Associate vs. Bachelor's Degree in Accounting: What's the Difference?

Associate vs. Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting: What’s the Difference?

Associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in accounting lead to different career options and have slightly different coursework. Associate’s programs typically take two years to complete, while earning a bachelor’s degree usually takes four years. Read on to learn about these programs and the career options, earning potential and employment prospects for graduates.

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Choosing a Degree

One major difference between an associate’s degree program and a bachelor’s degree program is the selection of career opportunities available after you graduate. An associate’s degree in accounting may qualify you for entry-level positions, such as accounting clerk, bookkeeper or auditing clerk. More advanced careers in accounting, such as public accountant, internal auditor or management accountant, tend to require a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Therefore, you may benefit from choosing a career goal before selecting a degree program. Another difference between these programs is the number of courses you’ll take and the depth of accounting topics you’ll study.

Important Facts About Undergraduate Accounting Degrees

TopicAssociate’s DegreeBachelor’s Degree
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED equivalent High school diploma or GED equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes
Common Courses Principles of Management, Managerial Accounting Management & Organization Theory, Cost Accounting
Continuing Education Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting Master’s Degree in Accounting

Associate’s Degree Programs

Most associate’s programs are two years in length, and you’ll complete coursework in basic principles of accounting and statistics that prepare you for the finance and bookkeeping aspect of the profession. You can also expect to learn accounting and bookkeeping software, which are often used in the profession. Sometimes, you can even select a concentration, such as auditing.

Courses you may take in an associate’s program in accounting include:

  • Economics
  • Financial and managerial accounting
  • Intermediate accounting
  • Business law
  • Taxation of businesses and individuals
  • Spreadsheet and database applications
  • Marketing
  • Management
  • Business communications

Earning Potential and Job Outlook

In May 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that accounting clerks, bookkeepers and auditing clerks earned a median annual wage of $40,240 ( While these entry-level workers may hold as little as high school diplomas, associate’s degrees are becoming increasingly important and may bring about greater employment opportunities. The BLS reports that employment of these professionals was expected to decrease by 1% over the 2016-2026 decade.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Bachelor’s degree programs in accounting are available at colleges, universities and business schools and typically take four years to complete. These programs provide advanced career training focused on concepts and strategies of accounting. Bachelor’s degree curricula may also incorporate internships, which allow you to gain practical accounting experience in the field.

Compared to associate’s degree programs, bachelor’s degree programs tend to offer students more learning options. Some programs allow students to focus on one aspect of the field, like public or government accounting. Additionally, some schools offer dual-degree programs that combine accounting with related majors, such as finance or computer information systems.


The curriculum for a bachelor’s degree in accounting usually includes the same accounting and business courses as an associate’s degree; however, more advanced courses in both business and accounting are included. Some of these topics might include:

  • Accounting ethics
  • Accounting information systems
  • Auditing
  • Governmental and not-for-profit accounting
  • Business finance
  • International accounting
  • Financial statement analysis
  • Advanced accounting

Earning Potential and Job Outlook

Accountants and auditors – who tend to hold bachelor’s degrees in accounting – earned a median annual wage of $70,500, according to the BLS in May 2018. The BLS also reported that employment of accountants and auditors was expected to increase 10% over the decade spanning 2016-2026, which is faster than average compared to other career fields. Those who hold professional certification, like the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential, were expected to see the greatest job opportunities.


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