Financial Accounting Degree and Certificate Programs

Students interested in a career as an accountant have a variety of educational opportunities available to them. Bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and post-graduate certificate programs offer training in all facets of accounting and can qualify graduates for state certification as a Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Essential Information

Students interested in an accounting career can start by earning a bachelor's degree and, if they desire, moving on to a master's degree and post-master's certificate program in accounting. Many programs allow them to gain experience through internships. Students with the proper number of semester hours completed, as required by the state they will be working in, can apply for state licensure as a CPA.

  • Program Levels in Financial Accounting: Bachelor of Science in Accounting; Master of Accounting; Post-Master's Certificate in Accounting
  • Prerequisites: A high school diploma or its equivalent is required for entry into a bachelor's program; a bachelor's degree in accounting is required for entry into a master's program; a master's degree is required for entry into a post-master's certificate program.
  • Program Length: A bachelor's degree takes four years; a master's degree takes two years; certification takes 15 credit hours.
  • Other Requirements: Internships may be required; a thesis may be required at the master's level.

Bachelor of Science in Accounting

Bachelor's degree programs in accounting combine coursework in accounting, business and information technology (IT). Accounting courses include accounting practices, and auditing and taxation; business courses include marketing and business management. IT courses teach students about accounting information systems, including accounting and taxation software programs and accounting databases. A bachelor's degree program in accounting might culminate in a final project or an internship experience. There are no education prerequisites for entry other than a high school diploma or GED.

Coursework teaches students how to ethically and professionally fulfill the duties of a CPA. Students also learn to complete income taxes, audit individuals, audit businesses and detect fraud. Common courses include:

  • Financial accounting
  • Economics
  • Financial reporting
  • Microeconomics
  • Business law

Master of Accounting

A Master of Accounting program often gives students the opportunity to choose an area of specialization, such as auditing, information systems management or forensic accounting. The curriculum includes courses in financial accounting and accounting information systems; a course that prepares students to take the CPA examination is also part of the program. Accounting students learn about current issues facing national and global financial markets; they also study managerial decision-making in corporate finance. Other topics might include taxation, cost accounting and financial reporting. Some programs require an internship or final thesis project. Students can also choose to purse a master's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting.

Admittance to this program requires a bachelor's degree in accounting from an accredited institution or a bachelor's degree in another subject area with prerequisite coursework in accounting. Other requirements include satisfactory scores on the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) or GRE (Graduate Records Examination).

Coursework varies from school to school and depends on the area of specialization. Accounting students learn to apply accounting principles to current accounting issues and utilize information technology to manage accounting systems. Common courses include:

  • Financial statements
  • Cost accounting
  • Forensic accounting
  • Auditing
  • Taxation

Post-Master's Certificate in Accounting

Some post-master's certificate programs in accounting are designed for students holding a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in accounting. Typically a 15-credit program, emphasis is placed on accounting systems, accounting information systems and business law. Students might perform accounting research or participate in independent study as part of the program's requirements. Other topics might include auditing, financial analysis and international accounting. Some schools require students to complete an internship and a final research project before earning their certificate.

Admittance requires a bachelor's degree and a Master of Accounting, Master of Science or Master of Business Administration with a concentration in accounting. Other requirements include letters of recommendation, professional experience, a personal statement essay and resume.

Coursework includes financial reporting, taxation and auditing, business law and accounting ethics. An accounting information systems course includes studies in accounting databases and computer applications. Other courses might include:

  • Cost management
  • Accounting fraud
  • Managerial accounting
  • Financial reporting
  • Federal taxation

Popular Career Options

Graduates who hold a bachelor's degree in accounting go on to enjoy careers in a variety of settings, including large corporations, accounting firms and government agencies. Career options include:

  • Public accountant
  • Internal auditor
  • Forensic accountant
  • Industrial accountant
  • Information technology auditor

Graduates who hold a post-master's certificate in accounting are prepared for careers as managers in the finance industry. Graduates might also work in corporate positions as CPAs. Popular career options include:

  • Accounting manager
  • Financial analyst
  • Chief financial officer

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, accountants and auditors held 1,187,310 million jobs in the United States in 2014. The BLS reported that the number of jobs for accountants and auditors will grow by 13% between 2012 and 2022. The median annual salary for accountants and auditors in 2014 was $65,940.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

Graduates of a bachelor's degree program can sit for the CPA examination; however, gaining CPA licensing requires additional semester hours beyond completion of the degree program. Currently, 46 states require 30 semester hours after graduation for a total of 150. Students can pursue a 5-year combined master's and bachelor's degree program. Others can choose to fulfill the additional hours separately and gain licensing without earning a master's degree.

Graduates holding a master's degree in accounting are eligible to sit for the Uniform CPA examination by their state board of accountancy, which results in state licensure. Most states require CPAs to complete 40 hours of continuing education requirements annually to maintain state licensure.

Graduates can enroll in a doctoral program to obtain a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) in Accounting. A Ph.D. program prepares graduates for careers in research and teaching at higher institutions of learning. Graduates can also obtain the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential from the Institute of Management Accountants. The CMA designation requires satisfactory scores on an examination and two years of experience in management accounting.

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