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Accounting Education Recommendations

Mary Cowan's Profile

I have been working as a Accounts Payable Specialist for the past 2 years, but I have no formal accounting training. At this point I am interested in continuing my education, whether it be an accounting degree, online program, conference, etc! Does anyone have recommendations for excellent programs?


Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Mary - I would recommend finding an affordable community college, starting on an associate's degree. Within a couple of years you will be able to transfer to either a four-year university, or be able to enter into an online program to earn a bachelor's degree in accounting or whatever other business discipline you choose.

Depending upon the industry you work in you may be able to attend a few CPE classes to help you understand the industry and how accounting is related. For instance, I am in the construction industry. There is an organization for construction financial managers that hosts CPE class that have been invaluable.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

I'd like to make a modification to Chris' suggestion. While an Associates Degree is nice, the fact is that it will cost you more money in the end by taking that AS degree first, then just working on a BS degree.

Most if not all times, a student looses credits in the transfer process or is required to take additional courses at the new school to comply with College core curriculum, etc.

I think the idea of taking CPE classes, regardless of your educational status is great, because whether you finished that last degree last week or 30 years ago, life is dynamic, and so should be your education.

Rachel Miller
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Larimer Humane Society
(Director of Finance, Larimer Humane Society) |

Hi Mary,

I think your next step depends on what your overall career goals are. If you want to continue working in A/P but be eligible to move up, become a supervisor, etc. without becoming a full-fledged accountant, then I think that an associate's degree in accounting at a community college plus some relevant, specialized training would be very beneficial for you. My A/R and A/P associates have had positive experiences with both Fred Pryor and Lorman accounting-related trainings. If you want to become an accountant, you will need at least a bachelor's degree, but I would still suggest that you start at a community college unless you have had significant exposure to the kind of career you want and are certain of your direction. I went back to school for a master's degree in accounting and it ended up taking four years to complete all of the requirements, including prerequisites from not having a bachelor's degree in accounting. It was completely worth the time and money to support my career goals, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you know exactly what you want. If you're not sure yet, sign up for a few accounting classes and you should discover pretty quickly if you love it or hate it :). Best of luck - your dedication to develop your career is exciting!!

Mary Cowan
Title: Accounts Payable
Company: HasOffers
(Accounts Payable, HasOffers) |

Hi Rachel,

Thanks for your advice! Do you have any recommendations on Accounting certificate vs. degree? I already received my degree in Biology, and am curious if a degree is worth my time.

Rachel Miller
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Larimer Humane Society
(Director of Finance, Larimer Humane Society) |

Hi Mary - unfortunately, I don't know much about Accounting certificates, but it might not be a bad idea if you're pursuing the A/P supervisor route. I will advise you that A/P, while a function of Accounting, is one small part of a huge amount of knowledge and skill that I think you will only master if you complete a full degree (and you won't even realize how much you still don't know until you're doing it on the job haha). If you ever intend to get a CPA license, depending on your state you will definitely need a full degree in accounting or the equivalent amount of credit hours in the field (for my state you need at least 30). If you know you definitely want to be an accountant, I don't think the certificate will be worthwhile compared to a degree, but I still recommend starting with a few classes to see how you feel. You may find that you love A/P but not the other areas of accounting, or you may find your interest sparked to go all out! If you can shadow an accountant at your work or find a mentor, that might help to see if you can picture yourself doing that kind of work. Let us know what you decide to do!

Mark Sutherland
Title: CFO
Company: Profit By Design CFO & Controller Servic..
(CFO, Profit By Design CFO & Controller Services) |

Mary, in my area (So. Cal) there are several big schools that offer accounting "certificates" through their "extension" programs. I took a couple accounting classes thru the extension program as a refresher before doing my MBA and the classes were great. I think extension programs are a real hidden gem. Extension programs are cheap, some are on line(UCLA, for example), and some transfer directly into 4 year degree programs. You might find a really ideal solution going this route. Good Luck!

Colin Campbell
Title: Controller and Systems Manager
Company: At Large
LinkedIn Profile
(Controller and Systems Manager, At Large) |

Having been in accounting and financial reporting for nearly 40 years without any education beyond an OJT from the School of Hard Knocks, I was "made redundant" in the Spring. It is nearly impossible to get any attention in today's job market without education, Mary. I would say that just about *any* formal education is good, particularly if you can continue to gain experience. Most employers are supportive of career development, and your manager may be able to arrange things like cross training in other areas of the department, which will also give you more ideas about where you want to go in The Profession.

All the best, Mary, have fun and keep learning!

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |


I might suggest you look into finance positions at local governmental or quasi-governmental organizations.

I moved from the private sector to government employment some seventeen years ago and, one of the surprising differences I encountered immediately was the number of accounting and finance personnel that had no formal education in accounting. Governmental agencies were not as concerned with education as the private sector had been.

Blair Cook CPA CPA MBA
Title: Corporate Director and Professional Educ..
Company: Clarke Inc. and the Finance Learning Aca..
(Corporate Director and Professional Education Innovator, Clarke Inc. and the Finance Learning Academy) |

You can learn whatever you need to know off the internet, and most likely for free. However, if your goal is to get recognized for your learning then depending on your career goals you will need to pursue a certificate, degree, or designation. A professional accounting designation is highly valued in the marketplace. I have both an accounting designation and an MBA and my accounting designation has been far more valuable in the world of finance.

Deanna Miller
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Professional Plumbing Group
(Chief Financial Officer, Professional Plumbing Group) |

Mary, Check with your company's HR department to see if your employer offers educational assistance to its employees. The HR department could tell you what is available and what you need to do to qualify. They may have certain "partner" education providers that could further reduce your costs.

Colin, Investigate programs that give credit for OJT. One of the ladies that had worked for the company for years, mostly in accounting positions, wanted to move into our tax department. The head of the department required her to have a formal degree to be considered. One of the colleges in New Jersey gave her credit for work experience that reduced the number of courses she needed to take to get the equivalent of a four year degree.

Jean Campbell
Title: Education Management Professional
Company: Campbell, Bird Consulting
LinkedIn Profile
(Education Management Professional, Campbell, Bird Consulting) |

Antioch college in Los Angeles also offers BA degrees that give credit for life experience. It's quite a good college, too.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

I would start by looking for an opportunity to get an Associate's Degree. A lot of colleges offer the opportunity to do a bunch of course work online.

Laurence Jadrych
Title: CPA, CGMA
Company: Wyman-Gordon Forgings
(CPA, CGMA, Wyman-Gordon Forgings) |

Mary, Rachel Miller had the best advice. Take a few accounting courses and see if you are serious about the Accounting Profession. I am a CPA/CGMA and build Manufacturing Accounting infrastructure with software systems and internal controls. We are currently looking for good Accountants, NOT degreed Financial Analysts. Accountants have the technical training that financial majors do not have. There is a BIG difference. Sorry Finance majors. But Accounting, especially Manufacturing Accounting, Cost Accounting, Intercompany, Intracompany and international transactions are taught in Accounting classes. We need good Accountants. Also, CPAs are more in demand today than ever.
So, Mary, see if you like the Profession. Follow Rachel's advice. Take some classes. If it comes easy, your answer is in front of you.

Konrad Sosnow
Title: Revenue Recognition Guru
Company: Konrad M. Sosnow & Associates
(Revenue Recognition Guru, Konrad M. Sosnow & Associates) |

I would start by asking your boss for suggestions. As a minimum it shows your commitment to learning and growing in your profession.


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