What is a Masters in Accounting?

Master’s in Accounting degree programs are designed for individuals who want to enhance their knowledge of the accounting profession or those who are planning a career in accounting. A master’s degree can help professionals advance in their career and increase their earning potential through various opportunities within the field of accounting.

Accounting is a growing field that focuses on examining the financial health of organizations. Often called the “language of business,” accounting is essential for giving managers the financial data needed to make good overall operational moves. Not only is accounting one of the world’s most respected business professions, but it’s also one of the largest with jobs in virtually every industry from healthcare to manufacturing. In fact, the U.S. News and World Report named accounting the #3 best business job in America with a 13 percent employment growth rate.

Accounting schools work towards filling this demand by offering students various options in earning their marketable degree. Traditionally, accounting degrees have been delivered on-campus at colleges and universities with face-to-face classroom instruction. Attending a brick-and-mortar institution is advantageous for accounting majors wishing to learn in an interactive environment and build communication abilities with peer projects. Campus-based accounting students also benefit from increased networking opportunities and preferential treatment by employers. However, traditional accounting programs follow a stricter schedule that makes it difficult to continue working full-time or maintaining family obligations. In addition, aspiring accountants who reside in rural or suburban areas might struggle to find nearby accredited programs.

Thanks to the Internet, online accounting degrees are growing in popularity. Online learning is great for non-traditional accounting students who are re-entering school later in life or holding down a career. Online accounting programs make it simple to access course materials 24/7 for optimal flexibility in completing assignments. Online students also usually pay less in tuition expenses while saving bundles on room and board, commuting, and perhaps childcare. On the downside, online accounting majors miss out on in-person interaction with peers and faculty. Online students must also be rather tech savvy and disciplined to complete coursework at their own pace within virtual classrooms.

Since there are pros and cons to each learning method, many business schools are now offering accounting degrees in a hybrid format that blends on-campus and online coursework. Hybrid programs offer the major benefit of minimized campus trips without completely eliminating peer interaction. For instance, accounting students may attend a campus-based lecture just once a week while reviewing course materials, engaging in discussions, and submitting assignments online. Examinations in accounting hybrid programs are usually proctored online to ensure higher levels of academic integrity than online degrees. Many master’s in accounting programs in a hybrid format will also give online learners the chance to engage in real-world internships.

Accounting Degree Levels

Colleges award accounting degrees at four different levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral. It’s important to know the distinctive degree levels to understand which accounting program you should enroll in to reach your professional goals. For example, reaching the elite Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential will require that you obtain a bachelor’s before completing a master’s degree in accounting. Most states now require a total of 150 college credits before taking the Uniform CPA examination (source: AICPA). The following is an in-depth look at the four accounting degree levels available to help you choose the right pathway to success.

Associate’s Degree in Accounting

Associate of Science (A.S.) or Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) programs for accounting are provided by accredited two-year community colleges and vocational schools. An associate’s degree is designed to provide career-oriented training in the basic fundamentals of accounting practice after a high school diploma. Graduates with an associate’s degree in accounting can obtain entry-level work as bookkeepers, junior accountants, or accounting clerks. It’s also popular for students to save money by earning their associate’s degree before transferring to a four-year university for a baccalaureate program. Accounting associate’s degrees typically require around 60 credits.

Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

At the university level, bachelor’s degrees in accounting take at least four years of full-time undergraduate studies for completion. After building a well-rounded core of general education, accounting majors will progress through introductory and intermediate courses related to professional accounting practice. Some bachelor’s programs for accounting will have a broad-based approach to developing an understanding of business administration as a whole. Within the minimum 120-credit bachelor’s curriculum, students often will obtain hands-on learning through an internship, consulting project, and/or capstone. Graduates can work in any entry to mid-level accountant roles, including internal auditing and budget analysis.

Master’s Degree in Accounting

Students shooting for CPA or top executive positions will be required to acquire their master’s in accounting degree from an accredited college. Master of Accountancy (MAcc) or Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) programs can take anywhere from one to three years. An MBA in Accounting is also popular. Graduate students supplement their core with a focus in a specific niche of the accounting field. Accounting majors could concentrate their master’s degree in areas like forensic accounting, taxation, auditing, or financial reporting. Professionals with a master’s degree in accounting will open doors to senior positions in the business world.

Doctoral Degree in Accounting

Last but certainly not least, universities offer accounting professionals the chance to obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in accounting. Most finish their career at the master’s level, but a select few will complete the rigorous training of a doctoral degree. After three to five years of advanced coursework, doctoral accounting students will explore financial challenges by conducting independent research for a dissertation. The Journal of Accountancy reports that there is currently an accounting professor shortage, so doctoral graduates can find ample job openings teaching and performing research in accounting at colleges or universities.

Accounting Degree Rankings

All accounting programs aren’t created equal, so students need to do their homework and weigh various different factors to determine their ideal degree match. First and foremost, accounting majors must attend a college with regional accreditation from an agency recognized by the CHEA to receive financial aid and transfer their credits later on. Employers will also prefer accounting graduates from business schools approved by the AACSB and ACBSP for industry education excellence. Future accountants must use their natural analytical skills to investigate other important factors too, such as faculty credentials, student engagement, flexibility, internship opportunities, job placement rates, and award recognitions.

Since comparing all of these degree characteristics for several schools is a challenge, students often turn to accounting degree rankings for guidance in their decision. Rankings are published annually after weighing certain criteria to organize the top accounting colleges in the United States. Paying close attention to rankings is advised to make certain students are choosing an accounting degree that will be marketable on their resume.

The U.S. News and World Report Survey is perhaps the leading ranking system in America for students to learn about the best of the best education options. U.S. News maintains annual rankings for the best master’s in accounting programs and the best graduate business schools. Another quality accounting degree ranking is published by The Public Accounting Report, which ranks bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs in accounting. Students looking for a more global scale to their college search can refer to the QS World University Rankings to discover the best accounting and finance degrees by region. There’s also a reputable ranking offered by LinkedIn that showcases the best undergraduate universities for accounting professionals.

Editor’s Choice Rankings

In addition to the ranking systems described above, our editors also work to highlight the top programs in accounting and closely related areas.

25 Great Small Colleges for Master’s in Accounting
Top 10 Online Master’s in Accounting Degree Programs
Top 10 Online MBA in Accounting Degree Programs
Top 10 Online Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting Programs
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Top 10 Online Master’s in Finance Degree Programs

Accounting Careers and Salaries

Graduates who achieve an accounting degree will find that their learned knowledge can be applied in virtually any business or public service career path involving finances. Jobs will vary based on degree level with the most expansive range of opportunities available for graduates with a masters in accounting degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all 1.18 million accountants in the United States earn a mean annual wage of $73,670. CPAs advancing into senior positions can expect a lucrative six-figure payoff though. Some of the most popular and in-demand accounting careers are:

Staff Accountant

Staff accountants are hired directly by organizations to carefully review financial records and track monetary activities to provide reports for managers. Staff accountants hold entry-level positions, but their jobs str essential in helping company executives make sound financial decisions. Staff accountants have diverse job opportunities working for manufacturing firms, banks, hospitals, insurance carriers, securities brokerages, and much more. Staff accountants typically have an average annual salary of $45,500 to $69,500 (source: Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide).

Internal Auditor

Internal auditors use their accounting degrees to perform financial evaluations on a company’s operational efficiency to help management improve business practices. Internal auditors work within their employing organization to ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines from the SEC and GAAP. Depending on their company’s size, internal auditors can be rewarded with an annual salary ranging from $52,000 to $106,250 annually. Jobs are also available for external auditing in which auditors inspect clients’ financial statements for fraud from outside the company. (source: Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide).

Cost Accountant

In the fast-paced world of management accounting, cost accountants are given the duty of determining the costs of products, processes, and projects to report accurate amounts on their company’s financial records. Cost accountants work knee deep in balance sheets and income statements to help management analyze the company’s cost behavior. Cost accountants are usually found in manufacturing firms and corporations, but they can work for service businesses too. Cost accounting reaps a lucrative average yearly salary between $51,000 to $91,500 (source: Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide).

Forensic Accountant

Although less exciting than the forensics depicted on CSI, forensic accounting is an in-demand, investigative field that focuses on analyzing finances to detect crime. Forensic accountants use their fine-tuned accounting skills to look for red flags of embezzlement, fraud, bankruptcy, and other white collar scandals. Forensic accountants usually have a master’s in accounting for authoritative expertise when presenting their findings in court. Every year, forensic accountants at all companies bring home an average salary of $71,500 to $111,500 (source: Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide).

Tax Accountant

Tax accountants develop their specialized skills with a master’s degree in accounting and a concentration in taxation to assist clients with tax-related issues. Tax accountants offer their expertise in preparing federal, state, and local tax returns for both individuals and businesses. Most tax accountants hold CPA credentials to provide tax advice, minimize tax liability, stay abreast of tax code changes, and ensure client compliance with government regulations. Tax accountants will likely earn an average annual wage of $53,000 to $85,750 (source: Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide).

Budget Analyst

Budget analysts are hired to analyze financial data for various organizations, including colleges, hospitals, government agencies, non-profit firms, and corporations. Budget analysts serve the important role of preparing budget reports, monitoring institutional spending, and informing executives on the availability of monetary funds. Budget analysts keep a watchful eye on expenses to guarantee compliance with budget plans and maximize profitability. Annually, budget analysts typically make an average salary of $47,000 to $88,500 (source: Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide).

Financial Controller

Financial controllers hold an upper-level management role in the corporate world to supervise all of the accounting activities taking place in their organization. Controllers are the chief accounting officers responsible for overseeing the company’s financial statements, payroll, accounts payable, accounts receivable, budgets, tax forms, and general ledgers. Controllers report directly to the organization’s president to communicate any accounting-related issues that come up. Controllers have one of the highest accounting salaries with the potential to make up to $224,750 every year (source: Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide).

Now that you’ve received an introduction to the accounting field, we invite you to begin clicking through the helpful resources published on our website. At Master’s in Accounting Degrees, we strive to provide up-to-date information to graduate students interested in obtaining a master’s degree in accounting for advancement. Our resources will help you find the right accounting degree, expand your professional opportunities, pursue certification, and land your dream job. If you have any questions or suggestions for our website’s content, please contact us.