What Is a Master's in Forensic Accounting Degree?
Master's degree programs in forensic accounting are most commonly offered as Master of Science (MS) degrees. However, there are some Executive Master of Accounting programs available with a concentration in forensic accounting. Master's degree programs in the field are available in full- and part-time formats, as well as online or on campus. These programs can help prepare students to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, as well as the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) exam. Students in these programs gain a solid foundation in public accounting and learn how to identify and handle issues of fraud. Below, we explore these master's programs in greater detail.
Common Undergraduate Degrees for Forensic Accounting
Some master's degree programs in forensic accounting require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in accounting. Others accept closely related degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Business Administration, while still others may only require a BS, Bachelor of Arts (BA), or Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in any number of fields. Students who do not have a background in accounting or business will likely be required to take additional prerequisite courses for their master's degree.
Admissions Requirements for Forensic Accounting Master's Programs
Admissions requirements for master's degree programs in forensic accounting vary by school, but typically these programs require applicants to hold at least a bachelor's degree. Depending on the school, this degree may need to be in accounting or another business-related field. Programs that admit students from other outside areas can require those students to take additional prerequisite courses as needed. Possible prerequisite courses include topics in intermediate accounting, auditing, financial accounting, managerial accounting, and more. It is also common for these programs to require applicants to take the GMAT exam, but some programs offer waivers for the exam under certain conditions, such as holding a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a CPA license. Application materials for master's programs in forensic accounting commonly include transcripts, recommendations, a resume, and/or an essay or goal statement.
Why Should I Get a Forensic Accounting Master's Degree?
Forensic accounting is a fast-growing field that can combine students' interests in accounting, math, law, and criminal investigation. Graduates of these master's degree programs can work in a wide range of settings and are prepared to take different professional certification exams in the field. Typically, these programs can count towards the required 150 hours needed to qualify to sit for the CPA exam. Earning a master's degree can also help increase students' salary potential. According to PayScale.com, the median annual salary for graduates with an MS in Forensic Accounting was $56,669, as of March 2021.
How to Choose a Master's in Forensic Accounting Program
Choosing a master's degree in forensic accounting that is a good fit will likely come down to student needs and preferences. Students should always look for an accredited program (read more below), but can then begin comparing the format of a program. Depending on a student's schedule and learning style, some students may prefer full- or part-time programs and/or online or on-campus programs. Some programs provide unique learning experiences, such as a practicum experience for hands-on learning. The cost of a program and available financial aid can also play a deciding factor in choosing a school.
Master's in Forensic Accounting Program Accreditation
Many post-secondary institutions are regionally accredited by various organizations, such as the Higher Learning Commission, that ensure the school's degree programs reach a set standard of quality. However, regional accreditation is more general, and some degree programs have program-level accreditation that is specific to the subject area. In the case of forensic accounting, several master's programs carry business-related accreditation from organizations such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). This program-level accreditation can stand out to employers because it indicates that students have completed a program that met business-specific academic standards put in place to prepare them for a career in the field.
Forensic Accounting Master's Degree Courses
Although there are forensic accounting and forensic auditing courses and certification programs available, earning a master's degree allows students to study the subject in greater detail. These programs commonly require between 30 and 36 credits of coursework, which usually consist of core courses and some electives. Several of these programs are designed to be completed in as little as 1 year. Depending on the program format, some master's programs include a culminating experience to give students a chance to summarize and apply what they have learned. Find out more about common coursework below.
Forensic Accounting Foundational Courses
The core courses for a master's degree in forensic accounting usually consist of some advanced accounting courses and those more closely related to criminal justice and crime investigation. These courses are designed to equip students with the advanced accounting training, as well as the investigative methods required to work careers in the field. Some programs break their core courses into foundational core and professional core to focus on main concepts before moving to advanced topics in the subject. There are several master's programs in forensic accounting that conclude with a capstone course, which may involve research in accounting. Some programs may also offer a practicum experience for hands-on learning in the field. Other core course topics can include:
- Business valuation
- Fraud examination
- Internal auditing
- Legal procedure/ethics in forensic accounting
- Financial statement fraud
- Digital forensics
- Statistics for forensic accounting
- Forensic interviewing
Forensic Accounting Specialist & Elective Courses
There are some master's degree programs in forensic accounting that allow students to take 1 to 2 elective courses, while others only include core courses. Those that offer elective courses may have students choose from an approved list or choose courses from a specific subject area, such as an accounting elective and a business elective. In general, electives are intended to allow students to further explore and learn about a particular subject(s) of interest within the field. Sometimes these courses can help students prepare for a specific type of career within the field or gain a new skill. Some elective courses in forensic accounting programs offer students the chance to utilize case studies or examine special topics in fraud.
Licensure & Certification in Forensic Accounting
Graduates with a master's in forensic accounting have several different certification options available to them. Some accountants go on to take the 4-part CPA exam to become a CPA, which some accounting positions require. Students wanting to work specifically in forensic accounting may pursue the CFE certification from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) or the Certified Forensic Accountant designation from the American Board of Forensic Accounting (ABFA). Students complete the training or review programs for these certifications and then must pass an exam. The CFE only requires professionals to be a member of the ACFE, while the Certified Forensic Accountant designation requires that students already hold a CPA license and have some work experience.
Post-Graduate Options After Master's in Forensic Accounting
Master's degree programs specifically in forensic accounting are usually the terminal degree for the field. However, there are advanced certificates in the field, and students who wish to continue their studies at the doctoral level can pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Accounting. Some of these Ph.D. programs offer forensic accounting as a research or specialization area. These Ph.D. programs may be completed in about 4 years and can be accredited by the AACSB and other business-related organizations.
What Can I Do with a Forensic Accounting Master's Degree?
Forensic accounting careers include a range of positions in a variety of settings. Students can work for small or large businesses and corporations, the state or federal government, or nonprofits. There is a variety of accounting analyst jobs available to graduates with their master's in the field, and although there are some differences between a fraud examiner and a forensic accountant, these are a couple of the most common career choices for the degree. Fraud investigators typically need to have skills in both accounting and the legal system and be prepared to take their work to court. Other available job titles for graduates with their master's in forensic accounting include:
- Forensic auditor
- Financial analyst
- Compliance officer
- Bankruptcy analyst
- Risk assurance associate
Job Outlook for a Master's in Forensic Accounting
In general, the job outlook for accounting and other business-related positions is positive. Graduates with their master's in forensic accounting are prepared to take professional certification exams, which can also increase their marketability and job prospects. A master's degree also typically prepares students for more advanced positions with additional leadership roles and responsibilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not report statistics related specifically to forensic accountants, but the BLS did report that the job outlook for accountants and auditors from 2019 to 2029 was 4%, which is as fast as average. Some other related positions also have positive outlooks, such as the job outlook for financial analysts which was 5% for the same decade.
How to Become an Accountant and Auditor
Accountants and auditors have to have at least a bachelor's degree, but some employers prefer those with a master's degree. Students may gain real-world experience in the field through internships to help with job prospects. Many of these professionals pursue licensure as a CPA in their state after graduation. This requires meeting state-specific requirements and passing the national 4-part exam. Students interested in becoming a forensic accountant can also pursue the Certified Forensic Accountant designation or the CFE certification to become a Certified Fraud Examiner.
There are several different types of accountants and auditors and they can work in various settings, such as the government, finance, insurance, accounting, and management. Typically, their job requires them to examine financial records for accuracy and ensure that their client is complying with all regulations and laws. They also organize these financial records and can make suggestions to individuals or organizations as to how to cut costs and increase revenue. As of 2020, the BLS reported that accountants and auditors made a median annual salary of $73,560.
How to Become a Financial Analyst
Financial analysts have to have at least a bachelor's degree, but master's degrees are preferred by some employers. Usually, these professionals have a degree in finance, accounting, statistics, business, or other closely related areas. Some financial analysts need to obtain licensure from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) to sell financial products, but others pursue the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification from the CFA Institute to advance their careers.
Financial analysts can also work for a variety of employers, including those in the areas of management, insurance, credit intermediation, and financial investment activities. These analysts are responsible for finding ways for individuals and organizations to gain more profit. They recommend business decisions based on financial data and business trends that they have carefully analyzed. They can also help determine an organization's value, evaluate the strength of a group's management, and present their findings in reports. The BLS stated that financial analysts made a median annual salary of $83,660, as of 2020.
Master's in Forensic Accounting Program Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources
There are many different sources of potential funding for students needing assistance paying for their master's degree in forensic accounting. Several options are not specific to accounting, including filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This should be the first step for undergraduate and graduate students to ensure they do not miss out on any grants or loans that they may qualify for. Then, students can begin applying for scholarships or grants from schools of interest and outside organizations. These awards can be subject-specific, but others may be awarded based on merit, financial need, talents, interests, and more. Accounting-specific scholarships are commonly available from accounting-related professional organizations. A couple of examples include:
- The Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship Program- This scholarship is available from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) for undergraduate or graduate students interested in a career in fraud examination or another anti-fraud related career. Students must have a major in accounting, finance, criminal justice, business administration, or another closely related field and need to apply with an application, transcripts, and letters of recommendation.
- AICPA Scholarship Award for Minority Accounting Students- Offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, this scholarship varies in amount from $3,000 to $5,000 and is for ethnic minority accounting undergraduate or graduate students planning on becoming a CPA. Applicants must have some financial need, be an AICPA Student Affiliate member, and meet the minimum GPA requirement of a 3.0.