Accounting Degree: Associate or Bachelor’s

Nearly 1.4 million people work as accountants and auditors in the United States, earning an average annual salary of $73,560, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you've been considering entering this lucrative and sometimes demanding profession, you might be confused about the schooling and training necessary as well as the career opportunities available to accountants. Should you get a bachelor's degree in accounting or is it enough to get an associate degree? How much can you expect to earn? What does the average workday look like for an accountant? We'll answer these questions and more.

How long do I have to spend in school to become an accountant?

You can qualify to work as an accountant with a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor's degree. With an associate degree in accounting, you'll take core accounting, business, and communications courses. In the bachelor's degree program, you'll expand that knowledge with courses in auditing, finance, and advanced accounting theory. In the bachelor's degree program, you'll also have an opportunity to work as an intern at an accounting firm or accounting department of a company, so you can see first-hand how your knowledge will be applied in the real world.

The choice between an associate degree vs bachelor’s degree depends on the time and money you have to devote to college. You can also earn an associate degree, work for a few years, and expand your degree to a bachelor’s down the road.

Students at many colleges and universities can choose between an in-person accounting degree and an online accounting degree. An online degree generally offers more flexibility and allows working students and those with small children or other family responsibilities to take classes on their own schedule.

What careers are open to me with a bachelor's and an associate degree in accounting?

There are a myriad of careers in accounting and finance open to those with an accounting degree.

Graduates with an associate degree in accounting are qualified to work as a:

  • Bookkeeper, keeping details records of a company or organization's financial accounts
  • Auditing clerk, part of the staff that checks over accounts for possible mistakes
  • Payroll clerk, making sure a company's employees get paid accurately and on time
  • Accountant assistant, helping senior accountants with their jobs
  • Accounts payable or accounts receivable administrator, making sure that bills get paid on time and that your company invoices its customers and receives payment for its services in a timely manner.
  • Those with an associate degree in accounting are also qualified to work as a tax preparer

In addition to the positions described above, graduates with a bachelor's degree in accounting are qualified for positions as a:

  • Staff accountant, maintaining budgets, ledgers, and other financial documents
  • Internal auditor, reviewing an organization’s business procedures, while making sure that all company departments are acting in compliance with the appropriate laws and statutes
  • Management accountant, helping a company reduce costs and improve its overall financial strength
  • Loan officer, working for a bank or other lender evaluating the risk associated with lending individuals or companies money
  • Financial analyst, helping companies and individuals invest their money wisely in order to meet their short-term and long-term goals

What can I expect to earn as an accountant?

As we mentioned, the average accountant salary is $73,560 in the United States, according to the BLS. However, that number can vary significantly depending on the region of the country where you work, your experience, the size company you work for, your job responsibilities and your years of school.

Accountants with an associate degree, working as bookkeepers or auditing clerks, can expect to earn an average annual salary of $42,410, according to the BLS. Those working as tax preparers can expect to earn an average annual salary of $52,710. As we mentioned above, these numbers are averages and can vary significantly depending on the individual job, the region of the country where you work, and how much experience you have.

Those with a bachelor's degree in accounting, working in a corporate finance department can expect to make an average annual salary of $134,180. Those working as a loan officer earn an average annual salary of $63,960, and those working as financial analysts can expect to earn an average annual salary of $89,330.

Those with a bachelor's degree in accounting also have the option to sit for the certified public accountant exam and become a CPA. Having this accreditation generally increases a person's salary potential.

Experienced accountants with a bachelor's degree can also work in accounting firms and move their way up to partner status, where they share in the total revenue the firm collects.

Is an accounting degree worth the time and money?

Whether an accounting degree is worth the time and money necessary is a personal decision. However, with either an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in accounting, you can expect a solid career in a timeless profession with a professional-level salary.

According to the BLS, jobs for those with an accounting degree are expected to continue to increase at a rate of about seven percent in the next decade. They estimate that an additional 96,000 accounting jobs will be added in the U.S. by 2030.

Accounting is a profession that is largely recession proof. Companies will always need someone to manage money, make sure bills get collected and paid, and that tax returns are prepared and filed accurately. In addition, accountants are not likely to be replaced by robots or AI anytime soon. Tax codes and accounting guidelines are too nuanced and intricate to leave fully to electronics.

Is accounting a hard major?

Earning an accounting degree isn't any more difficult than getting a degree in another field. Accounting has gotten a bad reputation, probably due to the exacting nature of financial documents and working with numbers. However, if you have an average aptitude for math and are willing to study and apply yourself to your studies, you shouldn't have any trouble earning either an associate or a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Good candidates for study in accounting are those who are organized, disciplined, and creative, have good communications skills, and are comfortable following set rules and guidelines.

It's also important to keep in mind that accountants need to be curious and willing to keep learning even as they start and continue their careers. Accounting rules and tax laws change almost every year and accountants need to stay on top of the latest changes.

What about certificates or master's degrees?

Some people with degrees in accounting may wish to continue their education. We've already discussed upgrading an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree as well as sitting for your state's CPA exam and earning that certification.

Earning an advanced degree in accounting can help you secure a position in a top accounting firm or investment firm as well as private equity firms and top tier government accounting positions. Most master’s in accounting programs take two years of full-time work to complete.

A little about Monroe College

Monroe College, founded in 1933, is a private college with branches in New York City, New Rochelle New York and the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. The college offers a number of two and four-year degrees and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Monroe College has a current enrollment of around 6,800 students.

Monroe College offers both an associate and a bachelor's degree program in accounting. Both programs may be completed in person or online. We also offer a master's degree in accounting on campus in New York.

Interested in learning more about the accounting degree programs at Monroe College? Talk with us and request more information or apply today!