A bachelor's degree program in forensic accounting provides students with a solid foundation in business and accounting principles, as well as other topics such as fraud investigations, corporate governance and auditing. An internship may be required. Applicants to these 4-year programs need a high school diploma and background in math and computer science. Accountants need a bachelor's degree, plus about 30 extra hours of credits, to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination.
Master's degree programs in forensic accounting are usually designed for CPAs who want to specialize, although accountants seeking credits for CPA status may enroll in some programs. Applicants need a bachelor's degree and courses in financial accounting, information systems, business principles and auditing. Most programs are 1-2 years in length.
Bachelor of Science in Forensic Accounting
Bachelor's degree programs in forensic accounting are entry-level programs, and provide students with an educational background in accounting while at the same time providing them with an overview of forensics and the U.S. court system. The goal of these programs is to produce accountants who can use their knowledge to prevent and detect fraud and other types of financial crime. Students enrolled in such programs learn the basics of accounting, auditing and taxation while also studying criminology, fraud investigation and information security.
Most colleges and universities offering bachelor's degree programs in forensic science offer courses in the field through classroom lectures and computer lab experiences. Some examples of such courses include:
- Principles of accounting and finance
- Fraud detection and investigation
- Criminology and ethics
- Business law
- Federal income tax
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Master of Science in Forensic Accounting
Most master's degree programs in forensic accounting are designed for students who already have a solid educational background in accounting principles, auditing and taxation. Students enrolled in a master's degree program in forensic accounting gain a thorough understanding of financial reporting systems, fraud investigation, financial evidence analysis, litigation procedures, digital forensics and more.
The core courses often included in a program in forensic accounting focus on advanced accounting principles, fraud investigation techniques and research methods. Some specific examples are listed below:
- Advanced accounting principles and forensic accounting
- Financial statement analysis
- Fraud examination
- Digital forensics
- Corporate governance
- Decision analysis
Popular Career Options
Earning a graduate degree in forensic accounting can provide CPAs with the advanced skills necessary to gain several different positions. Some of these include:
- Forensic accountant
- Internal auditor
- Litigation consultant in forensic accounting
- Manager of forensic accounting
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer specific data for forensic accountants, it did report that accountants and auditors in general numbered 1,332,700 in 2014. The annual median salary in the field in 2015 was around $67,190. The top paying industries were the securities and commodity exchanges and the federal government.
All accountants, including forensic accountants, are required to gain certification. Aspiring CPAs can gain licensure through their state's Board of Accountancy. Applicants must be college graduates and must pass an examination before they can become CPAs.
Forensic accounting programs are available at the bachelor's and master's degree levels and prepare students for their CPA exam. Graduates are qualified to work a variety of fields, including in management, auditing and consulting.