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Online Bachelor Degree in Accounting

Updated on January 9, 2016

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Is a 4-year Accounting Degree Worth It?

For busy professionals, the opportunities afforded by online degrees are too significant to not examine carefully. The difference in pay between a bookkeeper and an accountant is enough to settle the issue of whether or not the bachelor's degree is worth it. Without the 4-year degree, you will not be allowed to sit for the Certified Public Accountant's (CPA) exam. In fact, most states already require a 150 semester hour bachelors degree to sit for the Uniform CPA exam. California will require this beginning January 1, 2014. Anyone considering starting a degree with hopes of sitting for the CPA exam in 4 or 5 years should find a 150 semester unit program.

Many current book keepers and accounting clerks know enough to do the work of an accountant, but do not hold the required certification. Others have a job which they need to keep working to pay the rent each month. For these people, and others with time commitment constraints, an online degree opens doors not otherwise available.

How Long Does an Online Degree Take?

All degrees require about 120 semester hours of work. Online degrees are no different. Some majors require a few more hours, others less. However, 120 semester hours is very typical. Online classes are almost always 3 semester hours each. Again, this is the same as any on-campus course you are anyone else may take.

A big difference with online accounting degrees (and other majors) is that you take one class at a time. These classes are 5 weeks in duration. I earned a degree from Ashford University. A colleague is taking online courses with another university. Both programs use the 5-weeks for 3-hours system. So, this makes easy math in calculating how long your degree will take. I'm also going to explain a major advantage online coursework possesses intrinsically that university programs, especially at junior colleges, do not give you.

Let's do the math: 120 required semester hours divided by 3 hours per class equals 40 classes needed to earn your accounting bachelor's degree online. Now, multiply 40 classes times 5 weeks per class. You get 200 weeks. Divide this by 52 weeks per year about 3.85 years. Add to this two weeks break each year in winter. Chances are, unless you begin immediately after winter break, you will add four 2-week breaks to your time line. This then becomes 4.0 years exactly.

You might at first note an inconsistency: Why does an online degree require more time? A campus degree requires 4 "years", but summers are excluded. The answer is simple: 3 semester hours in 5 weeks is only three-quarter time, not full time. The extra time for the same amount of learning may explain why the improvement in online students is better than the improvement for traditional campus learning. (Or maybe it's the beer drinking and social distractions on campus.)

Now, here is the advantage intrinsic to online schooling: you don't waste classes. I have counseled many junior college students who took classes that just did not transfer to the state programs. Why? My discovery is simple: counselors do not know what they are doing. Fight through the system, and you can locate a good counselor. Otherwise, you better work through the course roster yourself and ask upper classmates for help. Whatever the cause, many students come to a point where they realize they took classes that simply do not progress them to their goal: a bachelor's degree and an opportunity to interview for a meaningful, good-paying job.

In online schools, classes are scheduled for you. You will be assigned a counselor who will be with you to completion. You have their direct email. You have a direct phone number. In this way, you don't need an extra semester or two (I've heard worse stories, 5 and a half year and six year degree tales of woe) to finish a bachelor's degree.

Unless you change majors or require an extended absence, you should be able to finish in four years. In the next section, see how you can shorten this!

Online Accounting Programs with the Highest CPA Pass Rates

This information is guarded. NASBA sells the information in a booklet. So, those who purchase a book are not free to reprint it. However, bits and pieces appear in articles here and there.

Here is some data on what I have found. If you have stats for an online program's cpa pass rate, please post it in a comment at the end of this article.

1. Thomas Edison State College passed 61.5% of their non-traditional online accounting bachelor's students. This rate is more than 10% above other on-campus programs. The school attributes this success, in part, to the format of online learning. TESC is actually one of the top institutions of any variety for passing the CPA exam. They have no SAT requirement.

2. University of Phoenix passed 30.4% in 2011. They sent 777 people to sit for the CPA exam.

How to Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Less than 4 Years

Transfer credits!

This is the most obvious method. You already thought of this, I am sure. If you have credits from other colleges and universities, transfer them to your online school. Online schools are very competitive when it comes to accepting transfer units. If University A will take all 25 of your semester hours from your year at State U., and University B will take only 10, guess where you are more likely to enroll? Ding! That's right, University A. And, both programs know that. Your 3 hours of underwater basket weaving still will not transfer anywhere. Give up on those!

AP tests

Just like brick-and-mortar campus programs, online universities will honor passing results of an AP exam. At Brown, one of the Ivy League schools, a 4 or 5 (of 5 possible) is required to benefit the student. The successful AP score does not count as part of Brown's 30 required courses. It may count to advance a student in a series of courses such as in math or environmental sciences. However, AP exams at Brown do not shorten the time commitment.

At Ashford, demonstrating knowledge and ability on an AP exam does earn credits toward a final degree. The same is true for most online universities (I don't know of any that do not).

Explore & Compare Online Schools' Acceptance of CLEP, AP, and Life Experience:

For more information about which schools accept AP credits, Clep tests, and life experience, visit for easy browsing of all this information and easy comparison of online schools.


Most online programs will waive certain classes. At Modesto Junior College, I petitioned to have two requirements waived. One was granted. Before I started with Ashford University, I also negotiated over several phone calls. Three classes were waived for me. That saved $2,250 and 15 weeks! Note that I also had more than 140 units from other programs, so waivers were very reasonable in my case. Life experience can also be good reason for waiving courses.

Highest Rated CLEP Accounting Review Book

CLEP Tests & LIfe Experience


The College Level Examination Program provides an opportunity to "clep out" of courses. Most online programs give one-class credit for a successful CLEP score. One exam in the CLEP repertoire is the "Financial Accounting Exam." It is a 75-question, multiple choice exam. The test allows a maximum of 90 minutes to finish (1 minute and 12 seconds per question). To learn more about this exam, and to take a mini-test to predict how you might do, visit the CLEP site: Financial Accounting Exam. To see the breakdown of the Financial Accounting CLEP exam, and to search for study guides, visit the hub linked through the link in this sentence.

Life Experience

Online schools give credit toward competency for life experience. If you have been working as a bookkeeper for several years, traveled in Europe for a year, or trained with the army for a year, you can apply to receive life experience credit. These life lessons can qualify (rightly so) as basic accounting, history, and physical education credits. It is very likely that every person who reaches 30 years of age has enough life experience to qualify for at least a dozen semester hours of general education.

Accreditation - Mandatory!

Ensure the program you consider for enrollment is accredited.

It is important to be sure that the program into which you matriculate is accredited by a legitimate accreditation agency. The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) maintains a list of accrediting agencies, and the programs that are accredited by them. There is a caveat at the end of the USDE page: the lists may not be current. So, double check by using the USDE database, and also be checking with the school itself. Checking the Internet may produce inaccurate or outdated information. However, blogs and review sites may contain information about schools you should avoid- information the USDE does not compile. If a school is about to lose it's accreditation (rare but not unheard of), that news will hit the 'net. If nothing else, current students will blog about it. Click here to go to the U.S. Department of Education. You will have an option to check just one school, or to download the entire database of accredited schools.

Also be sure that you meet requirements for specific courses within your 150 semester hours. California, for example, has these requirements: CPA course requirement tip sheet for California. This is the list of requirements starting January 1, 2014.

Your program should be regionally accredited. There may be some benefit to also finding a school accredited by the AACSB. Here are two interesting articles to read when considering whether or not you want an AACSB accredited school:

Three types of accreditation

AACSB schools vs. non-AACSB schools

Transfer of International Credits

Many people living in America today have credits and even full degrees from foreign universities. Often, these will not be accepted in the U.S. Some of these degrees (Eastern Europe and the FSU, for example) comprise just three years of training. Other countries grant diplomas with the same name, such as "electrical engineer", based on training which would be considered technical skills, such as an electrician. However, the main reasons are likely political. American accountants do not want competition from European and eastern accountants, so they put up barriers by lobbying Congress.

However, with globalization, and increasing use of reciprocity, some international schools will begin more and more to accept transfer credits from other universities- as long as some kind of accreditation has taken place. However, full degrees from India (IT) and from certain islands in the Pacific (medical) are honored by interviewers and HRM in the U.S. These degrees have withstood the test of time and are no longer questioned.

If You Plan to Take the Uniform CPA Exam-

If one of your goals is to take the CPA exam, be very, very cautious before pursuing an online degree. After reading for several hours, it seems all signs (including vague disclaimers on the online degree sites themselves) indicate that you may not qualify to sit for the exam due to technical reasons, and that if you do sit for the exam, you are unlikely to pass. The primary test for this is to locate published results of the school's CPA exam passing rate. If you cannot find it, that is a red flag. Before enrolling anywhere, insist on a written statement from an official of the school. The statement must show the accrediting body and the CPA pass rate for recent years. If a school cannot provide this, look elsewhere.

One significant exception is Thomas Edison State. Their online accounting degree holders pass with higher rates than any other school (see link below).

One technical reason comes from the requirements of California. You must have one 3 semester hour course in law, from an accredited law school. This means the school you attend must also have an accredited law program. Additionally, some sites helping searchers to determine the best programs recommend finding the CPA exam pass rates for the school. There is a big difference in the pass rates of all schools! The pass rates are around 40% to 45% for all schools on the exam. Some schools have a 0% passing rate. Others pass more than 55% of their students.

If you know the pass rates for any online program, let me know.

Can You Take the CPA Exam with an Online Accounting Degree?

The answer is YES. An online degree qualifies in the same way as a traditional degree: it is a degree. The things you want to fact check, and double vet are these:

1. What are the requirements in my state? Not all states have the same requirements. Some states have now moved to a 150 semester hour degree requirement. Other states, such as California, plan to implement this requirement soon.

2. What is the first time pass rate on the CPA exam for the college/university? Comprehensive pass rates (first timers and repeat takers) range from 41% to 52%. If the program you are considering has a low pass rate, that means YOU have a low chance to pass. Find a program that can bring you to the level you need to pass.

3. What is the program's graduation rate? Online programs have lower graduation rates. Multiply the graduation percent (the chance YOU have of graduating) times the first time pass rate of the school's graduates on the CPA exam. That is the chance you have to enter the program and then pass the CPA exam, which is your goal.

Some online programs have higher than expected pass rates. DeVry (30+%) is one of those. In checking overall pass rates for large institutions with multiple campuses, be sure to check the specific stats of the campus you will attend. You can purchase an ebook of the pass rates for every program in the U.S. during 2010 here: CPA pass rates from NASBA.

5-Week Online Accounting Courses

If you are considering taking a 5-week online accounting course, you must consider the following:

  1. Will your degree-issuing program accept the credit transfer?
  2. Will the online college require prerequisite classes before you can take your 5-week accounting class?
  3. How much will the class cost?
  4. How will taking the course affect financial aid?

Many degree-issuing programs in state and private universities will not accept transfer credits within the declared major. So, an accounting major at UNC Chapel Hill, for example, should definitely get a letter from administration before taking the class.

Many online schools learned early that some students drop out because they are computer illiterate, or else could not interact effectively with the online learning platform. Ashford University, for example, requires all students to take two introductory (elective) psychology courses. the main objective is to introduce new students to the online learning process.

Prices vary widely for online course work. One course will also include all the other basic fees: application (usually waived), enrollment, technology fees, and other standard fees. You will also have to pay for issuance of a transcript when the class is complete. Be sure to ask each program you consider for a total cost.

It is unlikely taking the class will adversely affect any financial aid from state, federal, or private sources. If you draw GI Bill funds, be sure to consider how this might affect your last year of college. Will you have sufficient funds remaining?

Expand your Search

In addition to considering the traditional online programs, look at the traditional brick-and-mortar colleges. They are beginning to understanding the effectiveness of online learning. The majority of colleges and universities now offer both hybrid and completely online courses. Additionally, these programs are unlikely to require prerequisite courses. But, they are also more likely to charge other fees like application, technology, and out-of-state fees.


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    • Man from Modesto profile imageAUTHOR

      Man from Modesto 

      7 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      A note on basic reasoning: when searching the 'net using terms like "scam", one should reasonably expect to find a new unhappy failures who blame the system, not themselves.

    • Man from Modesto profile imageAUTHOR

      Man from Modesto 

      8 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)


      Thank you for the sage advice. I'm sure those looking into online programs will appreciate it. Of all the degrees to get, an accounting bachelors degree seems to be very crucial in the selection process. Some programs have high graduation rates, AND high 1st-time CPA exam passing rates. Others are low in both.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is all good information! Thanks for posting. I would caution people from signing up for, and taking out loans for ANY online program before doing some extensive checking on what you are going to get for that time and money spent!!

      A lot of traditional universities and most community colleges offer ONLINE classes in accredited programs that will not bust your bank account. At these traditional institutions, you can also take a class or 2 to see if online learning is a good fit for you (HINT: online learning is really only a good fit for people who are highly motivated, and possess a lot of self discipline. Can you turn off the TV??). If you're talking to a "college" that wants you to sign up for the whole program, and pushes HARD for you to apply for financial aid (if you're taking a single class, you shouldn't need financial aid), I recommend walking away - quickly!

      Here's another hint. If you're feeling "motivated" to go back to school based on the rapping, pajama clad girl on late night TV who promises you a good job and more money by "going to college in your pajamas"... STOP!

      BEWARE of online degrees that promise you can finish in less than the amount of time that a traditional college or university would allow. This probably means you are not going to get all the materials you will need to pass the CPA (or other) credentialing exam. I have posted in another forum about schools (many of them online) that do not require students to take a single test to graduate. Well, the CPA exam is a test, and it's lengthy and difficult! If you "earned" a college degree in a place that didn't require you to take any tests, I wouldn't bet on your ability to be very successful on exams like the CPA, which are what the business world looks for when hiring (not just the degree).

      The mention of accreditation by this author is SO important!! Do your homework - do NOT take the advice from the admissions counselors at ANY college or university as solid facts. Some will give good advice, while others are only interested in checking a box that lists you as another registrant.

      Be your own advocate. Do the research, ask the hard questions - look before you sign on the dotted line. It's a jungle out there, but if you're willing to do the hard work up front, you'll have something of value at the end of the day!!!

      Happy hunting and good luck!

      p.s. Use Google and search for things like "(college name) scams" or "(college name) complaints" (where (college name) would be whatever college you are looking at attending, if it is NOT local) and be sure to click through SEVERAL Google pages as a lot of these institutions pay to get their good ads to come up on the first few Search pages.

    • Man from Modesto profile imageAUTHOR

      Man from Modesto 

      8 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      Thank you for the comments. I have updated the article to include your recommendations & questions.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great hub and great info. Do you think overseas diploma will be allowed transfer credits to the University?

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 

      8 years ago from Sacramento, California

      These kinds of hubs should also talk about accreditation because not all college units are transferable if you wanted to go on to get a masters degree. Some degrees from online schools are not even accepted as stardard within the business world. Overall, this is a good hub and I give credit for helping people gain access to higher education. Voted up.


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