Accountants can work in a variety of professional settings, including large corporations, small and medium-sized companies, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Accountants can also set up a private practice that allows them to serve clients from various industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that accountants made a median annual salary of $71,550 in 2019, which is well above the national median for all occupations.
Graduates of an undergraduate accounting program typically qualify for entry-level positions in the field, such as bookkeeper and accounting clerk. To earn certified public accountant (CPA) credentials, most states require aspiring accountants to have at least 150 postsecondary credits and pass an exam. CPAs can represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service in matters of audits, payments, and appeals. Employers often seek CPAs for leadership and management positions.
Since a bachelor's degree only comprises 120 credits, many bachelor's in accounting graduates complete a master's degree in accounting to meet the minimum credit requirement for the CPA exam. This guide provides important information about online graduate programs in accounting, including common courses, requirements, and concentrations.
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The 25 Best Online Master’s Programs in Accounting for 2021
Methodology: Here’s How We Rank Schools
We source unbiased data from government and educational databases like the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 6,374 schools across the U.S. We organize that data into five weighted categories to compile our school rankings.
|Academic Quality||Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates||25%|
|Affordability||Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid||35%|
|Reputation||Admission and enrollment rates||15%|
|Program Offerings||Number of program options||10%|
|Online Enrollment Score||Portion of learners taking at least one online course||15%|
Is it worth it to get a master’s in accounting?
Yes, it can be worth the time and money to get a master’s in accounting. That said, whether it will be worth it for you will depend on what your short- and long-term goals are. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, you’re likely able to be employed as an accountant or in a finance role. Having a master’s degree in accounting will simply open up access to more employment opportunities, open up opportunities for higher rates of pay, and provide additional knowledge or the framework to become a certified public accountant (CPA).
Do I need a bachelor’s in accounting to get a master’s in accounting?
No, you don’t. Most programs will allow you to apply for a master’s in accounting program with any type of four-year undergraduate degree; you generally aren’t limited to just bachelor’s degrees in accounting. That said, it will depend on the program and the school, so be sure to check into the requirements of the specific programs you want to apply to.
What will I learn in a master’s in accounting program?
If you enroll in a master’s in accounting program, you will typically learn about a wide range of topics related to the accounting profession. Classes focus on topics like advanced financial accounting, federal taxation, and financial instruments, and graduates from these types of programs can take the CPA exam to become certified public accountants. This opens up a wide range of accounting employment opportunities, including forensic accounting, government accounting, and management accounting.
Accounting appeals to professionals with strong numerical skills and a penchant for details. Accountants also need solid communication skills, knowledge of tax laws and current regulations, and familiarity with commonly used accounting software.
Traditional accounting duties include preparing and filing taxes, reviewing financial statements, and optimizing fiscal operations. Accountants can also specialize their skills for particular careers. For example, forensic accountants investigate crimes, such as fraud and tax evasion. They often work with law enforcement officers to aid in their investigation. Some accounting practitioners work in international investing, helping clients make lawful decisions regarding tax shelters and benefits.
The accounting field continues to expand and offer fresh career opportunities. Colleges and universities develop programs that correspond to these growth areas, thus increasing the professional options of qualified accountants. Many online master's programs in accounting offer concentrations in emerging areas, like information management and technology assurance, sports accounting, and environmental accounting.
Aspiring accountants can expect to enter a high-paying, robust job market poised for growth. These professionals earn a median annual salary well above the national average, and the BLS projects jobs for accountants to grow 6% between 2018 and 2028.
Admission requirements vary by school, but most online master’s in accounting programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, preferably in accounting. However, many schools consider applicants with a degree in a related field, such as economics or business. Non-accounting degree-holders may need to enroll in prerequisite courses prior to beginning their master’s program.
Admission requirements may also include a minimum GPA, often a 3.0, and GMAT or GRE scores. Few institutions require minimum scores on graduate entrance exams, but those that do usually require applicants to score at least 500 on the GMAT or 150, 153, and 3.5 on the GRE’s verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing sections, respectively.
Additional admission requirements may include an essay, a current resume, and letters of recommendation. These documents give schools insight into the applicant’s background, current accomplishments, and future professional plans. Some schools also require an interview prior to making a final determination.
Why Get a Master’s Degree in Accounting?
If you’re interested in working in the accounting field, earning a master’s degree can be an excellent way to advance your career. First, a master’s degree will set you apart from other applicants when you apply for jobs. Some jobs may even require a master’s degree, and you would be eligible.
Additionally, working accountants who go on to earn a master’s degree may be eligible for a salary increase or a new position with more responsibility, which will drastically increase your lifetime earning potential.
Ultimately, going through a master’s program in accounting will enable you to gain many new skills, which you can also use to secure future jobs.
Master’s in Accounting Courses
- Common Master’s in Accounting Courses
- In this course, students learn how to organize and distribute relevant information internally and externally. Students also learn how to conduct client interviews to draw out needed information. Learners practice writing a variety of industry-specific accounting documents and familiarize themselves with current terminology and various communication techniques and devices. They also develop interpersonal skills that help them relate comfortably and professionally with their peers, superiors, and clients.
- Forensic Accounting
- This course teaches students how to examine financial statements to detect fraudulent information and false financial reporting. Learners study computer fraud, methods of unlawful concealment, and different types of fraud schemes. They also examine various countermeasures to prevent and mitigate instances of fraud, including advanced analytical techniques and effective internal controls. The course also exposes students to litigation support services and recent legislation that addresses this type of crime, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Additionally, learners study several self-regulating measures adopted by the accounting profession over time to help detect and prevent fraud.
- Modeling Financial Statements
- In this course, students learn how to evaluate a company's operational sustainability, financial performance, and capital structure to develop stable and robust fiscal projections. Students then use this information to generate investment options based on an appropriate risk and reward equilibrium. Because forecasting is not an exact science, students model several scenarios based on available data and anticipated results. They learn to formulate educated fiscal projections that help business owners, private equity groups, institutional investors, and credit analysts make responsible financial decisions.
- Professional Conduct and Responsibility
- This course examines how law, ethics, and business intersect. Students learn to formulate and exercise their own ethical judgements in various business scenarios. They also develop a clear understanding of the role that ethical assumptions play in business decisions. The course typically includes the examination of various ethical issues in the workplace, such as drug testing, preferential hiring, and sexual harassment. Students also explore ethical conflicts that arise in the international business arena.
- Taxation of Individuals and Business Income
- This course examines federal income tax laws as they relate to individuals and businesses. Learners study what constitutes income according to current tax laws and explore topics such as preferential income tax rates, profit and loss, classes of income, and non-statutory principles of taxation. Students also review case histories that demonstrate the application of the Internal Revenue Code in real-life scenarios. They study the different policies that underlie tax laws, how tax laws are applied, and how tax judgements are appealed.
Master's in Accounting Concentrations
Online master's programs in accounting often offer concentrations that allow students to specialize their skills and prepare for specific careers after graduation. For example, some schools may offer a concentration in environmental accounting, which involves identifying and measuring the impact of business activity on the environment. Environmental accountants often help clients use their resources more efficiently while limiting the negative effects of their activities on the environment.
Schools may also offer a concentration in information management and technology assurance, which involves the management and protection of financial data. This concentration often includes coursework in internal controls, risk assessment, cybercrime detection, and business intelligence.
Other popular concentration areas include auditing, taxation, and managerial accounting. Prospective students should research each potential program's curriculum to ensure it offers concentrations aligned with their interests and goals.
Accounting Certifications and Licenses
After graduating with a master’s degree in accounting, you can choose from a variety of different certifications and licenses to take your career to the next level. These include:
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Becoming a CPA is the gold standard of accounting certifications. The CPA exam is difficult, but prepares an accountant for practically any job they could want.
Certified Financial Analyst (CFA)
For accountants pursuing a career in finance, a CFA certification prepares a professional for jobs as CFOs, managing hedge funds, and more.
Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
A CMA is ideal for students who would rather go into accounting management than public accounting. This certification prepares students to work at the executive level of companies.
Enrolled Agent (EA)
The EA exam was created by the IRS for accountants who would be preparing taxes for individuals and companies. This certification is ideal for those who either want to work for the IRS or represent clients before the IRS.
Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
The CIA exam is relatively short and prepares accountants to work as internal auditors for publicly traded companies.
After graduating with a master’s degree in accounting, there are many jobs that will be available to you. Popular accounting jobs include:
Accountant and Auditor
Accountants and auditors can work with both companies and individuals to identify financial records, prepare taxes, and provide financial solutions. Accountants can work with individuals, companies, or government organizations. Auditors generally work for either companies or government organizations.
A financial manager generally works for a company to manage the firm’s financial health. Tasks include preparing financial statements, supervising financial reporting and budgeting, reviewing financial reports, looking for cost-reduction strategies, analyzing market trends, and helping to make important financial decisions within a company.
Financial analysts work with both companies and individuals to assess the performance of a portfolio, recommend particular investments, and generally work to increase profits.
A budget analyst works for public and private organizations to prepare budgets and budget reports and monitor the organization’s spending. They liaise with all department managers within a company to inform them of the availability of funds and ensure each department stays within its budget.
A financial examiner is responsible for ensuring that organizations comply with financial laws. They monitor financial institutions, review balance sheets, review new regulations, and more.
Job Outlook and Salary
Once you graduate with a master’s degree in accounting, you’ll find that you have excellent job prospects and earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for accountants and auditors is $73,560, with the top 10% earning more than $128,680. Employment in this field is expected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029.
The following states have the highest mean annual wage for accountants and auditors:
- District of Columbia: $110,140
- New York: $101,440
- New Jersey: $96,260
- Massachusetts: $88,830
- California: $88,130
Other career paths for those with a master’s degree in accounting come with even higher average salaries. These include:
- Financial manager: $83,660
- Financial analyst: $134,180
- Budget analyst: $78,970
- Financial examiner: $81,430
How Much Will a Master’s in Accounting Cost?
The cost of a master’s in accounting program can vary dramatically depending on the program you choose. The total cost of master’s degree programs can easily exceed $100,000, but most affordable programs cost significantly less. According to a study by Sallie Mae, the typical graduate student spent $24,812 per year for graduate school in the 2017-18 year. Since most programs take one to two years, the total cost would range from roughly $25k to $50k.
In your search for affordable master’s degree programs, you may find that online programs are generally more affordable. Universities often charge different tuition rates for online programs because there are no campus costs, and in many cases, no out-of-state tuition charges either.
There’s no doubt that graduate school is an investment, even if you’re opting for an online or budget program. Luckily, there are many scholarships and financial aid opportunities to help reduce the cost burden.
First, students can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they are eligible for financial aid through the federal government. Some schools may also offer their own financial aid options.
There are also a variety of scholarships to choose from, including:
Who Can Apply: Well-rounded undergraduate or graduate accounting or finance students who display both academic excellence and community involvement.
Deadline: December 31
Liberal arts and non-business degree holders who are pursuing both graduate studies in accounting and the CPA licensure.br>Amount: $5,000
Deadline: March 1
Who Can Apply: Undergraduate seniors attending a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) attending an accredited Master of Accounting program.
Who Can Apply: Graduate program students preparing for a career in state and local government finance.
In addition to the different accounting concentrations you can choose from, there are also several different master’s degrees to choose from with a specialty in accounting. Each of these degrees would leave you equipped for advanced and high-paying accounting jobs:
- Master of Accountancy (MAcc): An MAcc provides students with a broad foundation of accounting-related topics. Students will start by learning a core accounting curriculum before moving into a specialization or concentration, such as forensic accounting. This degree also prepares students to take the CPA exam.
- Master of Science in Accounting (MSA): An MSA is similar to an MAcc. Certain schools may choose to offer one of these degree programs or the other.
- Master of Business Administration in Accounting (MBA): An MBA in accounting is a master’s degree in business administration, but with accounting as a concentration. This degree is well-suited for those who plan to go into management roles or business-focused careers.
Thanks for reading our ranking of the 25 best cheap master's degrees in accounting online!
Angelica Leicht is the schools editor at Best Value Schools who oversees our college rankings, school profiles, and other higher education coverage. She previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.
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