Forensic accounting involves the investigation of embezzlement and fraud. Work in this field is a unique combination of analytical mathematics, investigation, law enforcement, and fraud-detection. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accounting and auditing positions have a projected growth rate of 10% from 2016 to 2026. PayScale also reports the average salary for a forensic accountant in the U.S. is $65,660 per year, although individual earnings will vary based on location and credentials. Earning a bachelor's in forensic accounting prepares you for careers in public and private accounting firms, law enforcement agencies, law offices, and financial institutions.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Forensic Accounting?
The ideal candidate for a bachelor's in forensic accounting is interested in finance and investigation. Students obtain business knowledge, interpersonal communication, critical thinking, and leadership skills. All accredited forensic accounting programs have courses related to criminal justice and finance. Some programs also have degree specializations, such as fraud prevention and financial investigation.
Students can complete a bachelor's in forensic accounting program online or on campus. Online programs are typically more appealing to working professionals, while on-campus classes usually attract recent high school graduates. Many college courses are helpful for building professional contacts post-graduation. Online and on-campus schools frequently offer career counseling and placement services to students ready to enter the workforce. Many students complete internships, which makes graduates more competitive on the job market.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Forensic Accounting?
Graduates with a bachelor's in forensic accounting can earn professional certifications in fraud examination and public accounting. Individuals with certifications are able to open their own consulting or accounting business. The careers listed below are among the most common jobs for professionals with a degree in forensic accounting.
- Forensic Accountant
Forensic accountants work with law enforcement and law offices during fraudulent and illegal financial investigations. These professionals conduct investigations to ensure compliance and financial integrity and can appear as expert witnesses in court.
Median Annual Salary: $69,350*
- Internal and External Auditors
Internal auditors examine and assess claims within a company and conduct audits throughout the year. External auditors are concerned with financial records and perform annual examinations.
Median Annual Salary: $69,350*
- Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, and Investigators
These professionals are primarily responsible for analyzing and evaluating insurance claims. Adjusters, appraisers, and investigators decide whether a company is responsible for paying a claim and the amount owed.
Median Annual Salary: $64,690*
- Financial Analyst
Financial analysts offer advice to individuals and businesses looking to invest. These professionals assess bonds, stocks, and other potential investment opportunities.
Median Annual Salary: $84,300*
- Financial Examiners
These examiners ensure compliance to laws regarding financial transactions and institutions. Financial examiners oversee balance sheets and evaluate the benefit of potential loans.
Median Annual Salary: $81,690*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Bachelor's Program in Forensic Accounting
When selecting a program, it is important to consider factors, such as location, degree concentration, and part-time or full-time enrollment. Tuition will vary based on college size, whether it is private or public, and if you are attending classes online or on campus. It is common for online and on-campus courses at the same institution to be the same cost.
It is also important to consider how long it may take to graduate. Most full-time students are able to earn their bachelor's in forensic accounting in four years. Students enrolled part time may take longer than four years. Accelerated programs are also an option, and may be completed in as little as one to two years. Accelerated courses cover the same topics as traditional curriculum, but are more intensive.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's Programs in Forensic Accounting
Accreditation is a national or regional guarantee that colleges meet a standard of excellence. Regional accreditation involves the review of an entire school. National accreditation is less strict and typically awarded to smaller, for-profit schools. Programs and colleges within larger universities may receive programmatic accreditation for specific degrees. The International Accreditation Council for Business Education is the primary accrediting body for business programs, including forensic accounting. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is another accreditation agency comprised of nearly 800 business schools around the world. You can check a school's accreditation status on the U.S. Department of Education website or through a school's admissions.
Bachelor's in Forensic Accounting Program Admissions
College applications are a multi-step process and include the application, transcripts, essays, and letters of recommendation. Applying to an online school is slightly different than applying to an on-campus program. Online schools tend to have a lengthy admissions processes, requiring not only test scores and high school transcripts, but also prior work experience. It is recommended that students apply to at least four schools.
- Minimum GPA: Many schools require a minimum GPA. On a case-by-case basis, this requirement can be waived for students with high test scores or life experience.
- Application: A growing number of schools accept the Common App, a one-time application that can be submitted to any participating school.
- Transcripts: Transcripts are a record of your academic history. They must be sent directly from your previous schools and may cost a small fee.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most schools require one to three letters of recommendation from a teacher, supervisor, or mentor. Students should request letters of recommendation at least one month prior to the submission deadline.
- Test Scores: It is common for schools to require SAT or ACT scores. The minimum scores required for admissions vary by school. Some schools do not require standardized testing scores.
- Application Fee: Most schools have an application fee of about $50.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's Program in Forensic Accounting?
While all accredited schools will have the same fundamental requirements of forensic accounting students, specific courses vary by college. Some schools may offer concentrations or specializations.
Courses in a Bachelor's in Forensic Accounting Program
All forensic accounting programs will consist of similar coursework to prepare students for entry-level careers. Below are five common classes you can expect to see in a forensic accounting bachelor's program.
- Fraud Examination
Coursework focuses on the methodology of fraud examination. Classes cover detection of fraud, the implementation of prevention strategies, and official forensic documentation.
- Interviewing Techniques/Investigations
Students learn advanced interview techniques for examining and interrogating people and parties of interest. Classwork covers nonverbal and verbal cues, proper documentation processes, and legal practices.
- Federal Taxation
Courses in federal taxation examine the practice of filing tax returns at the federal level. Classes include employee, individual, and investor returns. Students learn about deductions, exclusions, technical research documentation, and the code of internal revenue.
Courses in auditing are a part of any forensic accounting bachelor's program. Classwork focuses on reviewing financial statements, such as liabilities, equities, and assets of profit-based businesses.
- Investigating with the Computer
Students learn how to use computer programs for accounting and fraudulent activity investigation processes.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Forensic Accounting?
A typical bachelor's in forensic accounting degree consists of 125-150 credits and can be completed in four years of full-time study. Students with the option to concentrate or specialize their degree may have a longer program duration. Working professionals and students with families often choose to enroll part time and may take five or six years to earn their degree. Other students are able to take on additional credits and graduate early.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Forensic Accounting?
The average cost per year to attend a public, in-state school is approximately $9,528. Out-of-state students attending the same school pay an average of $21,632 per year. Private universities are more expensive, with an average out-of-state tuition of $34,699. Students can apply for financial aid or earn grants and scholarships through the college. Private schools are more likely to offer scholarship funds due to donations from previous graduates.
If you choose to attend school on campus, it is important to consider costs beyond tuition, such as housing. Most on-campus students live on campus or nearby. The cost of living is often high in college towns. If you choose to live further away; however, you must consider the cost of commuting. Online schools are frequently an affordable option. Additionally, some online forensic accounting degrees offer in-state tuition to out-of-state, distance learners.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Forensic Accounting Prepares For
- Certified Public Accountant
You are required to obtain a CPA license in order to practice accounting. Certification is obtained through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, a national organization for all accountants in the U.S.
- Certification in Financial Forensics
To earn this certification, you must already be a CPA and have an AICPA membership, at least five years of professional accounting experience, meet minimum standards of business and continued education requirements, and pass the official CFF exam.
- Certified Fraud Examiner
Awarded by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, this credential requires candidates to meet minimum experiential and educational standards. A CFE also requires individuals to complete a four-part exam that includes testing on fraudulent financial transactions, fraud prevention and deterrence, and fraud investigation practices.
Resources for Forensic Accounting Students
This resource uses debate to teach critical thinking and public forum debate skills. Exercises prepare students for business meetings.
This online library is a research tool that grants access to up-to-date and comprehensive forensic accounting information. Members have unlimited access to all library materials.
As the frequency of cyber attacks continues to rise, organizations are looking for new ways to protect clients. This resource provides forensic accountants with up-to-date cyber-security research and defense strategies.
White papers are publications about the latest news and strategies in forensic accounting and cyber security. Issues are written periodically and cover topics such as automated fraud detection, cyber risk in banking, and combatting card fraud.
Professional Organizations in Forensic Accounting
Professional organizations provide members with networking opportunities, continued education classes and seminars, and access to relevant publications and journals. To join a professional organization, you must be an employee or student in a related field. Professional organizations are particularly valuable for individuals preparing to enter a career field or advance their current position.
The ICFA is a group devoted to developing the multidisciplinary field of forensic accounting. Members promote forensic accounting to the public and provide up-to-date advice to clientele.
This organization offers members access to multiple newsletters, annual seminars and conferences, and training courses. NAFA is also dedicated to providing certification opportunities to members.
The ACFE is a well-known organization for new forensic accountants. The association hosts meetings throughout the year, designed to provide continuing education to new members in the industry.
Founded in 1993, this organization is among the oldest forensic accounting professional groups. The ABFA offers mentorships, counseling, journals, and continuing education seminars.
The AICPA is not designated specifically to forensic accounting, but is a great organization for accountants in all fields. The AICPA is the largest professional accounting group with chapters all over the country.