Master’s in Accounting Degree: Everything You Need to Know
Gain a competitive business advantage with this versatile credential.
Has your career stalled out? Looking for the know-how you need to shift into a more rewarding role? Now may be the time to get that advanced accounting degree you’ve been considering.
A master’s in accounting, achievable in as little as one year, will hone your analytical skills with expert-level training in accounting principles and cutting-edge business applications. With coursework that covers everything from taxation to marketing, this professional degree will prepare you to take your place alongside business decision-makers as a corporate accountant, auditor, financial analyst—or even a CPA.
According to a 2014 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council, prospects are bright for graduates of master’s in accounting programs. Demand for holders of the degree—most commonly abbreviated as the MAcc—is strong, with 45 percent of companies saying they planned to hire recent graduates in 2014. That’s an increase of nine percent over 2013 hiring rates.
An MAcc degree is incredibly practical, and graduates can find management-level roles in almost every industry in the country, including banking, insurance, finance, construction, manufacturing, government and high tech. Practically any company with a finance division will have need for a bona fide mathlete in its ranks. Potential job titles for MAcc degree-holders include:
- Corporate accountant
- Financial analyst
- Forensic accountant
- Taxation specialist
- Budget analyst
- Personal financial planner
Master’s Degree in Accounting: Salary & Hiring Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook says the median annual salary for accountants and auditors is now $65,940. Top-tier accountants earned more than $115,000 annually. Demand for the profession is also on the rise, with the BLS predicting 11 percent job growth between 2014 and 2024.
Online MAcc Degree
Maybe an accounting degree makes sense, but you can’t imagine fitting school into your busy life. Consider the online option. Hundreds of U.S. schools, including both online-only and traditional campuses, offer the online MAcc degree. Designed for working professionals, these distance programs offer flexible formats that lead to the same MAcc degree as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, without the burden of commuting or relocation.
Students access classes, lectures and homework assignments through an online portal, and participate in virtual discussion forums. Programs are usually asynchronous, meaning you can log in and learn whenever’s convenient for you—after the kids are in bed, weekend mornings, or during your lunch break.
But you’ll have your work cut out for you. An online MAcc program is just as rigorous—if not more so—than its on-campus counterpart. Both formats require the same amount of coursework and lead to the same degree. But the online path offers little or no face time with professors and classmates. Without that built-in accountability, you’ll need extra reserves of drive, determination and time management skills to earn an online master’s degree.
MAcc Admission Requirements and Program Length
Most MAcc programs are geared to students who hold undergraduate degrees in accounting.
With this credential in hand, most master’s in accounting degrees can be completed in one year of full-time attendance—longer if you attend part time. Embarking on your master’s without a degree in business or accounting? You’ll likely need at least two years to complete the coursework.
Traditionally, universities and colleges offering the MAcc degree have required GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) scores as part of the application process. A four-part standardized test, the GMAT measures integrated reasoning, analytical writing, verbal and quantitative skills.
However, more and more business schools are discarding the GMAT requirement. Realizing that a test score doesn’t guarantee academic success, schools are welcoming adult students who arrive with practical work experience and business savvy. Increasingly, schools are prioritizing candidates’ career track records and previous education over a standardized test score.
Does your top-choice school still require the GMAT? Ask about a waiver. If you have a solid work history and a strong undergraduate GPA, the school may agree to skip the test score requirement. Also, ask how GMAT scores are weighted. Some schools require a stellar score, but at others, middling results are completely acceptable.
At the master’s level, accounting classes move beyond the transactional to delve into the theory and principles of the field. At many schools, you can specialize in a track, such as taxation, auditing or finance, to align your degree to your career goals.
Core MAcc coursework typically includes these topics:
- Accounting theory and research
- Business law and financial regulations
- Cost analysis
- Financial accounting and reporting
- Internal control systems
- Quantitative analysis
- Communications for accountants
- Ethical issues
- Information technology
- Not-for-profit and government accounting
- Taxation and business strategy
As you consider schools, be sure to ask which percentage of the courses are electives. Schools vary widely in their approaches.
Meet an Advanced Degree Holder: Michelle Ferris, MPA
“My husband was basically a single father for the year I was earning my degree,” says Michelle, a thirtysomething mom who returned to school for her master’s in professional accountancy (MPA) in 2011.
Throughout her studies, she held down a full-time job as a bookkeeper in a construction office while juggling schoolwork and a busy household. With two daughters (ages 10 and 16) at home, her education was truly a family affair. “I was studying constantly on the weekends,” says Michelle, “and we passed up a lot of things—trips to see my parents, other trips to go to Christmas.”
At her lowest point, Michelle found herself on the edge of tears, saying to her husband, Kinney, “Oh my gosh, this is going to take five years.” To which he responded, “But if you don’t do it, where will you be in five years?” With Kinney as her unswerving cheerleader, Michelle stayed the course, convinced that the long-term payoffs would be worth the sacrifice.
“The first job I got with my master’s degree doubled my income”
Michelle actually completed her master’s degree in just one year. She chose a full-time MPA program through a satellite campus of Central Washington University. With just 10 students in her cohort, she enjoyed an intimate, intense atmosphere of focused learners.
The school’s accounting course work offered a broad grounding in the field, with a strong emphasis on theory. Classes ran the gamut from marketing and business law to taxation, auditing and finance. Case studies factored heavily in the work load, as did writing assignments. “All I did was write term papers,” remembers Michelle.
Although the program was set in a traditional, on-campus format, the classes had a strong virtual flavor. Michelle’s instructors, who taught at two other satellite locations, sometimes delivered their lectures remotely, speaking to the assembled students from a screen set up in the classroom.
In the end, Michelle and her family didn’t have to wait long to see the benefits of her education. “The first job I got with my master’s degree doubled my income,” she says. Michelle has since become the assistant controller at All Star, and remains a strong advocate for the master’s in accounting: “It’s a respected, valued degree—it shows potential.”
CPA and Other Certifications
As financial regulations increase and businesses expand around the globe, there’s always more to learn in the ever-evolving field of accounting. Most masters programs—whether online or in-person—meet the 150 credit-hour requirement to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam adopted by most states. The notoriously tough, multi-part CPA exam puts budding accountants through their paces to earn this highly respected, well-known certification.
But the CPA isn’t the only certification in the field. With a master’s credential in hand, you might also choose to earn your designation as a:
Certified internal auditor
Certified financial services auditor
Certified information systems auditor
Take the Next Step
Whether you pursue a career in finance or auditing, insurance or banking, a master’s in accounting will equip you with both the technical savvy and the communication, research and reporting skills that are essential for success in the fast-moving business world.
Now that you have the facts about the degree, it’s time to check out your options and pinpoint the program that fits you best.
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