Accounting is one of the world’s oldest professions. For as long as humans have engaged in commerce, they have needed a way to account for their inventories, sales, and costs, including taxes. Degree seekers are thus wise to pursue a course in accounting. Though all degree levels offer a terrific return on investment, a master’s degree in accountancy is considered the apex of academic achievement in the business world. These days accounting students can take their master’s degrees down many fascinating and rewarding career paths. This page is devoted to master’s degrees in accounting and how they fit into the financial industry, high tech, and business in general
What is a Master’s Degree?
A master’s degree is an academic credential that is preceded by a four-year bachelor’s degree. Master’s programs allow students to focus on the specific field that interests them the most without having to take extraneous elective classes or core curriculum. These academic programs are also known as graduate degrees/programs and they are typically quite intense. Student also generally find their graduate work to be extremely rewarding from both an intellectual and a professional standpoint.
To complete a master’s degree, students typically need to allow about two years to complete their program. However, some fields take more time such as law, which demands a standard of three years. Other programs take as little as a year or a year and a half and there is also a spread in the number of credit hours required to complete a degree. Some programs require as few as 30 hours to complete a master’s degree, while others are 60-hour programs. The number of required credits indicates that a program requires more time to complete or that the individual classes are assigned more credit hours and are thus more intensive.
Full-time graduate students are often quite busy with their coursework and other duties. Since graduate courses are far more intense than undergraduate courses, students often are found burning the midnight oil to complete papers and projects. Graduate students might also help pay for their accounting degrees by working as teaching assistants for a professor in their department. These positions take a lot of time as graduate students frequently need to lead discussion groups, grade papers, and maintain office hours.
Where Do You Earn a Master’s Degree?
The majority of master’s degrees are found at traditional universities. By definition, they are not found at colleges or community colleges. In fact, adding a graduate program is a requirement for a college to become a university. There are a few exceptions where a college may have a single graduate program and yet not elect to call itself a university. There are, however, stand-alone graduate programs that are not affiliated with undergraduate institutions. These are often formed to prepare students for specific professions. For example, there are many law schools that are unaffiliated with an undergraduate program. There are also schools of counseling psychology that focus on specific methods or philosophies.
Additionally, there are online institutions that offer undergraduate and graduate degrees. These online universities offer terrific flexibility. It’s worth noting that online graduate students often cannot offset their tuition with a teaching assistantship. This may change as online education grows and develops, so curious students should ask their admissions adviser about a possible assistantship.
Online Vs. Traditional Education in Accounting
Accounting degrees are probably as old as the system of higher education itself. They have evolved through the advent of the abacus, the electronic calculator, computers, accounting software packages, and now online education. Nevertheless, many still insist that on-campus accounting classes and degree programs that are traditional are better. However, just as accountants work with clients via online media, so can accounting students attend classes via the internet.
While some hold onto the old bias that an on-campus degree is preferable to an online accounting degree program, each is as capable of attaining accreditation as the other. Furthermore, educational research has shown that online education produces outcomes that are equivalent to its traditional counterpart.
When it comes to a master’s degree in accounting, students find that the online medium is a terrific solution that allows them to continue working while improving their knowledge and skills. An online graduate degree in accounting also allows students to attend programs from schools that may be hundreds or thousands of miles away. Online classes can be integrated alongside classroom instruction so that students can free up their schedules for work, teaching assistantships, or family duties.
However, online graduate degrees may fall short of traditional campus programs in one meaningful way – networking. Many students find that their graduate accounting or business degree helped them meet like-minded colleagues. While people can connect through online classrooms, the associations are not as strong or as long-lasting. Thus, many online graduate business or accounting programs integrate on-campus sessions periodically throughout the life of a cohort. Those brief on-campus residencies sometimes are even better than spending two intense years with the same people.
What Are the Prerequisites for an Accounting Master’s Degree?
One of the chief prerequisites for attending a master’s degree program in accounting or business is an undergraduate degree. Often, admissions offices also have prerequisite course requirements such as taxation, audits, or general business courses including business law or management. Not only must students have completed their bachelor’s degree, but admissions counselors often like to see specific courses on every student’s transcript, grades that meet a certain minimum standard, and other materials such as letters of recommendation. Though seemingly on the wane, many accounting programs like to see GMAT scores at or above a certain threshold. GRE scores may also help a candidate qualify for admission.
Graduate programs in accounting may also request or appreciate a candidate’s professional resume. It can also be helpful to note whether the candidate has achieved any non-academic credentials such as a certification. Students who have spent several years out of school may wish to include a resume, as well. Professional experience in the field is often highly valued by graduate admissions offices and even required by some.
These requirements are roughly equivalent to what students can expect when applying to an MBA program. For a doctoral program, students will need to show that they’ve completed a graduate degree by presenting an official transcript. PhD programs may also want to see a statement of purpose that details the research a student intends to complete.
Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Accounting?
There are many reasons to earn a master’s degree in accounting. Many people return to graduate school simply to fulfill a personal goal. The academic achievement may also be part of a family tradition or a tradition they wish to start for their families. However, most enroll to earn a Master of Accountancy for the professional rewards.
Accountants with graduate degrees find that they receive promotions and salary increases more quickly than their peers with bachelor’s degrees. Most firms highly value a graduate degree and thus reward their employees who improve their academic credentials. Those in the job market also find it easier to land a prized position when they have a MS in Accounting.
If they wish to take the CPA examination, graduate work not only helps them prepare with the knowledge they need but it surely satisfies their state board’s requirements. CPA candidates need to meet certain academic standards before they can take the test.
Finally, a master’s degree is a requirement for many professional certifications. Once an accountant has achieved those credentials, they can join the attendant association and thereby grow their network. Such certifications also open the door to new job opportunities, including independent consulting or other entrepreneurial endeavors.
A degree in accounting is one that will always be valuable because it is a fundamental part of business. The skills are also useful in information technology and cyber security. Accountants are found working in nearly every sort of firm. They even work for law firms and law enforcement as forensic accountants. No matter the degree level, a diploma in accounting is valuable.
Even an associate degree in accounting can launch a career. The fundamental skills are always valued by employers who need a bookkeeper or who need someone with an acute eye for detail. A two-year degree in accounting not only helps in the job market but can help students who return for a bachelor’s degree in business, accounting, or any field. The two-year degree in accountancy will even pay off as a solid background for a master’s degree.
Ultimately, students who have an eye for detail, a head for numbers, and the ambition to succeed in the business community should seek an accounting degree. Whether they seek their degree at the associate, bachelor’s, or master’s level, they are likely to find well-paid jobs that propel them to greater things down the road.
What’s Involved in a Master’s Accounting Degree?
A master’s degree in accounting helps students delve deeper into their chosen field. In fact, an MS in Accounting deepens the practice of accounting and produces graduates who have a deeper grasp on accounting and business in general. Along the way to a graduate degree, students may cover topics such as information systems, auditing, predicting bankruptcy, fraud, and corporate responsibility.
Some students seek accounting programs that help them focus on concentrations such as finance, international banking, management, or non-profits. These concentration areas help accountants apply their skills in ways that will direct their careers in specific ways. Accountancy programs also help students aim towards specific certifications such as a CPA, CIA, CFE, CISA, an CMA. A master’s degree is often vital for those who desire full CPA licensure with their state board of accountancy.
Common Accounting Courses
- Auditing Seminar
- Financial Accounting
- Internal Auditing
- Risk Analysis and Forensic Accounting
- Taxation of Flow-Through Entities
- International Taxation
- Tax Research and Procedure
- Managerial Accounting
- Financial Reporting
- Taxation Planning and Decision Making
- Business Law
- Business Statistics
- Data Analytics
- Information Systems
- Managerial Accounting
- Government and Non-profit Accounting
- Risk Management
- Forensic Accounting
- Cost Accounting
- Professional Accounting
- Supply Chain Management
- Financial Analysis
- International Banking
- Investment Banking
What to Consider When Choosing a Master’s Program for Accounting
Accreditation is a key concern for all students. For accounting students who wish to pursue professional credentials, especially CPA licensure, accreditation is a vital part of the process. State Accountancy Boards wish to see transcripts from accredited accounting programs. There are two basic levels of accreditation, those at the regional level and then national accreditation.
Regional accreditation is conferred by independent agencies that are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. There are agencies that operate in various regions across the US. Accreditation from these agencies is valuable but is also considered a minimum standard for business-related programs.
Their formal names are:
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- Northwest Commission on Higher Education (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
At the national level, there are three primary accrediting agencies for business and accounting programs: AACSB, ACBSP, and IACBE. Schools that carry accreditation from these agencies are considered among the top in the nation, if not the world. In fact, employers who match tuition are more likely to cover degrees that are accredited by these agencies.
Further Accounting Education
An MBA is also a terrific option for a student who holds a bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting. An MBA steeps professionals in a general knowledge of business including management, marketing, finance, and leadership, among other topics. Professionals can pursue an MBA with a concentration in accounting, finance, and many other possible areas.
When accountants complete the core MBA courses, they have a more well-rounded view of business. Then their accounting concentration hones their knowledge and skills for auditing, taxation, and more. The MBA enables them to move into positions in the C-suites. In particular, an MBA might qualify an accountant to become a CEO, CFO, or even CIO.
Doctorate or PhD
After attaining a master’s degree in accounting, some choose to continue their academic momentum and complete a doctoral degree. This level of academic achievement is not common in the business world, but firms are still likely to value an executive with such a degree. Perhaps the best application for this degree is to pursue a career path in academia. Accountants who have both practical experience and a PhD are sure to land tenure-track positions. In fact, some accountants pursue a doctoral degree later in their working life so that they can become part-time college professors in their retirement years.
Formal education is a vital part of any accounting career, but so is certification. The most prominent certification is that of a certified public accountant (CPA). This credential can stand alone as proof that the professional has passed the CPA examination, but many apply to their state Board of Accountancy for full licensure. A CPA license allows the professional to sign tax filings and they are generally highly esteemed throughout the business world.
Accountants also seek certification as fraud examiners, information systems auditor, management accountant, and internal auditor. Certified fraud examiners pursue careers as internal or external auditors, compliance officers, private investigators, or law enforcement agents. This is an exciting career path for those who love balancing accounts while chasing bad guys.
Certified information systems auditors marry the practices of accounting with information systems. They audit systems, manage information technology, and even take cyber security roles. A CISA certification might help an accountant land a position as a chief information officer (CIO).
A certified management accountant (CMA) is often found holding positions such as chief financial officer (CFO), budget analyst, finance manager, or controller, among other jobs. Their certification proves their expertise in all aspects of finance.
Finally, a certified internal auditor (CIA) is an accounting professional who works with all levels of an organization. Their job is to assess all of a firm’s operations. Their risk management expertise makes them particularly valuable and many work as consultants.
Available Careers with an Accounting Master’s Degree
- Internal Auditor – This employee provides an assessment of a firm’s operations from the production line to the executive suites.
- Forensic Accountant – These specialists investigate fraud as part of a law enforcement team but can also provide risk management services to their employers or clients.
- Tax Accountant – They work with businesses, individuals, or major corporations to prepare tax documents for quarterly and annual filing. A licensed CPA is qualified to sign off on these filing documents.
- Management Accountant – These managers work with their firm to conduct specialized audits that seek to answer specific business questions. Their audits are held internally for the purpose of improving efficiencies and expanding the bottom line.
- Information Systems Auditor – These auditors perform audits on a firm’s information systems and helps to manage the firm’s IT assets. Information system auditors help manage a firm’s hardware and software and they can also protect intellectual property with cyber security measures.
A master’s degree in accountancy will help any professional boost their salary. While several of the top certifications don’t require even a bachelor’s degree, when an accountant who holds a master’s degree combines their academic achievement with a certification, their earnings soar. Some schools show their graduates gaining an average of 10% more upon graduation with a master’s degree in accounting. MBA students are shown boosting their salaries into the low six figures. That does not include bonuses or other added compensation. Furthermore, when a master of accounting graduate adds a certification to their credentials, they’ll surely see their earnings rise even more.
Essentially, a master’s degree ensures its holder the top salary range in accounting. With only an associate or bachelor’s degree, professionals can earn a substantial salary, but their earnings won’t match those of colleagues who complete a graduate program. Furthermore, master’s degrees open up opportunities in upper management, top consulting firms, and more. Not only do earnings rise but so does professional satisfaction and accomplishment.
Accountants are vital to the life of nearly every organization, especially those in the business community. They provide the necessary internal audits that determine where the firm can do better. They also prepare and file tax documents, help the firm avoid risk, and manage, audit, and protect the firm’s information systems. Thus, the outlook for those in accountancy is quite good.
While Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that work for professionals at the bookkeeper level may be dropping off, mostly due to advances in accounting software, but upper-tier accountants are expected to see their field grow. The BLS shows that accountants and auditors can expect to see their field grow at an average pace of around 4% each year. Affiliated professions such as budget analysts are expected to grow at a similar pace. However, management analysts are projected to expand their field by 10%, more than twice the rate of general accountants. Accountants who enter into computer and information systems management are likewise expecting to increase their numbers by 10% or more through 2029. Financial managers are likewise expected to experience a growth spurt of 15% in the same time frame.
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