Forensic accountants investigate financial crimes and uncover illegal financial activities. They work with law enforcement investigators and prosecutors to charge suspects with criminal or civil charges. During a trial, forensic investigators may appear on the stand as expert witnesses, providing evidence of embezzlement, securities fraud, or fraudulent financial reporting.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $70,500 in 2018.
A forensic accountant must combine strong accounting and auditing skills with investigative techniques. Students who earn a bachelor's in forensic accounting build strengths in financial analysis, fraud examination, and investigation. The degree prepares graduates for careers as forensic accountants.
A forensic accounting bachelor's degree meets the entry-level requirements for the field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $70,500 in 2018. The number of jobs in this field are projected to grow by 10% from 2016-2026, creating around 140,000 new accountant and auditor jobs. This page discusses the top bachelor's programs in forensic accounting, as well as information about different career paths, sample courses, and certification options.
Common Career Paths
A bachelor's in forensic accounting prepares graduates for multiple career paths in the field, including fraud examiner, forensic accountant, and public accountant.
Fraud examiners, also known as fraud investigators, analyze financial documents to uncover fraud. They work in law enforcement for state and federal government agencies and in the financial services sector. Professional fraud examiners may assist in criminal and civil investigations, and they may also testify during trials or act as expert witnesses. Fraud examiners ensure that individuals and businesses follow financial laws and regulations. A bachelor's degree meets the entry-level requirements for these positions.
The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners reports that fraud examiners earn an average annual salary of over $55,000. However, certified fraud examiners earn over $77,000 a year -- a 40% increase in salary. The BLS projects 10% growth in financial examiner positions between 2016 and 2026, demonstrating strong demand in the field.
A specialized branch of accounting, forensic accountants check financial records for accuracy and examine records that contain suspected fraudulent activities. Their financial document analysis may provide evidence for a law enforcement investigation or court case. Forensic accountants utilize their auditing abilities and investigative skills to uncover criminal and civil fraud. After analyzing financial documents, forensic accountants may provide litigation support by acting as an expert witness during a trial.
Forensic accountants may work for law enforcement agencies, financial institutions, or government organizations. They investigate concealed assets, fraudulent financial reports, and other types of financial fraud. Lawyers, insurance companies, and public accounting firms also hire forensic accountants. PayScale reports that forensic accountants earn an average salary of over $65,000 per year, with salaries increasing for experienced professionals.
Certified Public Accountant
A certified public accountant (CPA) performs accounting, auditing, and tax services for individuals, corporations, and the government. These accountants create and manage financial documents that clients must -- by law -- disclose, including tax forms and balance sheet statements.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants grants the CPA credential to accountants who meet certain qualifications and pass the Uniform CPA Exam. This four-part examination covers auditing, financial accounting, regulation, and financial reporting. Accountants must complete 150 credits of postsecondary education to qualify; this typically means earning a bachelor's degree and then a graduate certificate in accounting or a master's in accounting.
CPAs work for public accounting firms, government agencies, and independent CPA firms. PayScale reports these workers take home an average salary of $65,000, with experienced CPAs earning average salaries of about $80,000.
Bachelor's in Forensic Accounting
Forensic accounting majors build strong skills within their accounting specialization, complete graduation requirements, and prepare for a career in forensic accounting. This section provides insight into what to expect while earning a bachelor's degree in forensic accounting, including sample courses, accreditation information, and core concepts.
What to Expect
A bachelor's degree in forensic accounting typically takes four years of full-time study to complete. Students who choose a part-time option generally take longer. To earn a bachelor's degree, students complete about 120 credits, including general education courses, forensic accounting major requirements, and electives. Incoming students with prior college experience can shorten the length of their program by applying transfer credits toward their degree. Forensic accounting programs set their own prerequisites for admission, so prospective students should carefully research each program before applying.
The cost of a bachelor's in forensic accounting varies depending on the institution type. In general, in-state, public schools charge the lowest tuition rates, followed by out-of-state public institutions. Private colleges and universities typically charge higher rates. In addition to tuition, prospective students should consider technology fees, books, and other expenses.
While earning a BS in forensic accounting, learners build strengths in accounting and auditing, along with core competencies in key areas of forensic accounting, fraud examination, and investigation.
Success in forensic accounting requires a strong foundation in accounting skills. In most forensic accounting bachelor's programs, students complete foundational courses in accounting before pursuing specialized forensic accounting coursework. Students learn about accounting methods and procedures in several areas, including managerial accounting, public accounting, and financial accounting. These skills prepare graduates for accounting positions in many specializations.
The ability to audit financial records, uncover errors, and ensure accuracy is a central component of forensic accounting. Students study basic and advanced auditing methods and techniques, including internal auditing and external auditing. This competency prepares graduates for career opportunities in auditing and forensic accounting.
Forensic accountants analyze financial documents, often as the first step in uncovering financial fraud. Programs in forensic accounting train students to conduct a thorough financial analysis of different types of documents, with an emphasis on detecting specific fraudulent schemes. Graduates can apply their financial analysis skills in forensic accounting, auditing, and fraud examination positions.
Majors in forensic accounting strengthen their fraud examination skills and learn processes related to initiating an investigation, analyzing financial documents, and obtaining evidence of fraud. Students also examine the core concepts of fraud examination, such as methods and techniques used to identify fraud.
Forensic accounting requires strong investigative skills. Forensic accounting majors build their investigative abilities by completing coursework in fraud examination, financial report analysis, and evidence gathering. Students learn how to build a strong fraud case by interviewing witnesses, collecting documentary proof, and documenting the findings from an investigation.
Forensic accounting students complete specialized courses in fraud detection, investigative accounting, and auditing. The specific courses vary depending on the program.
Introduction to Forensic Accounting
Many forensic accounting programs begin with an introductory course, which provides an overview of the field. Students study the process of investigating, detecting, and documenting fraud. Potential examples include employee theft, stock frauds, and embezzlement. This class prepares accounting majors for advanced courses in forensic accounting.
Forensic accounting students often take classes in auditing to strengthen their investigative skills. An auditing course trains students to gather evidence; conduct an audit of assets, liabilities, and income statements; and create an audit report. Students also learn about auditing ethics, reporting requirements for audits, and different methods of conducting an audit.
Courses on fraud examination introduce students to the methodology of fraud examination. This class explores the process of obtaining documentary evidence, interviewing potential suspects, and writing investigative reports. Students learn to detect the most common forms of financial fraud, prove financial fraud through forensic document examination, and implement prevention strategies.
Interviewing Techniques for Fraud Investigations
Fraud investigators often conduct interviews and interrogate fraud suspects to uncover financial fraud. This course explores the techniques and strategies used to interview fraud suspects or parties of interest, including interpreting verbal and nonverbal cues. Students also learn how to plan, conduct, and document their findings.
Detecting Fraudulent Financial Statements
Forensic accounting majors in this course learn how to analyze financial statements to uncover fraud. Students examine different types of fraud, how they can appear in financial information, and common fraud schemes. The course trains students to review, detect, and investigate suspected fraudulent financial statements, with an emphasis on analytic techniques and procedures.
Accreditation acts as a marker of academic excellence. Colleges and universities voluntarily undergo an accreditation review from an independent, nonprofit agency to earn accreditation. During the review, the accrediting agency evaluates variables like an institution's graduation requirements, faculty qualifications, and student learning outcomes. Colleges and universities that earn accreditation must undergo periodic reviews to maintain their status.
At the institutional level, regional and national accrediting agencies grant accreditation to an entire college or university. Regional accreditation represents the highest standard for liberal arts and research institutions, while national accreditation typically applies to vocational and technical institutions.
In addition to regional and national accreditation, an accounting program can hold programmatic accreditation. Specialized programmatic accrediting agencies review one specific program, such as a business school, teacher preparation program, or social work program. Programmatic accrediting agencies assess course materials, degree requirements, and learning outcomes for program graduates. Forensic accounting programs may hold accreditation through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Accreditation plays an important role for accounting students. Credits earned at a regionally accredited institution will more likely transfer to other institutions, and an accredited degree is more likely to meet certification requirements. Some graduate programs only accept students with an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Similarly, employers may use accreditation status to sort job applicants, prioritizing graduates from an accredited program.
Finally, only accredited institutions qualify for federal financial aid. As such, prospective accounting students should only consider accredited institutions. Our forensic accounting program database only includes accredited schools.
After earning a forensic accounting bachelor's degree, graduates can pursue job opportunities in their field, apply to graduate school, or prepare for certification examinations to stand out on the job market.
Enter the Workforce
A bachelor's degree in forensic accounting prepares graduates for careers as fraud examiners and forensic accountants. In these fields, forensic accounting majors apply their financial and investigative skills to uncover financial fraud. Professional organizations can also help graduates identify job opportunities and enter the workforce after graduation.
Pursue a Master's Degree
With a bachelor's in forensic accounting, graduates can also go on to earn a master's degree to expand their career options and pursue positions with increased responsibility and salary potential. Graduates can earn a master's in accounting, forensic accounting, auditing, or fraud examination. Learn more about returning to school as an adult student.
Forensic accountants can stand out on the job market by obtaining certification in a field like fraud examination. To obtain certification, candidates typically need to meet educational requirements, pass an examination, and complete continuing education credits to maintain their credentials.
Many of the top accounting programs in the country offer a bachelor's in forensic accounting. These programs prepare students to work as accounting professionals. The following program database brings together the best forensic accounting bachelor's programs and can help prospective students identify the right program to advance their career.