Studying Bookkeeping: Diplomas and Certificates at a Glance
Bookkeepers record financial transactions for individuals, companies and organizations. If you're interested in becoming a bookkeeper, you should have basic math and computer skills and be comfortable working with spreadsheets and bookkeeping software. Bookkeepers are also known as accounting clerks and auditing clerks.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), although these jobs are usually open to high school graduates, some employers prefer applicants with either experience or formal training. In May 2011, the median salary for bookkeepers was approximately $35,000. Employment for this position is expected to grow at 14% from 2010-2020. That rate is average, but according to BLS, bookkeeping is considered a large occupation with frequent turnover, so jobs should be plentiful.
|Diploma Programs||Certificate Programs|
|Who is this program for?||Students interested in learning bookkeeping skills for entry-level bookkeeping positions||Students who want to learn bookkeeping and prepare for bookkeeping certification|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary)|| - Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks ($36,000)*|
- Billing and posting clerks ($34,000)*
- Tax preparers ($39,000)*
- Executive secretaries and administrative assistants ($48,000)*
- Insurance claims and policy processing clerks ($37,000)*
- Procurement clerks ($38,000)*
- Brokerage clerks ($44,000)*
|Same jobs as with diploma|
|Time to Completion||1 year full time||Varies depending on the individual and the program|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - Approximately 15 courses in bookkeeping and basic accounting |
- Basic office skills courses
|Approximately 6-8 courses in bookkeeping and basic accounting, with some options for national bookkeeping certification exams preparation|
|Prerequisites||High school diploma or GED||High school diploma or GED|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Diplomas in Bookkeeping
The BLS notes that a high school diploma is all that's needed for many bookkeeping clerk jobs because bookkeepers are usually trained on the job; however, many employers prefer candidates to have formal training in bookkeeping. Companies might also offer their new bookkeeping clerks formal training in special bookkeeping or financial software. Diplomas in bookkeeping are typically 1-year programs. In addition to offering training in bookkeeping, these programs can also be used as credit toward an associate's degree in accounting.
Pros and Cons
- In 2009, 25% of bookkeepers had an associate's degree or higher, so formal training could make you more competitive in the job market*
- Possibility of flexible work hours (about 25% of bookkeepers worked part-time in 2010)*
- Could be a good seasonal freelance career (higher demand during tax season)
- Might need to put in long hours when you start a new job until you become familiar with the company's accounting software
- During certain times of the year, you might have to work longer hours to meet deadlines (tax time, the end of the fiscal year, holidays and prime vacation months)
- Might need additional formal education for job advancement
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Courses and Requirements
Bookkeeping diploma programs provide training in basic bookkeeping, payroll accounting, balance sheet and income statement preparation, assets, liabilities and owner's equity, revenues, expenses, trial balance and more. Diploma programs can take up to 2-years to complete and include many of the general education courses found in an associate's degree program. For example, some diploma programs include English composition either in addition to a business English course or instead of offering business English. After you receive your diploma, you should be qualified for entry-level jobs in bookkeeping.
In a typical bookkeeping program, you might encounter the following courses:
- Introduction to accounting
- Payroll accounting
- Computerized accounting applications
- Business English
- Computer keyboarding
- Business math
- Microsoft Office
Online Diploma Options
Online diploma programs are often comparable to on-campus programs for bookkeeping in career preparation. These programs provide similar training in the accounting courses you will need to successfully perform an entry-level bookkeeping job after you graduate. Like the on-campus versions, online diploma programs can last up to 2 years.
Stand Out with This Diploma
Try to get work experience during your diploma program. If you can't fit a full-time job into your schedule, consider looking for part-time paid or volunteer positions. The BLS noted that the bookkeeping field is becoming more computerized, which means that employers are increasingly looking for applicants who are comfortable with technology. If you don't have much experience using computers for business, consider taking extra computer technology classes to hone your skills. You should also consider becoming a certified bookkeeper because, according to the BLS, many employers prefer to hire bookkeepers who are already certified.
Certificates in Bookkeeping
Certificate programs in bookkeeping are similar to diploma programs because both programs are usually open to students with little or no bookkeeping experience. Both programs also offer students the basic skills needed to become entry-level bookkeepers. Despite these similarities, there are differences. For instance, certificate programs are usually shorter than diploma programs because certificate programs tend to be streamlined programs devoted solely to bookkeeping and basic accounting courses.
In contrast, diploma programs might also include courses in basic office skills. Certificate programs might be more suitable for adults who have already been in the workforce for several years or for those who have some college education. These programs might also be less rigidly structured than diploma programs because you might be able to take only the courses you need.
Pros and Cons
- Great for busy adults who want to enter careers in bookkeeping but don't have the time or money to quit their current jobs
- Convenient for small business owners who want additional training because they might not be able to afford to hire a full-time bookkeeper
- Once you gain experience in addition to your certificate, you might be able to work as a freelance bookkeeper
- These programs can be expensive and intense
- You need to stay on top of tax laws and regulations to do well in this program
- You will probably need to become certified in addition to completing a certificate to increase your marketability
Courses and Requirements
Like diploma bookkeeping programs, certificate bookkeeping programs cover the basics you'll need to qualify for entry-level bookkeeping positions. Some certificate programs might also include basic courses in business practices that might be especially helpful to small business owners or students who want to start their own businesses. Typical courses include:
- Payroll administration
- Basic and advanced QuickBooks training
- Bookkeeping and accounting basics
- Microsoft Excel
Some of these programs might also offer courses in business communication, business math and business English.
Online Certificate Options
Online certification programs in bookkeeping are available. Some of these programs might be structured similarly to on-campus programs, where you'll complete scheduled classes online that have specific start and end dates. Other certificate programs might be self-paced, which means you can begin studying whenever you want and take tests at your own pace. These programs usually have faculty and advisors available online or via telephone to answer any questions students might have. Before considering this type of program, make sure you are the type of student who thrives on independent study.
How to Stand Out with This Certificate
Certification for bookkeepers is not required, but it could give you an edge during your job search because it indicates an extra level of commitment to your profession. There are two nationally recognized organizations that offer bookkeeping certification, the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) and the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB), which is also known as the National Bookkeeper's Association.
The AIPB awards the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) license, and the NACPB awards the Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB) license. Certification with these organizations requires passing a 3- to 4-part test, signing a code of ethics and having the equivalent of 1-2 years of bookkeeping experience. You might have up to three years after testing to provide proof of work experience in the field. To maintain your certifications, you have to take 24-60 hours of continuing professional education courses every 1-3 years.