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Kickstart Your Accounting Education: Degree vs. Certification

Your skill with numbers makes you a natural in the accounting field. However, you’re not sure if you should start with an accounting certification or an accounting degree. Which is more advantageous to your future career?

Although both a certificate in accounting and a degree have their respective places, starting your accounting education with a degree will allow you to prepare for earning your first certification of many. Some online schools may even pay for your first certification exam!

If you’re an accounting major or are still deciding if the program is for you, this article is for you! Ahead, we’ll explain the differences between an accounting degree and a certification. Then we’ll dive into how to get both so you can begin your exciting new career!

What Is the Difference Between an Accounting Degree and a Certification?

First, for the sake of clarity, let’s dive into the differences between an accounting certification and a degree.

What Is an Accounting Certification?

An accounting certification is proof of your knowledge of certain financial concepts, software, and applications.

As a Bryan University student, you will be able to earn up to three certifications. The first attempt at the certification exams are included in your tuition! These certifications are the Microsoft Excel Associate Certificate, and two of the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers in Bookkeeping, Accounting, Tax, or Quickbooks.

The duration of the exam varies based on which certification you’re trying for, but the exam format usually includes multiple-choice questions.

You’re expected to answer a certain percentage of the questions correctly to earn a passing grade. If you do, then you’re issued your accounting certification.

What if you don’t pass? Then you can take the exam again. However, the exam does cost a fee to take each time, which is something to keep in mind. As a reminder, at BU the cost for your first attempt on the above exams is included in your tuition!

Once you have an accounting certification, it doesn’t last forever. The rules for renewal vary on a state-by-state basis throughout the United States.

What Is an Accounting Degree?

Now let’s switch gears and talk about accounting bachelor’s degrees.

An accounting degree is issued by an accredited college or university. The school can offer online or in-person education, perhaps even a combination of both (which would be a hybrid model).

You can enroll in an associate’s degree program which will take about two years to complete or a bachelor’s program which will take you about four years to complete.

Throughout your coursework, you will learn about accounting concepts, financial concepts, and skills in a classroom environment. You may also utilize software and hardware that accountants rely on every single day to do their jobs.

What Is the Best Certification for Accountants?

Let’s take the next two sections to discuss earning a certificate in accounting. You have plenty of certification options, but which are best for your future career?

Here are some we recommend you focus on.

Financial Services Audit Certificate

The Financial Services Audit Certificate or FSAC is an all-encompassing certification that proves your proficiency in more than 10 areas. They include:

  • Third-party risk
  • Model risk management
  • Market risk
  • Credit risk
  • Internal auditing
  • Liquidity risk management
  • Financial services auditing
  • Fraud risk assessments
  • Cybersecurity risks

Enrolled Agent

As an Enrolled Agent certificate holder, you can now work with businesses and individuals for personal and business tax audits. You can also consult with the Internal Revenue Service or IRS.

The criteria to become an EA includes IRS employment history if possible. The exam is three parts and is considered quite rigorous.

You’d also have to commit to 72 hours of continuing education courses every three years to keep your EA cert current.

Certified Management Accountant

The Institute of Management Accountants or IMA issues the Certified Management Accountant certification.

If you decide to take an exam for the CMA certification, it’s a good idea to also earn your Certified Public Accountant certification, which we’ll talk more about momentarily.

Earning a CMA exam means proving your mastery over internal control auditing, financial forecasting, decision analysis, and cost management.

Certified Fraud Examiner

If you hold a Certified Fraud Examiner or CFE certification, then you’re highly skilled in fraud investigation, prevention, fraud law, and fraud schemes.

To take the CFE exam, you must first join the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners or ACFE. You also need prior work experience as well as three recommendations.

Certified Financial Analyst

A Certified Financial Analyst or CFA certification proves your expertise in investment analysis, ethical and professional standards, economics, and portfolio management.

You must have four years of relevant job experience to take the CFA exam as well as a bachelor’s degree.

The three-level exam lasts 18 hours in all. You’ll have to acquire 20 hours of continuing education credits to maintain your certification.

Certified Internal Auditor

If a role as an internal auditor best suits your skills and knowledge, then a Certified Internal Auditor or CIA cert is a must.

You will need two years of relevant experience and a bachelor’s degree or one year of experience and a master’s degree. The six-and-a-half-hour exam has three levels.

Certified Public Accountant

Finally, there is what’s probably the best-known accounting certification, and that’s Certified Public Accountant or CPA.

As a CPA holder, you know your stuff when it comes to tax laws, compliance, risk management, and forensic accounting.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants or AICPA issues CPA certifications.

You’d test over four levels, but eligibility requires that you have 150 hours of higher education credits.

Is an Accounting Certificate Worth It?

As we made clear in the last section, an accounting certificate course can be a grueling path. That said, having at least one certification and ideally several is worthwhile for your accounting career.

Holding a certification proves your proficiency, which could allow you to apply for new accounting jobs that would have otherwise been inaccessible to you before now.

Even if you’re happy with where you currently work, with a certification, you could apply for a new job role or a promotion and be likelier to get it. That would mean a nice pay raise!

Keeping your certification current requires continuing education credits, and it’s always good to brush up on the knowledge in your industry. Through these credits, that’s exactly what you can do.

Should You Start with an Accounting Certification or Degree First?

You’re willing to put in the hard work and dedication to earn your accounting certification, especially after reading about how it can unlock more career opportunities for you.

Should you start with your certification first or your accounting degree or the other way around?

It’s the other way around in this case.

You’ll recall from the earlier section in this article that most certifying organizations require that you have prior education before you take an accounting certification exam. That’s usually several years of job experience, but it can also be higher education experience.

You’re often required to have at least a bachelor’s degree with a few years of real-world accounting experience.

When working in some fields, you can get hired without a degree, but accounting is not one of them. Even a CPA certification, which is the most common accounting cert, requires higher education experience before you can take the exam.

Your best course of action should be to enroll in an institution with an accounting program. While earning your degree, you’ll become well-versed in the concepts and material that will appear on your CPA exam or another accounting certification exam.

Some institutions will even prepare you to take accounting certifying exams while you’re enrolled and may pay for your first exam attempt.

We mentioned earlier how every time you take a certifying exam, you have to pay. If you have your eye on several certs, this can get expensive. If you have the opportunity for your college to pay for your exam attempts, that’s a hard offer to pass up!

Ready to Start Your Accounting Education?

Are you ready to start your accounting training at an accredited college? Bryan University could be just the school for you!

As a student in the Associate Degree in Accounting program, you’ll learn valuable skills that will make you more appealing to hiring managers.

You’ll extend your acumen in digital marketing, speaking and presenting, law and ethics, critical thinking, business analytics, payroll and taxation, and financial statements.

With your degree, you could be hired by service industries, insurance and finance firms, business consulting groups, retailers, non-profits, and local, state, or federal government agencies.

Your degree could unlock the road to a career as a tax preparer, payroll clerk, bookkeeper, billing clerk, accounting assistant, or accounting receivable clerk.

Bryan U’s Associate Degree in Accounting program affords students the chance to earn three certifications while enrolled. The college pays for your first exam attempts for all three.

You can choose from two National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers certifications (between QuickBooks, Tax, Accounting, or Bookkeeper) as well as a Microsoft Excel Associate cert.

To take your education a step further, Bryan University offers a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting that will award you a specialized skillset that will help set you apart in the marketplace.

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