Master’s degree in accounting programs guide

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The importance of choosing the right accounting degree

You’ve graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and you don’t know what your next step should be. You’ve accumulated work experience in the field of accounting and would like to advance in your career. You would like to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) but aren’t entirely sure which is the optimal way to meet the exam’s admission criteria.

The answers to these situations can vary, of course, from one person to another, depending on personal circumstances and preferences. However, the solution that best fits all 3 cases described above is to earn a Master’s in Accounting.

Benefit from earning a Master’s of Accounting

If you want to have a successful accounting career, earning a master’s of accounting helps you reach your goal in more than one way. It gives you the necessary skills and in-depth knowledge to do the job, and it sets you apart from other candidates, offering you access to a wide array of employment opportunities.

A master’s degree in accounting usually takes up to 2 years or around 35 credit hours to complete, which you can use towards meeting the CPA examination entry requirements. If you already have extensive work experience in the accounting field, a master’s of accounting (M.A.) degree can help you take your career to the next level.

How to select your Master’s in Accounting program

Choosing where to study is no simple task. You need to find out if you meet all admission criteria and consider essential factors such as program cost, duration, delivery format, and location. That is why it’s a good thing to start your research well in advance. This offers you a helicopter view of what’s on offer, giving you enough time to think things through and make an informed decision.

The importance of accredited master’s programs

Start by knowing that the institution offering the master’s in accounting program you choose is accredited. The fact that a university is accredited is often a good indicator that the program you choose is good from an educational point of view. Opting for a program from an accredited institution also qualifies you for federal financial aid to pay for your studies and enables you to transfer the program’s credits towards meeting CPA admission requirements.

Check if the institution that offers the master’s program you are interested in on the official websites of institutions such as the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Duration of studies

You will graduate a master’s degree of accounting in 1-2 years or around 35 credit hours at most institutions. You may complete it in less time if you already hold an associate’s degree, and you’ll be able to transfer your credit hours. You can enter a full-time program, but there are hybrid formats available and even programs that are entirely online.

If you work, hybrid or online formats offer the flexibility you may need, alongside a lower total cost of your studies compared to traditional programs. Earning your degree online also provides the convenience of joining the program you want without having to relocate.

Cost of tuition

The cost of a master’s degree in Accounting program changes from one higher-education institution to another. FinAid.org notes that program costs start at $30,000 at lower-ranked universities and can go as high as $120,000 at highly-competitive schools.

Entry criteria for a Master’s in Accounting

Admission requirements for a master’s in accounting can vary from one university to another, depending on the type of institution and the program it offers. However, most universities expect candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution when they submit an application. Ideally, higher-education institutions require bachelor’s degrees with a major in accounting, but they also accept related subjects like finance, economics, or business studies.

Applications should also include scores for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), as well as transcripts of undergraduate degree courses, references, and letters of recommendation.

Certain universities are very competitive and usually have stricter admission requirements. If you are interested in an M.A. program offered by such an institution, know that they tend to accept candidates with high test scores, a competitive transcript, and typically ask them to complete an interview for admission.

Chances are you want to enter a master’s program, but you don’t hold a bachelor’s degree, or you have one that didn’t focus specifically on accounting. In these cases, it’s important to know that – for admission purposes – you may be asked to prove your numeracy competencies and complete additional courses in subjects like accounting or finance.

Discover what you learn in a master’s of accounting

A master’s in accounting dives deep into accounting principles, practices, and processes, helps you gain skills needed to advance in your career, and can prepare you for earning a doctoral degree. A master’s program also offers the possibility to choose a specialization, which enables you to focus on a specific area of interest in the accounting field and gain in-depth knowledge in that area.

Accounting specializations

Forensic accounting

This field of study combines investigative techniques and procedures with accounting and financial know-how. Courses will look into fraud examination best practices, detailing criminal laws related to the accounting field.

Such specialization can be of interest to students who already hold a degree in accounting or have a finance and business background. The specialization focuses on developing analytical skills such as critical thinking and combining them with strong computing abilities.

Auditing

This specialization will offer an in-depth understanding of the field of auditing, touching on the standards and principles of internal and external audit procedures, business ethics, or business law.

An area of focus that is increasingly important for students who choose this specialization is that of computer-assisted auditing techniques (CAAT). You’ll learn how they work and develop advanced skills to help uncover accounting fraud attempts.

Tax accounting

This area of study dives deep into the field of taxation and the laws and regulations that govern it. Courses focus on taxation processes, techniques, and practices at local, national, and international levels.

Students develop advanced technical competencies in tax planning and tax codes and gain knowledge on state or federal taxes and other regulations of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This specialization can also provide the necessary background if you want to pursue a tax attorney career.

International accounting

Like the name hints, you’ll learn accounting principles and practices and how they function in various environments at a global level. You’ll also develop an advanced understanding of international financial reporting standards and how everyday economic activities and services work in different industries worldwide.

You’ll also get essential insights into how economics, accounting, and finance function together in various cultures, social systems, and political regimes. This specialization can prepare you for multiple accounting roles, including financial analyst, risk analyst, or treasurer.

Financial accounting

You’ll study federal and state laws and regulations and learn standards and procedures to help you know how to create, analyze, and communicate financial information and accounting data. As a student in this specialized program, you’ll gain knowledge about financial management and develop competencies in the field of advanced accounting.

Classes will also focus on topics such as international tax laws, corporate governance, or due-diligence activities. You’ll also develop competencies and techniques preparing you for management roles in finance and accounting.

Types of master’s programs

There are various types of master’s programs available for you to choose from, so make sure you select the one that best suits your interest. Additionally, check out the best masters in accounting programs.

Master’s of Professional Accountancy (MPA)

This advanced program is designed for people who already hold a bachelor’s degree and want to pursue a career as professional public or private accountants.

Master’s of Science in Accounting (MSA)

The curriculum of this type of program does not differ substantially from the one of a traditional master’s in accounting degree, placing a strong focus on specialized accounting topics.

Master’s of Business Administration (MBA)

This type of program has a multidisciplinary approach, including courses that focus on typical accounting topics and classes that explore business-related subjects such as management, economics, or finance.

Courses in a Master’s in Accounting

The curriculum of master’s of accounting degree programs can be very diverse depending on their duration and the institutions that offer them. However, some of the most common courses that most programs tend to include are:

Advanced managerial accounting

In this class, you’ll learn how to analyze various financial data and use it in real-life business situations.

Advanced auditing

This course offers in-depth knowledge of managerial accounting processes and fraud examination techniques.

Ethics in accounting

You’ll gain insight into ethical decision-making in finance and learn about the role ethics plays in the accounting and business world.

Taxation

This course offers advanced information on tax laws and taxation practices and how these impact financial decisions and business investments.

Prepare for CPA examination

Most holders of a master’s in accounting choose to get certification after graduation and become Certified Public Accountants (CPA). That’s why an important role of a master’s in Accounting program is to prepare students for the CPA exam. You’ll have classes that focus on teaching the information required to pass the test, and you’ll get a thorough understanding of CPA guidelines, learning if you can meet the admission criteria.

A master’s degree can also help towards meeting the entry requirements of CPA examinations. Most states only accept candidates who hold degrees accumulating at least 150 credit hours, and a master’s program would typically contribute around 35 credits. This way, if you already hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting and graduate from a master’s program, you’ll most likely meet the 150 credit hours required for CPA exam enrollment.

Your career path with a master’s in accounting

A master’s degree in Accounting is typically considered the highest form of education for professionals in the accounting fields. Holders of a master’s degree stand out and are usually very sought after by employers. If you have such a degree, you can access better-paid employment opportunities and will have better chances to advance to managerial positions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that in 2019 accountants and auditors earned on average $71,550 per year in wages. However, know that this figure can change significantly based on work experience, education, and the state you work in.

As a forensic accountant, you audit commercial or non-profit organizations and state institutions to establish the legality and accuracy of an organization’s financial data.

2019 median annual salary: $69,000

The master’s of accounting degree paves the way for you to become certified in your field of work. Earning this or another type of certification usually increases your chances of advancing into a better role.

2019 median annual salary: $71,550

Tax examiners are usually employed by state or government institutions to establish the amount of tax owed by businesses or individuals. Their job description includes activities like auditing, data analysis, and tax returns examination.

2019 median annual salary: $54,890

Auditors can be either external or internal professionals employed by a business or government organization to check the accuracy, conformity, and legality of all the financial transactions performed by a company or individual.

2019 median annual salary: $71,000

American Accounting Association (AAA)

The AAA gathers under one roof an extensive community of accountants from all walks of life, including the academic field.

National Society of Accountants (NSA)

NSA is a society with a core mission of helping tax and accounting professionals further their knowledge.

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)

AICPA is the official body that represents CPAs, developing and grading the CPA certification examination at state and national level.

American Association of Finance and Accounting (AAFA)

The AAFA connects accounting organizations, firms, and professionals throughout the United States.

International Federation of Accountants (IFA)

This organization represents accounting professionals in more than 130 countries around the world, acting as a global common ground for networking and best practices in the accounting industry.

The Institute of Internal Auditors of North America (IIA)

The IIA is an organization with 200,000 members globally that represents internal auditors’ interests at national and international levels.

Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)

ISACA now has more than 150,000 members in over 180 countries and is a global organization for information governance, control, security, and audit professionals.

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)

NASBA acts like a forum for the 55 State Boards of Accountancy in the US, which administer the Uniform CPA Examination. In partnership with AICPA, NASBA facilitates CPA examination for professionals oversees.

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE)

Home to over 85,000 members, CFE is an anti-fraud organization that offers anti-fraud training, certification, and education.

European Accounting Association (EAA)

EEA is an academic organization that supports Europe’s accounting community through research, education opportunities and knowledge sharing.

Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)

Also known as the Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business, IMA is the body in charge of organizing, grading CMA and CSCA examination certifications.

Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)

FASB is an independent organization that sets the standards for public and private organizations following Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) in the field of financial accounting.