Finance professionals interested in serving the public good can pursue a forensic accounting master's degree. With this degree, forensic accountants can prevent fraud to protect local and national assets. Professionals can also work in the private sector to help companies maximize profits.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 10% increase in demand for business and financial occupations between 2016 and 2026, adding over 700,000 new jobs to the economy. The BLS also reports that the median wage for business and financial occupations remains higher than the national average.
Should I Get a Master's in Forensic Accounting?
A forensic accounting master's degree may appeal to students interested in financial management and operations. The program explores investigation elements as students use information technology and critical thinking to identify and solve fraud cases. Typically, degree candidates already hold an undergraduate degree in accounting with some field experience.
The master's degree in forensic accounting features classes in legal studies and government regulations. Students study laws regarding taxes, corporations, and international business practices to help businesses manage budgets or file taxes. In classes geared towards corporations, students learn about valuation. Similarly, information technology courses focus on unique areas of accounting like cyber forensics.
Students enrolled in master's degree in accounting programs gain access to a wealth of resources through their university. Many institutions boast career centers with advisers to help students secure job placements and internships. While on campus, students join clubs and organizations dedicated to their major.
Schools offer both on-campus and online programs. On-campus programs often attract first-time college students and learners who value direct contact with teachers and students. Online programs benefit students who like working independently and busy professionals with work obligations. Some schools also offer hybrid courses that combine online coursework with in-person sessions.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Forensic Accounting?
Students use the forensic accounting degree to work in many different capacities within the financial industry. Graduates can write financial reports, analyze a company's assets, and offer legal advice. With a forensic accounting master's degree, students can help companies save money and allocate resources. Graduates either work behind the scenes or helping with decision making and policy creation.
- Accountants and Auditors
Accountants and auditors help organizations with financial operations. They manage financial records by ensuring their accuracy, while auditors prepare the company's taxes to meet government regulations. Accountants check financial books and systems for any inaccuracies or misreporting. Company managers look to accountants for advice on increasing revenue and reducing costs.
Median Annual Salary: $69,350*
- Tax Examiners
Tax examiners work for local and federal government agencies. They collect taxes from businesses and corporations. Examiners review tax forms, paying specific attention to credits and deductions. When examiners find inconsistencies, they contact taxpayers to verify information. Examiners conduct investigations and field audits at the department's request.
Median Annual Salary: $53,130*
- Financial Analysts
Analysts monitor the financial health of an organization, researching economic trends and markets. Analysts use this data to make recommendations to businesses regarding investments. This can be especially helpful for businesses looking to merge with, or acquire, another company. In addition to forecasting, analysts write financial reports for managers and officials to review.
Median Annual Salary: $84,300*
- Financial Examiners
Financial examiners work primarily with banking and lending institutions. They evaluate the company's liabilities and assets by analyzing operating expenses, balance sheets, and income. Using this information, the examiners determine if the company's practices comply with government rules and regulations. In fact, examiners demonstrate expert knowledge of government regulations and must stay up to date with policy changes.
Median Annual Salary: $81,690*
- Budget Analysts
Budget analysts assist managers and other top executives with creating an organization's budget. These analysts review budgets from each department for accuracy and adherence to federal and local laws. Budget analysts also track the organization's spending for better financial management.
Median Annual Salary: $75,240*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Master's Program in Forensic Accounting
Students looking for a master's in forensic accounting must consider several factors before deciding on a school, including program length, cost, accreditation, curriculum, location, and specializations. Learners concerned with a program's length need to research different curricula and class options. Some schools offer accelerated tracks to help students graduate in less than two years. Find out if the program requires a practicum or internship, as students can receive credit for these experiences. In many graduate programs, degree candidates must complete a thesis project to graduate.
Cost is another important factor for students searching forensic accounting programs. To help offset tuition, students can apply for scholarships and grants given by a school. When students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), they also qualify for additional grants and loans distributed by the federal government. These awards aid students enrolled in programs through accredited universities. Therefore, students should research the school's accreditation status prior to applying for financial aid.
After taking all these factors in consideration, students must decide their enrollment status. Full-time students take a full course load each semester, while part-time students take a couple of courses each term. Enrollment status affects both program costs and degree length.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Forensic Accounting
The accreditation process, while voluntary, plays an important role for institutions. Accredited schools receive the seal of approval from a national or regional accrediting body. The board evaluates the school's curriculum and faculty to ensure the institution provides students with a high quality education. Some schools also obtain programmatic accreditation.
Programmatic accrediting bodies consist of scholars and industry professionals that know firsthand what students need to succeed in their field. This group analyzes the program's curriculum, paying special attention to learning outcomes and objectives. Some accredited master's in forensic accounting programs boast partnerships with accounting associations like the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. These programs prepare students for the CPA exam and grant continuing education credits. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business offers accreditation to accounting programs at the graduate level.
Master's in Forensic Accounting Program Admissions
To gain entry into a master's in forensic accounting program, students need to follow the admission guidelines laid out by the school. Schools look for exceptional students to enroll in their graduate programs, so admissions boards pay close attention to test scores and previous GPAs. In the personal statement section of an application, students talk about their career aspirations and background to give schools a glimpse into their personality. Additionally, schools request copies of transcripts and letters of recommendations. Students must submit all required documents by the school's set deadline. When students receive their acceptance letter, they can contact the school to receive their university credentials and register for classes. Students should explore options by applying to more than one school.
- Bachelor's Degree: Most forensic accounting master's degree candidates already hold a bachelor's degree in accounting or other finance-related major. The degree requirement varies by school and program.
- Professional Experience: Students with significant accounting work experience can sometimes bypass the undergraduate degree in accounting requirement. However, students without experience may still apply.
- Minimum GPA: Most schools require a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher to gain entry into their master's in forensic accounting programs.
- Application: It can take hours to complete an admissions application, depending on the requirements.
- Transcripts: Schools request transcripts to review the student's overall academic performance and course load. Most schools look for managerial and intermediate accounting courses on the student's undergraduate transcript.
- Letters of Recommendation: Schools often request at least two letters of recommendation from people that personally know the applicant. Students ask coaches, instructors, supervisors, and mentors to write these letters.
- Test Scores: Not every school requires test scores, but those that do want to see high scores in GRE or GMAT tests. Schools look closely at all three sections of the GRE test.
- Application Fee: Students must pay an application fee so that the university can process their application. Most fees are non-refundable and are due with the application.
Courses in a Master's in Forensic Accounting Program
In a forensic accounting master's degree curriculum, instructors want students to know the basics of accounting, government regulations, and legal implications. As such, courses revolve around certain theories and methodologies. This sample curriculum gives students a closer look into a master's in forensic accounting program.
- Introduction to Forensic Accounting/Fraud Exam
This foundational course teaches the basics of fraud examination. Instructors gather examples from criminal and civil cases to explain the basic characteristics of fraud. Learners explore asset recovery, fraud prevention, detection, and investigation, using the latest information technology. The course also covers the tools and techniques needed to use this technology.
- Detection and Prevention of Fraudulent Financial Statements
Fraudulent bank statements remain one of the top signs of fraud and money laundering. To identify a fraudulent statement, students must understand income smoothing, creating fake sales/revenue figures, off-balance sheet financing, liability understatement, and other fraudulent techniques. Students use various analytical procedures taught by instructors to identify these scams.
- Advanced Auditing
Students take this course after learning the basics of auditing in a prerequisite course. Advanced auditing uses case studies, presentations, research, and professional materials to address auditors' ethical concerns. Students receive material that explores improper auditing.
- Corporate Financial Management
This course examines the financial industry using corporate principles and perspectives. Learners probe the financial market, capital structure, investments, budgeting, and portfolio management. After students gain a better understanding of these topics, they can evaluate a company's opportunities and risk level.
- Business Law
In this class, students explore different areas of business law, such as employment law, torts, internet law, and product liability. Learners study the laws used to regulate businesses and their impact on the organization's decision making process. The course also tackles international markets and the legal considerations U.S. businesses must make.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Forensic Accounting?
Typically, learners obtain their forensic accounting master's degree in two years, with most programs ranging from 30-36 credits. Each course counts for at least three credit hours, and students take up to four courses per semester. Some students can finish the program in less than two years if they work diligently or receive prior learning/transfer credits. Schools grant these credits to students with adequate work or field experience. To start the process, an advisory committee meets with the student to evaluate their portfolio and resume. Once approved, the school adds the credits to the degree candidate's transcript. If the program requires any thesis or capstone requirements, this counts towards the student's total number of credits needed.
How Much Is a Master's in Forensic Accounting?
To determine forensic accounting master's degree costs, learners must speak to the admissions or the financial aid departments of each school. The admissions department gives general tuition rates, but the financial aid office provides detailed information regarding university fees, aid packages, and payment plans. The payment plan depends on the school's tuition schedule. Schools can charge students a flat rate per semester, a flat rate per credit range, or a per-credit rate. When students pay a flat rate per semester, they pay a standard rate no matter how many courses they take.
With a credit range schedule, students pay a single price for a full course load of 12-18 credits. If students take less than 12 credits, they pay for each course. For instance, if a course consists of two credits, students get charged for each credit. Universities can also include fees for technology, insurance, parking, and other miscellaneous expenses. On average, master's in forensic accounting programs start at $600 per credit hour.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Forensic Accounting Prepares For
- Certified in Financial Forensics
The American Institute of CPAs awards this credential. To get the certification, applicants must hold a valid CPA license or certificate from a state authority. Applicants also need 1,000 hours of experience working in forensic accounting and 75 hours of continuing professional development in forensic accounting.
- Certified Internal Auditor
To take the exam, applicants must enroll in the CIA program. Once enrolled, test takers submit documents like the Character Reference Form to the board. After the board approves their application and documents, the Institute of Internal Auditors sends an email allowing the applicant to register for testing.
- Certified Fraud Examiner
Issued by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), this credential tests a forensic accountant's knowledge of the proper data analysis techniques needed to identify fraud. To apply for the exam, applicants must join the ACFE, submit supporting documentation, and pay the examination fee.
Resources for Graduate Forensic Accounting Students
NASBA assists over 50 state accounting boards. They help boards identify and fix issues within the accounting community regarding regulation, ethics, and test standardization.
This federal advisory committee releases the federal accounting standards for financial reporting. They publish the FASAB Handbook of Accounting Standards and Other Pronouncements annually.
The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) distributes government publications and materials to the general public. The code of federal regulations gets updated each year, and users can find each version on the GPO website.
Auditors use the Yellow Book to conduct audits, review financial statements, and arrange attestation engagements. Officials revise the book annually, archiving previous versions on the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) website.
The GAO publishes the financial audit manual in three volumes. The first volume addresses methodology, the second focuses on implementation guidance, and the third consists of checklists. Users can download the volumes from the GAO website.
Professional Organizations in Forensic Accounting
Joining a professional organization enhances the student's overall educational experience. Professional organizations focus on education, leadership building, and networking. Students can find mentors through groups and explore curated job boards and other career services. Organizations constantly update their training materials to reflect changes in financial policy. By joining a professional association, students gain direct access to insider publications and events.
The AICPA is one of the oldest professional organizations for accountants. The institute creates and reforms auditing standards for CPAs in addition to providing continuing education materials. AICPA also administers the CPA exam.
The IIA strives to represent the interests of professionals working as auditors, in risk management, governance, and with information technology auditing. IIA serves over 100,000 members globally.
The association supports professionals working in government financial management. AGACGFM provides training events, specialty publications, and professional certifications. They follow a code of ethics that addresses both behavior and professional conduct.
The AAA educates members using publications and innovative research findings. Members can read about their findings in the AAA Research Relevance Task Force Report.
Established in 1919, this association boasts over 300 chapters in 140 countries. The association hosts both student and professional chapters with annual networking events and conferences.