If you’re thinking about an associate’s degree program in accounting, there are several advantages of this educational and career path you should consider. By starting out your career with a two-year degree, you’re spending less on your education and getting into the workforce sooner. The opportunities for hard workers with skills and experience in accounting and bookkeeping are excellent, and you always have the option of continuing your accounting education at a later date – perhaps with the help of employer tuition reimbursement benefits.
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Quick Career Preparation
An associate’s degree typically requires just 60 semester hours of study, or two years if you go to school full-time. These programs go by a few different names, such as Associate of Arts in Accounting, Associate of Science in Accounting and Associate of Applied Science in Accounting. Some schools also offer a shorter undergraduate certificate program in accounting and bookkeeping that can be completed in just one year, though the coursework is less extensive than you would see in an associate’s degree program.
What do you learn in an associate’s degree in accounting program? These programs are career-oriented, so they tend to focus more on technical bookkeeping and accounting skills than on the theory of financial reporting. Through courses such as principles of accounting, principles of taxation, principles of finance, principles of economics, managerial accounting and intermediate accounting, students learn to perform bookkeeping and basic accounting duties such as entering data in accounting systems like QuickBooks software or Excel spreadsheets, managing payroll for an organization and creating basic financial reports.
Earning a two-year accounting degree from a community college or vocational school may not be enough to become an accountant, but it is a great way to prepare for bookkeeper or accounting clerk roles. In these paraprofessional roles, you handle basic or low-level accounting tasks. Your job title probably will not be accountant, but rather accounting assistant, accounting clerk, accounts receivable clerk, accounts payable clerk, billing specialist, payroll specialist or bookkeeper.
Bookkeepers and accounting clerks earn a median salary of $39,240, compared to $69,350 for accountants and auditors, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
A More Affordable Education
With the cost of a college degree continuing to rise and student debt threatening to consume college graduates, affordability is one of the biggest appeals of an associate’s degree in accounting. The average tuition cost per credit at a community college is just $135, compared to the $325 per credit average cost at a public four-year college, according to Forbes. Taking the exact same courses at a four-year school during your freshman and sophomore years of college would more than double the cost of those two years of study.
Not only are you paying a much lower tuition rate than students at a university would pay, but you are also paying for two fewer years of study. Then you’re out in the workforce earning a salary – while students in a four-year program are still paying thousands of dollars a year as they work toward their degrees.
Even if you plan to earn a bachelor’s degree, you could save a great deal of money by starting your education at a community college, as long as you complete your education at a school that accepts your full amount of transfer credits.
A Future Full of Opportunity
Unfortunately, the job outlook for bookkeepers and accounting clerks is somewhat bleak. The BLS expects career opportunities in this occupation to decrease by one percent over a decade, rather than growing. However, with a little more education combined with your experience working in the field with your associate’s degree, you can advance to a career that is seeing faster than average job growth: accountant or auditor. Over a decade, jobs for accountants and auditors should increase by 10 percent, or nearly 140,000 jobs, the BLS reported. The many industries that employ accountants include accounting services, tax preparation services, finance and insurance, company management and government entities.
Typically, to advance beyond a role like accounting clerk or junior accountant, you will need a bachelor’s degree. With enough experience, some bookkeepers and clerks can work their way up to full-fledged accounting positions, the BLS reported, but more commonly, a four-year degree is required. Fortunately, accounting clerks with an associate’s degree are already halfway there. Some community college accounting programs even offer transfer options designed for students who plan to go on and attain a bachelor’s degree. You can also look for competency-based bachelor’s degree programs that award credit for your work experience and the knowledge you gained from on-the-job training. You may even be able to get help paying for your bachelor’s degree. About 90 percent of midsize and large employers, including Walmart, McDonald’s and Taco Bell, offer tuition assistance as a benefit, The Wall Street Journal reported.
One way to improve your job opportunities without having a bachelor’s degree is to seek professional certification, such as the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) credential, or becoming certified in specific accounting programs like Microsoft Excel or QuickBooks.