Financial Accounting Degrees: Diploma, Associate & Online Courses

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What will you learn in a financial accounting program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a diploma and associate's degree and potential careers.
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Financial Accounting Diploma and Associate Degree Programs at a Glance

Financial accountants are responsible for preparing financial statements and maintaining records for various organizations, such as businesses, banks, agencies and stockholders. In a financial accounting degree program, you'll learn about tax and business law, accounting principles, economics and other related subjects.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most financial accounting positions require at least a 4-year degree, but a diploma or associate's degree can help you start out as a junior accountant or accounting clerk. The BLS also said that certification can boost job prospects, so you may want to become a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA. To become a licensed CPA you'll have to satisfy the requirements of your state's Board of Accountancy and pass a national exam. The BLS predicted that jobs for accountants and auditors would grow at an average pace of 16% from 2010-2020, but prospects are best for people with master's degrees.

Diploma Associate's
Who is this degree for? Individuals with little or no experience who want to enter the financial field, or current degree holders who need extra courses to qualify for the CPA exam People who want to become financial accountants
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) Accounting clerk ($35,000 - Includes salaries for bookkeeping and auditing clerks)*
Accountant ($63,000 - Includes salaries for auditors)*
Career paths for an associate's degree are similar to those for a certificate
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 2 years full-time, 4 years part-time
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Yes Some courses might be available online

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Diploma in Financial Accounting

A financial accounting diploma program can provide you with introductory knowledge of financial accounting and business subjects. Certificate programs are much more common than diploma programs in this field. Financial accounting certificate programs typically require you take some of the same courses as 2-year degree programs, minus the general education courses. This can shorten the length of the program to as little as 1 year for full-time study.

Pros and Cons


  • Employers are looking for candidates with some coursework in accounting
  • Allows you to enter the field in less than 2 years
  • May satisfy additional coursework requirements for CPA exam


  • A certificate alone may not be enough to qualify you for a position as a financial accountant; most positions require a bachelor's degree
  • Many financial accounting programs are designed for individuals who already have college degrees
  • Is not enough on its own to qualify for the CPA exam, you will need a bachelor's degree

Courses and Requirements

Financial accounting certificate programs typically last for 2-3 semesters and mostly consist of technical subjects. Most programs do not require any general education courses, but you may be required to choose from several finance or business-related elective courses.

Examples of common financial accounting courses:

  • Financial accounting
  • Tax accounting
  • Business law
  • Ethics

Online Course Info

Online financial accounting courses are generally rare, but some schools offer individual online courses in combination with on-campus courses, and several schools offer fully-online programs. You can check with your school to see if they offer any online financial accounting courses or programs.

Stand Out with this Certificate

Some schools may offer optional courses in addition to the core courses for the financial accounting program. These additional courses may enable you to fulfill coursework requirements for the CPA exam, which you must pass in order to receive a CPA license.

You may also want to consider obtaining a bachelor's degree in accounting, which can help you obtain the credit hours required for the CPA exam. Many accounting positions require you to work with spreadsheets and accounting software, so you'll need to stay up-to-date with the latest software programs.

Associate's Degree in Financial Accounting

Financial accounting associate's degree programs are similar to certificate programs in core coursework, except that most programs have a general education requirement. A financial accounting associate's degree program can prepare you for a position in finance, or you can continue your studies and obtain a bachelor's or master's degree.

Pros and Cons


  • A degree is desirable to most employers in the financial field
  • An associate's degree may lead to a bachelor's or master's degree
  • Can take as little as 2 years with full-time study


  • You may compete with bachelor's and master's degree holders for accounting positions
  • An associate's degree isn't enough to meet the requirements for the CPA exam
  • Part-time study can take up to 4 years

Courses and Requirements

Financial accounting associate degree programs consist of the same core courses as the certificate programs, which typically take around 2-3 semesters. You may also be required to complete general education and elective courses, which may take another 2-3 semesters. Some schools may require you to complete a capstone project or internship in order to graduate.

Online Degree Info

Financial accounting associate degree programs are relatively rare, and most schools do not offer the full program online. You can check with your advisor to see if your school offers individual online courses.

Stand Out with This Degree

In addition to obtaining an associate's degree in financial accounting, you may want to continue your studies with a bachelor's degree program in order to fulfill the credit requirements for the CPA exam. You may also want to become familiar with the newest accounting software, since many positions require it.

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Stark State College