Associate Vs. Bachelor's Degree in Accounting: What's the Difference?

Associate's and bachelor's degrees in accounting lead to different career options and have different coursework. Read on to learn about these programs and the career options, earning potential and employment prospects for graduates. Schools offering Accounting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Choosing a Degree

One major difference between an associate's degree program and a bachelor's degree program is the selection of career opportunities available after your graduate. An associate's degree in accounting may qualify you for entry-level positions, such as accounting clerk, bookkeeper or auditing clerk. More advanced careers in accounting, such as public accountant, internal auditor or management accountant, tend to require a bachelor's degree in accounting. Therefore, you may benefit from choosing a career goal before selecting a degree program. Another difference between these programs is the number of courses you'll take and the depth of accounting topics you'll study.

Associate's Degree Programs

You can usually complete an associate's degree program in accounting in two years. During that time, you'll complete coursework in basic principles of accounting and statistics that prepare you for the finance and bookkeeping aspect of the profession. You can also expect to learn accounting and bookkeeping software, which are often used in the profession. Sometimes, you'll take the option to select a concentration, such as taxation.

Coursework

Courses you may take in an associate's program in accounting include:

  • Economics
  • Financial and managerial accounting
  • Intermediate accounting
  • Business law
  • Taxation of businesses and individuals
  • Spreadsheet and database applications
  • Marketing
  • Management
  • Business communications

Earning Potential and Job Outlook

In May 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that accounting clerks, bookkeepers and auditing clerks earned a median annual wage of $35,170 (www.bls.gov). While these entry-level workers may hold as little as high school diplomas, associate's degrees are becoming increasingly important and may bring about greater employment opportunities. The BLS reports that employment of these professionals was expected to increase 11% over the 2012-2022 decade.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Bachelor's degree programs in accounting are available at colleges, universities and business schools and typically take four years to complete. These programs provide advanced career training focused on concepts and strategies of accounting. Bachelor's degree curricula may also incorporate internships, which allow you to gain practical accounting experience in the field.

Compared to associate's degree programs, bachelor's degree programs tend to offer students more learning options. While you may choose simply pursue a 4-year degree in accounting, some programs allow students to focus on one aspect of the field. For example, you might pursue a concentration in public or government accounting. Additionally, some schools offer dual-degree programs that combine accounting with related majors, such as finance or computer information systems.

Coursework

The curriculum for a bachelor's degree in accounting usually includes the same accounting and business courses as an associate's degree; however, more advanced courses in both business and accounting are included. Some of these topics might include:

  • Accounting ethics
  • Accounting information systems
  • Auditing
  • Governmental and not-for-profit accounting
  • Business finance
  • International accounting
  • Financial statement analysis
  • Advanced accounting

Earning Potential and Job Outlook

Accountants and auditors - who tend to hold bachelor's degrees in accounting - earned a median annual wage of $63,550, according to the BLS in May 2012. The BLS also reported that employment of accountants and auditors was expected to increase 13% over the decade spanning 2012-2022. Those who hold professional certification, which typically entails at least a bachelor's degree, were expected to benefit from the greatest job opportunities.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:

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