An MBA and a master’s in accounting separately fulfill the educational requirements for the certified public accountant (CPA) exam. However, each program prepares graduates for unique professional opportunities. Students who earn an MBA often graduate with a breadth of knowledge applicable to broad business arenas such as operations, marketing, or management. Graduates with a master’s in accounting, on the other hand, develop in-depth knowledge of specific areas such as taxation, forensic accounting, and risk management.
Accounting graduates enter a well-paying field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a 2019 median salary of $71,550 for accountants and auditors, much higher than the median salary for other occupations ($39,810).
How Much Do Accounting Majors Make?
The BLS reports a 2019 median salary of $71,550 for accountants and auditors. Accounting firms and agencies providing tax preparation, payroll, and bookkeeping services hire the highest number of accountants (33.41%) followed by oil and gas extraction companies (5.94%), and investment firms (5.38%).
Featured Online Schools
What can you do with a master's in accounting?
A master’s in accounting prepares graduates to sit for the CPA exam and qualifies them for positions like financial analysts, company controllers, and forensic accountants, among others.
Is a master's in accounting or MBA in accounting better?
A master’s in accounting prepares graduates to work in fields directly related to accounting such as auditing or corporate taxation. Individuals who prefer to pursue a more general business career in marketing or operations should consider an MBA.
How long is a master's in accounting?
Most accounting master’s programs require 30-36 credits for completion and typically take 12-18 months to complete. However, factors such as part-time versus full-time enrollment often impact the length of time to complete a master’s in accounting degree.
Is a master's in accounting hard?
Yes, some of the best accounting master’s programs demand rigorous work. However, graduates often report that the professional and personal rewards of earning a master’s in accounting outweigh the challenges inherent in a well-designed program.
Best Online Master’s Degree in Accounting 2021
Why Get a Degree in Accounting?
Accountants who decide to pursue a master’s in the field give several different reasons for their decision. Many cite the five benefits of earning a master’s in accounting listed below.
- Prepare for CPA Exam
- A master’s in accounting includes coursework that prepares graduates for the exam’s four sections, namely, auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, regulation, and financial accounting and reporting.
- Job Requirement
- Large companies and organizations usually prefer graduates with a master’s in accounting for top accounting or finance positions. They rely on their knowledge and training to make timely, cost-effective, and future-oriented financial decisions.
- Enhance Professional Credibility
- A master’s in accounting presents the holder as a learned, ethical, and committed professional possessing the analytical skills to help companies make informed business decisions in keeping with current regulations governing their industry.
- Keep Industry Knowledge Current
- A well-designed master’s in accounting includes courses that cover the latest research findings, practical applications, and regulatory changes that impact the accounting arena.
- Qualify for Higher Salary
- Industries often pay accountants with master’s degrees higher salaries because they know these professionals hold high qualifications and possess the training to make sound financial decisions for their business.
Master’s in Accounting Program Requirements
Applying for a master’s in accounting typically requires applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree in the field itself — or a related arena such as business or finance. Most programs require applicants with an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field of study to complete prerequisite coursework prior to enrolling. Many accounting master’s programs also require a minimum GPA (often 3.0 or higher) and the submission of GRE or GMAT scores from tests taken no more than five years from the time of application.
Culminating requirements for accounting master’s programs differ among schools. Most institutions require candidates to write a thesis. Some colleges prefer candidates to complete a capstone project tackling a real-world accounting problem or situation.
Master’s in Accounting Specializations
A broad field of study, accounting supports several specialization areas for accountants who prefer to focus their practice in a specific arena that holds their professional or personal interest, such as the four described below.
The financial accounting specialization involves the preparation of financial statements that reflect a company’s overall fiscal performance. Companies often present these statements to external stakeholders, including investors, creditors, and customers.
Using a variety of accounting and investigative techniques, forensic accountants perform a thorough financial examination of an individual or business. These findings often appear in court or legal proceedings.
Accountants specializing in tax accounting prepare tax returns for individuals and companies, determine deductible expenses, calculate gains and losses against income and profit, and generally track the movement of funds.
Accountants specializing in international accounting use the guidelines provided in the International Financial Reporting Standards to evaluate and determine the financial standing of a foreign company or individual.
Courses in an Accounting Master’s Program
A master’s in accounting usually requires 30-36 credits for completion. Curricula often include foundation and concentration courses, with many programs requiring enrollees to complete an internship experience prior to graduation. To prepare graduates for high-level analytic work, most schools also require students to enroll in research, communication, and writing classes. Continue reading for a sample of classes offered by some of the best accounting master’s programs today.
Accountants use the skills developed in a data analytics class to accomplish a variety of tasks, including identifying areas that require attention to enhance efficiency. Knowing how to interpret big data allows accountants to manage risks better and to make sound long- and short-term business decisions.
A federal income tax course covers topics such as gross income, tax-deductible expenses, and applicable tax regulations for employees and self-employed filers. Students examine existing federal tax structures for individuals, and corporations learn how to complete key components of federal tax returns and identify and implement tax-related strategies to benefit clients.
In an advanced financial accounting class, enrollees study topics such as fixed assets and liabilities, acquisitions and investments, and shareholder equity. Students examine the different components of cash flow statements and learn how to critically evaluate and prepare them. The course also teaches students about various accounting methods and how to apply them.
Scholarships for Accounting
Many colleges and universities offering master’s degrees in accounting maintain scholarship and fellowship programs for students. Other sources of accounting scholarship opportunities include professional associations, nonprofit organizations, and public corporations with vested interests in the field. The three scholarships presented below make up only a small sample of funding opportunities available to students pursuing an accounting degree at an accredited college or university.
AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants welcomes applications for this scholarship from students pursuing a master’s in accounting and CPA licensure. Eligible applicants hold a liberal arts or a non-business degree.
Amount: $5,000See Scholarship
EFWA Moss Adams Foundation Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting welcomes applications from minority women returning to school as college juniors or seniors or as a graduate student. Eligible applicants demonstrate financial need and commitment to pursuing a career in accounting or finance after graduation.
Amount: $1,000See Scholarship
Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners welcomes applications for this scholarship from graduate students pursuing a degree in accounting, business administration, finance, or criminal justice. Eligible applicants take at least six credits per term and demonstrate a commitment to pursuing a career in the anti-fraud field after graduation.
Amount: $1,000-$10,000See Scholarship