Accounting Degree Requirments

Become an Accountant

There are four levels of accounting degrees and hundreds of institutions offering the accounting degrees. Each institution has specific admission requirements to enter their program and specific requirements which must be successfully completed to earn an accounting degree from their institution. The admission and graduation requirements vary depending on the level of the accounting degree you are seeking and the institution offering the degrees mission.

To be admitted into most programs offering an associate degree in accounting you need a high school diploma or a GED. Associate degrees are offered primarily at vocational schools or community colleges and through online institutions and these types of institutions typically have open admissions policies.

Once admitted to an associate degree program you will have to successfully complete about 60 quarter hours of classes. About half of those credit hours will be general education classes and the remainder will include accounting, finance, and business classes.

The requirements for admission to a bachelor’s of accounting program vary greatly depending on the mission and ranking of the institution to which you are applying. Most of the highly ranked traditional accounting programs admit students to their accounting programs on a selective basis. These programs admit students with strong high school GPA’s and college admissions test scores. Many institutions also look for students with considerable extracurricular activities. Some selective admission institutions will admit student’s who don’t initially qualify to enroll directly into the accounting programs based on their current grades and test scores into the general university with the chance of being admitted into the accounting program in their junior year if they maintain a specified GPA in their freshman and sophomore coursework.

Other open admission institutions and less highly ranked selective admission institutions and many of the online bachelor’s programs will accept applicants with good but lesser qualifications into their bachelor’s of accounting programs.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has established a minimum level of college credits you must earn before acquiring an accounting license. Most institutions offering a bachelor’s in accounting adhere to the AICPA guidelines. You don’t want to get a bachelor’s degree from an institution that does not meet these basic guidelines.

A bachelor's degree with a concentration in accounting could be a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree.  All are acceptable accounting degrees. The primary difference in these degrees is not the accounting and business courses required but the nature of the general education requirements.

A bachelor’s in accounting degree typically requires the successful competition of 120 credit hours. Of the 120 credit hours about half are general education courses. The AICPA requires between 54-60 credit hours of core accounting courses. The core accounting classes in most bachelors’s programs typically include basic, intermediate and advanced accounting practices and specialized accounting courses in taxation, auditing, and governmental and managerial accounting. In addition, students may take courses in statistics, probability and calculus, finance, business management and economics.

An attractive option for some students who have poor high school GPA’s or low college admission test scores is to enroll in an associate degree program. If they do very well in those classes, they then apply to transfer into a more selective bachelor’s degree accounting program in their junior year.

At the master’s level students may chose to specialize or earn a general accounting degree in one of four degree designations: Master of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Accountancy (MAcc) or an MBA with a concentration in accounting.  Most master’s programs are selective admissions programs. Admissions are based on your undergraduate GPA’s, graduate school exam scores, academic references and in some cases work experience.

The minimum number of credit hours the AICPA requires in a master’s program is 30 and of those 21 must be accounting related. Specializations can require up to 64 credit hours to complete with the additional hours being related to the specialization. Generally a master’s degree will require one year of full time enrollment to complete. There are part-time programs that allow students to complete the master’s requirements over several years. Most master’s programs require successful completion of a capstone project and/or require the student to successfully develop, write and defend their master’s thesis.

Since most states require a minimum of 150 credit hours of college coursework to sit for the CPA exam, students generally take the exam after completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

The requirements to be accepted in a PhD program in accounting are generally quite stringent. The PhD in accounting programs are small and always selective in which students they admit. You have to have an outstanding undergraduate and master’s GPA, excellent graduate school exam scores and multiple academic and professional references to be accepted into a PhD program.

It can take several years to complete a PhD program usually combining class work, one-on-one work with your faculty advisor and independent research on your dissertation. The PhD programs culminate with the successful defense of your dissertation.

Because each institution offering an accounting degree has a unique mission and is established to serve a different population of students the institutions’ admission requirements and graduation requirements vary. The best bet is to research the admission and degree requirements on an institution by institution basis. You can do this on the institution websites or by contacting the institutions you are considering.

In selecting an institution you need to make sure the program offers classes that meet or exceed the AIPC guidelines. Make sure the institution you are considering is accredited by a reputable accreditation agency. You can do that by checking on the US Department of Education website. The department provides a list of recognized accreditation agencies and accredited higher education programs. You do not want to invest your time, effort and money in a program that does not prepare you for a job as an accountant and if your goal is to sit for the CPA exam you need to make sure your college courses will meet your state’s minimum requirements. 

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