Students looking for a financial career may find an associate degree program in accounting to be a great starting point. These programs typically last two years and, depending on the school, may offer specializations in payroll, tax preparation or bookkeeping. Graduates may want to enter the workforce immediately or use their degree as a foundation for a bachelor's degree in accounting, business or another financial field.
Coursework and program details
Accounting associate degree programs traditionally aim to provide students with a combination of general education and business curriculum. Specific coursework varies by program, but the following are business-related courses that students may commonly take:
- Accounting I and II
- Payroll Accounting
- Federal Income Tax
Many schools also offer a variety of elective courses through which students can customize their education while still gaining an overview of accounting basics. Some programs require students to complete a capstone project to demonstrate their mastery of accounting principles. Other programs help students attain internship opportunities that provide hands-on experience.
By the end of the degree program, students are typically expected to have an understanding of the following accounting concepts:
- Accounting industry standards
- Use of common bookkeeping software, such as QuickBooks
- Payroll processing and recordkeeping
- Basics of tax preparation
- State and federal regulations related to the field
Career opportunities and outlook for associate degree graduates
After graduation, students may pursue several career paths, including accounting clerk, bookkeeper, payroll clerk or tax preparer.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects a national job growth rate of 11 percent job growth rate for bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks and a 13 percent growth rate for payroll clerks between 2012 and 2022. Growth may be partially offset by computer software automating accounting work. However, the BLS predicts a few driving factors of growth for accounting clerks over the next decade:
- Overall economic growth
- The recent financial crisis
- Stricter regulation in the financial sector
While some students may make a career out of the occupations listed above, others can use them to gain experience before pursuing a bachelor's degree program. With a bachelor's degree in accounting, individuals may be able to extend their career opportunities to accounting, auditing or financial advising, among other occupations.
Accountants and Auditors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm
Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/bookkeeping-accounting-and-auditing-clerks.htm
Financial Advising, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/personal-financial-advisors.htm
Financial Clerks, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/financial-clerks.htm
Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes433051.htm
Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks: Summary Report, O*NET OnLine, 2010, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-3051.00
Tax Preparers: Summary Report, O*NET OnLine, 2013, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2082.00