Best Bachelor's Degrees in Accounting in California

Ranked the fourth-best U.S. state for higher education, California hosts several of the nation's most prestigious universities and colleges, including some of the best undergrad accounting programs. According to the U.S. Census, California is home to more than 900,000 businesses, creating diverse career opportunities for graduates of California accounting schools.

Earning an accounting degree in California opens doors to the nation's fastest-growing businesses, including Silicon Valley tech giants Apple, Hewlett Packard, and Alphabet. Accounting graduates also face promising employment outlooks. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 4% growth in the accounting field from 2019-2029, keeping pace with the national projected growth rate for all occupations.

Our ranked list of the top accounting programs in California provides information about why students may want to get an accounting degree in the state, factors to consider when researching programs, and available careers for those with accounting bachelor's degrees.

California's 10 Best Accounting Schools

Rank School Location
1 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
2 Santa Clara University Santa Clara, CA
3 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley, CA
4 University of San Diego San Diego, CA
5 Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles, CA
6 University of California, Riverside Riverside, CA
7 California State University, Fullerton Fullerton, CA
8 San Diego State University San Diego, CA
9 Chapman University Orange, CA
10 California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo, CA
See Detailed Rankings

Why Get an Accounting Degree in California?

An accounting degree in California can provide a stepping stone to the prestigious certified public accountant (CPA) license and a profitable career in a thriving business sector. Accounting bachelor's programs cultivate in-demand finance acumen, applicable across virtually any industry.

Key benefits of earning a bachelor's in accounting include:

  • CPA Certification: A bachelor's in accounting provides 120 out of the 150 credits required to sit for the CPA exam in California. An aspiring CPA can obtain the remaining 30 credits by earning a graduate certificate or a master's degree.
  • Versatility: A bachelor's in accounting delivers sought-after skills that transfer across occupations and industries, allowing for potential career changes down the line. The degree's versatility makes it an attractive credential in economic downturns.
  • Earning Potential: With an accounting degree from a reputable school, graduates increase their chances of landing lucrative jobs. The degree also qualifies professionals for entry into MBAs and other master's programs, which can further boost salaries.

Earning a California accounting degree comes with its own unique benefits. As home to some of the nation's top business schools, earning an accounting degree in California provides each graduate with a competitive advantage in today's cutthroat job market.

With the largest economy in the U.S., California also provides accounting graduates with opportunities to intern or work for some of the world's most successful and prominent business enterprises.

The Top Accounting Programs in California

1. University of Southern California

University of Southern California, or USC, is one of the best schools for undergraduate accounting students. The school tied for fifth in US News's rankings of undergraduate accounting programs. Also, USC placed fifth in the rankings of PAR. The university is located in Los Angeles.

School Overview

USC placed sixth in LinkedIn's rankings and the university's business school ranked 28th in Bloomberg's rankings. USC is accredited in both business and accounting by AACSB. USC also tied for 17th and 37th in TaxTalent's and BYU's rankings, respectively.

The Leventhal School of Accounting at USC sponsors an event called Meet the Firms, where students meet staff members from top firms and ask them questions about the profession. Every year, over 100 students work in internships with the Big Four firms.

USC has six student organizations for accounting students including the Accounting Society and Beta Alpha Psi.

2. Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University placed eighth in LinkedIn's rankings. The university holds business and accounting accreditation from AACSB. Santa Clara also tied for 18th in TaxTalent's rankings. The school is located in Silicon Valley in the city of Santa Clara, which is next to San Jose.

School Overview

According to Bloomberg, Santa Clara's business school (Leavey School of Business) is a top 50 school. Leavey placed 43rd in the publication's rankings. Leavey's accounting department tied for 80th in BYU's rankings.

Accounting students can choose from two majors, Accounting or Accounting and Information Systems (A&IS). Both majors require courses in intermediate financial accounting, auditing, cost accounting, and tax planning.

Santa Clara has an On-Campus Interview Program that gives students opportunities to interview with businesses and firms for full-time positions that are typically available after graduation.

3. University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley ranked 17th in LinkedIn's rankings. The school is also accredited in business by AACSB. Berkeley's business school, Hass School of Business, enjoys a top 20 ranking (15th) in Bloomberg's rankings. The university is located on the east side of the San Francisco Bay Area.

School Overview

Berkeley tied for 16th in TaxTalent's rankings and the university's accounting department tied for 37th in BYU's rankings. Berkeley also ranked 20th in US News's rankings of National Universities. Among public institutions in the category, the school held the number one position.

Berkeley does not offer an accounting major, but its business school has enough accounting classes to prepare students for accounting careers and the CPA exam. Around 30% of Berkeley's business students go on to work in the accounting industry.

4. University of San Diego

University of San Diego, or USD, is accredited by AACSB in both business and accounting. USD's School of Business Administration placed 41st in Bloomberg's rankings. The university's accounting department tied for 155th in BYU's rankings. USD is a private Roman Catholic school.

School Overview

In the category, National Universities, USD tied for 95th place in US News's rankings. The Princeton Review named USD one of The Best 379 Colleges. The publication also ranked the school 11th in the categories, Most Beautiful Campus and College City Gets High Marks.

USD's Bachelor of Accountancy has four different tracks to choose from: Accountancy, Accountancy and Supply Chain Management Combination, Accountancy and Finance/Real Estate Combination, and Accountancy and Information Systems/Technology Combination.

Students can learn about the accounting profession by joining USD's student organizations for accounting students, Accounting Society and Beta Alpha Psi.

5. Loyola Marymount University

Located in Los Angeles, Loyola Marymount University is accredited in business by AACSB. The university tied for 17th in TaxTalent's rankings. Also, Loyola Marymount's College of Business Administration placed 82nd in Bloomberg's rankings. The school is a private Roman Catholic university in the Jesuit and Marymount traditions.

School Overview

Loyola Marymount is one of the best universities in the Western United States according to US News. The school tied for 3rd in the publication's rankings of Regional Universities (West). Also, Loyola Marymount occupies a spot in The Best 379 Colleges of The Princeton Review.

The Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Loyola Marymount prepares students to apply accounting concepts in the workforce. Students learn about financial reporting standards, auditing principles, accounting information systems, and important provisions in the tax code.

6. University of California, Riverside

University of California, Riverside (UCR) holds business accreditation from AACSB. The school's undergraduate business school, School of Business Administration, placed 132nd in Bloomberg's rankings and its accounting department tied for 176th in BYU's rankings. UCR is a public research university.

School Overview

UCR is categorized as a National University in US News's rankings and the school tied for 113th among universities in the category. UCR is one of The Best 379 Colleges according to The Princeton Review. Also, the university was rated as a top value school by the publication.

UCR's undergraduate business program with a concentration in accounting and auditing includes courses about individual taxation, quality assurance in auditing, and accounting information systems.

The Career Center at UCR hosts workshops each quarter to help students improve job search skills such as resume writing and building professional networks.

7. California State University, Fullerton

California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) is accredited by AACSB in both business and accounting. The university's accounting faculty tied for 133rd in BYU's rankings. CSUF is public university in Fullerton, a city located in the northern part of Orange County.

School Overview

In US News's rankings, CSUF tied for 40th in the category, Regional Universities (West). Among public schools in the category, the university placed ninth.

CSUF offers a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting. The accounting concentration consists of 21 semester credit hours of upper-level accounting courses. Required classes include Intermediate Accounting I and II, Cost Accounting, and Concepts of Federal Income Tax Accounting.

Students can choose from electives such as Auditing, Fraud Detection, Valuation Concepts & Topics for Accountants, and Seminar in Financial Statement Analysis.

8. San Diego State University

San Diego State University is a public school that holds AACSB accreditation in the disciplines of business and accounting. The school's accounting department tied for 185th in BYU's rankings. San Diego State is classified as a Research University with high research activity by The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

School Overview

San Diego State tied for 149th in the category, National Universities, in US News's rankings. In the same category, the university placed 78th among public schools and 136th in the High School Counselor Rankings.

The accounting curriculum of San Diego State teaches students practical business skills as well as fundamental accounting principles. Accounting students may specialize in Taxation, Financial Reporting, or Accounting Information Systems.

In recent years, San Diego State's accounting professors have earned awards including Beta Alpha Psi's National Outstanding Faculty Advisor award and CalCPA's Outstanding Accounting Educator award.

9. Chapman University

Chapman University is a private, non-profit university accredited in business by AACSB. The school tied for 273rd in BYU's rankings and placed 60th in Bloomberg's rankings. Chapman is located in Orange and holds affiliation with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

School Overview

Chapman was named one of The Best 379 Colleges by The Princeton Review. Also, the publication identified Chapman as a top school in the West. In US News's rankings, the university placed seventh in the category, Regional Universities (West), and was named an Up-and-Coming School.

To graduate with the Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Chapman, students must complete 24 semester hours of upper-level accounting classes. Students are required to enroll in the following courses: Intermediate Financial Accounting I and II, Cost Accounting I, Accounting Information Systems, and Auditing.

10. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) tied for 17th in the rankings of TaxTalent. The university's business school, Orfalea College of Business, placed 70th in Bloomberg's rankings. Cal Poly is a public school in San Luis Obispo, a city approximately midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

School Overview

Cal Poly is accredited in business by AACSB. The university ranked 10th in the category, Regional Universities in the West, in US News's rankings. Cal Poly was the number one public school in the category.

Every year, Cal Poly's Accounting Club organizes recruiting events. The Fall Symposium helps students find full-time positions while Careers in Accounting Day places students in internships. Also, the Accounting Club sponsors a Spring Awards Banquet, where students can network with employers in a formal setting.

What To Expect From California's Undergrad Accounting Programs

College accounting programs provide students with the prowess to continue learning in graduate programs or compete for coveted accounting jobs.

Credit load varies among programs. An accounting degree in California typically comprises 120-128 credits, depending on whether students opt for an internship. Most programs allow learners with prior associate degrees in accounting to apply 60 credits toward their college accounting degree, thus reducing the total credit load.

Degree length varies depending on degree format and students' prior qualifications. Learners with high school diplomas or GED certificates can complete an undergraduate accounting degree in four years of full-time study. With an associate degree in accounting, students can often graduate from California accounting programs in two years.

A typical accounting curriculum combines foundational accounting classes, such as federal taxation and financial analysis, with elective/concentration courses such as information technology and forensic accounting. Some California accounting programs culminate in capstone projects.

Admission Requirements

For admission into an accounting program, each applicant must submit a resume, transcripts, essays, SAT/ACT scores, and a nonrefundable application fee. To streamline the process, students can use Common App to submit materials to multiple postsecondary institutions at once.

Requirements for SAT/ACT scores and GPAs vary among institutions, but aspiring accountant professionals with weaker scores may want to consider starting with associate accounting degrees. This two-year degree may increase the chance of acceptance into a four-year accounting program.

Different Degree Types and Specializations

Business schools offer different types of accounting bachelor's degrees. Prospective accounting professionals most commonly pursue a bachelor of arts in accountancy (BAcc), bachelor of science (BS) in accounting, or bachelor of business administration (BBA) degrees with a concentration in accounting. These degrees differ in the following respects:

Course Requirements A BS requires more STEM courses than the BAcc. The BBA with a concentration in accounting delivers general business savvy and provides a comprehensive exploration of accounting and finance. The BBA offers a stellar basis for an MBA with a concentration in accounting.
Career Paths The BAcc and the BS in accountancy both foster an excellent background for CPA certification and a career as a public accountant. Earning a BBA with a concentration in accounting yields a strong career path to top-paying positions like financial manager and CFO.
Concentrations BAcc and BS programs offer many of the same specializations. But BS programs tend to offer more STEM concentrations than BA programs, such as information technology or cybersecurity. BA programs, by contrast, typically provide concentrations in more traditional accounting areas, such as taxation, auditing, and financial accounting.

Learners who aspire to land an accounting job immediately after graduating should keep in mind that a specialized accounting degree could limit their career options. A concentration can, however, also provide a helping hand to stand out in a crowded job market.

Popular Accounting Program Courses

While each California accounting program features a distinct curriculum, all programs require enrollees to complete general education, core accounting, and elective/concentration courses. Some programs also expect learners to take capstone seminars. Below, we describe some of the courses students may encounter in a typical undergrad accounting program.

  • Assurance Services

    Many companies use email to control their information, which is unsafe, unproductive, and bound to generate errors. Workflow systems provide a safer, more efficient, and more reliable way to control a company's information. In a course in assurance services, students gain a deeper understanding of the importance of implementing reliable controls of an organization's information and how to test control systems for accuracy.

  • Federal Taxation

    Learners become acquainted with key concepts in federal taxation, such as capital losses, stakeholder tax, and abusive tax shelters. The class also provides practical training in how to prepare personal and corporate federal tax returns and identify legal strategies for reducing federal tax liabilities.

  • Financial Report Analysis

    A course in financial report analysis teaches students to probe organizations' financial reports. Enrollees learn to use analytic methods — such as cash flow analysis, trend analysis, and risk-benefit analysis — to gauge risk, assess operating efficiency, and project quarterly earnings.

  • Forensic Accounting

    Degree-seekers explore advanced auditing techniques to discover fraud, money laundering, insider dealing, and other financial crimes. Students learn to identify and present evidence that can withstand scrutiny in a court of law.

  • Capstone Seminar

    California accounting programs increasingly require learners to complete capstone classes. In this course, enrollees apply the knowledge acquired during the program to solve practical business problems. For example, a final capstone might address how public retail companies retain shareholders during a recession or how the entertainment industry best survives a state-wide lockdown.

How Much Do Bachelor's Degrees in Accounting Cost in California?

The cost of tuition for an accounting degree in California varies by school type (public vs. private), tuition rate (in-state vs. out-of-state), and program format (online vs. on campus).

The University of California public university system charges approximately $14,000 per year for in-state tuition and around $44,000 a year for out-of-state tuition. By comparison, the cost of tuition at Stanford University — California's most prestigious private school — comes to $53,529 per year, regardless of residency. These steep prices do not include costs related to health insurance, technology, books, or room and board.

However, many California business schools provide a discount on their online degrees. The total cost of tuition and fees for an online bachelor's degree in accounting starts at around $40,000.

To mitigate costs, aspiring accounting professionals can complete the first two years of their accounting degrees in California at in-state community colleges before finishing the last two years at four-year schools of their choice. Prospective students can also consider scholarships, financial aid, student loans, fellowships, and grants to finance their California accounting degrees.

What Jobs Can an Accounting Bachelor's Get You?

A bachelor's in accounting can lead to a profitable and stimulating career as an accounting professional. BLS data indicates a median annual wage for accountants and auditors of $71,550 as of 2019, nearly double the national median for all employers. Additional education or qualifications, such as a graduate accounting degree or CPA licensure, can further increase potential earnings.

Popular careers for college graduates with California accounting degrees include:

Budget Analyst

These analysts review budgets, budget proposals, and funding requisitions, along with identifying potential shortcomings. Typical responsibilities include monitoring corporate spending, informing decision-makers of the status and availability of funds, and reviewing budget proposals and funding requests for accuracy, completeness, and compliance.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +3%
  • Median Annual Salary: $76,540
Financial Examiner

Financial examiners oversee financial institutions' compliance with tax codes and regulations. Typical job duties include monitoring the financial condition of financial institutions, reviewing new regulations to determine their impact on the institution's financial health, and establishing policies for complying with the new regulations.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +7%
  • Median Annual Salary: $81,090
Financial Analyst

These professionals analyze financial transactions and advise decision-makers on how to make informed investment decisions. Financial analysts ascertain current and historical financial data and markets, recommending individual investments or portfolios, and examining a company's financial documents to determine its worth.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +5%
  • Median Annual Salary: $81,590

Actuaries apply quantitative tools to determine the profitability, risk, and volatility of selling securities or shares. Typical job duties include estimating the likelihood and projected cost of financial risks; designing insurance policies, loan contracts, or IPO underwriter deals; and explaining a proposal's probable risk and profitability to decision-makers.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree and certification in actuary science
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +18%
  • Median Annual Salary: $108,350
Personal Financial Advisor

These advisors help clients manage their finances and budget for the future. Responsibilities include meeting with clients to discuss financial goals, explaining investment options and potential risks, and recommending investment opportunities.

  • Required Education: A bachelor's degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +4%
  • Median Annual Salary: $87,850

California's Top Employers for Accounting Degrees

With its $3.1 trillion economy, California provides ample opportunities for college graduates to pursue rewarding accounting careers in the state. California employs the most accounting professionals of all U.S. states. Accounting graduates can consider roles in California's major sectors of agriculture, manufacturing, entertainment, and technology.

Financial managers, consultants, forensic accountants, and controllers all work within California's largest accounting firms, banks, and public companies. The "Big Four" accounting firms — Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) — employ the most accountants in the U.S., and all four companies maintain offices in California.

Top Employers in California for Accounting Graduates

  • Deloitte

    Deloitte is an industry leader for audit, tax, consulting, and advisory services. Headquartered in the UK, Deloitte employs more individuals in the U.S. than any other accounting firm. The company maintains 13 offices in California alone.

  • PwC

    PwC is a network of professional services firms — the second-largest of its kind in the world. California is home to eight PwC offices, with three in the San Francisco Bay Area and five in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

  • Ernst & Young

    Ernst & Young, or EY, is a professional services network headquartered in London, United Kingdom. EY provides tax, transaction, assurance, and consulting services. The company has 14 offices in California.

Selecting Your California Accounting Degree Program

While this page's ranked list of California accounting schools provides a good starting point for narrowing down prospective programs, other considerations can affect the caliber of a college degree. Prospective students should also consider the following factors when applying to California accounting programs:

Regional Accreditation

Aspiring accounting professionals should give preference to postsecondary institutions that hold official regional accreditation. The regional accrediting body WASC Senior College and University Commission oversees California schools. Obtaining a degree from a regionally accredited program ensures credit transferability, eligibility for federal financial aid, and qualification for certain jobs and certifications.

Business School Accreditation

Program-specific accreditation ensures that specific schools and programs meet national standards for the field. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International sets the industry standard for business schools worldwide. Applicants should thus prioritize business schools that carry the AACSB stamp of approval.

Available Program Formats

Prospective students with family or job commitments may want to consider part-time or distance learning programs. Online degrees allow self-reliant learners to continue working full time or caring for family while simultaneously obtaining accounting degrees in California.
Top Bachelor's in Accounting Programs Top Online Bachelor's in Accounting Programs Top Affordable Bachelor's in Accounting

Should You Get an Online Accounting Degree in California?

Online degrees once lagged behind their brick-and-mortar counterparts, but technological advances have created parity between remote and on-campus education. While California is home to many excellent business schools, there are top-ranked schools all over the world. So, why should distance learners — who can study anywhere — pursue schools in the Golden State?

Distance learners who plan to seek employment in California after graduating may benefit from attending California business schools, where they can take advantage of alumni networks. Similarly, online students who plan to specialize in one of California's thriving industries, such as technology or entertainment, may benefit from faculty and alumni's local industry knowledge.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get a bachelor's in accounting online?
Yes. Online accounting degrees also typically provide greater flexibility than on-campus alternatives.
How much does an accounting degree cost in California?
Tuition costs vary widely among institutions. University of California public schools, for example, charge approximately $14,000 per year for in-state tuition and $44,000 per year for out-of-state tuition. Stanford University — a private school — charges $53,529 per year. Total tuition for an online accounting bachelor's degree in California starts at around $30,000.
What can I do with a bachelor's degree in accounting?
A bachelor's in accounting can offer a stepping stone to a lucrative and rewarding career in accounting fields, such as financial examiner, financial analyst, or personal financial advisor.
How much do CPAs make in California?
According to PayScale, CPAs in California make an average salary of $72,090.
How do I become an accountant in California?
To become an accountant in California, you need a college degree in accounting. However, to become a CPA, you also need to pass a certification exam.

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