Accountants have a need for ongoing education while working in the field, so it’s no wonder that online accounting courses are offered.

Unlike many professions where you can advance based solely on experience and achievements, accountants must also prove themselves in the classroom and through continuing education. Accountants need to take courses throughout their professional careers, as tax laws and federal regulations—as well as accounting software—change. In fact, even the very top accountants in the field, Certified Public Accountants, must take 40 hours of professional development courses per year to keep abreast of new laws and practices.

With such a need for ongoing education while working in the field, it’s no wonder that online accounting courses are offered as well as classes in traditional settings. A busy CPA, for instance, would likely have a difficult time making it across town for classes, and who wants to chase around on the weekend to attend a class? An online class, whether for a university degree or professional development, can be of immense help and convenience for any student.

Flexible Scheduling

The primary advantage online accounting courses offer students is the ability to keep their jobs and regular schedules while fitting in an education. Going back to school for a degree used to entail upending one’s life, but now if you have a laptop and a Wi-Fi Internet connection, you can learn in almost any setting you desire. These days, you see both online students and teachers filling Wi-Fi-capable coffee shops across the nation. They usually don’t need to adhere to a strict daily schedule in order to get their work done, but must only meet basic deadlines for assignments.

Accounting in particular lends itself to study online. It’s a computer-based profession, so it translates well. Plus, there’s not much need for discussion of issues, which you might need if you were studying philosophy or literature. An online instructor will always be available to answer any questions you might have, and they likely have posted materials to help you find many answers on your own.

Be Prepared with the Right Software

Of course, you will need to have the proper software to ensure that you can submit work in the proper format. You will likely need Microsoft Office so that you can use the ubiquitous Excel spreadsheet program, as well as PowerPoint for presentations, and Word for any written assignments. While you might be able to work with Open Office or LibreOffice, both of which are open-source, free applications, you will probably need to pay for the Microsoft products eventually.

If you do choose to work with the open-source, free software, that route may prove risky. For one thing, you will need to be certain that you save your work in the proper format. The native formats might not be acceptable to your professors, and if you need to share work with peers for a project, you might find that they cannot open your work. This is easy to remedy, but forgetting to “save as” in the proper format might mean the difference between an A and a B, if your instructor is a stickler. Since accounting, as a profession, is concerned with tiny details, such an instructor might have a good point.

Pros and Cons of Online Courses

When you decide to take accounting classes online, make sure that you know what you are getting yourself into. That is, make sure that you know what will be expected before you sign up. Some online courses are asynchronous, meaning that you don’t have to log in at any particular time, and that you are given the freedom to access course materials at your leisure. However, other course formats may require that you log in at specific times to participate in an online webinar or to engage your fellow students in a discussion. You may also find courses that include group projects. When you are online, you might have to coordinate with a peer who lives in Hawaii, when you are in Massachusetts. Coordinating such a project may prove difficult, particularly when you are continuing to work.

One problem that traditional, brick-and-mortar students have when they try an online course is that they have a hard time remembering their duty to it. That is, they are accustomed to traditional class times and the structure that brings. So, if you decide to take online accounting courses, make sure that you give yourself reminders for every item you need to complete.

When you start an online course, it is a good idea to go through the syllabus and enter every due date and deadline into a calendar. Use an online calendar that can give you notifications in advance. Make good use of those notifications, because they can save your grade.

Though there are pitfalls involved with online education, there are many more advantages. On top of the ability to schedule your learning around existing obligations to work and family, your options for which program to enter are wide open. If you love your life and lifestyle in your hometown, you don’t have to leave. There are enough fantastic online accounting programs that you can find the one that suits your life and career goals and never have to visit it, much less uproot and move to a different town or state. You can be in the middle of Kansas and take courses in New York, L.A. or Seattle without ever leaving. Before you know it, you can be a Certified Public Accountant, and the superstar accountant of your town, and barely have ever left your neighborhood.

State-Specific Requirements for Accountants

If you do desire to become a CPA, or seek any other particular certificate, make sure that you discuss these goals with your advisor. Different states have different requirements and you will want to make sure that your degree will set you up for success in your state. Most online programs are already set to prepare you for the best possible outcomes, but having this conversation at the outset of your education will ensure that you have the peace of mind necessary to focus on your coursework, succeed and become a star in your chosen field.

Whether you opt to pursue your entire degree online or augment your traditional classroom time with a few online courses, your education will benefit from taking a few distance-learning courses. Not only can they be beneficial to your schedule in the short-term, but they will prepare you for a life of work on the computer. Plus, when you need to take professional development courses later in your career, you will be accustomed to what learning online entails.