Online Accounting Degree or Certificate: Which to Choose?

Linfield College Adult Degree Program offers both a bachelor’s degree and a post baccalaureate certificate in accounting. We frequently hear from prospective students wondering what the major differences between these programs are so they can decide which is right for them.

Here’s a breakdown of the differences between the two programs:

Prerequisites

Prerequisites for each program are different.  In order to enter the accounting certificate, you must have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college (in any major), and completed the equivalent of Financial Accounting and Managerial Accounting. Linfield College offers these courses during the fall and spring semesters. You may also transfer the credits to Linfield from Financial and Managerial Accounting courses.

Linfield’s accounting degree, on the other hand, is a full bachelor’s degree. Requirements include general education courses (the Linfield Curriculum) and courses in the accounting major. If you have completed credits from accredited community colleges and four-year colleges and universities, they may transfer to Linfield to satisfy some of the degree requirements.

Number of Courses

The Linfield post bacc accounting certificate requires a student to take six courses in addition to the prerequisites. These courses are:

  • BUSN 361 Intermediate Accounting I
  • BUSN 362 Intermediate Accounting II
  • BUSN 461 Cost Accounting
  • BUSN 466 Advanced Accounting
  • BUSN 468 Federal Income Tax
  • BUSN 469 Auditing

The Accounting Degree Program, on the other hand, looks much like a regular bachelor’s degree. Courses will include all of the courses in the accounting major, the general Linfield Curriculum education requirements and the math courses of statistics and calculus. Linfield College waives the general education requirements for those with a first bachelor’s degree who decide to earn a second bachelor’s degree in a different field from the first.

Goals

The outcome of completing an accounting degree or certificate is similar. Both the accounting certificate and bachelor’s degree program help prepare you sit for the CPA exam. Both programs advance your career in the field of accounting, whether you’re new to the industry or mid-career. Higher accounting education will be a valuable addition to your resume and can be a great foot in the door if you are job hunting.

Background

For someone who currently holds a bachelor’s degree, choosing to earn a post baccalaureate accounting certificate may be the preferred route. This achievement of knowledge is a recognized asset to one’s resume for career advancement. That was the case for Jeremy Gingerich, who completed an accounting certificate online after working in sales for Ford.

Those students who wish to dive more deeply into the areas of study in management, finance and accounting, may prefer earning the bachelor’s degree in accounting. If this is your first bachelor’s degree, the Linfield Curriculum provides the wonderful opportunity to study areas spanning the arts and humanities, natural sciences and social-behavioral sciences.

A study by the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that the projected growth rate for accounting careers is estimated to increase more than 22 percent before 2014, making this an attractive field of study. The decision on which accounting program to choose is different for each individual. Make the decision that works best for you based on your past education, experience and future goals.

Becoming an Accountant through Online Classes

One Student’s Journey

We recently posted a blog article about how to complete CPA requirements through online classes.  Here we will go deeper into this topic with an interview of Brian Roberts, a recent graduate of Linfield DCE’s Post-Baccalaureate Accounting Certificate, about his experience taking online accounting classes to pursue a career as an accountant.

Q: What are your reasons for choosing a career as an accountant?

A: I chose a career in accounting because of the opportunities, flexibility and compensation.

Q: What steps have you taken to find out about career opportunities in the field of accounting that you would recommend to others?Accountant Brian Roberts

A: I met with recruiters, joined the Oregon Society of Certified Public Accountants, attended luncheons and talked with people in the industry.  Talking with recruiters was particularly helpful.  They told me what to expect as an accountant and put me in contact with other accountants.  I found that people were eager to help and talk about their careers.

Q: You earned a bachelor’s degree in another field some years ago, and as a working adult you returned to college to achieve a post baccalaureate accounting certificate. Would you recommend this approach to other adults?

A: I would recommend this approach for adults who are trying to  open new doors for their career.  In my situation there were very few opportunities for growth at my work and obtaining a post baccalaureate accounting certificate was one way for me to set my career on a new path.

Q: You have completed your accounting certificate through online courses, and while working full-time. What advice do you have for how to succeed in online accounting courses? What skills made the difference in your achievement in class?

A: Working full-time and taking courses is difficult.  To succeed you must be motivated and disciplined.  I developed a study schedule which meant reading and doing homework on certain nights of the week.

Q: In the online classroom, were you able to establish communication and rapport with the instructor and with other students?

A: Online classrooms encourage students to share personal experiences that help bring the information out of the textbook and into the real world.  I believe that sharing these experiences with the rest of the class helps build communication and rapport with others in the class.

Q:  How did the instructors in your online courses provide materials and assistance that aided you in mastering the knowledge of the courses?

A: The instructors posted links to their favorite websites, they guided the discussion by posing questions and elaborated on topics from the book.

Q: What is the funniest thing that happened in class? The best moments?

A: The best moments from my classes were the times when I could relate the material from the book to something I was experiencing in my job.  I enjoyed sharing these experiences with others and enjoyed it when they could share personal stories that related to our material.

Q: What have you learned from your experience that accounting firms are looking for when they hire staff accountants, as far as education and experience goes?

A: Accounting firms are looking for students who are self-motivated, life-long learners, with communication skills and can manage their time wisely.  These characteristics relate directly to those of us who have returned to school to pursue additional certification.   Also, for better or worse, firms rely heavily on your grades and expect a GPA of at least 3.0.

Q: What steps did you take when looking for employment in the accounting field?

A: Refined my resume, met with career counselors, met with recruiters of accounting firms to determine what they were looking for, asked them about their recruiting events and attended as many as I could.

Q: When would you recommend beginning to make contact with accounting firms?

A: It is important to connect with accounting firms as soon as possible because they typically recruit students one year ahead of time.  Many firms do their recruiting in the fall so if you are midway through the Post Baccalaureate Accounting Certificate you should be applying for positions in the fall before you graduate in spring or summer.  If you are taking 300 and 400 level courses in a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, it’s time to make contact with accounting firms. Some accounting firms have internships, and depending on your present employment situation, you  may want to look into internship possibilities as well.

Q: What professional organizations would you recommend joining for an adult student with plans to become an accountant?

A: I recommend joining the society of CPAs in your state.  In addition many firms have social profiles which you can join to learn more about the company and the industry.  Try searching for a firm you are interested in on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Q: How well do you think that your Linfield accounting courses have prepared you with the knowledge that you will need to pass the CPA Exam and to enter the profession?

A: I believe that my courses have provided me with a strong foundation from which to build upon when I begin to study for the CPA exams and enter the industry.

Q: Now that you’ve achieved the Post Baccalaureate Accounting Certificate, how do you plan to prepare for the CPA Exam?

A: One thing that I have heard from a number of newly Certified Public Accountants is that a review course is very helpful.  I plan to take this advice and enroll in a CPA review course prior to taking any of the CPA exams.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share from your experience?

A: People are eager to help but it is up to you to make the connection.  Recruiters, counselors, advisors, accountants are all available to help you get to where you want to be but it’s up to you to communicate with them and make the most of what they have to offer.

About Brian:

Brian Roberts is a 27-year old father, husband and full-time employee living and working in Portland, OR.  In 2005 he obtained his Bachelors degree in Economics from Portland State University and began working at Linfield College – Portland Campus.  In the fall of 2008 he returned to school through Linfield’s Division of Continuing Education to pursue a post-baccalaureate certificate in accounting.  Brian is looking forward to September 2010 when he will begin a new career at a local public accounting firm.

How to Complete CPA Exam Requirements Online

accountant who completed cpa exam requirements online speaking with an elderly coupleA career as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can be both financially lucrative and professionally fulfilling.  In fact, Money Magazine recently ranked CPA sixth in a profile of the “Best Jobs In America.”  With high marks for personal satisfaction, job security, and future growth, and a median salary of $74,200, it should come as no surprise that a career as a CPA is appealing to many people.

With the growth of online education in recent years, too, there has been increased interest in meeting CPA exam requirements through online classes.  Depending on whether you have obtained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, you have different options for pursuing education online that will prepare you for the CPA exam.

While myths persist in some circles that a Master’s degree in accounting or finance is necessary to become a CPA, the truth is that nearly all states require one of two academic paths, and both require only a bachelor’s degree, a goal that, increasingly, can be attained through online classes.

Essentially, becoming a CPA, whether by traditional or online academic paths, crystallizes to what some refer to as the “three E’s.”  The first “E” is, of course, education.  The second is “examination.”  And the third is “experience.”

The education aspect of becoming a CPA involves choosing between two approaches.  A regionally accredited bachelor’s degree in accounting that includes 150 semester credits, with 24 of those semester credits in business, law, economics and written and oral communication, and 24 semester credits in accounting, is the most direct educational route.  Students can choose to complete their bachelor’s degree in accounting online or through traditional in-class learning.

For those who have not earned a bachelor’s degree, there are numerous colleges and universities that offer accounting degrees online.  As is the case in face-to-face learning, educators who teach online courses have great latitude in designing courses that are uniquely their own, customizing the approach to fit the material and employing new technologies – such as blogs, chat rooms, discussion boards, Websites, streaming video, or podcasts – to engage and inspire their students.

However, since many bachelor’s degrees in accounting are conferred before the completion of 150 semester credits, supplemental coursework is often necessary.  For students short of 150 semester units, or for those students that have earned a bachelor’s degree in an area of study outside of accounting, supplemental coursework requirements can be met through the completion of a regionally accredited post baccalaureate accounting certificate that can be earned through online classes or in a traditional in-class setting.

When deciding whether to pursue education online, to prepare for the Uniform CPA Exam, it’s important to consider whether you have the profile of an online learner. Online learning is more than a little different. You must organize and structure your time. You are the seeker of information. Participation is not optional. The advantages of taking classes online are the flexibility and ease of access.

Online learning offers committed adult learners an education that is equal to and, in some instances, more rigorous than one might acquire in a face-to-face learning environment. But there is an even greater promise to the revolution of online education.  It is about access, flexibility, and community.

Once the education requirements have been met, the pursuit of certification continues with the second “E,” the examination phase.  The CPA exam, or Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, is required by all state boards of accountancy in the United States. The Uniform CPA Exam consists of four distinct sections:

1. Auditing and Attestation
2. Financial Accounting and Reporting
3. Regulations
4. Business Environment and Concepts

The sections can be completstudent studying for CPA examed separately but all four must be completed within an 18-month time frame.  Currently, there is no online-based Uniform CPA Exam; the exam must be taken only at approved testing facilities.

Prior to taking the exam, it can be tremendously helpful to review the CPA exam site, which includes CPA exam requirements, tutorials, and sample tests that can be taken online, as well as visiting your state board of accountancy for a full list of state-specific requirements to sit for the CPA exam.

After the completion of the required education and examination, prospective CPAs are left but with one step to certification, the third “E” of experience.  In order to become a CPA in most U.S. states and jurisdictions, one must meet strict experience-based requirements that vary by state but can include all of the following:

1. Working under the supervision of a CPA in good standing who has been licensed to practice, in any state, for a period of five years or more.
2. Creating a portfolio that demonstrates experience and proficiency in fundamental areas of competency.
3. Passing an Ethics examination that establishes an understanding of the Code of Professional Conduct expected in the accounting field.

After completing the “three E’s,” prospective CPAs are eligible to apply for an accounting license, a process overseen at the state level by each state’s board of accountancy.  For more detailed information from each jurisdiction and/or state, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy can be an invaluable resource.

Whether you choose online classes or a traditional in-class format, becoming a CPA can be a great start toward a rewarding career.