A bachelor's degree in accounting is a 4-year program that prepares its graduates to interpret, analyze, measure and communicate a company's crucial financial information. Students learn effective critical thinking and problem-solving techniques that are applicable across all types of businesses, including nonprofits. In addition to nonprofit accounting practices, students will learn about governmental accounting, taxation and auditing.
Many of the more advanced positions available to nonprofit accountants require a master's degree in accountancy. There are two types of master's degrees available to accountants who wish to further their education. The Master of Accountancy emphasizes advanced accounting principles and special attention is given to industry-specific information technology. The Master of Science in Accountancy program is business oriented and, along with advanced accounting principles, seeks to impart the business competencies and skills necessary for a successful career in accounting.
For undergraduate level programs, students should possess a high school diploma or GED. A bachelor's degree is required for admission into a graduate program. Both program levels generally are offered partially or entirely online.
Bachelor's Degree in Accounting
Those seeking a bachelor's degree in accounting can select a Bachelor of Business in Accounting (BBA) or a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. While preparing students to sit for the Certified Public Accountant designation, these programs focus heavily on economics, finance, management and business law. Students complete these programs with supervised internships prior to graduation.
While nonprofit accounting is far too narrow a subspecialty in the industry to warrant a major or minor concentration, aspiring nonprofit accountants need a solid education in all aspects of accounting. Undergraduate accounting majors can expect to take classes such as:
- Business core accounting
- Business consolidations
- Accounting information systems
- Internal controls
- Accounting and taxation
- Cost accounting
Master's Degree in Accounting
The Master of Accountancy (MAcc) program is usually, though not always, limited to students who have earned their undergraduate degree in accounting or finance. Designed specifically for the career of a professional accountant, this degree program also meets the standards required to take the CPA exam if the MAcc candidate has not already done so.
Another option is the Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA). The MSA degree program isn't limited to undergraduate requirements in accounting or finance; however, MSA candidates with other undergraduate degrees can expect significant prerequisite requirements prior to beginning the MSA program. The MSA program also prepares its graduates for the CPA exam.
For MSA candidates, and for the MAcc programs that do accept candidates with undergraduate degrees other than in accounting and finance, a number of prerequisites must be met. Entrance into a master's degree program in accounting usually requires significant background in courses such as:
- Financial accounting
- Business calculus
- Accounting information systems
Graduate-level accountancy study focuses on both the theory and the practice of advanced accounting principles. Master's degree candidates are not only well versed in the skills necessary to perform in a nonprofit accounting capacity, but also graduate with expertise in business strategy and regulatory compliance, which are vital assets in the nonprofit sector. Students in either the MSA or the MAcc program can expect to study courses in:
- Financial reporting analysis
- Not-for-profit entities
- Cost and managerial accounting
- Legal vs. ethical accounting
- Fraud and audit
- Accounting theory and policy
Popular Career Options
The scope of accounting positions available in the nonprofit sector is varied. An October 2010 search of nonprofit jobs on ExecSearches.com and Idealist.org revealed that a bachelor's degree in accounting qualified applicants for the following positions, among many others:
- Financial reporter for a large religious charity
- Fiscal director for an ecology grant funding organization
- Grant accounting officer for a charity that builds homes for needy recipients
- Director of finance for a large national nonprofit organizational association
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that accountants and auditors would see an increase of 11% in employment, which is about average, from 2014-2024. The average wage of accountants and auditors was $75,280 in May 2015, stated the BLS.
Certification and Continuing Education Information
All 50 states require any accountant who files documentation with the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) to have earned the CPA designation. The CPA exam is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and each individual state regulates the requirements for practice. Both bachelor's degree and master's degree programs prepare graduates to sit for this examination.
Many accredited accounting schools are geared towards preparing students to take the CPA exam; however, this should not be taken for granted and individual state requirements should be investigated. Once so designated, CPAs are required to earn continuing education to keep their designation renewed. These requirements vary widely by state and are governed by each state's board of accountancy.
Students hoping to enter the field of nonprofit accounting should pursue traditional degrees in accounting, as they will be faced with similar obstacles and issues. They can then obtain certification as a CPA.