Whether it's payroll, sales tax, property tax, or business tax, taxes constitute a large portion of our lives. To ensure that we abide by the codes and regulations of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), we rely on tax experts who help us prepare returns, find errors or deductibles, avoid an audit, or claim an exemption. A master's in taxation readies you for this in-demand role, and the job landscape for tax experts looks stable for the foreseeable future.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 10% growth rate over a 10-year period for accountants and auditors, a rate faster than the national average that will result in 139,000 new jobs by 2026. As the BLS notes, globalization and a complex tax and regulatory environment all factor into a steady demand for individuals versed in taxation. While competition for top positions at major accounting and business firms looks strong, a specialized credential like a master's degree in taxation could make the difference.
Should I Get a Master's in Taxation?
A master's in taxation prepares you to handle the complex and expansive tax codes and regulations of the IRS, including state and federal taxes. You become an expert in tax law, and can become a tax attorney if you choose.
Students need to choose between an online program and an on-campus program. The flexibility and convenience of online programs works well for professionals and for those hoping to switch careers. An on-campus program, meanwhile, works for full-time students and those coming straight from undergrad school. Students who go straight into graduate school after undergrad know that they want to start in a position that requires a master's in taxation upon graduation.
College helps learners establish contacts and build a professional network. While students can certainly network from a distance, it proves more challenging than in a face-to-face environment. Furthermore, earning a master's in taxation on-campus gives students direct access to student services such as academic advising and job placement assistance. Finally, on-campus learners can attend recruitment events and try for more internships available only to local candidates.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Taxation?
A master of science in taxation narrows your expertise through a specialization. As noted, individuals and businesses alike all need tax help, and those with a master's in taxation can provide that expert advice and preparation. Furthermore, a master's in taxation should cover the 150 semester hours you need to become a CPA. If you wish to pursue a law degree as well, you would possess the necessary background to become a tax attorney. Career paths vary for taxation experts, and employment prospects for tax experts look promising.
- Tax Accountant
Tax accountants deal with compliance by helping clients abide by state and federal tax laws. During tax season, most of their duties involve the preparation and filing of taxes on behalf of clients, including individuals and business. To enter the profession, you need at least a four-year degree, though many employers prefer to hire accountants with an advanced degree like a master's in taxation.
Median Annual Salary: $55,389*
- Tax Analyst
A tax analyst focuses on client finances in the areas of compliance, liability, and risk. In their analyses, tax analysts help identify short-term and long-term costs of policies and recommend ways to save and mitigate risk. A tax analyst typically needs a bachelor's degree in accounting or finance to begin their career.
Median Annual Salary: $57,886*
- Tax Consultant
Tax consultants provide expertise in estate planning, tax filing, and tax compliance. Serving as an adviser, tax consultants must possess a comprehensive understanding of all things accounting and, in particular, the impact of taxes. A master of taxation readies students to take on this position.
Median Annual Salary: $59,199*
- Senior Tax Manager
Senior tax managers oversee the operations of a tax office, ensuring the quality of the staff's output and serving as a project lead. Most firms seek candidates with a master's degree in taxation, finance, accounting or related field.
Median Annual Salary: $128,600*
- Tax Manager
Tax managers ensure that a company remains in compliance with all local, state, and federal tax laws and regulations. They must prepare and file taxes and minimize the risk of getting audited. While a bachelor's qualifies you for this managerial role, a master's degree in taxation could prove the difference-maker for some companies.
Median Annual Salary: $94,445*
How to Choose a Master's Program in Taxation
After deciding to earn a master's in taxation, students need to decide where to attend. Factors to consider include cost, curriculum, online or on-campus learning, and program length. Weighing the benefits and drawbacks of each master's in taxation program helps you build a short list of prospective schools.
Choosing between an online and an on-campus program can prove challenging. Flexibility and convenience serve as the primary reasons for entering online programs. For example, many classes in online programs allow for asynchronous participation, which means that students can log in at their own convenience. This proves extremely helpful for working professionals and parents. Alternatively, on-campus programs often come with more concentrations, access to campus facilities, and more opportunity for networking.
As for part-time and full-time options, online and on-campus programs do not necessarily differ in terms of offerings. However, more online students earn their education part-time. Similarly, the cost of tuition for both online and on-campus learning amounts to the same. However, online students avoid the costs of housing, transportation, and on-campus fees normally associated with traditional students.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Taxation
Accreditation serves as an important consideration when choosing a program. Regional accreditation refers to the credentials given to traditional colleges and universities, and national accreditation refers to credentials given to vocational schools. There are six regional accreditors in the U.S., and students coming from a school accredited by one of these agencies may transfer to other schools with the same accreditation. While the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recognizes each regional accreditor, the agency does not recognize all national accreditors. You can check for your school in ED's database. Students should attend programs with regional accreditation.
Programmatic accreditation refers to an independent body of accreditors who specialize in a particular field. To earn accreditation, the program or school must meet or exceed established criteria in that field. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business serves as the programmatic accrediting body in the U.S. for master's in taxation programs.
Master's in Taxation Program Admissions
When choosing schools to apply to, keep in mind that on-campus and online admissions require different things. In general, online admissions requires more from students given the lack of face-to-face contact. As a result, you may need to do more to make sure your application and materials meet the deadline.
Criteria for program admissions, however, includes the same basic materials, such as transcripts and GPA scores. Given the number of master's in taxation programs out there, students must choose which schools to apply to and which to forgo. In general, students should apply to some safety schools and some preferred schools. Check the schools on your list to determine their students' average GPA scores and acceptance rate.
- Bachelor's Degree: For a master's in taxation, you should hold a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, or business administration. Given the specificity of the degree, few gain entrance without prior educational experience.
- Minimum GPA: Minimum GPA requirements vary by school and program; students should, however, expect to need at least a 3.0. Some schools allow you to hold a 2.7 cumulative GPA on the condition that you meet the required 3.0 GPA in your final two years or in your major.
- Required Courses: In general, a bachelor's degree in finance, accounting, or business should cover the prerequisite courses for a master's degree in taxation. Prerequisite courses include intermediate accounting, business finance, and managerial economics.
- Application: Students typically need to file their application for a master's in taxation program online through the school's website. The form itself does not take very long, but gathering materials can take time. Make sure to begin the application process three months before the deadline.
- Transcripts: You can request that your college transcript go to the admissions offices of the schools to which you apply. Transcripts generally cost a small fee of about $10.
- Letters of Recommendation: Expect to need at least two letters of recommendation, and make sure that they come from professors or employers. Give your writers about a month to submit their letters and make sure to send them a thank-you letter.
- Test Scores: School generally require GMAT or GRE test scores, though some schools waive test scores if you already hold your CPA license, can boast a high GPA (for example, 3.7), or possess a terminal degree in another field.
- Application Fee: When you submit your application, you must pay the application fee, which ranges from $50 to $150. Some schools offer waivers to students in financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Taxation?
The details of a master's in taxation program vary by program. By graduation, you should possess the acumen necessary to carry out all tasks of a tax professional. The difference you may find in a master of science in taxation program rests with the area of focus, such as estate planning or tax filing.
Courses in a Master's in Taxation Program
The courses in a master's in taxation program generally follow the same path and cover the same topics. Tax law serves as the focus of most MTS programs, with students studying codes and regulations at the local, state, and federal level. The courses listed below count among some of the more popular in the field.
- Analytics for Accountants
In this course, students tackle accounting analytics beyond balancing a financial sheet. Topics include the different types of analysis accountants apply: descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive. Typically, this course relies on case studies to explain the analytical accounting process.
- Tax Research
Students in this course explore the importance of tax research and how accountants use it to ferret out tax issues, uncover liability and risk, and strategize solutions. The course also examines tax authority and the government's power to tax, levy, and collect taxes.
- Tax Planning
This course examines tax planning and its impact on business. Students explore proper tax planning by looking ahead and assessing consequences and risk. Topics also include tax disclosures, assets, and operations.
- Corporate Income Taxation
This course looks specifically at corporations and taxes, including how the IRS taxes corporations versus other enterprises such as an LLC or a sole proprietorship. Students study the life cycle of a corporation and how taxes change from one stage to the next, from formation to liquidation.
- Tax Regulation
In this course, students examine the ethical obligations inherent to being an accountant, tax preparer, or auditor. Topics cover compliance with tax laws at all levels and the implications of failing to follow specific codes and regulations of tax reporting.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Taxation?
You can complete a master's degree in taxation in 1-3 years. Most schools, however, give students five years to graduate. In general, a master's program takes two years to complete at a full-time pace. Taking accelerated courses and summer courses can help students graduate faster.
Part-time students take an average of three years to finish a master's degree. Full-time students take a course load of at least 12 credits, or 15 credits on average. An online program works especially well for working professionals, though on-campus programs tend to cater to recent undergraduates. Because every student's situation is different, programs allow you to take the path that makes most sense for you.
How Much Is a Master's in Taxation?
Earning a master's in taxation degree takes a substantial investment, and the cost of college continues to rise. For graduate students, the same trend also applies. The National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) reported in 2016 that the average student loan balance for master of science degree completers rose 39% from 1999 to 2016. Looking at the amount of debt burden students take on after college serves as a way of estimating how much students pay during these years.
Students who pursue a master of science in taxation also need to factor in fees and other peripheral costs, such as books, supplies, and tech. On-campus learners also need to add the cost of housing and transportation. While some schools offer a lower tuition for online students -- specifically, out-of-state, online students -- most charge the same amount.
Certifications and Licenses for Master's in Taxation Graduates
- Certified Payroll Professional
The CPP certification caters to security management professionals and signifies that the holder can provide expert services in financial security. The CPP exam consists of 225 multiple-choice questions over the course of four hours.
- Certified Public Accountant
The CPA examination consists of four sections that take four hours long to complete. Certification seekers must complete all four parts of the exam within 18 months.
- Certified Management Accountant
More than 100,000 accounting pros hold CMA certification, which the organization associates with both industry assurance and higher earning potential. CMAs earn 47% more than those who do not hold the credential.
Resources for Graduate Taxation Students
AICPA describes its comprehensive compendium of tax resources as an "access point" for CPA practitioners. The resource keeps its members current on the latest in tax law, codes, and regulations.
With a JD, a master's of taxation graduate can segue into law as a practicing attorney. Tax professionals study the codes and regulations that make them experts in tax law, compliance, and liability.
From Villanova University, this resource on taxation helps students hoping to learn more about the U.S. tax system. Students with a master's in taxation can use the resource to maintain their understanding of the field.
This guide includes every tax code used in the U.S. It serves as the official interpretation of the Internal Revenue Code as determined by the Department of the Treasury.
From the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, this resource provides the outline and procedure for keeping tax research records. Future CPAs can study the AICPA's Code of Professional Conduct and the organization's Statements on Standards for Tax Services or SSTSs.
While networking serves as the number-one benefit people cite for joining a professional organization, membership includes other benefits. Members become part of a community with a singular purpose: improving the field through advocacy, ethical practice, and research. For those just starting out in the industry, a professional organization provides them with a connection to leaders, mentors, and peers.
Founded in 1887, AICPA operates the oldest organization of its kind. Membership today tops 431,000, with 137 countries represented. AICPA members hail from various areas of accounting practice, including business, government, and education.
A nonprofit organization, NATP welcomes members from all 50 states and strives to help the nation's taxpayers. The organization's focus lies with the annual preparation of federal taxes by individuals, businesses, and nonprofit entities.
NSA describes its organization a resource from which every accounting professional can benefit; it provides tools and news that help members improve their client services.
Formed in 1985, the Nationals Society of Tax Professionals helps members develop as tax experts. The organization achieves this through CE, workshops, mentorships, and an annual conference with leaders.
NAEA members count themselves among the nation's only tax professionals federally licensed to represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service. To remain in good standing, members must complete 30 hours of continuing education per year.