How to Become an Accountant Without an Accounting Degree | Top 10 Accounting Certifications

There has been an increasing demand for accounting roles in the digital age, but not everyone can afford an accounting degree. That does not make you a lesser fit for the role. It also doesn’t mean you have zero chances of becoming an accountant despite your passion for it? See how to become an accountant without an accounting degree.

Let’s delve in!

Do you need a Degree in Accounting to be an Accountant?

First, no, you don’t need to go through a 4-year Accounting Degree for you to become an accountant. Here is why: Accounting is more of a hands-on craft and you can easily learn on-the-job to build that solid foundation in the area. You can gain the needed training for the job simply through accounting certifications.

The thing is, you might start off as an accounting clerk or junior financial accountant where you prepare journal entries in each reporting cycle. This way, you gain the basic skills you need to walk up the ladder of Accounting.

Can I become an Accountant without Qualifications?

First off, accountants manage money and for you to get that job, you need to be pretty good with numbers. You will be dealing with procurement, budgeting, pay, and even financial reporting. You could also audit financial figures.

Whether you are dealing with financial accounting, tax accounting or you are a management accountant, having a high level of numeracy skills and sound analytical abilities are requirements. You also need to be honest and detail-oriented.

Find out more desirable skills and abilities you will need.

How to become a CPA without an accounting degree

You do not have an accounting degree, or you are currently pursuing a second career in accounting? Or, do you need to add that CPA license to your resume to elevate your career prospects? Or simply want to learn something new? Either way, for you to become a Certified Public Accountant, then we both know you need to sit for that CPA exam. 

The good news is, unlike accounting graduates, you don’t need to have an accounting degree to become a CPA. This however comes with its fair share of challenges. You need to understand that the CPA exam is difficult and there are educational requirements you need to meet before you qualify for the exam.

Requirements for the CPA have “the three Es”. That is: education, exams, and experience. You require minimum accounting credit hours and relevant experience. If you are not an accounting major, this is where the challenge is. Most states require 150 college credits, which is more than the 120 credits from a Bachelor’s degree.

What this means is that as an accounting major student, you will need to take extra courses to fill in the remaining 30 credits. But these are aspects that differ from one state to another. You find that most states with lower credit hour requirements will have higher experience requirements.

For example, it is possible to take the CPA exam without a degree, but that is if you are already working in an accounting position. Similarly, with a Finance or Economics degree, it may be possible to get the CPA. But if you have no degree at all, it will be much harder to get your CPA. Learn more on CPA for non-accounting majors and find out where you fit.

All said and done, a well-thought-out study plan with realistic expectations should start you off with opportunities for success. Becoming a CPA calls for careful planning and perseverance especially without a degree in accounting. Plus, a coaching system and a rigorous CPA Exam Review can equip you with the tools to prepare you fully for the CPA exam. 

Just remember, remain dedicated, and stay motivated to grab yourself that CPA accounting degree.

How to become an Accountant without a Bachelor’s in Accounting

It might interest you that even after you gain a college degree in accounting, you still need to gain vocational qualifications after graduating. While a degree equips you with useful theoretical knowledge in a field, it meant the extra qualifications to arm you with needed practical skills for a successful career. 

Yes, there are several options to become an accountant without an accounting degree but it might be a challenge for you. Firstly, you cannot become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) without at least a 4-year degree.

However, below are some accounting jobs you could take up to gain work experience in the profession before you complete your degree:

  • Tax preparation.
  • Accounting clerk.
  • Bookkeeper.
  • Auditing clerk.
  • Administrative assistant.
  • Collections.

The requirements for the above opportunities combine both formal education and on-the-job accounting training. You will need high school GCSE’s and some college qualifications. Such include basic bookkeeping and accounting courses and classes that teach the use of spreadsheets and other accounting software. Basic math and computer skills are also essential. 

On-the-job training takes up to six months but depending on the size of the company you are training with, your training program will vary. For example, a small business might pair you with an experienced coworker while a large company will get you through a formal accounting training program.  

Find out more accounting job opportunities you can fit in without a college degree.

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What Certifications do I need to be an Accountant?

Here is the thing, yes, you can become an accountant without an accounting degree but there are specific factors that get you through the door. You do not need to have taken specific BTECs or A level, but maths and economics are a plus.

Let us go through the different certifications you need to become an accountant.

An AAT qualification is an essential requirement. The AAT is the minimal level of qualification required for most kinds of accountancy. It is considered a foundation qualification. You can still decide to take higher-level qualifications such as ACA, ACCA, or CIMA which enable you to become a chartered accountant.

Find more details on these accounting certifications from their websites: ATT, ACCA, CIMA.

How do I Accounting Certifications without a College Degree Online?

For non-accounting majors, the good news is, you can still become an accountant without an accounting degree. Accounting certificate programs train you in basic accounting skills and are much shorter than a full degree program. That means you can complete your accounting certifications quickly and gain real-world skills that are in high demand in the job market.

If you have a definite career path in mind, then you should go for preferred qualifications for the particular specialism you seek. Get more guidance on your accounting courses from the London Training for Excellence website.

Step-by-Step Guide on how to gain an Online Accounting Certificate in 2023

  • Find a program that is fully accredited. This ensures the curriculum is designed to meet a high standard.
  • Examine the course offerings. It is recommended you enroll in a certificate program that offers both broad accounting coursework and practical opportunities to customize your learning experience with some free electives.
  • Enrol in an accounting certification program that offers you good student support. Find a program that best fits your life and goals beyond just the curriculum. You need to ask: what is the overall student experience?
  • The good thing about online programs is you can personalize the entire learning experience. You can access courses and submit your assignments anytime and expect a quick turnaround on grading and constructive feedback from your instructor.
  • Most online accounting certifications should take five months to a year of study with three to seven required courses. You can study part-time or at your own pace while taking care of other responsibilities in life.
  • The majority of accounting certificate programs comprise nine to 21 credits of coursework, emphasizing the foundations of accounting and specific accounting computer programs. 
  • There are certification exams in software applications that some programs will prepare you to take, which can be an extra certification for your resume.
  • Some accounting online programs will also have specialized online accounting courses or special areas pursue. 
  • Besides accounting courses, some certifications have one or two more courses of basic educational foundations like English composition, which equip you with office-ready skills. 
  • However, for some certificate programs your courses are set, while others allow you to choose among a set of possible accounting courses.

Top 10 Accounting Certifications you can get without a College Degree in 2023

You can get some accounting certifications without a college degree but for others, it might not be possible. Because of the prestige that comes with these certifications, you find you can work in accounting without these certifications but you cannot get your accounting certification without the requirements below.

#1. AAT Certifications

The Association of Accounting Technicians is the UK’s leading professional body offering skills-based accountancy and finance qualifications. The AAT qualifications are globally recognized and highly desirable to employers since the course equips you with the practical skills and knowledge essential for a successful career in accountancy and finance.  

This accounting certification has three qualifications across all three levels. That is; Foundation Certificate in Accounting, Advanced Diploma in Accounting, and a Professional Diploma in Accounting.

Each AAT qualification has an equivalent on the qualifications and credit framework. The Foundation Certificate in Accounting is equivalent to GCSE level study and has no formal entry requirements but you need to be over 19 years of age.

The course covers essential knowledge of bookkeeping, using accounting software, and costing. You will need to study 5 units and take 5 exams. After studying AAT, you can progress to become an AAT licensed member and run your own bookkeeping or accounting practice. Find out how.

You will also be able to apply for entry-level roles including accounts administrator, accounts assistant, or accounts payable clerk. 


#2. EA Certification

As a candidate, you do not require any education or experience to take the Enrolled Agent (EA) exam. This makes this accounting certification very appealing to most individuals who want to work in the field but have no accounting degree. However, the EA exam and role come with a lot of responsibility.

The National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), an enrolled agent is a tax practitioner with technical expertise in taxation. So, you are a tax professional who represents people before the IRS. Still, one advantage of this accounting certification is you do not need a degree to gain it. Find out more on how and why you should become an EA.


#3. ACCA Certifications

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountant qualification is a globally recognized accounting certification. ACCA focuses on topics around reporting, auditing, taxation, leadership, financial management, and ethics. It comprises two levels: Fundamentals and Professionals and has up to 13 exams. 

In terms of eligibility, anyone with a high school diploma can qualify. You find the ACCA will offer courses within its program that are equivalent to university studies. This accounting certification costs about £2,000 and takes you around 3 years to complete. The pass rate for ACCA varies because it has many exams to it, but they range from 30% to 80% depending on the exam.

This accounting certification however takes much longer compared to the CMA program. But if you are interested in becoming a Chartered Accountant, then ACCA works best for you. Plus, if you work in a country where chartered accountants are more recognized, then the ACCA credential gives you an edge.

Please see more details on whether the CMA or the ACCA suits you best.


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#4. CFP Certification

The Certified Financial Planner credential especially targets individuals pursuing a career in investment or wealth management. CFP mainly focuses on financial planning, the high net worth, and the retail segment of investment management. However, the CFP is not as applicable to other finance careers because, despite its wide coverage of wealth management, its focus is narrow.

The CFP exam comprises two levels and two exams. When completing the CFP, you also complete an FPSC (Financial Planning Standards Council) Level 1 certificate as part of the process. CFP costs you $2,000 and takes you 4 years to get the certification. Its exam pass rate is around 67%.

#5. CMA Certification

The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential offers you better and higher-paying jobs. The accounting certification digs deeper into financial accounting with a blend of elements of strategic management. CMA deals with teaching the underlying factors behind a company’s financials and the strategic business decisions that can be obtained from them.

To become a CMA, however, note the requirements you must meet, including education. According to the CMA requirement, you must have achieved at least 1 of 2 educational statuses: 

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline from an accredited college or university.
  2. Have a professional certification.

You can sit for the exam before you have completed your degree but you should be getting it. This is because you will need to provide proof, once completed.

If you are a student, you just need to be registered for at least 6 credits per semester during the academic year so that you can sit the CMA exam. The Institute for Management Accountants (IMA) allows students to sit for the CMA exam before completing their degree. However, within 7 years of passing the CMA exam, you need to send a confirmation of your degree to the Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA).

CMA costs range between $850 to $2,500 depending on whether you are a professional or a student and if you are purchasing supplemental study resources. The CMA exam pass rate lies between 40-50%.

#6. CPA Certification

Like I earlier mentioned, getting a CPA without an accounting degree will be much harder than a CMA. However, the CPA is one of the “must-have” certifications for a career in accounting. Its program comprises topics like financial accounting and reporting, auditing, business environment, and concepts, regulation, and attestation.

There are certain educational requirements you will need to meet and put in the extra effort for. The three Es’ explains this. Education, Exam, and Experience. You will need minimum accounting credit hours and relevant experience to take the CPA exam. Getting the required experience might be a challenge for non-accounting majors. Most states require 150 college credits which are over 120 credits from a Bachelor’s degree.

Even with the difference, take note that most states with lower credit hour requirements will have higher experience requirements. Sometimes, you can take the CPA exam without a degree, if you are working in an accounting position already. For other cases, it may be possible to get the CPA with a Finance or Economics degree. But this will be much harder if you don’t have any degree at all.

The CPA is a single exam comprising four sections, each tested separately as its own exam. Taking the program to completion will cost you around $1,000 to $3,000 depending on your study program and jurisdiction. The CPA exam pass rate is generally around 50%.

#7. CIA Certification

The same case applies to the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam as the CMA. It is possible to take the CIA exam without a degree but it is much harder than the CMA. This certification is majorly for compliance officers and auditors, with a good number of CIAs working for a larger company that deals with audit procedures. 

There are minimum educational requirements you must meet before you qualify to sit the CIA exam. The IIA expects CIA candidates to have at least an associate’s degree or higher, or the following acceptable equivalents in place of an associate’s degree:

  • 3 A-level certificates with a grade of C or higher.
  • Higher National Diploma.
  • Diploma of Higher Education.
  • Foundation Degree.

If you still don’t meet the above requirements, worry not because IIA has an alternative to CIA eligibility. IIA may approve candidates with at least 7 years of proven experience in internal audit or its equivalent.

For you to gain the CIA certification, you must complete the three sections of the CIA exam which totals 6.5 hours of testing. Find out more about the CIA exam requirements. 


#8. CAIA Certification

The Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) credential is a finance certification that focuses on alternative investments. This top accounting certification targets individuals looking to work in asset management and hedge fund industries. CAIA covers topics around private equity, risk management, asset allocation, hedge funds, ethics, structured products, commodities, and real assets.

Even though less flexible compared to other accounting certifications, the CAIA comes in handy if you are dealing with finance specifically for managing alternative investments like real assets. There are no educational or work requirements for you to take the CAIA exam but you will not receive the certification until you have either earned your Bachelor’s degree with one year’s work experience. Or you have four years’ work experience with no degree.

Its exam comprises two levels and two exams which will cost you about $3,000 for one to two years in the program. Level I comprise 200 multiple-choice questions on eight different topics. Level II has 100 multiple-choice questions and three essay questions. The CAIA exam pass rate is roughly 70%.

#9. CFA Certification

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification is a well-recognized and sought-after finance credential, globally. It is often used as a filtering mechanism for firms when hiring financial analysts. Even though comprehensive, the CFA exam has a very low pass rate, which maybe because of the broad content that is tested.

This accounting certification focuses on investment analysis and portfolio management. Its topics range from financial reporting and analysis, fixed income, quantitative methods, alternative investments, equity, economics, derivatives, and ethics.

It should take you around 4 years to complete the program’s three levels and can cost you $4,000 to $5,000. This depends on whether you need to rewrite exams and how early you register for them. The pass rate for each exam is between 30 to 50%. Thus, the pass rate for the entire program lies around 20%.

See more details on the difference between a CFA program and a CAIA program.


#10. CGMA Certification

The Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) credential is a joint establishment by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). It is a globally recognized accounting certification focused on topics like reporting, financial and management accounting, and strategy.

CGMA has three levels, each comprising three courses that have their own exams. Plus, you must complete a case study exam at the end of each level. This totals 12 exams of the CGMA. It should take you around three to four years to complete the credential at a cost of $3,000 to $5,000. In this, the mandatory AICPA membership is included.

The costs still vary depending on how long it will take you to complete your CGMA. The exam pass rates range between 50 to 88% for first-time takers and depending on the exam. 


#11. ChFC Certification

The Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) certification is a finance credential awarded by The American College of Financial Services. ChFC acts as an alternative to the CFP credential, though is less recognizable than the CFP. 

This accounting certification covers a variety of financial planning topics from income tax planning, to insurance planning, to retirement planning. Unlike the CFP, ChFC has exams at the end of every course. You will need to go through eight courses and eight exams which will take you six to nine months at a cost of $5,400. The pass rates for the ChFC exam have not been made public. 

You can find more resources on the above accounting designations from the Corporate Finance Institute website.


Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get to a managerial position without an accounting degree?

As a public accountant, in order to reach the managerial level, you will most likely need a CPA license. If you do not have an Accounting degree but seek to get promoted to a Manager, an easy way to do so is by pursuing a master’s degree in accounting

How hard is the CPA exam?

The CPA certification is a difficult series of exams, but that will be the case if you are not prepared.

How do I make a mid-career switch into accounting?

If you are already working in a related business field, changing your career in accounting might be much easier. Your current employer might give you a hand with a tuition help program. You can also enrol in online accounting certification programs which are both cost-effective and flexible especially if you are currently employed. If you already have a college degree, but in a different field, you can still earn your graduate degree by pursuing a Masters in the line of accounting.

Which accounting certification is the easiest to get?

All these accounting certifications are difficult to gain, because of their lengthy exams and qualifications that must be met, for you to get certified. Even though for some, an accounting degree is not a requirement. However, the CIA certification is so far the shortest exam with the least amount of requirements. The only challenge is, it is the most limited accounting credential.


The CPA license is considered the most prestigious and versatile but without an Accounting Degree, it is very hard to qualify for the CPA exam. That is unless you go back for studies and pursue master’s in the line of accounting, which makes gaining the CPA accounting certification much easier. 

The other alternative is to get the CMA accounting certification. For this, you will need to study hard for the two sections of the exam, get two years of relevant experience, and are ready. By now, even for individuals who pursued a distinct line for their degree, professional accounting certifications or Masters in Accounting give you the key into an accounting profession.

It is much better to enhance and prove your accounting expertise through a professional qualification. Plus, it makes you more competitive in the job market.



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