What Is a Master's in Accounting Degree?
A master's in accounting degree, usually known as a Master of Science in Accounting, is a graduate program designed to begin or advance one's career in the accounting field. The main objective of many programs is to prepare students to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, as well as work in top financial positions in government and the private sector. Students take courses in every aspect of accounting, including auditing, fraud examination, and financial reporting, as well as a few business courses in order to understand how companies and organizations operate. Master's degrees in accounting require around 30-33 credits to graduate and can last from 1 1/2 to 2 years if studying full-time.
Common Undergraduate Degrees for Accounting
You can enter a master's accounting program with essentially any undergraduate degree, but a Bachelor of Science in Accounting or a Bachelor of Business Administration may be your best option. Accounting bachelor's degrees cover the same topics that master's degree programs do, but from an introductory level, and with more classes added to the curriculum to enrich your studies. Business administration bachelor's programs teach core business concepts, and many programs allow students to choose a concentration to focus their studies on. Accounting is one of those concentrations. Both degrees allow students to gain valuable core skills to help them succeed in positions within the accounting and business worlds which often are intersectional.
Admissions Requirements for Accounting Master's Programs
The admissions requirements for master's degree programs in accounting are pretty straightforward. The specific requirements can vary by school, but in general, students will need:
- A bachelor's degree or higher from an accredited post-secondary institution
- Official college transcripts
- Personal statement or essay
- Letters of recommendation
- GMAT/GRE test scores
A bachelor's degree in accounting is not required for entry into a master's program, but that can affect what courses you will need to take at some schools. For example, a business degree is related to accounting, so you may only need to take some intermediate accounting and taxation courses. But if you have a degree in a field that is completely unrelated to accounting, you may need to take some foundations courses in marketing, statistics, economics, and finance. This is dependent on what school you attend, though.
Why Should I Get an Accounting Master's Degree?
The value of a master's degree in accounting is ultimately decided by you and what your own goals are. However, there are some benefits to receiving one. Firstly, many jobs in the accounting field may require a bachelor's degree for entry, but employers are increasingly preferring or requiring candidates with master's degrees, especially for upper-level positions. A master's degree in accounting can especially be useful if you have a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field and are looking for a career in accounting. You'll be able to study accounting topics in a master's program without needing to take general education courses the way you would in a bachelor's program, and there are plenty of electives to choose from so you can tailor your education towards your career goals. Lastly, a master's degree may help you advance your career without needing as much work experience as those without a master's degree.
How to Choose a Master's in Accounting Program
When choosing an accounting program, it's important to think about what you can afford, where you can study, and what a school offers in terms of curriculum, enrichment opportunities, and success after graduation. A great place to start searching for programs is the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator. This search tool allows you to find programs by location, majors and degrees offered, and tuition. The tool additionally has helpful information on acceptance and graduation rates. Any specific questions you may have about the curriculum, what the school offers for accounting students (such as clubs or organizations), and the benefits of each program can be answered by an enrollment advisor. Lastly, any questions you may have about the student experience, success, and life after graduation can be answered by contacting alumni. Many colleges have alumni associations and pages where future and current students can network with them.
Accounting Master's Degree Courses
Courses in accounting master's degree programs cover all aspects of accounting and how it is used to help organizations, corporations, and businesses operate financially. Depending on the program, students may have the choice between several electives to specialize their education, or they may just take courses that are required of them. By the end of a program, students should be well-versed in financial literacy and demonstrate exemplary accounting abilities, as well as sit for the CPA exam.
Accounting Foundational Courses
Accounting foundational courses in master's programs help students grasp general, base-level material in accounting and related topics. Although the courses may be foundational, they are still part of a master's program, so they may be a bit more advanced or cover topics more in-depth than undergraduate programs would. Some schools also integrate a few business courses into the required curriculum, such as business law, business risk and decision analysis, and business ethics for accountants so students can understand how to perform their accounting duties within legal and ethical boundaries. Examples of a few foundational accounting master's degree courses can include:
- Accounting theory and research
- Financial statement analysis
Accounting Specialist & Elective Courses
Accounting specialist and elective courses allow students to expand their knowledge and skills beyond the general curriculum, which can lead to more career opportunities. The electives of each program will vary, but they cover several topics that complement the skills learned in foundational courses. Examples of a few specialist and elective accounting master's degree courses can include:
- Forensic accounting
- Data analytics
- Accounting information systems
- Topics in accounting/topics in business
- Advanced accounting
Licensure & Certification in Accounting
The specific licensure and certification options and requirements vary with each job, but there are a few that can help individuals across multiple careers. The first is the Certified Public Accountant credential, offered by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA). This is a base-level credential that is widely used across accounting careers and requires a 4-part exam and professional experience. The Association of Government Accountants has the Certified Government Financial Manager certification for financial managers who work in government offices. A bachelor's degree, professional experience in government financial management, and the passing of an exam are required.
The Association for Financial Professionals offers the Certified Treasury Professional (CTP) certification and the Certified Corporate Financial Planning Analysis Professional (FP&A) certification. Most certifications require continuing education in order to maintain the credential and keep up-to-date with industry knowledge. While certification is voluntary, it demonstrates that you have exceptional knowledge, skills, and experience in a certain area, and may help employment prospects.
Post-Graduate Options After Master's in Accounting
After completing a master's in accounting, students can pursue a doctoral accounting degree, which is usually a Ph.D. in Accounting. Doctoral accounting programs are intended for students who are interested in becoming college accounting professors and contribute to research in the field that advances academic and professional pursuits. Students gain skills in empirical and analytical research, writing, and research design. Students still take courses in accounting-related topics, but most of the program is spent working on a dissertation of original research that contributes to the accounting field. The program length varies, but 3 years is usually the minimum amount of time spent when studying full-time.
Accounting Professional Organizations
Professional organizations for accounting advocate for the industry and bring together accounting professionals from all over the country, as well as provide benefits for members. A few professional organizations include:
- The AICPA; membership is open to individuals, and membership benefits include professional development resources, options and discounts on insurance, technical software and equipment, travel expenses, and office supplies, and access to publications about the latest news in the accounting industry.
- The American Accounting Association; members have several benefits to choose from, including 17 industry journals and a digital library, the ability to join one of 7 regional chapters, access to a career center and volunteer opportunities, and registration discounts on national meetings and continuing education credits.
- The Institute of Management Accountants; for accountants and financial professionals in business, membership is required to earn and maintain certifications offered through the organization, but there are also benefits such as free member courses, access to an ethics helpline for advice on ethical issues in the business, members-only webinars, and access to exclusive jobs from employers across the world.
What Can I Do with an Accounting Master's Degree?
There are various careers graduates of accounting master's degree programs can pursue. There are government accounting positions, jobs at nonprofit organizations, and careers with businesses and private companies. Any place that generates revenue or operates within a budget will need accounting professionals. A few specific careers can include accountants, auditors, accounting administrators, financial analysts, budget analysts, personal financial advisors, financial managers, and financial examiners, among other careers.
Additionally, careers such as certified accounting technicians and computer accounting specialists may not require a master's degree, but they are entry-level jobs in the accounting field and may give you necessary experience as you earn your degree or if you are just starting out.
Job Outlook for a Master's in Accounting
There are many types of jobs that a master's degree in accounting can lead to, so the job outlook for each one will vary. However, based on two careers within the field, the outlook ranges from average to very positive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that budget analysts have a projected job growth of 3% from 2019-2029, which is as fast as the national average for all occupations. This is because organizations will continue to need budget analysts, but employment will remain steady. Financial managers, however, have a very positive job outlook. Employment is expected to grow 15% from 2019-2029. This is because, as companies increase their revenues and globalize, they will need more financial managers to direct their investments. Employment growth varies by specific job title, but many types of financial managers are expected to be in high demand.
How to Become a Budget Analyst
A budget analyst is a type of accounting analyst career. They plan the finances for private and public organizations and corporations to ensure their budget is optimal. Much of their job consists of gathering various financial information from an organization and researching to see what the organization can afford to spend, what they need to cut, or just overall, how the organization is financially performing. Their research helps top executives at large companies make major financial decisions. Some of their daily tasks may include working with managers on budget development, reviewing funding requests and budget proposals, monitoring the organization's spending, informing managers of available funds, and estimating future financial needs.
Budget analysts need at the very least a bachelor's degree with courses in accounting, statistics, and economics, but many employers prefer to hire those with a master's degree. A degree in finance, public administration, business, or a related field would be suitable. Budget analysts who work in federal, state, and local governments have the option of earning the Certified Government Financial Manager credential; a bachelor's degree, examinations, and professional experience are required. The BLS states that budget analysts have a median annual wage of $78,970 as of 2019.
How to Become a Financial Manager
A financial manager is similar to a budget analyst, but they have more experience, are higher up within a company, and have more decision-making responsibilities. Financial managers also analyze data and advise senior managers, but they additionally are able to direct investment activities and make plans for long-term financial goals. A few of their job duties may include preparing financial statements, reports, and forecasts, supervising financial reporting and budgeting employees, analyzing market trends for maximum profit, and ensuring legal requirements are met. There are different types of financial managers depending on where they work at. Some include government financial managers, healthcare financial managers, risk, cash, and credit managers, and treasurers and finance officers.
Financial managers need, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in finance, business administration, accounting, or economics. However, many employers prefer or require a master's degree in those areas. Financial managers also need at least 5 years of work experience in a related occupation such as an accountant, financial analyst, or security sales agent. There are several licenses and certifications financial managers can choose from. Some are completely voluntary while others may be required depending on where they work. A few credentials they can earn include the Certified Government Financial Manager, Chartered Financial Analyst, Certified Public Accountant, and Certified Treasury Professional. The BLS states that as of 2019, financial managers have a median annual wage of $134,180.
Master's in Accounting Program Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources
Paying for graduate school can be stressful. However, there are several ways to help fund your studies. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to see how much federal aid you qualify for. A few requirements for receiving federal aid include a valid social security number, good academic standing, and enrollment in a university. Federal aid mostly consists of grants, loans, and work-study programs and has more general criteria than scholarships and fellowships do.
There are plenty of scholarships for graduate accounting students. The PCPS George Willie Ethnically Diverse Student Scholarship & Internship is for minority students who are planning to pursue CPA licensure. Each winner is awarded up to $10,000 and must be enrolled full-time and be available to pursue an accounting internship. The AICPA offers the John L. Carey Scholarship Award of $5,000 to 5 recipients who are pursuing a graduate accounting degree but did not obtain a related undergraduate degree. The Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship Program, offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, awards up to $10,000 to undergraduate and graduate accounting students.