Distance Learning Accountancy Programs: Overview by Level

Oct 20, 2021

Essential Information

There are many online programs in accountancy at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Most of these programs are offered entirely online and allow students to view courses and take tests from home. Students may be required to have accounting software to complete their courses online. Internships are generally not mandatory, but some programs require brief on-campus residencies.

Associate's degree programs generally take two years to complete. Students learn basic accounting and bookkeeping skills and are prepared for entry-level positions. Four-year bachelor's degree programs offer basic knowledge and also go into more advanced topics, such as cost accounting. A master's degree program in accounting usually requires about two years of study and covers topics including auditing and taxation.

Individuals who earn master's degrees in accounting may be eligible for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. Those who earn bachelor's degrees must take a few additional courses to qualify. Students should make sure any online programs they are considering meet the standards for CPA certification if this is their goal.

Associate's Degree in Accounting

An Associate of Applied Science or related degree in accounting opens the field to those just beginning their careers. Admission standards vary by school, but most applicants need to submit proof of high school graduation and ACT or SAT scores. Accounting students pursuing associate's degrees learn about common accounting software and financial document creation.

Program Information and Requirements

Most distance learning associate's degree accountancy programs take two years to complete depending on the class load. Often, students take courses in 6-week or 12-week sessions and must comply with school deadlines. Associate's degree accountancy students can take all of their courses online, and some schools offer or require an online orientation prior to enrollment.

Online associate's degree programs in accounting require students to have access to computer software like QuickBooks and Peachtree. E-mail is also required for submitting class assignments.

Course Topics

The online associate's degree in accountancy program introduces students to the basic concepts of accounting and bookkeeping through courses like accounting principles, business law and corporate finance. Some general education and background classes are also required.

Accounting Principles

An accounting principles course introduces students to the fundamental principles and techniques of accountancy. Topics covered include financial calendar cycles, financial statements and accounting procedures.

Reporting and Analysis

Accounting students learn about financial analysis and performance benchmarks using financial reports. The topics of liquidity, solvency and profit potential are also discussed.


A database course teaches students how to create and use databases in accounting procedures. Students learn about data retrieval and analysis.


Accounting students learn the basics of preparing personal and corporate tax reports. Tax law, tax preparation and tax forms are covered.

Bachelor's Degree in Accountancy

A Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Business Administration degree in accounting can lead to better job prospects for those already working in the field or allow graduates to begin their accounting careers. Students can obtain a bachelor's degree in accounting entirely online, and programs teach basic accounting principles, marketing techniques, economic theory and business law. General education courses are also required.

Program Information and Requirements

Students complete this distance learning accountancy program through such means as streaming video lectures, Internet-based class discussions and online assessments. Most bachelor's degree accounting programs cover about 140 credit hours, which can take 4-5 years to complete. Admittance to an accounting bachelor's degree program depends on the school, and some schools award a limited number of course credits to students who pass placement tests.

Depending on the program, students may need to have access to accounting and bookkeeping software like QuickBooks or Peachtree. Some schools send lectures on DVD, but in most cases, students need only a computer and a high-speed Internet connection.

Course Topics

By the time a student earns an online bachelor's degree in accounting, they have mastered advanced accounting principles. Required coursework includes cost accounting, business law and auditing.

Cost Accounting

A cost accounting course emphasizes controlling and planning for business costs. Students learn to analyze cost-related data, implement various cost accounting methods and integrate cost accounting into the overall accounting system.


Students learn how to conduct and report audits in an auditing course. Legal issues related to audits and audit risks are also discussed.

Business Law

A business law course covers business and corporate entities, contracts and other legal aspects that affect businesses. Students also learn about business ethics.

Master's Degree in Accountancy

A distance learning master's degree program in accounting prepares students to take the Uniform CPA Exam and allows graduates to pursue higher-level accounting positions within corporations, government agencies and other entities. Students learn advanced concepts of auditing, tax regulations and financial planning. A bachelor's degree is required, but some colleges and universities allow students to complete the master's degree program in conjunction with a bachelor's degree program.

Program Information and Requirements

Distance learning master's degree programs in accounting take about two years, or five semesters, to complete. Many such programs are designed to allow students to work full-time while completing the program. Students listen to or watch lectures, participate in class discussions and communicate with professors via Internet-based tools. Some programs require students to complete a short on-campus session.

Course Topics

Courses in auditing, tax regulations and high-level accounting make up the backbone of an accounting master's degree program. General education requirements are not typically included.


Drawing on accounting theory, law and statistics, students learn how to independently analyze the financial statements of government agencies, corporations, non-profit organizations and other businesses. Professional practice considerations and auditing methods are discussed.


Some master's degree programs offer a comprehensive tax course, while others separate the course into corporate tax law and individual tax law. Students learn about income tax, tax structures and other aspects of reporting and paying federal taxes.

Advanced Accounting

Master's degree-level accounting courses delve into specific topics like leases, retirement benefits, information systems, liquidations and consolidations. The role of cost accounting in business plans may also be discussed.

Career Information for Graduates

Graduates of a distance learning accountancy associate's degree program qualify for entry-level jobs as bookkeepers, junior auditors and accounting clerks in many industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for accounting clerks, auditing clerks and bookkeepers in 2020 was $42,410. During the 2019-2029 decade, a 6% decline was predicted for accounting clerks, auditing clerks and bookkeepers, collectively. Those with industry certifications, such as the Certified Bookkeeper designation, and those who can perform multiple accounting functions were expected to experience the most demand according to the BLS.

Industries that hire accountants include the non-profit sector, government, schools, hospitals, corporations and others. In 2020, the BLS reported $73,560 as the median annual salary for accountants and auditors.

Graduates of a Master of Accountancy or related distance learning degree programs may take leadership positions in corporations, businesses and other organizations. According to PayScale.com, the median wage for accounting managers was $73,000 in April 2021.

Continuing Education Information

In order to qualify for the CPA examination given by American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), candidates must complete 150 credit hours of education. Because a bachelor's degree program falls short, students interested in becoming CPAs may take additional accounting coursework, pursue graduate certificates or earn master's degrees.

To become a CPA, candidates must pass the Uniform CPA Exam and meet state-mandated standards that include job experience and education. According to the AICPA, a passing score on the exam demonstrates competency in both professionalism and accounting skills. The test is administered in four parts that cover auditing, business, financial reporting and regulation.

Accountancy programs can be completed entirely online for those interested in an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree program. Graduates may be able to find careers as accountants, bookkeepers, auditing clerks or accounting managers.

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