Study Accounting: Diploma, Associate's & Online Degrees

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What will you learn in an associate's or diploma program in accounting? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a diploma and an associate's degree and potential careers.
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Accounting Diplomas and Associate's Degrees: Programs at a Glance

A diploma or associate's degree in accounting can teach you about basic accounting subjects, software and laws that you'll need to know in order to enter the world of finance. Even if you don't plan on becoming an accountant or auditor, these programs can help you begin a career in the business or finance sectors.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a diploma or associate's degree can qualify you for a position as an accounting clerk or a bookkeeper. Most employers require accountants and auditors to hold a bachelor's degree or higher, but you may be able to become a junior accountant with an associate's degree plus experience. The BLS projected that bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks would see a 14% increase in job opportunities from 2010-2020, which was about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Diploma Associate's
Who is this degree for? People who are seeking entry-level positions in the financial field Individuals who wish to pursue entry-level jobs in accounting or finance
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Accounting clerk ($32,000)*
- Accounts payable clerk ($34,000)*
- Accounts payable supervisor ($50,000)*
- Bookkeeper ($38,000)*
- Junior accountant (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 2 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 12-15 courses in accounting and related subjects - About 12-15 courses in accounting
- General education courses
- Capstone project
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED - High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: * figures (as of July 2012).

Diploma in Accounting

Most accounting diploma programs are designed to teach core accounting principles to students who have no previous postsecondary education. Upon completion of a diploma program, you could be prepared for entry-level positions that require knowledge of accounting principles. Diploma programs take less time to complete than degree programs and generally only focus on concepts directly related to accounting. You may have to complete a couple of general education courses in a diploma program, but this requirement varies between schools.

Pros and Cons


  • May take less time than an associate's program
  • Teaches you the same concepts as an associate's program without significant general education requirements
  • Credits can transfer to an associate's program if you wish to get a degree


  • A diploma does not qualify you to become an accountant
  • Rarely a hard requirement for the positions you'll qualify for
  • Coursework covers general accounting concepts and does not allow for much specialization

Courses and Requirements

Coursework in an accounting diploma program will cover accounting, finance, business and technology subjects. Diploma programs typically do not require you to complete general education subjects, and internship or work experience courses are often optional. Some of the courses you might take include:

  • Financial accounting
  • Financial statements
  • Managerial accounting
  • Accounting software
  • Tax accounting
  • Speadsheets
  • Cost accounting

Online Information

Online accounting diploma programs are relatively common and nearly identical to on-campus programs. You'll typically have the same course options as you would in an on-campus program, and the length of the program is equivalent. Schools may offer hybrid programs as well, which means you'd do some of your coursework away from campus and travel to campus for special meetings or labs. Although you can find many different online accounting diploma programs, you'll want to make sure the school you choose is accredited by an agency approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education.

Stand Out with this Degree

Since internships are rarely required in a diploma program, pursuing one while you're in school can help you stand out when you graduate. If your school doesn't have an internship opportunity, find a part-time job that can get you experience in accounting. Since most entry-level positions don't require a diploma, you can start working before you're taking classes. Not just any job offers relevant experience; you'll want a job that gives you the responsibility of keeping track of business transactions, helping accountants with their work or something similar.

Associate's Degree in Accounting

Accounting associate's degree programs consist of similar core courses as a diploma program, but you'll also gain an understanding of some general education subjects. An associate's degree in accounting may qualify you for a position as a bookkeeper or a junior accountant upon completion of the program. You'll generally have more specialization options with an associate's program, either from the structure of the program (where each student selects an area of emphasis) or the elective options offered at the school. Most programs prepare you to become a Certified Bookkeeper after graduation, which is a designation awarded by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers.

Pros and Cons


  • Can lead to junior accountant positions
  • Employers may prefer degree holders to those who only have a high school diploma
  • Credits may transfer to a bachelor's degree program if you wish to continue your education later on


  • Employers require accountants to have a bachelor's degree
  • An associate's degree program is not enough to qualify you for the CPA exam
  • An associate's degree is rarely a hard requirement for the jobs you'd be qualified for

Courses and Requirements

Associate's degree programs in accounting cover similar subjects to diploma programs, but general education courses are required as well. You could have the opportunity to take advanced accounting courses and tailor your learning through your selection of electives. A few programs offer specialty electives that allow you to learn about a specific type of accounting, such as payroll tax accounting, federal income tax accounting or cost accounting. Depending on your school, you may be required to complete a capstone project as well. Here are a few examples of courses you might be able to take:

  • Intermediate accounting
  • Internal auditing
  • Business law
  • Tax law
  • Finance principles
  • Macroeconomics

Online Information

Online associate's degree programs and hybrid programs in accounting are commonly available. Online accounting courses are similar to those in on-campus programs. Since you'll rarely find on-campus programs that offer hands-on learning opportunities, you usually won't miss out on internship opportunities by taking an online program. Online programs can prepare you for bookkeeping certifications as well.

Stand Out with this Degree

Pursuing an internship related to accounting can give you a boost after you graduate, especially since internships are rarely required in an accounting associate's program. You can qualify for entry-level positions as an accounting clerk without a degree, so you can work while you go to school if you choose.

Another step you can take to get an edge is to obtain a certification. Although you're not qualified to become a Certified Public Accountant, you can still become a Certified Bookkeeper after you graduate. You'll need to pass a 4-part exam and sign a code of ethics before the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers will award you this designation.

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