Associate Degree in Accounting

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Updated October 13, 2022

What kinds of skills and knowledge can you gain from an associate degree? Get a sense of how a two-year program can prepare you for entry-level accounting jobs.

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An associate degree in accounting lays the foundation for career-building skills in various accounting jobs, such as accounting assistants and financial clerks. This degree program teaches beginner business, economics, and financial management concepts, which students can build upon.

Learners with an associate degree can expect to enter the workforce after graduating. Although not all employers expect candidates to hold an associate accounting degree for introductory positions, those with this credential could stand out among applicants.

According to ZipRecruiter data, the average entry-level accounting professional annual salary in the United States ranges from $29,620-$46,070. Salary potential can increase with advanced degrees and more experience.

In this guide, explore what an associate in accounting degree offers, important considerations for this degree, and what careers and salaries you can expect after graduating.

Why Get an Associate in Accounting?

  • Step Foot in the Field: An associate degree in accounting lets you enter jobs like accounts payable clerk or bookkeeper. From here, you can gain experience or pursue a higher level of education. It all depends on your goals – your associate degree offers multiple pathways for strengthening your career on your terms.
  • Work Around Your Schedule: Some prospective accounting professionals choose to start with an associate degree rather than a bachelor's degree. The shorter commitment of an associate degree can provide much-needed flexibility for students who work or care for family members. Often, associate credits apply to a bachelor's degree so that learners can pick back up when they are ready.
  • Budget-Friendly: If you do not have the means to afford a bachelor's degree right now, an associate degree might be an excellent alternative. These programs often include half the credits of a bachelor's degree, which equals lower tuition costs. Still, associate degree-seekers may qualify for financial aid to reduce their costs.

Different Types of Associates

Searching for an associate in accounting program may lead you to different degree options, such as:

  • Associate of arts: An AA program's liberal arts foundation makes its curricula more generalized, allowing students to choose from electives in different subject areas.
  • Associate of science: AS programs incorporate more math and science courses than AA programs. Accounting students may see more tax calculation, business accounting, or marketing courses in their programs.
  • Associate of applied science: Using a mix of math, tax law, and business finance education, an AAS often prepares learners to work upon graduating.
  • Associate of applied business: This career-preparation program gives accounting students the tools necessary to work in business accounting departments. An AAB includes business ethics, management, and business finance topics.

The highly transferable credits AA and AS programs offer prepare learners for continued education. In contrast, AAS and AAB programs might suit students who plan to jump into their careers before continuing their education.

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Core Concepts

Students graduating with an associate degree in accounting are expected to know and understand these central concepts:

  • Financial Statements: Provide documentation of financial data to managers and other stakeholders, such as shareholders and clients
  • Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP): A framework of practice and procedure guidance widely used by accounting professionals
  • Federal Income Tax: A government-issued tax paid quarterly and/or annually by both individuals and corporations, based on their income or revenue
  • Spreadsheet Functionality and Modeling: Use of software programs, such as Microsoft Excel, to format, store, sort, and analyze financial data, and predict trends
  • Data Management: Use of a variety of tools and systems to store and track financial information and monitor progress of accounting-related tasks within an organization
  • Cost Accounting: Provide analysis of costs associated with developing or offering services; provide managers with the information to make decisions on budget planning and cost reduction
  • Oral and Written Communications: Strategies for effective connection in professional business settings

Should You Get Your Associate Accounting Degree Online?

Many schools let learners pursue an associate accounting degree on campus or online. Online programs may suit students who work full time, need a flexible school schedule, or cannot commute. Asynchronous online courses let students complete their coursework on a schedule that fits their needs.

However, some degree-seekers find staying motivated to complete their online assignments challenging. Synchronous classes in which students meet at scheduled times with a live instructor might assist with focus.

Hybrid programs incorporate elements of online and on-campus learning. For example, these programs might require one or two days of in-person classes weekly for students to collaborate and take part in hands-on education.

Should You Get an Associate Degree or a Certificate?

Accounting certificate and accounting associate programs share several similarities, including how long they take, curricula, and outcomes. These programs prepare students for entry-level careers in accounting as bookkeepers, tax preparers, or billing collectors.

However, an accounting certificate includes about half the credits of an associate degree. Full-time students may complete these programs in just a few months. They may also pay less tuition for programs that charge per credit.

Associate degree students may transfer credits to a bachelor's degree. Certificate holders may need to pursue an associate degree to do the same.

Comparing Associate and Certificate Programs

Key Factor

Accounting Associate

Accounting Certificate

Goal

Entry-level careers with a possible goal of pursuing a bachelor's degree

Entry-level careers with a potential goal of continued education; certificates may transfer to an associate or bachelor's degree program

Length

1-2 years

Usually a few months, but some may take up to two years

Courseload

About 20-30 credits

About 60 credits

Cost

Between $200-$400/credit, on average

Between $100-$350/credit, on average

Admission requirements

High school diploma

High school diploma

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Accounting Jobs and Salaries

Most entry-level accounting jobs require only a high school diploma or equivalent credential. However, to become an accountant, loan officer, or similar professional, you may need a bachelor's degree.

An accounting associate degree can still come in handy for advancing your career. Some employers, such as financial or auditing firms, prefer candidates with at least some college coursework in accounting or an associate degree on their resumes.

According to Payscale, an entry-level accountant earns an average salary of $47,240/year. In contrast, accounting associate degree-holders earn an average $53,000/year salary.

Financial Clerk


Financial clerks work with businesses, such as accounting firms or banks. Key responsibilities include calculating bills, processing loan applications, and inputting information for new accounts. Some financial firms prefer candidates with an associate degree in accounting, especially for advancement opportunities.

Required Education: High school diploma or equivalent

Job Outlook (2020-30): -2%

Median Annual Salary: $41,520


Auditing Clerk


An auditing clerk works with experienced accountants and finance professionals. Their jobs consist mostly of financial error-related tasks, such as checking billing codes and calculations. Auditing clerks use various accounting and bookkeeping tools to track and check transactions. Some college experience in finance or accounting can help candidates qualify for these jobs.

Required Education: Some college

Job Outlook (2020-30): -3%

Median Annual Salary: $42,410


Accounting Assistant


Accountants use assistants to streamline tasks. For example, an accountant assistant might post transactions, communicate with clients, and process payments. An associate degree in accounting can give candidates hands-on experience with accounting software and build skills that attract employers.

Required Education: High school diploma or equivalent

Job Outlook (2020-30): -7%

Median Annual Salary: $40,990


Bill or Account Collector


Account collectors' typical daily tasks include contacting customers for collections attempts and referring customers to debt counselors. They may also escalate cases to higher-tier support and work with customers to negotiate payments.

This entry-level accounting role usually requires a high school diploma. However, candidates with some college experience might have sought-after computer and financial skills.

Required Education: High school diploma or equivalent

Job Outlook (2020-30): -9%

Median Annual Salary: $38,100

Top Online Bachelor's Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Next Steps After Getting an Associate in Accounting

An associate in accounting degree is just the first step in your accounting career. Think about the following possibilities as you continue to develop your goals and choose a career path.

  • Enter the Workforce: One option after earning your associate degree in accounting is to immediately enter the workforce. While your career options might be limited, you can still pursue a variety of entry-level positions, such as bookkeeper or payroll clerk.

Entering the workforce after graduation offers the obvious benefit of immediately earning a salary, and you will build valuable professional experience. Some students accrue job experience before pursuing their bachelor's or master's.

  • Pursue a Bachelor's Degree: Another popular option after earning an associate in accounting is to immediately move into a bachelor's in accounting program. Most schools offer academic pathways that enable you to seamlessly move from an associate program into a bachelor's without repeating any coursework.

As mentioned earlier, earning your bachelor's offers increased job opportunities and salary potential. You will complete coursework that puts you closer to meeting requirements for the CPA exam.


Common Questions About an Accounting Associate


Is an associate degree in accounting worth it?

An associate in accounting is an affordable degree that serves as the first step toward an accounting career, making it a worthwhile choice for students.

What can I do with an associate degree in accounting?

An associate in accounting prepares you to enter a bachelor's program or pursue entry-level careers such as bookkeeper, accounting assistant, or payroll clerk.

Can you become an accountant with an associate degree?

No. An associate degree in accounting does not enable you to become an accountant. Accountants must hold at least a bachelor's degree or even a master's degree.

What salary can you get with an associate degree in accounting?

Salaries for associate degree holders vary by position and experience level: for example, Payscale data from April 2022 states that accounts payable clerks earn an average hourly salary of $16.86.

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