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Sorting Out the Options in Accounting Education

Sorting Out the Options in Accounting Education

Dona DeZube, Monster Finance Careers Expert

September 03, 2009

Accounting is hot, but if you want to move into the field without getting burned, it’s important to choose the right educational program. Your choices include an accounting certificate, a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Each takes you to a different career starting point.

Certificate: A Good Start

An accounting certificate provides the baseline education for an entry-level accounting job. Keith Gatto, program director of the University of California Berkeley’s accounting certificate program, says students also use the certificate as a bridge to the next step in their career.

“Ninety-nine percent of our students are working professionals,” he explains. “Someone may have graduated with a BA in liberal arts and then taken a job as a bookkeeper. They’re doing well and want to move on and up to the next phase of their career.”

A certificate can also prepare you for an advanced degree in accounting or help improve your understanding of accounting at work. For instance, a company director who wants a better understanding of auditing procedures may benefit from a certificate program, Gatto says.

Full-time Berkeley certificate program students typically take between one-and-a-half and two years to complete the seven required courses. Part-timers have up to five years to finish the program. Total tuition for the program was about $5,000 for the 2007-08 academic year.

Choose a certificate program from a prestigious university, and the school’s name recognition will add cachet to your resume. Community colleges, for-profit universities and technical schools also offer accounting certificates.

Certificate holders can easily find work at small companies, says Jonathan Claggett, president of DellBridge, a Columbia, Maryland, accounting recruitment firm. But without further education, your certificate may limit you to a particular niche or company.

“I know of an accountant who doesn’t have a degree [or certificate] and makes $55,000 in a project accounting role on a construction site,” he says. “But her next project with this company will involve an hour-long commute, and she can’t find anything with a comparable salary outside construction.”

If your budget is limited, an accounting certificate makes a great first goal, says Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, professor-in-residence for the Institute of Management Accountants. “A certificate or associate’s degree is a great place to find yourself and see what you’re interested in at a reasonable cost, but don’t stop there,” he says. If money is an issue, use the certificate to find work at a company that will cover the cost of further accounting education.