Earning a Master's in Accounting Online

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Accountants analyze financial records and tax statements to ensure the information is accurate, current, and in compliance with laws and regulations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most accounting positions require candidates to have at least a bachelor's degree. But when it comes to career advancement or transitioning to a finance career outside of standard accounting, those with an undergraduate degree may find earning an advanced degree provides the opportunity to leapfrog to higher ranking and paying positions in the financial sector.

Those interested in learning more on earning a master's degree in accounting online, including potential salary increases and job advancement for successful graduates, can get details on the requirements, coursework, financial aid options, and professional organizations dedicated to accounting and related financial occupations here.

Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Accounting?

An online master's in accounting can benefit accountants with a bachelor's who wish to stand out from their peers. But it can also be beneficial for students who wish to pursue other careers outside of accounting specifically. Many accounting master's programs online allow students to choose degree specializations that focus on niche areas of finance and auditing. This makes the degree suitable for any working professional who wish to broaden their skill sets, including fiancial analysts, business administrators and tax managers.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Accounting?

Pursuing Specialization

Some online master's in accounting programs allow students to earn specializations in niche fields of accounting. To complete a specialization, students must typically complete a set of additional courses on top of their core and elective course requirements. Forensic accounting, which focuses on financial and tax crimes, represents one popular specialization field for accounting master's online students. Other possibilities include auditing, financial accounting, and tax accounting specializations.

Career Advancement Opportunities

The BLS notes that jobs for accountants are expected to rise 10% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than average. The bureau projects the strongest competition for jobs at prestigious firms and companies. Candidates with a master's in accounting or a similar graduate degree, such as an MBA with an accounting concentration, have an advantage for landing these jobs. CPAs and other accountants who have earned professional recognition should have strong prospects, as well.

Online Learning Technology

Online students should communicate with their professors and fellow learners on a regular basis, as often as multiple times per week. The best online master's in accounting degrees incorporate top-notch communication technology. These pathways also instruct students in how to use the same software programs and platforms that professional accountants use, to develop students' skills and prepare them for workplace settings.

Prerequisites for Online MAcc Programs

The prerequisites for an online master's degree in accounting program vary by educational institution. However, the list below provides a general overview of requirements for accounting online master's applicants.

    • Work Experience: According to U.S. News & World Report, most U.S. states and jurisdictions require CPA candidates to work for at least two years before sitting for their certification exam. As a result, some online accounting master's programs only admit applicants with one to three years of professional experience.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Students applying to online master's in accounting programs are commonly required to submit GRE or GMAT test scores. Schools usually accept minimum scores of 150 on the GRE and 640 on the GMAT. Applicants who can demonstrate extensive work experience may qualify for GRE and GMAT waivers.
    • Coursework: Many online accounting master's degrees only admit applicants who have completed a bachelor's degree in accounting or a similar field, such as finance or management. In these cases, applicants must often complete foundational accounting coursework. Some master's programs also impose minimum undergraduate GPA requirements, usually of a 3.0 or higher.
    • Recommendations: Applications for accounting master's online programs often require at least one letter of recommendation. A college letter of recommendation should come from a former instructor, professional manager, colleague, or other individual with close knowledge of the applicant's background. Relatives and personal friends should never write letters of recommendation.
    • Essays: Master's in accounting online program applications commonly require essays. Some ask students to reply to a specific essay prompt, while others might require applicants to broadly discuss their academic and professional goals.
    • Interviews: Many graduate schools require candidates to sit for interviews with faculty members, admissions officers, and other campus personnel. The structure of these interviews varies by grad school, but applicants usually discuss their career goals and explain their reasons for selecting that particular institution.
    • International Students: Foreign students pursuing a master's in accounting in the U.S. face the same requirements as American-born candidates, including essays, test scores, and other application details. They must also secure a student visa to remain in the U.S. for the duration of their program. To avoid missing deadline windows, The Princeton Review urges international students to apply for their student visa as soon as they have been accepted into a master's program.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Accounting?

According to the latest BLS data, accountants and auditors earn a median annual salary of $77,920. The bottom 10th percentile earns salaries of $43,020, while the top 90th percentile earns $122,220 per year. Those with a master's in accounting or a similar advanced degree are likelier to land positions in management accounting, forensic accounting, and other specialized fields. Those with an accounting master's degree also enjoy a stronger job outlook.

Traditional Careers for MAcc's

Career Stats Description

Controller or Financial Manager

Median Pay: $125,080

Job Growth: 18.7%

Financial managers and controllers maintain the overall financial health of a company, often as head of an accounting department. They compose financial reports, coordinate investments, and work with top executives to create short and long term strategies for their organization. This role exists in nearly every industry, generally as a full-time, office-based position.

Ideal for: Highly organized, strategy-driven people with strong numbers and people management skills.

Management Accountant

Median Pay: $58,773

Job Growth: 10%

Management accountants exclusively analyze and prepare financial documents for business managers at private organizations, and never work with the public as CPAs do. Their duties include budgeting, performance evaluation, and cost planning, along with managing stocks and bonds, real estate property, and other company assets.

Ideal for: Accountants with an extensive background in business management and administration.

Buyer and Purchasing Agent

Median Pay: $62,120

Job Growth: -3%

Buyers and purchasing agents acquire various products for their employer to use or resell. These products may include equipment, goods, or services. They routinely meet with suppliers to evaluate their operations and, if necessary, negotiate new terms. Buyer and purchasing agent positions generally require a bachelor's in a business-related field.

Ideal for: Business-minded individuals with strong communication and negotiation skills.

Financial Examiner

Median Pay: $81,690

Job Growth: 10%

Financial examiners evaluate reports and statements to ensure their client or employer complies with all applicable laws and regulations. Most financial examiners work either in consumer compliance to protect members of the public from unfair lending practices, or in risk assessment, where they provide services to banks or financial institutions.

Ideal for: Meticulous, analytical individuals with a background in finance law.

Non-Traditional Careers for MAcc's

Career Stats Description

Urban or Regional Planner

Median Pay: $71,490

Job Growth: 13%

Urban and regional planners produce land use plans that help communities address population growth and other key concerns. Budgeting plays a crucial role in this occupation, making accountants a good fit for planner roles. Other responsibilities include analyzing census and population data, reviewing developer plans, and researching building and zoning laws.

Ideal for: Analytical individuals with good communication and project management skills.

Appraiser and Assessor of Real Estate

Median Pay: $54,010

Job Growth: 14%

Appraisers of real estate perform comprehensive evaluations of private and public properties to determine an accurate resale value. Assessors, on the other hand, specifically calculate the tax value of properties. Both occupations involve closely inspecting properties and comparatively analyzing neighboring homes or buildings. They typically require a background in accounting and finance.

Ideal for: Analytical individuals with a firm understanding of real estate law and valuation techniques.

Software Developer

Median Pay: $103,560

Job Growth: 24%

Software developers create programs and applications used in computing, and the systems that power these tools. Creating today's best accounting and financial planning software requires background knowledge in the industry to complete. Developers analyze different platforms to determine user needs, then draft program and application blueprints that programmers use to write code. Once they complete a project, developers must test and evaluate the finished product.

Ideal for: Individuals interested in coding, testing, and other information technology skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Accounting

According to U.S. News & World Report, a master's in accounting online that includes two years of full-time study generally costs between $24,000 to $72,000. Even at the low end, this represents a significant financial investment for most students. To cover tuition and living costs, many accounting master's students turn to loans, scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid. These forms of aid are widely available through colleges and universities, private companies, nonprofit organizations, and community foundations, plus the federal government. Some awards specifically cater to students seeking accounting degrees.

But for careful planners, an online master's in accounting can be more affordable. Simply adjusting the amount of time dedicated to earning a degree could mean saving on tuition costs, as some colleges and universities offer discounts to part time students, or savings for students who finish coursework on accelerated timelines before annual tuition increases kick in.

Tuition Timelines

Part-Time Path

Part-time online accounting master's programs suit students who plan to continue working while completing their degree. Most part-time pathways are self-paced, allowing students to finish their required courses on their own schedule.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Rutgers Business School
Total Credits Required: 30
Summary: The part-time master of accountancy in government accounting from Rutgers Business School consists of seven required courses and three elective courses, totaling 30 credits. Students complete the degree at their own pace, typically taking three or four courses per semester. This allows them to complete the program in two years or less. At a current tuition rate of $945 per credit for part-time students, the cost of this degree comes to $28,350. Full-time students may also pursue this degree at a higher per-credit tuition rate.

Full-Time Path

Full-time master’s in accounting programs are intensive, and require a student to focus almost completely on their schoolwork. It is typically not recommended for students to have full-time jobs while enrolled in this type of program. Most students can expect to complete their degree in less than two years.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Golden Gate University
Total Credits Required: 45
Summary: Golden Gate University offers a master of accountancy consisting of 45 credits. This program is available online to full-time students who choose not to follow the cohort format. Students can complete the program in two academic years. In addition to 11 core courses totaling 33 credits, students must select a concentration for the remaining four three-credit courses. Available concentrations include forensic accounting, management accounting, and taxation. The cost of tuition for this program is $1,050 per credit, or $3,150 per course, bringing the total program cost to $47,250.

Accelerated Path

In addition to standard master's pathways, which normally take two years of full-time study to complete, some colleges and universities offer accelerated master's in accounting programs designed to take less time -- sometimes one year or less.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Regis University
Total Credits Required: 30
Summary: The master of science in accountancy at Regis University is available in an accelerated format, consisting of eight-week courses instead of traditional 16-week semesters. The curriculum includes core courses, electives, and a capstone project. Students may also need to complete foundational undergraduate courses, depending on their background. Optional specializations are available, as well. Beginning in Fall 2018, the cost of this program is $885 per credit, bringing the cost of the entire program to $26,550.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Numerous grants and scholarships are available to students pursuing degrees in accounting, with some of these awards reserved for graduate students. Find below five scholarships currently available to students in online accounting master's programs.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Accounting Program

Standard online master's in accounting programs span 30-36 credits, and usually take 1-2 years to complete. Accelerated pathways may take less than a year to complete. The curriculum includes advanced studies in accounting and auditing, plus different areas of accounting, including government and nonprofit accounting and fraud examination. Internships are rarely required but often available as elective courses, and some programs culminate in a capstone course. Most programs enable students to complete all of their non-internship coursework online.

Major Milestones

Every master's in accounting online program is unique in terms of course structure, but most programs follow the same general timeline and include similar milestones for students. These milestones often include the following:

  1. Degree Plan Pre-Assessments - Initial Enrollment

    Many online accounting master's programs follow an asynchronous format, allowing students to complete courses at their own pace. Graduate students enter these programs at varying skill and experience levels. For this reason, academic advisers often consult with students early in the program to determine their individual competencies and create a projected degree plan and course timeline for them.

  2. Prerequisite Courses - First Year

    Master's programs don't typically require bachelor's degrees in accounting. However, students who have earned non-business undergraduate degrees may have to complete foundational courses in accounting before advancing to core and elective courses. These foundational courses typically encompass subjects such as business, economics, and finance.

  3. Specialization Selection - First Year

    Many online master's degrees in accounting allow students to choose specializations in fields including taxation, management accounting, and fraud examination. Specializations may be optional or required. Either way, most specializations include at least three required courses. Students should finalize their specialization within the first year of enrollment in order to graduate on time.

  4. Internship - First or Second year

    Internships are not required for CPA certification, but many schools offer internships as electives for master's students. These internships typically take place in public accounting or business firms, according to the BLS, and are often part-time and take place during summer terms.

  5. Capstone Course - Second Year

    In some accounting master's online programs, students must complete a capstone course during their second year. Capstone courses require students to produce a research study or report addressing accounting trends, and collaborate with certified accountants, executives, and established professionals working in the fields of accounting and finance.

  6. Certification - Post-Graduation

    Master's in accounting recipients usually qualify for CPA certification, since most states impose a 150-credit minimum. Online accounting master's programs also prepare students to sit for the four-part CPA exam and meet other state-specific requirements. All accountants who file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission must be licensed as CPAs.

Coursework

Every online master's program includes a unique list of core and elective courses, but most incorporate the same general themes in their curricula. Course topics you may encounter in an online accounting master's program include:

Advanced Auditing

This course discusses the protocols for different types of audits, as well as ethical and legal concerns for auditing professionals and indicators of improper filing and reporting. Required readings include case studies and current auditing guidelines.

Advanced Tax Concepts

Tax law is a dense, complex field. This course introduces legal guidelines used to report taxes for individuals and households, corporations, associations, and other entities. Students also discuss the relationship between taxation and business strategy.

Business Law

Accountants in all areas of their field must have extensive knowledge of different laws guiding their profession. Topics of discussion include employment law, tort and product liability, and guidelines for doing business outside of the U.S.

Government and Nonprofit Accounting

This course explores the specific guidelines for accountants working in the nonprofit sector and how this career path differs from public accounting. Students also learn about Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) standards.

Requirements to Practice

For master's level accounting students who are specifically pursuing accounting careers, the BLS notes all accountants who file reports with the SEC must be CPAs. Each state has a Board of Accountancy that issues certifications to qualified accountants. The criteria for CPAs varies by state, but most require at least 150 credit hours of study. Qualified accountants must sit for the CPA exam from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The exam comprises four parts. Candidates do not need to pass all four parts together, but in most states they must earn passing scores on each section within 18 months of passing the first component. CPAs must complete continuing education courses to maintain their certification in most states, as well.

In addition to CPA certification, accountants with a master's degree may pursue the following professional credentials:

    • Certified Management Accountant: Available through the Institute of Management Accountants, the CMA is a credential for business accountants and finance professionals. Candidates must take a two-part exam tackling two core areas, financial reporting, planning, finance, and control, and financial decision-making. Test-takers must complete both components within three years of each other. The exam's entrance and registration fees total $665 for professional members and $499 for student members.
    • Certified Internal Auditor: The Institute of Internal Auditors offers this credential for auditors who work directly for organizations. The qualifying exam for CIA candidates includes three distinct components -- essentials of internal auditing, practice of internal auditing, and business knowledge for internal auditing -- totaling 325 questions. Exam application costs $65 for student members, $115 for standard members, and $230 for non-IIA members. Each component of the exam includes an additional charge ranging from $180 to $230 for student members to $345 to $395 for non-members.
    • Certified Information Systems Auditor: The CISA credential from ISACA suits professionals who handle auditing, security, or controls for information systems. The qualifying exam includes 150 questions, with a possible score range of 200 to 800 points. Test-takers must score 450 or higher to pass. Exam fees amount to $575 for ISACA members, and $760 for non-members. Certification holders must complete at least 20 hours of continuing education credits, as well.
    • Accredited in Business Valuation: The AICPA offers the ABV credential to accountants and other finance professionals with a firm understanding of business valuation procedures. The ABV exam consists of two individual modules, with 90 multiple-choice questions apiece. Candidates must complete each module within three hours and 15 minutes, and they have 12 months to pass both components. AICPA members pay $176-$220 for exam registration, while nonmembers pay $275. Retaking the exam costs $50.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Professional organizations act as valuable resources for current students in accounting master's programs and recent graduates. These organizations typically administer certifications and continuing education opportunities, host in-person networking events, provide job leads and career guidance, and publish online journals. Many professional organizations offer discounted membership rates for students and members of the academic community, as well. See below 10 prominent organizations for accounting and finance professionals.

  • American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants): Founded in 1887, the AICPA is home to the four-part exam that awards CPA certification in all 50 states. The institute offers five additional certifications in fields including business valuation, financial forensics, and IT accounting.
  • National Society of Accountants: The NSA offers exam preparation materials, webinars, and continuing education courses for accountants working in different areas. The NSA is also home to the Main Street Practitioner, a trade journal published five times per year.
  • Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation: Established in 1973, the ACAT provides certification programs for accountants working as business accountants, retirement advisers, tax advisors, and tax preparers.
  • American Accounting Association: The AAA was founded in 1916 and today consists of seven U.S. chapters. Student members receive access to the FASB Accounting Standards Codification and Government Accounting Research System as part of AAA's Academic Accounting Access program.
  • Institute of Management Accountants: The IMA is home to the certified management accountant and certified in strategy and competitive analysis credentials. The institute also offers continuing education and webinar opportunities through its online education center.
  • Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance: Established in 1938, the AFWA helps women achieve successful careers in the accounting and finance fields. The alliance hosts the Women Who Count Conference each year and offers scholarships to members completing certain professional certifications.
  • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants: The CIMA administers two certifications: the CIMA professional qualification and the CIMA certificate in business accounting. The institute also offers the chartered global management accountant credential in partnership with the AICPA.
  • National Association of Black Accountants, Inc.: The NABA represents more than 200,000 black accounting and finance professionals. The association is home to the Women of NABA Network, as well as three scholarships open to undergraduate and graduate accounting students.
  • International Federation of Accountants: IFAC represents more than 3 million accountants in 130 countries. The federation's website contains an extensive library of academic publications and articles that focus on different accounting topics, such as ethics, business reporting, and sustainability.
  • Financial Executives International: The FEI is a global organization comprised of 65 worldwide chapters and more than 10,000 members. The organization hosts conferences, webinars, and other events throughout the year.