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Accounting success strategies: Comparing self-study, online and in-person classes

Written on Jun 3, 2024
Comparing self-study, online and in-person classes

               (Julia M Cameron / pexels)

Accounting is dynamic. Evolving global and local trends, economies and regulations change its landscape. Accountants continuously grow their knowledge to keep pace and better serve clients and the public good.

Consider all the learning that goes into prepping accountants for their careers:

At any one of these points, accountants can receive their education through self-study, online or in-person.

What's the best choice? That decision rests on the individual's needs and the particular course's requirements.

Let's examine these academic avenues to help accounting and finance professionals determine the best path.


Accounting self-study courses suit accountants wanting to customize their education's direction and pace. Content comes in various formats like textbooks, e-books, on-demand videos and webinars.

Students learn the material one section at a time and complete the corresponding practice questions and exams afterward. Self-study courses are ideal for certifications, exam preparation, and continuing education (CPE). Students need a trustworthy computer and internet connection.

Can someone become an accountant through complete self-study? Yes, it's just less common because it takes a high level of self-discipline to keep at it when there is no pressing timeline for getting it done.


Online education is nothing new. However, enrollment numbers soared during the pandemic when travel became more restricted and technology advanced.

These classes were considered second-rate to in-person classes for a time. However, online education is considerably more mainstream and has greater credibility in the public eye now.

Online education requires a trustworthy home computer and internet connection. It may also involve paying for physical textbooks and scheduling meet-ups for class projects.

A person could complete their entire college education online. It works well for those who can't quickly drive to and from campus.


In-person education allows students to see and meet classmates and professors. It provides structured time dedicated to coursework.

Comparing self-study, online and in-person courses


Self-study and online learning are often more economical than attending an in-person program. Consider the following statistics from a 2023 report by the Education Data Initiative:

  • A degree from a public university averages $54,183 for online vs $85,348 for the same degree in person.
  • The average credit hour cost for the 2019-20 academic year was $711.00 for in-person vs $333.00 for online.
  • Commuting costs the average in-person college attendee $1,360 extra a year.
  • Students attending in-person classes shell out $600 more to eat on campus than those who make their meals at home.
  • Overall, a four-year degree in a public institution is $31,165 more expensive in-person than online.

In-person education costs more in gas and parking fees, tuition and books, meals, and sometimes room and board.

Online and self-study courses are cost-effective options for students wanting to fulfill a variety of requirements or supplement their in-person education.


Online and self-study classes save students a significant amount of time. For one, students save on the time it takes to drive to and from campus and don't have to factor in time to find sufficient parking. Plus, students fit education into their day as their schedule allows.


Thanks to technological advances, there’s often little to no difference in the quality of education one can expect from self-study, online or in-person. Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have online courses.


Online and self-study courses have a few interactive components to keep students involved and attentive. Online message boards and chats, study groups, group projects and social media groups connect participants with teachers and peers.

However, nothing beats in-person learning for engagement. Physical classrooms foster more profound and lively class chats. Students more easily jump into class conversations face-to-face and in the same room as classmates. Lag time for typing in online forums, waiting to speak one at a time, freezing videos, and fast-moving typed responses can quell what could be an otherwise dynamic dialogue.

Additionally, classrooms provide more structure to the learning process. It's easier to focus on the instructor's message when household distractions, like chores and family members, aren't nearby.

In-person education provides unbeatable socializing and networking aspects. Learning alongside classmates leads to friendships, spontaneous study groups, library meet-ups, social get-togethers, and informal instructor chats. These things happen less often online.


Online learning depends entirely on a person's access to a computer that can readily handle downloads and video streaming using reliable, high-speed internet access. Faulty technology can slow educational progress.

In-person classes rely less on tech, which can be an advantage. Many have some tech components, like online research, online class pages, and completing assignments on a laptop. However, in-person is less tech-dependent. An in-person student can use their school's library or computer centers to access online content if they can't do so at home.

What’s best? It depends.

An accountant must make many educational decisions throughout their accounting career. Add to it the fact that each decision comes with the choice to learn through self-study, online courses or in-person settings.

Aspiring and seasoned accounting and finance professionals can use this guide to help them choose the best type for themselves. Ohio residents should check with their local accounting membership organizations in Ohio. These professional groups typically offer a plethora of continuing education in all formats so accountants can choose what serves them best.

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