Accountants make the world go round. They analyze budgets and keep businesses humming along, head above water. But, there's a definitive cap to your earnings and job prospects without a accounting certification or high-level academic degree.
But, chances are, you already know this. Perhaps you're working as a bookkeeper and want to move up in the business. Or, you might be seeking a salary bump. That barrier to better jobs might be a sign it's time to make your next move to traverse the business landscape, whether by earning certification or taking the time to apply to a university as a student.
Below, we'll walk you through the ins and outs of the post-baccalaureate and post graduate accounting certifications. And, we'll look at why it could be a potential solution to a current roadblock whether you choose to focus on cost accounting, managerial accounting, financial accounting, business administration, marketing, financial technology, and more.
Post-Baccalaureate Certification in Accounting Explained
The post-baccalaureate certificate is something of an alternative to a Master of Accountancy or other graduate accounting degree. Most people who pursue this option are career changers or current professionals looking for skill development who are ready for additional responsibilities or intermediate accounting jobs. they are ready to be leaders.
Returning to learn more skills and earn certification after your accounting baccalaureate degree is a great option for people with an existing degree in another field of study. Additionally, it may be a good choice for those who plan on furthering their education but haven't been in school for quite some time. No matter where your job search is leading you, adding to your skills (communication skills, financial technology, etc.) is never a bad idea.
Certificates are more affordable than a master's degree and less time-consuming. On average, the maximum amount of time you'll spend on this credential is one to two years. And, with these credentials in your pocket you could work as a management accountant, in data analytics, or in cost accounting.
- The CPA question
Students who have a background in accounting may opt for a certification program that prepares them for the CPA exam. Accounting courses offered through these relate directly to material on the exam. A post-baccalaureate program also provides preparation for accounting and corporate applications. Remember that, when you consider sending an application to one of these, you must find a college or university with accreditation, consider your options in terms of career pathways with and without more education, demand for licensure in your local job market, the need for continuing education, and more. If you plan to work for a large, private company like Ernst & Young, Deloitte, or KPMG, you'll probably get a lot of value out of a CPA. If you want to work within your current office, it may be less of an asset.
- Undergraduate Certificates
Some academic certificate programs include only undergraduate level classes. In this case, these courses make the most sense for people trying to gain knowledge in a new field of study. These types of educational programs won't help you advance your understanding enough to get credentials without a requirement for more supplementation.
But, if you're looking to become credentialed, but don't have a four-year accounting degree, an undergraduate level certificate is the first step to help you work towards the required credit hours needed to become a CPA and will fill in those higher education pre-requisites you have yet to take.
Additionally, most salaried accounting jobs require a bachelor's degree and earning a certificate can be a fast and affordable way to get the accounting major part of the degree you can use to gain access to a new position.
- Graduate Level Certificates
At the graduate level, certificates aim to provide learning in a specific area of study. So, if you have a degree in accounting, taking a CPA preparation course expands on that existing pool of knowledge.
Unlike undergraduate certificate programs, you typically need a four-year degree in order to enroll in a graduate level program. On top of that, you'll need a degree or related work experience that applies to said area of study. With a grad-level certificate, you'll receive the same level of education you'd find in a master's. Keep in mind that coursework may be challenging for those with less time in the field. This is why a school of business might have a policy about only giving admission to those with years of working in accounting.
The other benefit of completing graduate level classes is that those credits may later be applied to a graduate degree at that same institution, which means you may end up paying less in tuition.
- Loose vs. structured CPA-track certificates
Some certificates are fully planned. You'll take a series of predetermined schedule of classes, earning your credential upon completion. Others allow you to choose from a set of electives that suit your area of interest.
Others allow you to choose from a handful of electives related to accounting. Some only require two or three classes and allow you to select the majority of your courses based on interests, such as human resources or payroll, data analytics, cost accounting, managerial accounting, financial technology, personal financial consult, and more.
These considerations are huge when you're looking at different schools. If your goal is to become familiar with the materials covered in the exam, a structured course will be your best bet.
Less structured programs work best for people using a certificate as a jumping off point for a master's degree later on, or for people looking to break into a particular career.
Typical Application Criteria
Most post-bac certificates require that you have a bachelor's degree from a four-year college. That said, it depends on where you attend. Some extension's certifications state that a bachelor's degree is recommended or a requirement. Certificate programs are not subject to the same scrutiny as admissions to a bachelor's or master's degree, but beyond taking the classes, becoming a CPA means you'll need to meet certain standards, many of which take place outside of the classroom.
Before you start gathering transcripts and applying, you'll want to search for or request your state's CPA licensure requirements. All states will ask that you have at least some practical experience in accounting before you are eligible to become certified and about half of all states have adopted the Uniform Accountancy Act (3), which requires at least one year of working on a staff under the supervision of a licensed CPA.
In most cases, prospective CPAs need to complete 150 credits of college coursework. In general, this would be a bachelor's degree from a four-year college, plus 30 credits completed in a graduate or post-bac certificate.
Most states do not require CPAs to have a master's degree. Though, a Master's is the best course of action if you're looking to be a corporate accountant or in another specialized services field but the credits will help you prepare to sit for the examination more quickly and a school of business should have robust support services to offer you personal help.
Courses or experience in law or business may make it easier for students to grasp concepts like international accounting, forensic accounting, or high level tax code whether or not they are a requirement.
If you're seeking a higher-level understanding of accounting concepts, a post-bac is a good choice, especially if you have a bachelor's in accounting. Attending a school of business in accounting or a related field will give you access to a supportive community of faculty, alumni, and others. Your current employer may be willing to help you cover fees and you can visit your school's financial aid center to find more funds and info. It's not unheard of to transfer to another master's degree if you decide to change your focus partway through, or if your current school has a calendar that lowers accessibility for you while working full-time or making the best possible use of an internship.
Career Paths with a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate
A post-bac accounting certificate can open the doors to opportunities, though it depends both on your background and your area of study.
A CPA preparation certificate is designed to produce graduates ready to take the exam. Because the success rate is less than 50%, taking the coursework can help you gain an edge over those students who studied for the test on their own and prepare you better for sections with which you have particular issues.
Credentialed accountants can find successful careers in public accounting, managerial accounting, government, financial advisors supervisors, business managers, controllers, chief financial officers and more.
Obtaining your master's degree in accounting will likely help you fulfill the requirements needed to take the exam (namely, credit hours and high level accounting concepts and processes). However, a specialized prep certification may be a cheaper, more direct path to becoming a CPA.
Career Outlook and Salary Expectations
Average Accountant Salary
The career outlook for an accountant is always good. As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over a million accountants and auditors are actively employed in the US. While this is a massive industry, with many working in a vast array of areas, taking the steps toward completing your CPA is sure to pay off. The AICPA says those with this certification earn 10-15% more than those without it, just as businesses who hire CPAs tend to have better profit margins. (4)
What's more is, the industry is poised to grow by 10% between 2016 and 2026, which amounts to roughly 142,000 new jobs over a 10-year period. Additionally, accountants can take solace in a low unemployment rate of just 1.8%.(5)
Because there are so many employment opportunities for Certified Public Accountants, the average salary varies wildly.
Like most careers, accounting salaries are based on the individual’s education, career path, certification, and experience, as well as other factors like location or the size and budget of the employer.
That said, the BLS states that the median annual wage for accountants was $68,150, as of May 2016 (6). CPAs make about $70k, on average, as compared to those with just a bachelor's who can expect a salary of about $50k annually.
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Average CPA Salary
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The curriculum depends a lot on the school you choose. In many preparation programs, you can expect to cover the full spectrum of accounting topics, minus the basic higher education requirements you took during your bachelor's degree.
A lot of schools require that you complete specific coursework in accounting before beginning the certificate.
Additionally, the number of credits you need to complete your training may vary based on your experience and the number of classroom hours required.
How to Choose a Certificate Program
These days online accounting degrees are catching up to their traditional academic counterparts. In most cases, you can expect the same level of content as you would on campus.
Online certification programs work best for working professionals who don’t live near the schools they’re considering. They're also great for students who don’t have the time or the bandwidth to commit to the requirement of making it to a physical classroom.
That said, it's sometimes hard to stay motivated. Online classes are best for people with a strong sense of willpower who can meet deadlines - essentially this is a person who excels at working from home, using a computer consistently, and communicating through e-mail.
Digital courses are broadening the educational possibilities for many prospective students. But, if you are able to sign up for classes that take place in person, it may well be worth your while. Post-baccalaureates are filled with a lot of diversity in terms of the professionals attending as students to learn; people with established careers, as well as those just starting out.
It may be an excellent networking opportunity for you or a chance to study with people working out the same problems. Plus, on-campus instruction means greater access to your professor and in-depth Q&A sessions, which is great if more hands-on learning is a requirement for you.
This option is the best of both worlds. Hybrid courses split the credit hours between online learning and in-person lectures. A hybrid class may meet once every couple of weeks instead of weekly. You'll likely have homework assignments and projects to be turned in digitally.
- What’s your budget?
Another factor in choosing the right school to earn your degree is money.
Both types of programs last for between one and three years. And during that time, you'll take between 20 and 50 credit hours. If your motivation is taking the exam, you do need to make sure you can earn enough credit hours to get you to that 150 threshold. Otherwise, you may need to seek out a few extra electives.
Undergraduate certificates start at around $5,000. However, some cost as much as $20,000 depending on the school, the length of the program, and your state residency status. Graduate level certificates are more expensive and range from around $10,000 to $30,000. (7)
Is a Post-Baccalaureate Degree in Accounting Right for You?
In the end, going back to school isn't a decision you can take lightly. A post-bac certificate is one of the most affordable ways to increase your earning potential, and many of these, online or not, are designed with the working professional in mind.
Our recommendation is to weigh both cost and curriculum and search for the one that will work best for your goals. Again, if the goal of the certificate is to help you ace the CPA exam, a structured schedule is going to be your best option.