Annual Average Salary: $67,927
Job Outlook: +6%
Compiled and Written by Accounting.com Staff
Date Updated: July 2020
Master's in accounting programs offer advanced coursework in accounting theory and practice. Many programs offer specializations in areas such as financial analysis, compliance, taxation, and forensic accounting. Students usually complete these 30-36-credit degrees in 12-18 months, with degree length depending on program type and attendance pace.
Prospective students can choose from several types of accounting master's programs, including an MS in accounting, a master of accountancy (MAcc), a master of professional accountancy or accounting, and an MBA in accounting.
Most accounting master's programs fulfill the education requirements for certified public accountant (CPA) credentials. Accountants and auditors make a median annual salary of $71,550 as of 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some graduates of accounting master's programs make even higher salaries, climbing the ranks to positions as financial controllers or managers.
This page outlines important information for prospective master's in accounting students, including common concentrations and potential careers and salaries for graduates.
Master's in accounting programs can open doors to well-paying, stable career paths in areas like financial accounting, public accounting, forensic accounting, and auditing. Many employers prefer candidates with master's degrees.
Earning both a bachelor's and a master's in accounting typically meets the 150-credit requirement for CPA licensure.
Governed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Board of Examiners and administered by Prometric Testing, the CPA exam features four sections: auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation. Students typically prepare for and complete these sections one at a time, often taking at least a year to complete the whole exam. The AICPA recommends 8-12 weeks of preparation for each section.
Accounting master's degrees also help students prepare for other accounting certifications, such as certified public bookkeeper, certified management accountant (CMA), and certified internal auditor.
Graduates interested in research and/or teaching careers may pursue accounting master's degrees before completing Ph.D.s in accounting or related fields. Many Ph.D. graduates seek careers as professors, public policy researchers, consultants, and analysts.
Accounting and auditing careers are generally stable, with the BLS projecting a 6% job growth rate for accountants and auditors from 2018-2028. Accountants need a bachelor's degree at minimum, but many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree. Those pursuing CPA designation may find master's in accounting degrees particularly useful, because they usually qualify graduates to sit for the CPA exam.
Accounting grads typically work in areas like forensic accounting, public accounting, management accounting, and financial accounting. Auditing represents another common career path for graduates. Salary expectations vary by position, with median annual salaries ranging from $55,460-$67,930.
Annual Average Salary: $67,927
Job Outlook: +6%
Auditors assess financial data for mismanagement of funds within organizations. They also identify ways to reduce wasteful spending, fraud, and errors. These professionals make sure organizations comply with application laws and regulations. Internal auditors work for the organizations they audit, while external auditors work for outside organizations to perform audits.
Annual Average Salary: $56,867
Job Outlook: +6%
Public accountants work with government, corporate, and individual clients, performing accounting, taxation, auditing, and consulting tasks. Many public accountants hold CPA designation and own their own businesses or work for accounting firms. Job duties include analyzing financial records, organizing financial information, and suggesting ways to reduce costs or improve profitability.
Annual Average Salary: $63,426
Job Outlook: +6%
Management accountants interpret, analyze, and record financial information for organizations. Sometimes called cost accountants, corporate accountants, or managerial accountants, these professionals focus on performance evaluation and budgeting. Some management accountants work with asset managers or financial managers to choose financial investments like stocks and bonds for organizations.
Annual Average Salary: $60,118
Job Outlook: +6%
Financial accountants record and report business financial transactions, typically to shareholders, investors, or other individuals outside of their employing organizations. They use this information to create financial statements, such as income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements.
Annual Average Salary: $55,461
Job Outlook: +6%
Application requirements vary by program, but applicants typically need an accredited bachelor's degree. Some master's programs mandate that students hold bachelor's degrees in accounting or related fields, but many accept candidates from other academic backgrounds. Students without prior accounting coursework must complete foundational courses in accounting and math, usually before or during their master's programs.
Many master's programs require minimum GPAs in the 2.75-3.0 range. They may also require GMAT scores above 500, and very selective programs often set a minimum 650 score.
Several types of accounting bachelor's degrees fulfill the education prerequisites for accounting master's programs. The best master's programs usually exist at schools holding regional accreditation from agencies approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
A master's in accounting typically takes 1-2 years to complete, usually mandating about 30 credits after prerequisite requirements. Factors affecting program length include enrollment status, internship requirements, and accelerated options.
Some master's in accounting online programs offer classes year-round and let students take many credits per semester, allowing them to graduate faster. Many learners appreciate the flexibility and convenience of earning master's in accounting online, while others prefer more traditional, on-campus experiences.
Master's in accounting students take core classes on topics like auditing theory, accounting information systems, advanced financial accounting, and accounting ethics. Accounting electives let learners develop a deeper understanding of specific areas of accounting related to their career goals, focusing on topics like fraud auditing and international accounting.
Students must decide what type of accounting master's degree best fits their individual career goals and interests. We discuss master's in accounting degree options in detail below.
Students interested in pursuing master's in accounting degrees can choose from a variety of options. The following list outlines the degree types available to accounting master's students.
Master of accountancy and master's in accounting degrees typically provide a broad overview of the accounting profession. Students take core, elective, and foundational courses. Graduates can take the CPA exam to become certified public accountants. They can pursue any type of accounting career, including forensic accounting, management accounting, or government accounting.
Generally, a master of science in accounting does not differ substantially from a master of accountancy or master's in accounting degree. Curricula typically include a broad overview of the accounting profession and various types of accounting. Potential careers for graduates include forensic accountant, budget analyst, and staff accountant.
Master of professional accountancy and accounting degrees tend to be very practice-based, rather than emphasizing theory. Students take courses in career-relevant areas like fraud examination, internal auditing, and taxation. Graduates can pursue careers in areas like public accounting, fraud, taxes, and forensic accounting.
MBA in accounting degrees examine accounting theories and practices in addition to business principles, practices, and theories. MBA in accounting graduates qualify for a variety of business-focused careers, including management analyst, business consultant, and financial manager. They may also take the CPA exam and pursue more traditional accounting careers as public accountants, management accountants, or auditors.
The table below compares and contrasts master's in accounting and MBA in accounting programs.
|Master's in Accounting||MBA in Accounting|
|Program Length||Master's in accounting programs take 12-24 months to complete.||MBA in accounting programs also take 12-24 months to complete.|
|Skilled Gained||Master's in accounting programs prepare learners for the CPA exam. Students gain communication, organization, IT, and technical financial skills.||MBA in accounting students gain leadership, risk management, and financial decision-making skills. Graduates can sit for the CPA exam.|
|Typical Courses||Master's in accounting students take classes like advanced financial accounting, federal taxation, and financial instruments.||Typical MBA in accounting courses include taxes and business strategy, financial reports and business analysis, and financial accounting.|
|Potential Careers||Potential careers include forensic accountant, auditor, public accountant, and management accountant.||Potential careers include management analyst, financial manager, chief operating officer, and business consultant.|
For those seeking specialized degrees, many master's in accounting programs offer concentrations. Concentrations let students focus their studies on the specific areas of accounting relevant to their career interests and goals. Students who choose concentrations take core classes on top of courses in their specialization.
The number and types of concentrations available vary by program, but typical concentrations include financial accounting, auditing, forensic accounting, and international accounting. Other possible specializations include taxation, accounting information systems, and government accounting. In most cases, concentrations appear on students' diplomas and transcripts after graduation.
Master's in accounting programs provide a strong foundation in all major areas of accounting. A typical curriculum consists primarily of core courses, like advanced financial accounting, accounting ethics, auditing theory, and taxation of business entities. Core courses prepare learners for the CPA exam by covering test material.
Many programs also require students to complete elective classes focused on specific areas of accounting. Most master's in accounting programs do not require students to complete internships, theses, or practicums. Below, we describe five courses typical of most accounting master's programs.
Master's in accounting programs rarely require practicums or theses.
Selecting the right school and program for a master's in accounting requires careful research and analysis. Aspiring students should consider their career goals carefully. For example, prospective CPAs may benefit from master's programs that emphasize CPA exam prep.
Students who struggle to focus in virtual environments usually fare better in on-campus programs, which may offer better access to mentorship and networking opportunities. Smaller schools tend to boast smaller student-to-teacher ratios, which may improve the learning experience. Cohort-based programs often enhance networking through increased peer contact. Moreover, learners who attend local schools may benefit from increased local employment opportunities.
Busy professionals who learn well independently often benefit from the flexibility of online learning. Part-time programs permit better balance between school, work, and life, while accelerated programs require concentrated, intensive study for shorter periods of time.
Cost varies considerably, so applicants should check student outcome data to ensure their prospective programs pay off. The federal government only grants financial aid to students attending nationally or regionally accredited schools.
Earning an accounting master's degree online offers many potential advantages. Recent research suggests that top online programs demonstrate the same rigor and student outcomes as their on-campus counterparts. In fact, most schools and programs no longer make qualitative distinctions between online and on-campus diplomas.
A popular choice among working professionals, online learning allows students to continue their education without taking time off work. Not restricted to a commutable geographical radius, online students can choose from hundreds of high-quality programs at schools across the country, allowing applicants to find the best programs for their specific interests, career goals, and industry contexts.
However, online learning does not work for everyone. Distance learners often need more motivation, self-discipline, concentration, and academic integrity than on-campus students. They may not receive as much in-person supervision, encouragement, and mentorship from professors and peers, so online students must stay on top of their work, manage their time, and balance their studies with other responsibilities. Part-time online programs often work best for busy professionals.
When choosing a master's in accounting program, learners should pay attention to accreditation status. To receive accreditation, schools must meet eligibility criteria set by independent accrediting agencies. Accreditation status can affect students' ability to receive federal financial aid, transfer credits to other universities, and pursue graduate degrees.
Universities can seek two types of accreditation: regional or national. The higher education community considers regional accreditation more reputable and valuable than national accreditation. Regional accreditation agencies to look for include the Higher Learning Commission, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, and the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Many accounting programs also hold programmatic accreditation through agencies like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education.
Students can consult the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's searchable database to learn accreditation information for prospective colleges.
To jumpstart their program search, students should check out these lists of the best master's in accounting and online master's in accounting programs.
Accounting organizations provide students, graduates, and working accountants with job prospects, educational resources, and networking opportunities. See below for examples of accounting organizations:
Prospective accounting students can consult the master's in accounting program database below to learn all about the best master's in accounting programs. All schools included in this list hold regional accreditation.