Best Master’s in Accounting Programs 2022
| Accounting.com Staff Modified on May 2, 2022
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Good accounting programs at the master's level can boost job opportunities and salary potential. Master's in accounting programs teach practical accounting and financial skills. These programs build on bachelor's degree concepts to include more advanced accounting theory and practice.
According to 2019 data from the United States Census Bureau, the number of master's degree-holders 25 and older has doubled since 2000. Additionally, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) reports more than 11,400 master's in accounting graduates were hired into accounting firms in 2018. Of those new hires, graduates with an auditing specialization were the most employed.
Continue reading to explore the best master's in accounting programs to consider. Also, learn more about available concentrations, associated costs, and what to expect from this advanced degree.
Why Get a Master's in Accounting?
Students with a bachelor’s degree in accounting have the foundational skills to pursue entry-level jobs in the field. But, a master’s degree in accounting can help advance careers and satisfy the academic requirements to sit for the CPA exam.
An accounting master’s degree can help graduates land top-level positions by giving them competitive advantage in the job market.
- Higher-level Positions: A master’s degree in accounting paired with relevant experience can open the door to some of the most profitable and prestigious positions in the field, such as financial manager, private equity associate, hedge fund manager, chief financial officer, and chief compliance officer.
- Competitive Advantage: The increasing complexity of financial legislation and the expertise offered by graduate degrees may give corporate recruiters an incentive to hire applicants with a master's in the field. This might provide candidates with an accounting master’s degree an edge over applicants who hold a bachelor’s.
- CPA Prerequisite: To qualify to sit for the CPA exam, candidates in most states must have 150 academic credits in accounting or related areas. As a typical undergraduate degree provides only 120 credits, a master’s degree in accounting can help aspiring certified public accountants on their path to obtaining the CPA credential.
What to Expect From an Accounting Master's Degree
An accounting master’s degree gives learners an advanced understanding of accounting and business principles. The degree typically takes 1-2 years to complete or about 30-60 credits. Factors affecting program length include the student's enrollment status (part time or full time), internship requirements, and accelerated options.
Students must decide what accounting master’s degree best fits their individual career goals and interests. We discuss these options in detail below.
Degree and Concentration Options
The main types of master’s degrees in accounting include a master of accounting (MAcc), a master of science in accounting (MSA), and an MBA in accounting.
An MAcc typically takes one year to complete, whereas most MBAs with a concentration in accounting take two years to finish. The average credit load for an MAcc or an MSA degree is 30-36 credits, while a two-year MBA with a concentration in accounting usually requires 60 credits.
- Master of Accounting or Accountancy (MAcc)
- The best MAcc programs provide advanced knowledge of accounting and prepare degree-seekers to sit for the CPA exam. Common concentrations include government accounting, taxation, and assurance services.
- Master of Science in Accounting (MSA)
- An MSA also qualifies learners to sit for the CPA exam. But, it often requires more quantitative coursework, such as advanced statistical analysis and business analytics. Common concentrations include forensic accounting, accounting information systems, and information technology.
- Master of Professional Accountancy or Accounting
- Master of professional accountancy and accounting degrees tend to be more practice based vs. theory based. Students take courses in areas like fraud examination, internal auditing, and taxation. Graduates can pursue careers in public accounting, fraud, taxes, and forensic accounting.
- MBA with a Concentration in Accounting
- An MBA accounting degree develops knowledge of accounting and business administration. Common concentrations include financial management, business compliance, and risk management. An accounting MBA may offer the best option for learners who aspire to work toward top-level positions like financial manager, chief compliance officer, or chief financial officer.
Most of the best master's in accounting schools seek applicants with a bachelor's degree. Although majoring in accounting isn't always required, it could help you skip prerequisite coursework, like financial accounting and auditing. Accounting programs may require that your degree comes from an accredited school.
Candidates should submit their transcripts, test scores, essay, and application fee with the application. Schools usually also request at least two references and a resume. While many programs do not require relevant work experience, students can make their applications stand out by including relevant experience on their resumes.
Popular Accounting Graduate Courses
Master’s in accounting programs provide a strong foundation in the field. A typical curriculum consists of core courses, like advanced financial accounting, accounting ethics, auditing theory, and taxation of business entities. Core courses can help 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. Some examples of accounting master’s courses include:
- Advanced Cost Accounting: This course explores cost-benefit analysis and other strategies used in economic decision-making. Students learn about budgeting, linear programming, management control systems, and cost-volume profit analysis. Learners also gain practical cost accounting skills.
- Advanced Financial Reporting: A course in advanced financial reporting teaches learners how to use accounting analysis, ratio and cash flow analysis, and forecasting and valuation analysis to analyze financial statements from manager and shareholder perspectives. Students also learn to prepare projected financial statements in light of forecasted changes in exchange rates, interest rates, and commodity prices.
- Accounting Information Systems: Students build practical experience using database management techniques. They learn how IT relates to accounting and auditing and how to model business systems and processes. The class looks at manipulating and communicating financial information effectively, with a focus on data integrity in relational database management systems.
- Forensic Accounting: This class provides an overview of forensic accounting and fraud detection. Students explore topics like internal control methodology, financial statement misrepresentation, rules of evidence relating to fraud, and interview techniques. They learn a variety of fraud examination techniques and explore illegal activities like money laundering, embezzlement, and wagering.
- Project Management: In project management, students learn to plan, control, and schedule projects. The class explores topics like project management leadership strategies, factors leading to cost and time overruns, and organization and risk management.
- Government Accounting: This class prepares students to perform accounting tasks for governmental and nonprofit organizations. The curriculum contrasts governmental accounting with accounting for for-profit businesses. Learners explore topics like budgetary accounts, fund accounting, and governmental financial reporting.
- Business Law: Enrollees in this course learn to navigate general principles of business law and regulations governing intellectual property, contracts, sales, and torts. Students also learn some of the key differences between state and federal legal systems as they apply to corporations.
- Managerial Strategy and Analysis: This course teaches enrollees how to formulate realistic business objectives, develop and implement corporate strategies, and advise top executives on leading companies through adverse financial circumstances. One of the key strategic tools in this course is the SWOT analysis, which provides a holistic overview of a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
- Capstone Seminar in Accounting: This seminar integrates knowledge acquired throughout the program in financial, cost and managerial accounting, general ledger, computer techniques, and business ethics. Degree-seekers complete a practical team-based project addressing an authentic or simulated issue in corporate or public accounting.
How Much Does a Master's in Accounting Cost?
The average master's in accounting programs require between 30-36 credits with per-credit tuition costing $500-$2,000. However, online, in-state, and out-of-state tuition rates usually vary, with out-of-state residents often paying the most. A school's prestige and public or private status may also influence costs.
Prospective students should also consider additional fees, like registration, application, and technology fees. Unfortunately, schools do not always add these extra costs into their tuition rates.
Browsing affordable master's degree programs is an excellent way to begin your search. It's also beneficial to explore financing options to lessen the financial burden of a master's degree.
Grants and scholarships are free awards that help reduce tuition costs. While you need to pay back loans after graduating, they can make it easier to afford school while attending. Accounting fellowships and internships could also help you earn money to help pay your tuition and other expenses.
Learn more about financial aid and scholarships to fund your master's degree from the best accounting schools.
Should You Get Your Degree Online?
Remote learning lets students study from the comfort of their homes in nearly any location. Online education has risen in popularity since the early 2000s with 73% of higher learning students wanting to take fully online classes.
Two of the most significant benefits of online learning include affordability and flexibility. Many schools charge flat-rate tuition that is often lower than in-person tuition. Learners can choose between programs with synchronous (live and scheduled) or asynchronous (self-paced and unscheduled) classes.
Consider your learning needs to determine if earning an online degree is right for you. If you prefer face-to-face instruction and more peer collaboration, earning a degree in person could be a better option.
Interview With an Accounting Professor
Dr. Katherine Campbell
Bio: Dr. Katherine Campbell, is a professor and chair in the Master's in Accounting program at the University of North Dakota.
Why did you choose to study accounting? Was it something you were always interested in?
Like many accountants, I did not know anything about the accounting profession when I started college. I was studying art history. Because there are art auction houses, I wanted to know something about auctions. I needed permission to take a business course, and the dean advised me to take principles of accounting. I found it fascinating, one course led to another, and I ended up with an accounting degree and the opportunity to start my career at a Big Four public accounting firm.
What advice would you give to students considering earning a degree in accounting?
Studying accounting develops business analysis skills, and public accounting firms are typically at the top of lists of best places to start careers. Accountants don’t always spend their entire careers working in accounting, so one of the best things about studying accounting is that it is an outstanding foundation for many business careers. In fact, many successful entrepreneurs have accounting backgrounds. Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, is one example; I recommend his memoir, Shoe Dog, to students.
What advice would you give to students who are trying to decide whether to earn an accounting degree online or on-campus?
Both online and on-campus programs can be great options for pursuing an accounting degree. I encourage students to find a program that suits their learning style and supports their career objectives. Regardless of delivery mode, students should do a bit of research to find a high-quality program that has a current curriculum and a track record of success in graduating students who become successful professionals.
What are the benefits of earning a master's in accounting? Are there different benefits for those who want to be professionals in the field vs. academics?
A master’s in accounting is an especially good option for students who want to pursue the certified public accountant (CPA) designation. A master’s program will help students meet the 150 credit hour requirement to sit for the CPA exam, prepare for the exam, and develop analytic and communication skills that are important for success in accounting careers.
Research shows that in public accounting firms, having a master’s degree is associated with more rapid promotion and a greater probability of promotion to partner. While a master’s in accounting would benefit those pursuing both professional and academic career paths, most programs have a professional focus.
From your perspective as an accounting academic, is there anything that you wish would change about the accounting industry? Why or why not?
Like it or not, the accounting profession is changing rapidly due to advances in technology and its application. This creates a dynamic environment with opportunities for innovative thinking and new roles in developing and utilizing technology. While individuals might occasionally find themselves wishing for a slower pace of change, it is an exciting time to enter the accounting profession.
Accounting Jobs and Salaries
Many entry-level accounting careers require only a bachelor's degree. Still, candidates with a master's degree in accounting may pursue more advancement opportunities and higher salaries.
For example, many employers seek applicants with a certified public accountant (CPA) credential. However, candidates need 150 credit hours to obtain a CPA license, which is 30 more credits than most bachelor's degree programs offer.
With a master's degree, accountants can advance to managerial positions or specialize in an accounting field, like investment accounting, which can increase salary potential. The BLS reports a median annual salary of $134,180 for financial managers in 2020.
Hedge fund accountants need specialized skills to manage and analyze hedge funds. These professionals also monitor an organization's investment portfolios and offer relevant improvement strategies. Often, employers look for candidates with several years of accounting experience and a CPA credential. A master's in accounting can also increase an accountant's opportunities in a competitive job market.
Financial controllers manage accounting practices for a company. This managerial position oversees other accountants and financial professionals so leadership skills are crucial. Financial controllers with several years of experience and a master's degree may move into executive positions with high salaries like chief financial officers.
- Required Education: Bachelor's degree in accounting
- Job Outlook: +17%
- Median Annual Salary: $134,180
Forensic accountants investigate an organization's financial operations and documents. Their skills help companies uncover missing funds, adhere to legal accounting practices, and identify misconduct. Some employers prefer candidates with a CPA credential. A master's degree in forensic accounting also builds skills relevant to the specialized nature of this position.
Financial analysts evaluate an organization's financial records and performance. They use data mining and reporting to develop in-depth financial insights. They also evaluate industry trends to make predictions and recommend fixes. A master's in accounting can help prepare learners to sit for the chartered financial analyst exam.
Organizations in many industries, including healthcare and manufacturing, hire tax managers. These professionals oversee tax filing, reporting, and compliance. They usually pursue a master's degree in tax accounting or taxation to develop expertise in the field.
CPAs have a solid understanding of accounting principles and strategies. These certified professionals must pursue education beyond a bachelor's degree. A master's degree is a popular option to meet CPA prerequisites. CPAs work with several clients or one company to manage accounting procedures.
Selecting the Best Accounting School
Choosing the right accounting program can set you on the path toward reaching your goals. Consider the following factors in your search for the best master's in accounting program:
- School Prestige: Schools with an excellent reputation and accreditation can offer more credibility on your resume. Many employers look for candidates with a well-rounded education from a prestigious school. Accreditation can also assist with credit transfers, should you decide to pursue further education.
- Program Details: Master's programs vary in length, delivery method, student-to-teacher ratio, and other key factors that could influence your decision. Speak with an advisor to determine if the program offers the curriculum, culture, and learning opportunities you expect.
- Admissions: Some programs are more selective and have more admissions requirements than others. Explore a program's admissions process and acceptance rate to gauge competitiveness.
- Cost: A master's degree creates additional costs that could take time to recover. Decide whether a program's tuition, fees, and other associated costs fit within your budget. You should also research the financial aid opportunities the college offers to students.
- Concentrations: While some master's programs focus on general accounting, others offer concentrations, like taxation or government accounting. Consider a program that specializes in a topic that aligns with your career goals.
Future Accounting Education
Earning a bachelor’s and a master’s in accounting typically meets the 150-credit requirement for CPA licensure. Accounting master’s degrees also help students prepare for other accounting certifications, such as certified public bookkeeper, certified management accountant, and certified internal auditor.
Graduates interested in research or teaching careers may pursue accounting master’s degrees before completing Ph.D.s in accounting or related fields. Many doctoral graduates seek careers as professors, public policy researchers, consultants, and analysts.
The Best Master’s in Accounting Schools of 2022
Whether you're looking for a public or private school, online or on-campus learning, our list of 2022's best master's in accounting programs can point you in the right direction. Explore the link below to learn about our ranking methodology.
Common Questions About Master's in Accounting Programs
What can I do with a master's in accounting?
Graduates of master's in accounting programs can work in various accounting and auditing positions. Typical job titles include forensic accountant, public accountant, financial accountant, and auditor.
What are good accounting programs?
Options for master's degrees in accounting include the master of accounting (MAcc), master of science in accounting (MSA), and MBA in accounting. A MAcc or MSA may provide better preparation for the CPA exam. An MBA may provide a faster track to a top-level corporate job.
Should I get an MBA or a master's in accounting?
Master's in accounting degrees help prepare students for professional positions in the accounting and auditing fields. MBAs provide a broader, business-focused education, giving learners more widely applicable skills for a variety of fields.
Are there master's in accounting programs online?
Yes, many schools offer opportunities to earn online master's degrees in accounting.
Is a master's degree in accounting worth it?
A master's degree in accounting can provide the additional course credits required to sit for the CPA exam. Employers hiring accounting professionals may favor candidates with CPA certification. Graduate degrees may also lead to quicker career advancement in the field.
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