs 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 and handles routine office tasks. Clerk is generally a lower-level role when it comes to seniority, although the work done in this occupation is critical to a company’s day-to-day operations 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, but it’s also possible to attain this position with only a high school diploma, according to the BLS.
In fact, more than 40 percent of bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks reported a high school diploma as the highest level of education they had achieved, according to O*NET. The next most common level of education for this profession is a postsecondary certificate, which 21 percent of the workforce reported, and a bachelor’s degree, which accounted for 12 percent of the occupation.
A clerk’s administrative job duties may be general in nature, but 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, who primarily manage and record financial transactions, in the form of debits and credits, in an organization’s general ledger that keeps track of its accounts. Bookkeeping clerks may also be responsible for other duties pertaining to a company’s accounts, including compiling transaction data, preparing invoices, managing payroll and even producing basic financial statements.
- Accounting clerks, such as accounts payable clerks and accounts receivable clerks, who perform administrative functions related to accounting, such as posting financial transaction data, calculating interest, monitoring loan payments and financial accounts and overseeing billing vouchers, according to the BLS.
- Auditing clerks, whose job is to identify inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the mathematical calculations and the coding of financial statements and reports and to either correct minor errors themselves or to bring in auditors with the education and experience to examine statements more closely to address issues of fraud, embezzlement or wasted resources.
Earning your two-year degree in accounting is a good step toward a career as a bookkeeper, accounting clerk, auditing clerk general financial clerk. While your associate’s in accounting degree would help you in your work with a company’s financial data and you may generate some simple financial statements, you wouldn’t be working as an accountant in these positions. 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.
Assistant Positions in the Field of Accounting
Your associate’s degree in accounting may also qualify you to work in assistant roles in accounting. The most general of these roles is accounting assistant, but there are also more specialized opportunities like payroll assistant,
Accounting assistants are generally more highly educated than accounting clerks, and their job duties tend to reflect that distinction. While a clerk may not need a college education – or at least, not a formal degree – it’s common for accounting assistants to have either an associate’s degree or a technical degree.
Because an accounting assistant is expected to have more knowledge of accounting than a clerk, their job duties are more expansive. While an accounting clerk’s tasks are often limited to general administrative tasks and basic day-to-day administrative work of accounting, accounting assistants have more extensive responsibilities pertaining to preparing financial statements, processing transactions, filing reports, helping with audits and otherwise supporting the work of professional accountants.
Specialized Accounting Support Roles Available With an Associate’s Degree
When you work in accounting 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 to reflect the focused job duties they entail. Some of these jobs may include billing specialist, account resolution specialist, payment posting specialist, payroll specialist, accounts receivable recovery specialist and simply accounting specialist.
One way to boost your accounting support career without going back to school is by attaining the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) certification from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers or the Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB) credential from the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers.
Junior Accountant Roles
If you excel at your work as a bookkeeping clerk or accounting assistant, you might find that other opportunities become available to you after you have gained a great deal of work experience and plenty of on-the-job training. Some accounting clerks ultimately do find employment as accountants, the BLS reported.
However, current and prospective bookkeepers should know that moving up isn’t always possible without going back to school. Most employers expect accountants – even junior ones – to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, and among those who do consider candidates without a degree, opportunities usually don’t advance beyond junior accountant roles.
Junior accountants are “real” accountants, but they 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’s Degree in Accounting?
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 $42,410 per year as of 2020, the BLS reported. That salary is only slightly above the $41,950 median wage for all occupations, but it is still 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 $21.20 in 2020, according to the BLS.
For experienced accounting assistants across the United States, Salary.com reported a salary range from $41,800 and $52,100, with a median wage of $46,600 in July 2021.
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, but you can generally expect to stay within the salary ranges of accounting clerks and assistants.
You stand to make more money if you can advance to a junior accountant role with your associate’s degree. Generally, accountants at the junior level earned between $51,233 and $61,963 per year in the United States as of July 2021, with a median wage of $56,273, according to Salary.com. With only an associate’s degree, though, you’re likely to fall on the lower end of this pay scale. Junior accountants in the 25th salary percentile reported earning $51,233 per year, and the 10 percent of junior accountants who earned the least made $46,644 or less annually. Even so, junior accountants tend to have the highest AAS accounting salary.
If you’re willing to advance your education beyond the associate’s degree, you stand to earn a lot more. Certified public accountants (CPAs) with less than a year of experience reported earning between $39,500 and $74,250 per year in the field of public accounting and between $42,250 and $82,250 per year in corporate accounting as of 2019, according to the Association of International Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and earning potential increases with experience.
The lucrative six-figure and near-six-figure salaries are reserved for accountants who move into senior-level and management roles, but for that, you will need 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’s degree should still count toward your bachelor’s degree. Some accounting schools offer bachelor’s degree completion programs for students like you.
The Best-Paying Industries for Accounting Paraprofessionals
Companies and organizations of all kinds need someone to handle the daily financial recording and reporting tasks. Bookkeepers and accounting clerks find work in all kinds of industries, and the industry in which you work can have a big impact on your wages. After all, though the median wage for this occupation was $42,410 as of 2020, the salary range is broad. The lowest-paid 10 percent of bookkeepers and accounting clerks reported making less than $27,050 per year, while the ten percent who earned the best salaries reported annual wages above $63,900.
Bookkeepers and accounting clerks who worked for the professional, scientific and technical services industry reported the highest median wage, $44,420, the BLS reported. That industry is also the top employer of bookkeepers and accounting clerks, with 13 percent of these workers employed within this industry. The finance and insurance field, which employs six percent of the occupation, paid nearly as much, with a median wage of $44,140.
RELATED: How Many Jobs Are Available in Finance?
The industries of retail trade and wholesale trade each accounted for eight percent of bookkeeping clerks in 2020, but bookkeepers working in wholesale trade earned significantly more – $43,370 compared to $37,230 per year. The seven percent of bookkeeping and accounting clerks who work for the healthcare and social assistance sector reported earning $41,100.
Location also affects earning potential for financial clerks. Washington, D.C. paid bookkeeping and accounting clerks the most, with an average wage of $57,950, according to the BLS. Bookkeeping and accounting clerks in Massachusetts, Connecticut and California all earn a median wage of $50,000.
What Is the Salary Potential for Someone with an Accounting Degree?
What Is the Salary Potential for a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?
What Are the Highest Paying Jobs With an Accounting Degree?
What Are the Highest Paying Jobs With a Master’s Degree in Accounting?
What Are the Highest Paying Jobs in Accounting and Auditing?