Online Accounting Degree Programs - Good, Bad or Plain Ugly?

Online Accounting Degree Programs are growing in popularity.  On the surface, accounting appears to be one of the subjects a person could easily learn outside a classroom.  After all, accounting involves computers, paperwork, and very little human interaction, right?  Wrong!  Don’t believe advertisements that promise a quick, simple course of study in your leisure time. 

Accounting is a dynamic career and requires business acumen, communication skills, and a high degree of analytical thought.   Mastering accounting requires hard work, intelligence, and a desire to succeed no matter where you study.   For some students an online program is the most practical way do that work. 

Reasons to Consider Online Accounting Degree Programs

Do you already work full time?  Very few adults have the luxury of suspending their career to return to school.  While it is possible to take traditional classes after work, it makes for a long day.  After a full day at the office or job site four hours of classroom time can seem like torture.  Online learning allows you to focus on your coursework when it’s convenient for you.

Family responsibilities lead students to consider online learning.  Parents with small children can learn at home without worrying about childcare.  When the kids are asleep, playing, or otherwise occupied you can log in and listen to a lecture or post a message.

Perhaps there isn’t a University with a quality accounting program near you.  It’s not necessary to uproot your life and move.  Online programs bring a quality program right into your computer.  All you need is an internet connection.

How Does Online Learning Differ From A Traditional Classroom?

The perception is that online programs are easier than traditional classroom learning.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Learning anything online, including accounting, requires independence, organization, and a strong desire to ask for clarification and assistance when you need it. It’s not easier, but it is more convenient for some students. Let’s look at the differences:

  • Lectures – In an online program, lectures take the form of either podcasts, video chats, or most often are simply a blog article.  Students participate through comments online after reviewing the provided lecture material.  Quite different from taking notes in a lecture hall.
  • Classroom Time – Think an online program doesn’t require classroom time?  You’re mistaken.  Online programs require students to log into a chat room for a set number of minutes per week or post a defined number of comments in a class workroom.  Part of your grade is participation, so you must make sure your online activity is consistent and valuable to the group.
  • Homework – Most online programs require you to submit homework electronically to the professor or a graduate assistant for review.  Basically, there is no difference in workload between online and traditional learning programs.
  • Group Projects – Believe it or not, group projects are a major part of the typical online course.  Some online programs even group students by local area so they can meet face to face.  Most courses, however, use software like Skype or a chat room to facilitate group work. 
  • Faculty Interaction – Generally, your interaction with faculty will be via email or a chat room.   Online professors are frequently more responsive than traditional professors, but you don’t have the benefit of face to face interaction.  The professor doesn’t see confusion or comprehension on your face and you don’t hear the professor’s vocal tone.  You must be persistent, clear, and tenacious to overcome this disadvantage.

Online Accounting Degree Programs – How Do You Choose?

Selecting accounting online degree programs or any program for that matter is a little more complex than choosing a traditional University.  Not only do you need to make sure the program is academically challenging and has a great reputation, you need to explore factors like accreditation, learning style, and graduation requirements. 

Carefully review the accreditation of any online program you consider.  Online programs are not as closely regulated as typical schools.  This means many programs have minimal or no accreditation.  The last thing you need is a worthless degree! Make sure the program you choose is regionally accredited at minimum.

What is your learning style?  Do you want an online program that is heavily weighted toward independent reading and study or are you looking for one with an active online community?  Some online programs rely heavily on chat rooms and blog posts.  Others function almost like a correspondence course. 

Take time to read student reviews and see what graduates and current students like about the program.  These candid reviews tell you more about the learning methodology of the program than nearly anything else.

Make sure you explore the graduation requirements for the program.  Imagine your surprise if you had to travel hundreds of miles and attend a 2-8 week capstone course in order to graduate!  There are online programs out there with interesting graduation requirements like this one.  You want to know in advance if your program is one of them.

Online Accounting Schools

Many traditional universities are beginning to offer Online Accounting Degree Programs in response to student requests.  These programs carry the weight of the traditional school’s academics and reputation but allow students the flexibility of an online degree.  

If you are considering a traditional school, take the time to inquire about online degrees they might offer.  Ask careful questions, though.  Some traditional schools offer only online courses but require traditional courses as well to complete the degree.

In addition to the online offerings of traditional universities, there are many universities that exist only (or primarily) online.  Here are some of the online universities offering such accounting degree programs. Be warned though, when it comes to real quality - it's a mixed bag.

  • Pace University - the online accounting degree is the top ranked program in the country. Highly respected by employers with graduation placement rates second to none. 
  • Kaplan University – Focused primarily on the needs of working adults, Kaplan offers very flexible and practical online accounting degree programs. Kaplan offers speciality concentrations such as forensic accounting and governmental/non-profit accounting.

  • Walden University - Walden's online degree programs have not been tainted by the stench of many of the other For-Profit entities. Obviously a good thing. But what makes them different?

  • Rasmussen College - Rasmussen has a lot going for it including 100% online accounting degrees and being free from the for-Profit scandals. But there are major downsides you must consider.

  • Ashford University - Ashford comes with the same baggage associated with just about all For-Profit universities. But do they handle the critics any better than the rest?
  • Post University – Also focused on working adult students, Post offers an accelerated accounting program in addition to their typical online accounting degree.
  • The University of Phoenix – whilst Phoenix has a large range of accounting programs for all levels (Associate Degrees to a CPA Review Course) you can't escape the fact that there's  a lot controversy surrounding the organization.
  • DeVry University - The DeVry online accounting degree programs are covered in seriously good marketing. But a lot of unpleasant noise surrounds the university, CPA pass rates don’t look crash hot and it’s not cheap.
  • Liberty University - The Liberty University online accounting degree programs are highly regarded. But the Christian lifestyle is taken very seriously. If you want to be successful here then there’s no room for compromise and you absolutely must be committed to their ethos.
  • Penn Foster - A Penn Foster Accounting degree will likely give you an experience well below many other colleges and universities. If you’re serious about your accounting career then do yourself a favor and at least check out the alternatives before making a decision.
  • Bryant & Stratton - Bryant & Stratton provides a solid but not blistering career addition. Not for the CPA-orientated but it does provide a huge amount of practical knowledge.
  • Sullivan University - Sullivan University’s online accounting degree program could be a smart move given its high academic standards and positive student feedback.
  • Virginia College - The online accounting degrees at Virginia College provide a solid, practical-based education with good employment rates. But it’s not ideal for those of you chasing the CPA.

  • American Intercontinental University - there's serious issues here that need to be addressed before considering any enrolment.

More Information

You can also check out our other resources which give sixteen reasons as to why an online degree could make sense. And also our article which covers nine questions about the process.


Online Accounting Degree Programs are as varied as the institutions that offer them.  Begin your search by clarifying your needs.  Then, with your goals and learning style in mind check the academic quality and professional reputation as carefully as you would a traditional program. 

After all, whether online or traditional, your accounting degree still needs to give you a strong return on your investment.