Although a relatively simple process, applying to graduate school takes a great deal of thought and care. Before deciding to attend graduate school, individuals should understand how further education will benefit their career and how they plan to finance the degree. After ensuring graduate school is the best path for them, candidates begin researching individual schools and preparing to apply.

Students should decide which field of study to pursue and in which area or areas they plan to specialize. These decisions help candidates identify schools that fit their academic goals so they can focus their application efforts on the best institutions for them.

This guide provides information for students preparing accounting graduate school applications, including common requirements. Most graduate school requirements include prerequisite courses and degrees, letters of recommendation, standardized test scores, and an essay or statement of purpose.

Accounting Graduate Program Prerequisites

Do I Need a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting to Earn an Accounting Graduate Degree?

Some graduate programs require a bachelor’s degree in accounting, while others only require applicants to have passed certain prerequisite classes. Applicants with an accounting degree have likely completed prerequisites during their undergraduate studies. Candidates who have not taken one or two prerequisite courses may sometimes complete them during their first semester of graduate school.

Students who have not completed all prerequisites should contact the institution to determine whether they can take them while in graduate school; if not, candidates must complete prerequisite courses before applying. Many online programs offer accelerated or intensive courses that allow learners to complete these requirements more quickly. Undergraduate students planning to apply to graduate school should research prerequisites and complete the requirements before graduation.

Although not all accounting graduate programs require applicants to have an undergraduate education in the field, they all require a bachelor’s degree. Students applying to graduate school must have a bachelor’s degree from a nationally or regionally accredited institution.

Is Work Experience a Prerequisite to an Accounting Graduate Program?

While work experience strengthens an accounting graduate school application, professional experience is not always a requirement for admission. Many programs prefer applicants with three to five years of work experience, which demonstrates dedication to the field. Graduate education is more challenging than undergraduate work, and schools only admit students they expect to complete the program.

Work experience also demonstrates the ability to apply classroom knowledge to practical situations, dealing with challenges in the field. Graduate students typically specialize, and work experience prepares individuals to make an informed decision regarding their specialization.

Do I Have to Take the GRE or the GMAT to Apply to Accounting School?

Standardized tests such as the GMAT or GRE are a common requirement when applying to graduate school. These tests evaluate critical-thinking and analytical skills, providing information about the applicant’s capabilities not available from transcripts. Candidates should check the school’s application requirements to determine which test to take. The GRE costs $160, while the GMAT costs $250. While GMAT or GRE scores are among commonly required for accounting graduate school applications, not all programs require standardized test scores.

GMAT/GRE Waiver

Some programs do not require standardized test scores, and others offer test waivers, which allow candidates who meet certain requirements to apply without submitting GRE or GMAT scores. Institutions offer test waivers for different reasons. Some faculty feel that standardized tests do not provide much information about the student, and some programs offer the option to get more applicants. Generally, test waivers are reserved for applicants with significant work experience. Applicants pursuing a test waiver should contact the school’s admissions office for information about waiver requirements before submitting an application without test scores.

Breakdown of GMAT Scores

The GMAT consists primarily of multiple-choice questions, which are scored digitally. The exam also includes a written section, which is graded by a human. The test taker’s scores for the multiple-choice sections are available immediately after finishing the test, while the score for the written section is generally available as part of the candidate’s official GMAT score, which they receive through mail within two weeks.

A candidate’s overall score is between 200 and 800 and is based on the combined scores of two multiple-choice sections. The overall score includes only the verbal and quantitative sections; the written and integrated reasoning sections are graded separately.

The average GMAT score is in the mid-500s, with higher scores being more impressive. Some colleges require specific scores, often at least 700. Even when applying to schools without minimum score requirements, candidates with higher scores are more competitive.

The table below illustrates a typical ranking on the GMAT. The percentile represents the percentage of test takers a candidate scored the same as or better than. For example, if a candidate with a score of 630 is in the 69th percentile, the candidate scored as well as or better than 69% of other test takers. Students can explore GMAT practice and tutoring options to improve their chances of performing well on the exam.

GMAT Scores and Percentiles

Score Percentile
630 69th percentile
650 76th percentile
660 79th percentile
680 84th percentile
700 89th percentile
720 94th percentile
760-800 99th percentile

Source: TestMasters

Breakdown of GRE Scores

The GRE is a common requirement for graduate school. The exam comprises three parts: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. The verbal reasoning section evaluates a test taker’s ability to read and analyze information. The quantitative reasoning section tests problem solving abilities and understanding of basic mathematical concepts. The analytical writing portion requires candidates to articulate an argument.

The verbal and quantitative sections are scored from 130 to 170, in one-point increments, and the writing portion is scored from zero to six, in half-point increments. Test takers can view their scores for the first two sections immediately after completing the exam, if taking the test on a computer. Candidates must wait for the analytical writing section to be graded by hand.

After completing the GRE, test takers can choose to send their scores to selected institutions or to retake the test later. Candidates can send scores to up to four institutions for free. As the table below illustrates, higher scores are slightly more difficult to obtain in the verbal reasoning portion than in the quantitative section. The average GRE score is about 150, so students who score higher are typically competitive applicants for admission to graduate school.

GRE Score Percentiles for 2017–2018

Scaled Score Verbal Reasoning Percentile Rank Quantitative Reasoning Percentile Rank
170 99 97
160 85 76
150 47 39
140 11 8
130

Source: ETS

Accounting Graduate School Application Requirements

Transcripts

Transcripts are an important part of applying to graduate school; transcripts prove an applicant meets the program’s academic requirements, such as the completion of prerequisite courses and a minimum GPA. Transcripts also provide evidence of undergraduate performance and completion of a bachelor’s degree. Many graduate programs require a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, though some only consider the applicant’s GPA in major coursework.

Applicants must submit transcripts from each school they attended, and most graduate schools require official transcripts, which are notarized and sent directly from the institution. However, some schools accept unofficial transcripts, which students obtain and send for free. Most schools charge a fee to send official copies. Because official transcripts may take weeks to reach the graduate school, candidates should request transcripts early in the application process.

Test Scores

Students should know to which institutions they plan to apply before taking the GMAT or GRE. The testing services for the GRE and GMAT automatically send test scores to up to four or five chosen schools, respectively. After completing the exam, candidates can pay to send scores to additional schools.

Resume

For students submitting an accounting graduate school application, resumes should be different than those used to apply for jobs. While a strong resume may include relevant work experience, the most important aspect of the resume is education. Transcripts document the applicant’s undergraduate courses, but a resume is an opportunity to highlight projects and achievements.

A resume may include term papers, capstone projects, and internships. Also include publications and conference presentations. These experiences can compensate for a lack of work history and demonstrate the applicant’s ability to tackle complex problems within an academic setting.

Essays and Personal Statements

Most graduate schools require applicants to submit an essay or a statement of purpose. Essays typically have a prompt to which students respond in their writing. A statement of purpose is the more common requirement for students applying to grad school. In their statement of purpose, applicants describe their motivations for applying to graduate school and their academic and career goals.

The statement of purpose is an opportunity for applicants to explain how graduate school will advance their careers or improve their ability to perform in the field. Applicants who intend to pursue a certain specialty in accounting can also describe their long-term plans.

When applying to multiple schools, each statement of purpose should be different. While the student’s long-term goals may not change, the faculty and courses vary by institution. Applicants should connect their statement of purpose to resources available at the specific school. A statement of purpose should focus on how the particular program can help the student reach their goals and, vice versa, how the applicant is a good fit for the program.

Letters of Recommendation

When obtaining letters of recommendation, check the graduate school’s requirements and preferences, and pass this information to your recommenders. When choosing recommenders, select faculty with whom you have worked closely, employers, or respected colleagues; only choose individuals with whom you have had a professional relationship.

Generally, people in positions of authority, such as professors of managers, are ideal recommenders because they are objective about your abilities, which means their recommendation holds more weight. Give your recommenders sufficient time to write your letters, and communicate with them to ensure they submit the letters on time.

English Proficiency Tests

Graduate schools may require some applicants to take an English proficiency test, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language or the International English Language Testing System. These tests evaluate the ability of non-native English speakers to communicate and understand professors and peers. Generally, schools require English proficiency test scores from international students who are from non-English-speaking countries. International applicants should contact their institution to determine testing requirements.

How Do You Apply to Accounting Graduate School?

Applying to graduate school requires personal attention; students send most application materials directly to the graduate school, and admissions committees typically review each applicant’s materials individually.

The application process varies by school, so students should review information on the institution’s website and contact the admissions office, if necessary. Incomplete or incorrect applications generally result in an automatic rejection. Candidates should submit application materials as soon as possible, rather than close to the deadline. Most institutions charge application fees, which vary by school; however, students should expect to pay up to $150 per application. These fees are rarely waived and are usually nonrefundable.

Rolling Admissions

Schools that offer rolling admissions typically accept applications during a large window and evaluate applications as they receive them. Rolling admissions windows do typically close, after which the school does not accept applications until the next window. Rolling admissions are common for programs with multiple start dates and flexible scheduling options.

Applying to a school with rolling admissions can relieve the pressure associated with firm deadlines and provide more time to prepare the application. However, applicants should still begin work on their application as soon as possible to avoid rushing to apply before the end of the window.

Rounds Admissions

Some programs, especially business schools, use a rounds admissions process, which involves multiple application deadlines. When applying to a school with rounds admissions, candidates should submit their application during the first round to have the best chance of acceptance. The first round typically has less competition, and more spots are available. Subsequent rounds tend to have more applicants, and many program spots are already filled.

Applicants should prepare early, before the rounds begin. Because the application windows are usually short, applicants should already have GRE or GMAT scores, transcripts, and letters of recommendation in hand. Preparing early allows students to submit a thorough, organized application.

Waiting for Acceptance Letters

After submitting accounting graduate school applications, students should try to avoid stressing about forthcoming decisions. Feeling anxiety is normal, but students have no productive course of action after submitting applications. Some schools provide an anticipated response time, but generally, applicants can expect a decision at least a month before the potential start date.

Although rejections sting, students can use them as learning opportunities. If the decision letter includes any reasons for the rejection, apply that knowledge to future applications. Remember that competition for graduate school is high, and rejection is not personal.

After receiving an acceptance, students should inform the school that they plan to enroll. Applicants who receive acceptances from multiple schools must decide which institution best fits their needs. Factors influencing the decision include funding, location, and available specialties. Some schools offer accepted students a campus visit to meet faculty or potential colleagues, and students should take such opportunities to better determine which school is right for them.