Your Guide to Online Accounting Degrees

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about the three types of accounting degrees you can earn online, and the benefits of enrolling in an online degree program.

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When you’re interested in studying accounting, it’s possible to earn your degree online, whether you intend to pursue an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s. Whether you choose to attend an online college, or an online program offered by a brick-and-mortar institution, there are several benefits to learning online, including greater scheduling flexibility and the ability to work full-time while going to school.  

As a career, accounting is poised to grow over the next decade. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates a seven percent growth between 2020 and 2030 [1]. Besides becoming an accountant, there are many career opportunities you can pursue after earning an online accounting degree. 

In this article, we’ll go over the types of online accounting degrees you can earn, what you’ll study, and what you can do with your degree. 

Types of online accounting degrees

There are three main types of online accounting degrees. Depending on your goals and resources, you can earn your associate degree, bachelor's degree, or master's degree. Let’s go over each one, including the classes you will likely be expected to take. 

Associate degree 

It takes about two years or around 60 credits to get an online associate degree in accounting when you’re able to attend full-time. After completing general education courses set by your college, you will finish your degree by taking courses in your accounting major that introduce you to the principles of accounting and finance. 

You can use an associate degree to get an entry-level position as an accounting assistant, payroll clerk, or bookkeeper—or as a stepping stone toward a bachelor’s degree. 

Sample coursework can include: 

  • Principles of accounting

  • Business law

  • Ethics

  • Financial planning

  • Managerial accounting

  • Math for business

Bachelor's degree 

An online bachelor's degree in accounting takes around four years—or a minimum of 120 credits—to complete when you’re able to attend full-time. In a bachelor’s degree program, you’ll likely spend the first two years completing general education courses before concentrating on your major coursework. 

Most students who get a bachelor's degree in accounting either graduate with a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree or a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) with a concentration in accounting. When you’re interested in studying accounting exclusively, then a BS degree may be the better option. However, if you’re interested in gaining general knowledge of business in addition to an understanding of accounting then a BBA degree may be the better option. 

With a bachelor’s in accounting, you can become an accountant, an investment analyst, a tax examiner, and more. 

Sample coursework can include:

  • Auditing

  • Business ethics

  • Principles of accounting

  • Financial accounting

  • Managerial accounting

  • Cost accounting

  • Auditing

  • Federal income taxation

  • Accounting information systems

Learn more: What is a Bachelor’s in Accounting and What Can You Do with One?

Master's degree 

At the master’s level, many students choose between a Master of Accounting (MAC) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in either accounting or finance. 

Depending on your program, it will take between one and two years to earn your master’s degree. For example, if you’re pursuing a MAC (and have earned your bachelor’s degree in accounting), your program will take one year or less of full-time study. On the other hand, an MBA degree typically takes around two years of full-time study to complete. 

An online master’s degree will deepen your knowledge of accounting (or accounting and business with the MBA) and prepare you for senior roles such as corporate controller, CPA (once you pass the licensing exam), senior auditor, senior financial analyst, and tax accountant.

Sample MAC coursework includes: 

  • Federal taxation

  • International taxation

  • Corporate taxation

  • Cost systems

  • Auditing and assurance 

  • Ethics and negotiations

  • Tax practice and procedure

  • Auditing theory

Learn more: MBA vs. MS: Choosing Which Is Better for You

Accounting degree concentrations

In addition to getting your accounting degree, you may want to consider a concentration, which is a specific area of study within your accounting major that can help you reach your career goals. Bachelor's and master's programs offer concentrations such as: 

  • Auditing: When businesses file financial reports, they need to comply with certain laws and regulations. By conducting a thorough examination of a company's records, an auditor makes sure the company is in compliance. This concentration would prepare you to conduct audits, either as an employee of the company or as an outside consultant. 

  • Forensic accounting: If you enjoy logic and problem solving then you may get the opportunity to use those skills in forensic accounting. This concentration focuses on the detection of financial fraud within organizations. You'll learn how to recognize fraudulent records and statements, how to conduct interviews, and how to use computers for investigative purposes.

  • Management accounting: Management accounting prepares you to conduct internal financial assessments for a company, and help them determine their business and financial planning. The information you gather from such assessments can be used for budget evaluation, company expansion planning, financial performance reviews, and investment analysis

  • Public accounting: CPAs (certified public accountants) are licensed to provide accounting services to anyone within their particular state. Most states require 150 hours of college credit and some work experience before taking the licensing exam. If you're eyeing a position as a CPA, a concentration in public accounting can help by exposing you to accounting principles and tax reporting. 

  • Taxation: You’ll learn more about tax preparation and reporting with this concentration, which includes federal tax law and income tax for individuals and businesses. This concentration can also help prepare you for taking the CMA (certified management accountant) exam or the CFE (certified fraud examiner) exam.   

4 benefits of an online accounting degree

A college degree doesn't have to be completed in a classroom. In fact, more students are opting to learn partly or entirely online because working on their degree from wherever there’s internet access makes more sense for their needs. If you're wondering whether an online degree is right for you, let’s review some key benefits. 

1. Flexible schedule

Many in-person schools have set class times that meet throughout the week. When you study accounting online, you can take your classes asynchronously or attend class virtually, making it easier to fit learning around your other responsibilities. Many online degrees also allow you to work at an accelerated pace, so it's possible you could finish your degree faster. 

2. Attend world-class programs without relocating

One of the best perks of an online degree is the geographical advantage. When you don't have to be on campus to take your classes, you have greater freedom in selecting the best school and program for you—and attend a college or university practically anywhere around the world.

3. Comfort

Whether you're sitting at a desk or in a crowded auditorium, attending class on campus isn't always comfortable. When you get an accounting degree online, you can learn from the comfort of your home—or wherever there’s an internet connection. 

4. Affordability

Your cost for an online education depends on the college or university you choose. But, overall, many online programs tend to cost less than in-person degrees because there’s overhead to operate them. Plus, when you don’t have to live on campus, you may be able to save money on housing or relocating. 

Tips for choosing an online accounting degree program

As with any degree program, it's important to choose the right one for you. Consider following these strategies when looking for an online accounting program. 

Make sure the program is accredited.

To be accredited, colleges and universities have to meet specific standards set either by regional or national agencies in the United States. Choosing an accredited school is important when it comes to transferring college credits, being eligible for financial aid, and even getting a job. Prospective employers may want to verify that you earned your degree from an accredited institution. 

Review the coursework. 

It’s important to find a program that suits your resources (both time and cost) and will help you learn what you need in order to pursue your career goals. As you look through online accounting degree programs, take time to review the coursework you’ll be expected to complete and consider whether you will gain the general or specific subject matter knowledge you will need. 

Get feedback from current and former students. 

Current and former students can be a great source of information about an online degree program. To find out what students are saying, browse through student reviews on the school's website or check with college review websites or forums. 

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Next steps

Earn your Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s renowned Gies College of Business on Coursera. You can apply to join the fall or spring cohort and earn your degree in 18-36 months, depending on the time you’re able to commit. 

To determine if an online accounting degree is right for you, consider taking an online accounting course, such as Financial Accounting Fundamentals through the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. You will learn about the three most important financial statements and you can earn a shareable certificate once you complete the course.

Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Accountants and Auditors,” Accessed September 86, 2022. 

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.