Digital trends, such as big data, mobility, blockchain technology, and artificial intelligence (AI), have had a huge impact on the practice of accounting and the future direction of the industry as a whole. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10% growth for the industry, which is faster than the average 7% growth for all occupations. Those working in financial management can expect an even higher 19% increase in job opportunities by 2026. Even as the industry is clearly poised for positive change, challenges loom on the horizon as well. Future accounting professionals must not only learn the basic tools of their trade, but also master the emerging digital technologies that are shaping the future of their profession.
Should I Get a Master's in Accounting?
A master’s in accounting generally requires 30-36 credits and takes 12-18 months for full-time students to complete. Although full-time graduate students typically take nine credits per semester instead of the usual 15 credits that undergraduate students take, pursuing a master’s in accounting can still seem like a daunting task. To address this concern, several colleges and universities offer master’s in accounting programs online. Full-time working professionals can take advantage of the flexibility and convenience of online learning to earn their master’s degree in accounting without having to leave their jobs.
At the master’s level, students probe more deeply into the theory, practice, and principles of accounting. You can also choose a specialization at this level, such as taxation, auditing, compliance, or finance. More modern options include digital forensics and big data analysis. With technology and AI taking over many of the number-crunching aspects of accounting, accountants these days typically focus more on critical business analysis and strategy. A master’s in accounting immerses students in modern accounting technologies while honing their leadership and communication skills. To deliver value to their clients and employers, accountants must translate AI-mined data into actionable recommendations that their clients and employers can understand and, more importantly, trust. Pursuing a master’s in accounting puts you in contact with like-minded professionals who are similarly driven to remain relevant in the rapidly changing accounting industry.
What Can I Do With a Master’s in Accounting?
Graduates can leverage their master’s in accounting into profitable and challenging careers in a variety of ways. Whether your interests lie in finance, investments, taxation, or some other specialized accounting arena, a master’s degree can help you reach your professional goals. The accounting field has expanded to include several new and exciting career opportunities in the realm of digital forensics, international investments, and mobile payment systems. In addition, a master’s in accounting fulfills the educational requirement for taking the certified public accountant (CPA) exam, which can further enhance and expand your career options.
- Accountants and Auditors
Accountants typically prepare financial records, ensure compliance with existing tax laws and regulations, and assess and streamline financial operations. They can perform these functions for organizations, companies, or individuals. An advanced degree or certification can lead to top managerial or chief financial officer positions.
Median Annual Salary: $69,350
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Budget Analysts
Budget analysts monitor a company’s spending and organize their finances so the company stays competitive and profitable. They estimate future financial needs and present strategies on how to meet these needs. Budget analysts often review budget proposals for accuracy, thoroughness, and compliance with existing laws and regulations.
Median Annual Salary: $75,240
Projected Growth Rate: 7%
- Financial Analysts
A financial analyst’s duties usually include evaluating investment opportunities and making recommendations, studying current economic and business trends relevant to the industry they serve, and examining a company’s financial past and current statements to determine its value. The rigor and scope of a master’s in accounting helps prepare financial analysts to meet these obligations.
Median Annual Salary: $84,300
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Personal Financial Advisers
A personal financial adviser helps individuals understand various concepts, such as investments, insurance, taxes, and retirement, so they can make smart financial decisions. They can work in the insurance or finance industries or be self-employed. A master’s degree in accounting gives them not only credibility but also the knowledge and tools to carry out the functions of this position.
Median Annual Salary: $90,640
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
- Financial Managers
A financial manager orchestrates a company’s long-term fiscal policies. Their responsibilities include designing, implementing, and monitoring financial strategies and often supervising investment activities. Financial managers also analyze market trends to identify expansion opportunities, maximize profits, reduce costs, and meet legal requirements without sacrificing performance and productivity.
Median Annual Salary: $125,080
Projected Growth Rate: 19%
How to Choose a Master's in Accounting Program
It typically takes one or two years to earn a master’s degree in accounting, assuming you already hold an undergraduate degree in accounting or a related field. It may take longer for those who do not hold a relevant degree to complete a master’s in accounting because they may have to take foundation or prerequisite courses before they can enroll in graduate-level accounting classes. Some colleges offer combined bachelor and master’s in accounting programs that allow students to graduate with both degrees in five years, instead of the usual six. The length of time it takes to complete your master’s in accounting largely depends on whether you enroll as a full- or part-time student. This holds true for both online and on-campus programs.
For most prospective graduate students, a program’s cost represents an inevitable consideration in any decision to pursue a postgraduate degree. Just like in undergraduate studies, enrolling as an in-state student in a public university can save you a significant amount of money. For example, if you pursue your master’s at a public university as a full-time, in-state student, you can expect to pay an average tuition of around $11,600. For full-time, in-state students at private universities, that average tuition goes up to approximately $24,700.
You should also examine the specialization areas that each master’s in accounting program offers. Pursuing a master’s degree gives you the opportunity to focus your energy and resources on the accounting arena that matches your professional interest the most. Make sure to select a program that will not only support your current career trajectory, but propel it to the next level.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s in Accounting Programs
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is recognized all over the world as the premier accrediting body for business and accounting programs. AACSB accreditation represents one of the most prestigious and sought-after designations for business and accounting programs. Earning your master’s in accounting from an AACSB-accredited institution sends a strong message to both clients and future employers that you possess the breadth and depth of knowledge needed to meet any challenge that may arise in accounting practice. This programmatic accreditation proves especially important for students who plan on transferring credits between programs, pursuing licensure, or continuing on into a doctoral program.
Master's in Accounting Program Admissions
Begin looking at master’s in accounting programs at least one year before you plan to start your studies. Although this may seem excessive, having the luxury of time ultimately works to your advantage in terms of researching the right program, gathering and submitting all requirements on time, and applying for scholarships. Though no magic number of applications exists that will increase your chances of acceptance, it remains important to make sure every application you do submit is complete, on time, and the absolute best it can be.
Several schools offer online accounting master’s degrees, providing flexibility and convenience, which present clear benefits for working students. However, keep in mind that in an online learning environment, you shoulder most of the responsibility of your education. Your professor will not necessarily remind you about deadlines at the end of each class, and you may not follow a strict class schedule — especially if you take asynchronous courses.
- Bachelor’s Degree: You must hold a bachelor’s degree, preferably in accounting or a related field, from an accredited college or university. Some programs require the completion of certain relevant prerequisite courses, such as financial accounting, managerial accounting, or federal taxation.
- Professional Experience: Some master’s in accounting programs require prior work experience in the field. However, most schools also accept work experience in related fields, such as business management or banking.
- Minimum GPA Most programs require applicants to demonstrate a particular GPA, such as 3.0. Some universities may require a higher GPA for highly competitive programs.
- Application: Each school follows its own procedure for admission, but most make their application forms available on their websites to facilitate the application process.
- Transcripts: Most schools require applicants to submit a transcript from each undergraduate institution they previously attended. Most schools do not charge a fee for this service.
- Letters of Recommendation: Request at least two letters of recommendation from individuals who know you well and can attest to your aptitude and character. Schools usually give a clear preference of the source, such as an applicant’s immediate supervisor or former college professor.
- Test Scores: Many accounting master’s programs require applicants to take the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). A score of 500 often qualifies applicants for admission to an accounting program.
- Application Fee: Application fees vary greatly between schools, although they typically range between $50-$100. Many schools provide low-income applicants with a fee waiver.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Accounting Program?
The accounting field encompasses several subfields that you can focus on as you begin your master’s program. These specialized knowledge areas can give you an edge in a highly competitive practice arena, whether you work within a company structure or as a solo practitioner.
|Accounting Information Systems||This concentration focuses on the information technology (IT) systems that underpin various accounting processes. Coursework in this concentration often includes a close examination of advanced modeling techniques and current technological trends, such as big data analysis. Students expand their knowledge of business intelligence software, gaining the skills needed to meet the evolving technological demands of the accounting profession.||Accounting systems analyst|
|Auditing||An auditing specialization usually includes in-depth study and exploration of design and assessment of internal control systems, managerial accounting, fraud examination, and accounting information systems. Students learn how to help companies achieve their business goals and guide them to financial stability by identifying and cutting unnecessary costs and eliminating systematic redundancy.||Auditor|
|Corporate Accounting||This concentration covers contemporary issues in managerial accounting, advanced financial management, and financial statement analysis. Students also study current federal taxation policies that specifically impact corporate entities and examine the effectivity and relevance of internal and operational auditing procedures.||Chief corporate accountant|
|Forensic Accounting||In this concentration, students take courses on criminology and fraud examination to gain the skills needed to become forensic accountants or auditors. They hone their analytical skills by learning and applying fraud investigative techniques that help uncover and prevent money laundering, securities fraud, embezzlement, and misappropriation of funds and other financial assets.||Forensic accountant; auditor|
|Taxation Regulation||Students concentrate on topics such as taxation policies, corporate taxation, and various taxation issues in estate planning. This concentration provides students with the tools and training to identify and apply current tax codes and implement procedures that adhere to existing regulations. Some focus areas within this concentration include international taxation issues and global tax structures.||Tax accountant|
Courses in a Master’s in Accounting Program
Each master’s in accounting program strives to offer something unique to its students by way of specialized, targeted courses. However, most master of accounting programs include these courses that cover topics students can build on and apply in their practice almost immediately.
- Financial Policy
Students develop the skills needed to evaluate the relevance and effectiveness of financial policy decisions. This course teaches future financial advisers about capital and risk management, financial statement analysis, international financial management, and financial planning.
- Taxes and Business Strategy
Students investigate the link between taxation policies and business decisions and activities. They study the impact of tax regulations on investment strategies, financing policies, compensation planning, and mergers and acquisitions. The topics covered by this course prove especially relevant to students who plan to work as tax accountants.
- Information Technology for Accounting
This course examines the technologies that support several different accounting controls and processes. Students study a variety of topics that involve IT systems, including networking databases, internet security, accounting control systems, and digital business processes.
- Property and Negotiable Instruments
Particularly useful for those who wish to become personal financial advisers, this course helps students become well-versed in different kinds of negotiable instruments. Students also learn about commercial, real estate, and bankruptcy laws and how these affect the different types of business entities (sole proprietorships, limited liability companies, corporations).
- Principles of Investment
This course covers topics such as portfolios, bonds and stocks, basic derivatives, and asset pricing. Students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills within the context of investments.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Accounting?
Most students earn their master’s degree in accounting within two years. Your enrollment status naturally affects the length of time it will take to earn your master’s in accounting, as part-time students often take longer to complete all the requirements. Full-time students typically enroll in nine credits per semester. Some programs give credit for relevant professional experience, which can significantly shorten the length of a program. Ask your school if they follow this policy, since it may save you not only time but also money.
Most master’s in accounting degrees require 30-36 credit hours. Online programs (especially those offering asynchronous classes) sometimes permit students to enroll in additional courses throughout the year, which can reduce the length of your master’s in accounting program, but it may also have a negative impact on your learning and grades.
How Much Is a Master’s in Accounting?
The cost of a master’s in accounting program varies considerably based on many factors, including whether the school you choose is public or private. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual tuition for a master’s program for in-state students at a four-year university was $11,600 for the 2016-2017 academic year. Meanwhile, four-year private universities charged an average of $24,700 per year. If cost represents a major factor in your decision, consider pursuing your degree at an in-state public college or university and make sure to research your scholarship options.
Your chosen school’s location can also affect the overall cost of your master’s degree in accounting. The cost of living in urban areas is often much higher than in small towns. Transportation, rent, food, gas, and parking all cost more in large cities. You can save on housing and transportation costs if you enroll in an online program, though some schools charge out-of-state tuition for nonresidents, even if you do not attend on-campus classes. Explore scholarship and grant options to help reduce the cost of your master’s degree. Additionally, inquire whether your place of work has a tuition reimbursement program.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Accounting Prepares For
- Certified Public Accountant
To sit for the CPA exam, candidates must meet the educational and work experience requirements required in the state or jurisdiction where they plan to practice. Most states and jurisdictions require a bachelor’s degree and two years of work experience as a public accountant.
- Certified Financial Analyst Designation
This certification prepares candidates for careers in the investment field or in strict finance. The CFA Institute offers exams at three levels, which candidates must pass sequentially. The CFA Institute offers the first exam two times per year (in June and December), and offers the second and third level exams only once per year (in June). The exam covers topics in investment theories, financial accounting, and portfolio management.
- Certified Management Accountant
CMAs specialize in accounting management rather than preparing tax reports or performing audit procedures. Administered by the Institute of Management Accountants, this designation requires candidates to demonstrate at least two years of relevant work experience and hold bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with sufficient educational credits in specific subject areas.
- Enrolled Agent Certification
To become an EA, applicants must take a three-part, 12-hour long examination administered by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This credential, created by the IRS, tests a candidate’s knowledge of U.S. tax laws and its applications for both individuals and corporations. This certification particularly benefits those who wish to focus on tax preparation or perform internal tax work for companies.
- Certified Internal Auditor
The certification covers the type of work performed by compliance officers and auditors of large companies. The Institute of Internal Auditors offers this globally recognized designation that measures a candidate’s competence and professional knowledge in the internal auditing field. CIA candidates must complete a three-part exam and meet educational and work experience requirements.
Resources for Accounting Graduate Students
This peer-reviewed journal provides both insightful and exploratory research articles on various accounting-related topics, such as monetary banking, capital markets, investments, and personal and corporate finance.
This trade publication has been in print for more than 25 years and is also available online. It covers current topics related to personal and corporate accounting and hosts a popular podcast series.
Updated every year, this online and printed resource provides objective data and up-to-date information on investment companies and investor characteristics.
Although a year-round publication, it provides timely and valuable tips and resources during tax season on matters relating to tax preparation and filing for households and companies.
This open access journal publishes articles focusing on current trends in accounting and information technology, including continuous auditing and monitoring systems, accounting information systems, and big data.
Professional Organizations in Accounting
Professional associations provide rich opportunities for networking, mentoring, and sharing the latest industry news and most recent research findings. These organizations serve an especially pivotal role in accounting today as the profession continues to push the boundaries of its practice and rediscover its relevance in an increasingly digital world. Entry-level accounting professionals, as well as those with several years of experience, can benefit from the exchange of ideas, professional support, and camaraderie these organizations provide.
Members of this accounting organization hail mostly from the world of academia. Founded in 1916, this association aims to shape the future of accounting through teaching and research and by providing opportunities for networking and collaboration.
As the world’s largest anti-fraud association, the ACFE provides regular anti-fraud training and continuing professional education units. The ACFE also administers the certified fraud examiner certification.
The AICPA boasts more than 650,000 members in the U.S. and worldwide. Early-career CPAs receive career assistance and professional resources, access to learning programs, and networking opportunities both online and during regional and annual conferences.
IMA administers the CMA certification earned by more than 70,000 accounting and finance professionals all over the world. IMA offers more than 500 courses accepted as continuing professional education units by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.
Tax and accounting professionals can access several review courses and continuing education units on the NSA website. The organization also offers free legal advice, tax preparation tools, and discounted insurance plans for members.