Graduate Certificate in
Accounting Foundations

Program summary

Gain a broad understanding of principles and practices in areas such as financial and managerial accounting, taxation, and auditing. This program is designed for college graduates with little to no background in accounting.

Application deadline

Apply by April 15 to start May 13

Credits and costs

12 Credits $1,017 per credit

Enhance Your Accounting Capabilities Online

The online Graduate Certificate in Accounting Foundations, delivered through Penn State World Campus and in partnership with the internationally ranked Penn State Smeal College of Business, is designed to provide a broad understanding of critical principles and practices in areas such as financial and managerial accounting, taxation, and auditing.

This accelerated program, ideal for those without a formal accounting education, incorporates the core concepts covered in most baccalaureate programs. You can emerge in one year with marketable skills to help you advance in your current career, make a career change, or fulfill certain requirements for a master’s degree.

A Curriculum That Builds Your Accounting Toolkit

The accounting foundations certificate is an intensive program designed to give students like you the fundamental accounting skills valued by many employers. Topics in the courses will include:

  • Recording of business transactions and communication of accounting information in public financial statements
  • Foundations of U.S. federal taxation of individuals, corporations, and other entities
  • Principles and procedures of auditing financial statements and corporate internal controls
  • Assembly and use of internal accounting information for managerial decision-making

The Penn State Difference

Since 1998, Penn State has offered online instruction, creating a learning environment that provides you with the same quality education our resident students experience in a face-to-face setting. Through the partnership with the Smeal College of Business, whose faculty has been preparing undergraduate- and graduate-level accounting students for career success for more than 60 years, you can feel confident that this highly engaging program has been designed to help you succeed.

This program is AACSB Accredited

The Smeal College of Business also carries the elite AACSB accreditation, an honor reserved for the top 5% of business schools worldwide.

Who Should Apply?

The online accounting foundations program is designed for working professionals who possess a bachelor's degree in a non-accounting field and want to move into a leadership role that requires a more substantial accounting foundation, shift into an accounting-related career, or eventually continue into a master’s program. If you already have a bachelor's degree in accounting, you should consider the more advanced Graduate Certificate in Accounting

Information for Military and Veterans

Are you a member of the military, a veteran, or a military spouse? Please visit our military website for additional information regarding financial aid, transfer credits, or application instructions.


The Penn State Smeal Graduate Certificate in Accounting Foundations is a 12-credit program for those seeking a strong foundation in the discipline. You will cultivate the skills to develop and interpret accounting systems designed to collect and organize data about business transactions and activities, measure performance, communicate business plans and outcomes, comply with regulatory reporting, and support decision-making.

Courses are structured to allow you to complete assignments when and where it's most convenient for you. While much of the course work is autonomous, it also includes opportunities to engage with fellow classmates through live and collaborative experiences. This peer-to-peer interaction enhances your learning while strengthening your professional network on a global scale.

Required Courses (12 credits)

  • 3

    Accounting rules, practices, and applications that characterize the accounting presentations that for-profit organizations provide to the public.

  • 3

    Introduction to U.S. federal income tax, covering the basics of taxation of individuals, corporations, flow-through entities, and property transactions.

    • Prerequisite

      MBADM 811

  • 3

    Principles of the risk-based approach to the audit of financial statements, with special focus on financial information systems.

    • Prerequisite

      MBADM 811

  • 3

    Examination of the internal organizational accounting procedures that establish accountability within organizations.

Course Availability

If you're ready to see when your courses will be offered, visit our public LionPATH course search (opens in new window) to start planning ahead.

Costs and Financial Aid

Graduate Tuition

Graduate tuition is calculated based on the number of credits for which you register. Tuition is due shortly after each semester begins and rates are assessed every semester of enrollment.

2023–24 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2023, spring 2024, and summer 2024 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester? Cost
11 or fewer $1,017 per credit
12 or more $12,203 per semester

2024–25 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2024, spring 2025, and summer 2025 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester? Cost
11 or fewer $1,027 per credit
12 or more $12,325 per semester

Financial Aid and Military Benefits

Some students may qualify for financial aid. Take the time to research financial aid, scholarships, and payment options as you prepare to apply. Military service members, veterans, and their spouses or dependents should explore these potential military education benefits and financial aid opportunities, as well.

Paying for Your Certificate

Students pursuing a certificate are considered "nondegree," a status that is not eligible for federal student aid, including the Federal Direct Stafford Loan program. A private alternative loan may be an option to consider.

Additionally, Penn State offers many ways to pay for your education, including an installment plan and third-party payments. Penn State World Campus also offers an Employer Reimbursement and Tuition Deferment Plan. Learn more about the options for paying for your education.

Students pursuing a degree and meeting all other eligibility requirements may qualify for financial aid.

How to Apply

Deadlines and Important Dates

While applications are accepted year-round, students begin course work once per year in the summer semester. 

  • Summer DeadlineApply by April 15 to start May 13

Admissions Help

If you have questions about the admissions process, contact our admissions counselors.

Admission Requirements 

Applicants must hold either a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that Penn State deems comparable to a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution.

What You Need

Applications are submitted electronically and include a nonrefundable application fee. You will need to upload the following items as part of your application:

English Proficiency — The language of instruction at Penn State is English. With some exceptions, international applicants must take and submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Minimum test scores and exceptions are found in the English Proficiency section on the Graduate School's "Requirements for Graduate Admission" page. Visit the TOEFL website for testing information. Penn State's institutional code is 2660.

GRE or GMAT test scores are NOT required.

Program-Specific Questions/Materials

Vita or Résumé — A one- to two-page listing of your professional experience and education.

Statement of Purpose — Describe how your professional experience and goals align with the Certificate in Accounting Foundations. Please do not exceed 500 words. 

Start Your Application

You can begin your online application at any time. Your progress within the online application system will be saved as you go, allowing you to return at any point as you gather additional information and required materials.

Begin the graduate school application

  • Choose "Certificate Admission" as the enrollment type
  • Choose "WORLD CAMPUS" as the campus
  • Choose "Accounting Foundations" as the certificate

Checking Your Status

You can check the status of your application by using the same login information established for the online application form.

Technical Requirements 

Review the general technical requirements for this program.

Ready to Learn More?

Get the resources you need to make informed decisions about your education. Request information on this program and other programs of interest by completing this form.

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Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State graduate certificate?

Apply by April 15 to start May 13. How to Apply

Start or Advance Your Career

Accountant reviewing documents and using a calculator

You can use the knowledge gained from this program and the support of Penn State career resources to pursue careers in a variety of fields, depending on your goals.

Career Services to Set You Up for Success

Student having a virtual meeting on a laptop with a career counselor

From the day you're accepted as a student, you can access resources and tools provided by Penn State World Campus Career Services to further your career. These resources are beneficial whether you're searching for a job or advancing in an established career.

  • Opportunities to connect with employers
  • Career counselor/coach support
  • Occupation and salary information
  • Internships
  • Graduate school resources 

Professional Licensure / Certification

Qualify for a CPA certificate and license to practice public accounting.

How to Earn the CPA Licensure

  • Meet the 150-credit hour education requirement for entry into the accounting profession. Graduates of the Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree will earn a minimum of 120 credit hours.
  • Pass the Uniform CPA Examination to qualify for a CPA certificate and license (i.e., permit to practice) to practice public accounting.

Keep in mind...

  • The exam is the same no matter where it is taken, but every state/jurisdiction has its own set of education and experience requirements that individuals must meet.
  • If you plan to pursue employment in a licensed profession, remember that completion of this program alone does not meet the requirements for licensure.
  • You can visit our Professional Licensure/Certification Disclosures by State interactive map to learn more about the requirements in each state.

Pennsylvania CPA and Licensing Requirements

For more details on the CPA Exam and licensing requirements in the state of Pennsylvania, visit the Penn State Harrisburg website.

Contact Us

To learn more about the Graduate Certificate in Accounting Foundations, offered in partnership with the Penn State Smeal College of Business, please contact:

Penn State Smeal College of Business
Professional Graduate Programs Office
Phone: 814-863-0474
Email: [email protected]

You may also visit the Smeal College of Business Accounting Foundations site to learn more about the overall learning experience and the expert resources Smeal brings to this online program.


  • Scott Collins

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Management, Claremont Graduate University
    • Degree
      M.S., Business Administration, Penn State
    • Degree
      MBA, Claremont Graduate University
    • Degree
      B.A., Business-Economics, University of California, Santa Barbara

    Dr. Scott Collins has served on the Smeal College of Business faculty since 2012. He teaches courses in financial accounting, managerial accounting, and accounting information systems, and he serves as the director of Penn State's one-year Master of Accounting (MAcc) program. Prior to his time at Penn State, Collins served as a staff auditor with a multibillion-dollar CPA firm, a plant controller at a multibillion-dollar food manufacturing company, a financial controller at a pre-IPO internet startup company, and an adjunct faculty member for multiple universities.

  • Shelley Curling

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Accounting, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.B.A., Accounting and Finance, Texas Christian University

    Dr. Shelley Curling is an assistant teaching professor in the Smeal College of Business. She takes great joy in teaching auditing, managerial accounting, and intermediate financial accounting to undergraduate and graduate students. Her research interests include the use of the MD&A in mandatory financial disclosure and the impact of emerging technologies on the auditing function.

  • Edward R. Jenkins

    • Degree
      MBA, Penn State
    • Degree
      Master of Taxation, Villanova University School of Law (Joint LL.M. program)
    • Degree
      B.S., B.A., Economics, Penn State

    Edward R. Jenkins, CPA, CGMA, is a seasoned business executive with an extensive educational background in business. That combination of experience and education provides practiced realism in his writing and teaching. His teaching interests include taxation, accounting, international business, and finance. His research interests include taxation, accounting, and finance, with special interests in multinational taxation, mergers and acquisitions, and ASC 740.

    Jenkins is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Tax Executive Committee (TEC). The eighteen members of the committee are responsible for tax policy and advocacy for the AICPA; TEC provides advice to Congress, Treasury, and the IRS regarding statutes, regulations, and other policy/procedure matters. Additionally, TEC is responsible for the development and maintenance of enforceable professional standards of tax practice for CPAs.

  • Suzanne A. Wright

    • Degree
      MBA, Supply Chain, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.S., Accounting, Penn State
    • Degree
      Certified Public Accountant

    Suzanne A. Wright enhances her teaching with practical experience in managerial and financial accounting and various areas of supply chain. She thoroughly enjoys teaching Accounting Systems and Control and Intermediate and Advanced Financial Accounting. She chairs the Education and Engagement working group of the Smeal College Sustainability Council and spent several years on the Smeal Ethics and Integrity team. Suzanne taught two summer programs in China and a three-week course on sustainability and technology at Pforzheim University in Germany.

Penn State Smeal Advantage

More options, greater flexibility and a commitment to lifelong learning

The desire for knowledge and professional growth spans a lifetime. That is why the Penn State Smeal College of Business offers a portfolio of professional graduate programs for all stages of your career. In partnership with Penn State World Campus, Smeal makes it easy to customize a learning plan to your unique career aspirations and busy schedule. Penn State Smeal offers you a lifetime of learning with more concentrations and one of the most integrated, flexible offerings of online and residential programs in the United States.

Penn State Business building

An entire team dedicated to your success

Personal advising — Our experts will explain the many options that Penn State Smeal offers and will help you refine your career strategy and craft the educational experience best suited to your interests. It all starts with a simple, but critical question: “What are your goals?” 

Career coaching* — Our Alumni Career Services team will support you across all career stages with professional advancement opportunities and coaching to help you stay focused on achieving your goals.

Delivering the best of online and in-person learning for a rich educational experience

We understand that today’s professional learners want meaningful discussion and interaction with faculty and classmates along with the technologies and flexible approaches of contemporary online learning. By aligning the best of both worlds, we bring richness, depth, and diversity to the overall educational experience.

Courses designed to engage and motivate the professional student

Creative Teams consisting of a lead faculty member, a Teaching Support Specialist (TSS), and an Instructional Designer use advanced analytics to develop and deliver contemporary graduate courses that promote application and engagement. We strive to innovate in ways that others don’t. 

A real-world perspective

  • Industry professionals inside the virtual classroom — Many of Penn State Smeal’s courses feature industry professionals who have been in the trenches and work hard to make an impact every day. These individuals, most of whom hold a Smeal graduate degree, partner with our renowned faculty to provide a rich academic context with real-world application.
  • Global immersion* — This unique, optional experience will enhance your ability to communicate cross-culturally, adapt to evolving business environments, and manage the risks and benefits of operating on a global scale. Any student pursing a full degree from Smeal may participate in this optional, faculty-led experience for elective credit. Previous destinations have included Shanghai, China; Johannesburg, South Africa; Prague, Czech Republic; Santiago, Chile; and Zagreb, Croatia.

One of the largest and most influential networks in the country

At Penn State, you are part of a worldwide community of instructors, learners, and more than 750,000 alumni who support one another and make a meaningful impact. 

More than 90,000 Smeal alumni benefit from connections around the globe as well as networking events, podcasts, webinars, a powerful LinkedIn community, and opportunities for volunteerism.

Impact Smeal Day — This day provides alumni and professional graduate students with the opportunity to come to campus and interact with current students, network with other alumni, gain professional insights, and hear about college initiatives. The day is designed so that you can sign up for the sessions that work for your schedule.

* Services are available only to students and alumni of Penn State Smeal’s degree programs and online degrees led by Smeal and delivered through the World Campus. Students and alumni of online graduate certificates are not eligible to receive these benefits unless they are also enrolled in a degree program.

Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State graduate certificate?

Apply by April 15 to start May 13. How to Apply