For those who like to work with numbers, accounting degree programs can qualify you for a secure and personally rewarding career. Workers with accounting skills are needed in companies across all industries, and knowledge of the field is vital for entrepreneurs and other business professionals.
Accounting was one of the 15 highest paying college majors in 2016, according to a survey by jobs site glassdoor.com, and solid income potential isn't the only reason that a bachelor's degree in accounting can be a good move for your career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nearly 140,000 jobs for accountants and auditors will be added to the labor market by 2026, opening up a wide range of new positions for graduates of accounting degree programs.
In addition to traditional study on campus, students today can opt for online accounting programs that bring additional flexibility to the college process. Taking courses online can make it easier for busy adults to further their education or train for a new profession by allowing them to keep their regular work schedule while they attend school. Some institutions may offer partially online accounting programs in a hybrid format that combines both online and on-campus coursework.
If you want to use your skill with numbers to earn a living, check out our list of the top accounting programs to find out how they can help. We've also got some info on top career options for accounting graduates at just about every degree level as you get further down the page. Read on below to learn more.
Best colleges for accounting degree programs
You'll find accounting degree programs at numerous colleges and universities nationwide. To help narrow down the choices, we've analyzed schools using a methodology that considers program size, support services, schedule flexibility, tuition costs and more. Once the numbers were crunched, the following ten institutions emerged as the best U.S. schools for accounting degree programs.
The University of Florida posted one of the highest graduation rates among all accounting schools in the U.S. in 2018, reporting that more than 88 percent of students completed their programs within 150 percent of the expected time to graduation. UF was also tied for the top spot on our list for its first-year student retention rate and offers weekend and evening courses for on-campus flexibility.
Accounting programs at UF: This Gainesville institution offers accounting degree programs at all levels above associate, from a standard Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in accounting to an accounting specialization within the business administration doctoral program. An integrated plan is also available, letting students earn both their B.S. in Accounting and their Master of Accounting (M.Acc.) in one five-year program.
This north-central Virginia school also excelled in the graduation and retention rate categories, and its commitment to student success is made clear by the numbers in its budget. James Madison University is one of the top 25 schools nationwide in terms of academic support spending, committing more than 72 percent of its annual budget to services like advisement, career counseling and program development.
Accounting programs at JMU: The bachelor's program in accounting at JMU requires a minimum of 120 credits to complete and features courses in higher mathematics, financial accounting and business analytics. The graduate program leads to a Master of Science (M.S.) in accounting and covers advanced topics in accounting theory, tax accounting, auditing and financial fraud.
Distance education courses are a big part of a flexible learning environment, and the State University of New York at New Paltz has embraced distance education in a big way. According to U.S. Department of Education figures, more than 99.5 percent of students at SUNY New Paltz take at least one online course per semester. Students also have access to Open SUNY, an online learning network that grants access to courses taught at other SUNY locations.
Accounting programs at SUNY New Paltz: The undergraduate accounting degree at SUNY New Paltz includes training in federal tax accounting, business law, financial management and more. Graduate students can enroll in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program in public accountancy that has an accounting information systems component.
Founded in 1956, the University of South Florida was the Sunshine State's first urban university. It maintains three locations throughout the Tampa Bay region, with its highest enrollment by far at the flagship campus in Tampa. Roughly 37,000 students attended courses at USF in 2018-19, with around 84 percent of that total enrolled at the Tampa flagship.
Accounting programs at USF: Undergraduate accounting students at USF can choose to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in accounting as well as a standard B.S. plan. The M.Acc. program for graduate students features three concentrations — corporate accounting, taxation and the auditing- and forensics- infused field of assurance — and post-grads can choose an accountancy concentration in USF's Ph.D. program in business administration.
Florida International University is the only public research university in Miami and one of the largest institutions on our list of the best accounting schools, educating close to 58,000 students each term. Business disciplines are popular among students at FIU, with business degrees taking up five slots on the list of top bachelor's programs and accounting degrees landing among the ten most popular majors for graduate students.
Accounting programs at FIU: The accounting master's degree program here has a rare advantage: the institution partners with the Association for Certified Chartered Accountants (ACCA), an organization that focuses on international financial reporting standards. Upon completing their M.Acc. at FIU, graduates are considered to have fulfilled eight sections of the ACCA certification exam.
Students who enjoy the hustle and bustle of a busy campus might be especially comfortable at the University of Central Florida. No other school on our list has a student body bigger than the 68,000+ that attended this Orlando institution in 2018-19. UCF also offers relatively inexpensive tuition, reporting a lower average annual enrollment cost than all but two other schools that made our top ten.
Accounting programs at UCF: The undergraduate accounting program here comes in the form of a B.S. in business administration that focuses on accounting principles. The M.S. in accounting here satisfies Florida's state requirements to become a licensed CPA, and doctoral students can choose an accounting Ph.D. track that combines coursework and theory with hands-on research projects.
The fifth school from the Sunshine State to make our list, Florida State University occupies the state's longest continuously operating campus of higher education. Its impressive 94 percent retention rate suggests that students here tend to stay engaged and follow through with their studies, and nearly three out of four students finish their degree programs in four years or less.
Accounting programs at FSU: Degree plans offered through the accounting department at FSU are informed by the institution's accounting professional advisory board (PAB), which works with faculty and administration to ensure high-quality instruction. The undergraduate degree includes courses in business statistics, organizational behavior and financial reporting, and students who qualify can enroll in a B.S./M.Acc. program that provides an accelerated path to a master's degree.
The eastern Idaho outpost of Utah-based Brigham Young University posted the lowest annual average in-state tuition cost of any school to make our list, and the numbers show that those low costs can translate to a lower burden of student debt after graduation. Alumni reported an average debt of around $11,000 — around 70 percent less than the national average of more than $37,000 calculated in 2018.
Accounting programs at BYU-I: Students in the accounting program at BYU-I choose one of four clusters to help tailor their degree to their career aspirations. The business cluster is recommended for most students, especially those planning to move forward into a master's degree, but students can also choose clusters that focus on computer programming, project management or general economics.
This State University of New York campus on Long Island may be one of the best destinations for students looking for online accounting programs. More than 91 percent of students at SUNY College at Old Westbury take at least some of their coursework in the virtual classroom, and the online graduate degree in accounting follows the same curriculum as the school's on-campus plan.
Accounting programs at Old Westbury: The online M.S. in accounting at Old Westbury requires 30 credits of coursework — about two years of full-time study — for students who already hold an accounting bachelor's degree, and 62 credits for those who studied a different subject as undergraduates. An on-campus bachelor's degree in accounting is available as well.
The flagship institution of the University of North Carolina system earmarks a larger dollar amount per student for academic support services than any other school that made our top ten, and the investment seems to be paying off. The retention rate at UNC-Chapel Hill was tied for the best mark on our list, and its 90 percent graduation rate ranks among the 15 best accounting schools in the country.
Accounting programs at UNC-Chapel Hill: UNC-Chapel Hill offers both an on-campus and online Master of Accounting program. The online option starts four times a year to help accommodate busy professional schedules, and eligible students may qualify for entrance exam waivers. Post-grads can apply for a five-year Ph.D. in accounting that offers special coursework opportunities.
Accounting Programs and Common Career Paths
Regardless of whether students choose campus-based or online accounting degree programs, they'll likely have several career options upon graduation. Some entry-level jobs for bookkeepers and clerks require only an associate degree, while more advanced positions — like Certified Public Accountant (CPA) — require a bachelor's degree and beyond. Here's a rundown of each major degree level and some common jobs for graduates.
An associate degree in accounting can usually be completed in around two years of full-time study and covers important concepts like finance, federal tax principles and basic economics. Part-time programs tend to take longer on the calendar but provide more space in your schedule for work and other responsibilities. Shorter accelerated plans may also be available.
A bachelor's degree is the most common academic credential held by professional accountants. Most study plans take four years of full-time study to complete and contain a full schedule of general education classes. Most programs teach the fundamentals of accounting software and other tools, provide training in professional ethics and help you learn to communicate effectively with colleagues and decision-makers.
Graduate accounting programs are typically offered as Master of Accounting (M.Acc.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degrees. Study at this level is designed for high-level corporate accountants and auditors, financial fraud investigators and financial analysts working with large portfolios. Most accounting master's programs offer specializations — auditing, taxation, forensic accounting, management accounting, etc. — which tend to shape the program's curriculum.
If you're interested in the scholarly side of accounting, a doctoral degree can provide you the tools and knowledge you need to break new ground in the field and contribute new accounting concepts and practices to the profession. Coursework for Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees typically consists of highly advanced study in accounting research, economics and finance and culminates in a dissertation defense.
- Forensic accounting specialists use their financial skills to help with fraud investigations and other aspects of criminal or civil justice. This specialization is common among graduate programs, but bachelor's degrees in forensic accounting can be found as well.
- Personal financial planning involves helping individuals set budgets, manage personal debt and better understand their financial options. Post-bachelor's certificates are the most common training route, but some undergraduate accounting programs may include key courses.
- Tax accounting is covered broadly in most accounting programs, but master's degree candidates can choose to dive deep into the intricacies of U.S. and international taxation.
- Accounting information systems programs combine an accounting education with training in data analytics, information assurance and data security. It may be offered at either the undergraduate or graduate level, depending on the institution.
Accounting Program Accreditation
Accreditation is a way for students to ensure that the education provided by an institution meets or exceeds the standards of competence and credibility set by independent industry councils. Along with making sure that the college or university you choose has earned regional accreditation, check for accounting program accreditation from one of these prominent agencies:
- International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)
- Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
- Association for Advancing Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
Accounting Certification and Licensure
Earning an accounting certification can help you further specialize your practice and demonstrate your expertise to potential clients and employers. Here are a few of the certifications available for accounting program graduates:
- Certified Financial Analyst (CFA)
- Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
- Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
Certified public accountants (CPAs) must be licensed in order to practice legally. All candidates for CPA licensure must take and pass the Uniform CPA Examination developed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), but each state or jurisdiction sets its own education and experience requirements. Check with AICPA or your local CPA association to learn more, and check out the following pages for more details:
Career Outlook for Accounting Majors
Although not every occupation related to accounting has the same growth potential, many professions in the field are in demand. Here's a look at how they stack up and what type of job opportunities graduates from accounting degree programs might expect to see.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Accountants and Auditors||$78,820||1,259,930||6.4%|
Financial Aid and Scholarships for Accounting Degree Programs
There is no shortage of scholarships available to students planning to pursue a career in accounting. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting and the National Society of Accountants are among the organizations affiliated with private scholarship programs for accounting majors.
Renewable for up to four years.
Renewable if recipient maintains minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA.
Renewable if recipient maintains minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA.
Based on continued positive academic performance
Q&A with an expert
What would have been helpful to know about the value of accounting when you were looking into your own education?
Most of all, the job prospects. Because public accounting firms recruit directly from graduate accounting programs at top universities, students at these institutions have a nearly 100% chance of receiving a full-time job offer before they graduate.
How much education is typically necessary to get started?
Most firms favor students with a Master of Accounting degree over those with undergraduate accounting degrees. In order to sit for the CPA exam, you typically need more education credits than you'd receive in an undergraduate program.
What's some advice you would have for a student who's just starting out on the path to an accounting degree?
- Pursue internships at accounting firms. These are an excellent way to test the waters.
- Take on a variety of leadership roles in your academic and extra-curricular circles. Firms and corporations are looking for leadership qualities above all else.
- Choose a program carefully. The top-ranked universities tend to be preferred recruitment schools for the big firms, which greatly increases your chance of securing a great job while you are in school.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015