Earning a Master's in Forensic Accounting Online

FIND PROGRAMS
Sponsored Schools

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for accountants and auditors will increase by 10% between 2016 and 2026, creating the equivalent of roughly 140,000 new jobs across the country over that time period. Forensic accountants, who investigate financial crimes such as embezzlement and securities fraud, should play a key part in the overall growth of the field.

The BLS also projects that accountants with a professional certification and a master's degree will enjoy the best job prospects and highest salaries. This page provides an overview of online forensic accounting master's degree programs, including information on application requirements, common coursework, and possible career paths after graduation.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Forensic Accounting?

Many students seek out an online forensic accounting master's degree immediately after earning their bachelor's diploma. This allows them to meet the educational requirements required to become a certified public accountant (CPA) and qualify for specialized roles. Other individuals return to school to earn a master's after working in entry-level or mid-level positions for several years. For these professionals, an advanced degree may lead to higher pay, a promotion, or a transition into a job more focused on the investigation of financial crimes.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Forensic Accounting?

Pursuing Specialization

Forensic accounting requires a specialized set of skills. For instance, forensic accountants must possess a deep knowledge of the law and regulatory policies to identify criminal or suspect financial behavior. They must also know how to communicate effectively to lay audiences, and some may be called upon to act as expert witnesses. An online master's degree in forensic accounting can help students hone these skills and prepare for specialized roles in law enforcement and corporate oversight.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Forensic accountants typically need to hold a CPA credential, which requires at least 30 credits of coursework beyond an undergraduate degree. In addition, many employers prefer to hire candidates with an advanced degree -- especially for supervisory and managerial roles. Finally, accountants with a master's tend to earn more. According to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, accountants with a bachelor's earned a median annual salary of $69,000 in 2015, while those with a master's earned a median salary of $91,000.

Online Learning Technology

While pursuing a master's in forensic accounting online, students learn to use digital tools and techniques that may benefit them throughout their career. As an example, a forensic accountant investigating misappropriation of funds at a multinational corporation may need to work closely with colleagues at offices around the globe. Shared workspaces, wikis, teleconferencing applications, and other distance collaboration systems used in many online classrooms can help facilitate this type of remote work.

Prerequisites for Online Forensic Accounting Programs

The specific prerequisites required to pursue a forensic accounting master's degree online vary from school to school. However, the list below describes some of the most common admission requirements for these programs.

    • Work Experience: Most forensic accounting master's programs do not require prior work experience -- many of these programs cater to students who recently earned their bachelor's degrees. However, related professional experience or participation in an internship during your undergraduate studies may help improve your chances of being admitted to more selective schools.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Many graduate schools require prospective forensic accounting students to take either the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE), although a growing number of programs only require a minimum undergraduate GPA. GMAT or GRE scores usually need to be from the last five years.
    • Coursework: Nearly all programs require applicants to complete undergraduate coursework in accounting, economics, and finance. If you majored in another discipline in college, you may qualify for conditional admission at some schools. Conditionally admitted students must take prerequisite classes in areas like accounting systems and auditing theory before advancing into graduate-level coursework.
    • Recommendations: Prepare to submit up to three letters of recommendation as part of your application package. Try to get at least one letter of recommendation from a college professor who can speak to your readiness to study at the graduate level, and avoid asking family or friends. Give your recommenders plenty of time to write and submit your letters.
    • Essays: Some programs ask applicants to submit a brief personal statement outlining their academic qualifications, professional goals, and reasons for seeking a master's degree. You may also use your essay to highlight particular accomplishments or provide additional context for weaknesses in your application, such as a low GPA or standardized test score.
    • Interviews: Generally, online programs do not require prospective students to participate in an interview. If your school does request an interview, however, consider practicing common questions with a friend or colleague, including why you hope to study in that particular program.
    • International Students: International students must meet all of the same admission requirements as students who attended college in the United States. However, they may also need to take an exam to demonstrate their English language proficiency. They should also confirm that their target school will recognize their degree.

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

According to the BLS, accountants and auditors earned a median salary of $70,500 in 2018 -- roughly $32,000 more than the median pay for all occupations. Accounting professionals with wages in the 10th percentile earned less than $43,650 that year, while individuals in the 90th percentile brought home more than $122,840.

Accountants with more experience and education typically command higher salaries. Becoming a licensed CPA or earning a professional certification from an organization like the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) can also boost your earning potential.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Forensic Accounting Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Accountant or Auditor

Median Pay: $70,500

Job Growth: 10%

Accountants and auditors prepare, examine, and ensure the accuracy of financial records. Many specialize in a particular area, such as tax preparation, nonprofit financial assessment, or the investigation of financial crimes. These roles usually require at least a bachelor's degree, although earning a CPA license requires 30 credits of coursework beyond the typical undergraduate program.

Financial Examiner

Median Pay: $80,180

Job Growth: 10%

Financial examiners ensure that organizations comply with the laws and regulations that govern financial institutions. For example, an examiner may monitor a bank's lending activity to see that borrowers are being treated fairly. Many examiners also assess loan risk, making sure that banks have enough capital to manage unexpected losses. Senior roles often require a master's degree.

Forensic Accountant

Median Pay: $66,000

Forensic accountants investigate and work to prevent financial crimes. They must often share their findings to assist in legal proceedings, whether as an expert witness or by submitting a summary report for judges and jurors. Forensic accountants may work for law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies, or as internal auditors for large corporations.

Budget Analyst

Median Pay: $76,220

Job Growth: 7%

Budget analysts help organizations manage their finances. They may create company-wide or departmental budgets, monitor spending and revenue, or make recommendations to address future financial needs. Government budget analysts may issue reports to legislators or investigate the improper use of public funds. An advanced degree may improve a candidate's job prospects.

Source: PayScale/BLS

Nontraditional Careers for Forensic Accounting Graduates

A master's degree in forensic accounting can also open up career paths beyond investigating financial crime. For example, a graduate may use their skills in financial planning and budget oversight in a senior executive role, serving as a treasurer or chief financial officer. Alternatively, they may seek out jobs in research or academia, working as an economist or tax policy analyst. The table below describes a few nontraditional careers for forensic accounting graduates.

Careers Stats Description

Economist

Median Pay: $104,340

Job Growth: 6%

Skills Overlapped: Financial analysis, critical thinking, communication skills

Economists study the production and distribution of goods and services, using their expertise to set government policies or shape strategies in the private sector. Economists need at least a master's, and those who study issues related to financial crime may benefit from an advanced degree in forensic accounting.

Financial Manager

Median Pay: $127,990

Job Growth: 19%

Skills Overlapped: Financial statement preparation and review, risk analysis, organizational skills

Financial managers oversee the financial health of their organizations. They may create or approve budgets, supervise employees working on financial matters, review and approve company financial reports, and advise other senior leaders on strategy and compliance. Many employers seek financial managers with a master's in a relevant field, such as accounting.

Personal Financial Adviser

Median Pay: $88,890

Job Growth: 15%

Skills Overlapped: Financial planning, legal skills, interpersonal skills

Personal financial advisers offer guidance on matters related to investments, taxes, insurance, estate planning, college savings, and retirement. A master's degree that combines the study of financial analysis and the law may help personal financial advisers advance in their careers and provide a broader array of services to their clients.

Actuaries

Median Pay: $102,880

Job Growth: 22%

Skills Overlapped: Risk analysis, statistical projection, investigative skills

Actuaries analyze the financial costs of uncertainty and risk. For example, an actuary working for a property insurance company may calculate the likelihood of accidents and disasters to set insurance policy prices. Graduate study in forensic accounting may help actuaries better understand risks related to fraud and other criminal behavior.

Source: PayScale/BLS

Paying for an Online Master's in Forensic Accounting

The cost of earning an online master's degree in forensic accounting depends on several factors, including whether you attend a public or private school, how long your program lasts, and whether you choose to study on a full-time or part-time basis.

To help reduce out-of-pocket costs, you may qualify for scholarships, grants, tuition discounts, and low-interest or forgivable student loans. To identify potential financial aid opportunities, begin by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Scholarships for Online Forensic Accounting Master's Students

Many private organizations provide scholarships to aspiring accountants. For example, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) offers hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial aid to accounting students. It also administers scholarship programs that specifically target minority, female, and transfer students. ACFE smiliarly funds students focused on anti-fraud career paths.

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

The format and curriculum of master's in forensic accounting programs vary depending on your school, schedule, personal interests, and professional goals. For example, full-time students can earn their degrees in two years or less while part-time students often need about four years to meet graduation requirements. If you hope to work in law enforcement, you might benefit from additional coursework in criminal justice, while students who plan to serve as corporate auditors should consider taking classes in business ethics and regulatory policy.

Major Milestones

  1. Enrollment

    Once you have been admitted to a program, contact your academic adviser to begin planning a course of study. You may also contact your school's financial aid office to learn about grant and scholarship opportunities.

  2. Advanced Accounting Coursework

    Full-time students usually begin their graduate studies with two semesters of classes in subjects like financial statements analysis and quantitative business research. Students who did not major in accounting during college may also need to take other prerequisite courses.

  3. Forensic Accounting Coursework

    The second half of a master's program in forensic accounting typically includes coursework in areas such as forensic and fraud examination, fraud data analysis, and criminology and legal issues. Students can also choose electives to prepare for a career in a specific industry, like investigating healthcare fraud.

  4. Internship or Field Experience

    Some programs require or encourage master's students to participate in an internship. These experiences give students the opportunity to apply classroom learning in a practical context and develop professional connections.

  5. Capstone

    Capstone experiences require students to draw on the skills and knowledge they accumulated throughout their course of study. For example, a capstone may require a student to analyze a set of documents and prepare a presentation for a faculty committee posing as a group of government prosecutors.

  6. Final Graduation Requirements

    Contact your registrar to make sure you have met all of your program's credit requirements, settled any outstanding bills, and completed any paperwork necessary to recieve your master's degree.

Coursework

While the exact nature of your forensic accounting coursework will vary depending on your chosen school and academic interests, the list below describes five classes common to these programs.

Regulations and Regulators

In this class, students learn about the history of regulations and regulatory agencies in industries such as healthcare, financial services, and telecommunications. Students also examine the internal and external components of the compliance process.

Governance, Ethics, and Compliance

This course equips students with a basic understanding of corporate governance and the relationships that exist between a company's executive leadership, governing board, and shareholders. In particular, students examine the ethical and legal responsibilities of these parties in various governance models.

Fraud Examination and Techniques

Students in this class develop skills and knowledge related to financial investigation. For example, coursework may teach students about new data analysis technologies used to detect fraudulent activities and suspect tax avoidance behavior that may point to criminal behavior.

Conducting Internal Investigations

Many forensic accountants work to identify fraud and financial misdeeds within their own companies. By exploring best practices and legal principles, this course serves as a guide to conducting thorough, fair, and lawful internal investigations of fellow employees.

Forensic Data Analysis

Forensic data analysis plays a key role in collecting digital evidence. This course offers an overview of recovering deleted data, penetrating encryptions and complex systems to discover hidden evidence, and validating theories using digital reconstruction of financial transactions.

Degree Timelines

Most full-time students earn their master's degree in forensic accounting in two years, but some schools offer accelerated pathways to help you graduate faster.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

4 years

Part-time students often need to balance their studies with a full-time job or other personal responsibilities. They may take 1-2 classes each term, usually graduating in about four years. Some programs may also allow part-time students to complete required internships or field experiences at their current place of employment.

Full-Time

2 years

Full-time students usually take 3-4 classes each term, earning their degree in two years. Though usually not feasible for working professionals, full-time study may allow students to take better advantage of extracurricular learning opportunities like optional lectures, discussion groups, and service learning trips. Full-time students may also pay less per credit than part-time students.

Accelerated

1 year

Accelerated programs enable students to move through their coursework at their own pace. While students on accelerated tracks can earn their degree in as little as one year, these programs typically feature significantly less interaction with classmates and instructors. As such, only students with especially strong time management and independent study skills should consider accelerated programs.

Licenses and Certifications

Every accountant that files a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including the majority of forensic accountants, must become a licensed CPA. Even when not legally required, many accountants pursue CPA certification to advance in their careers or attract new clients. Many employers may cover the cost of the CPA exam.

Several professional accounting organizations offer optional certification programs. These programs allow accountants and other financial examiners to develop and demonstrate expertise in a specialized discipline, such as fraud investigation or government auditing.

    • Certified Public Accountant Though requirements vary from state to state, an aspiring CPA typically needs to complete 150 credits of postsecondary coursework in accounting and pass the four-part Uniform CPA Examination. Exam, application, and licensure fees may total $1,000-$2,000. Once licensed, CPAs must also meet continuing education requirements each year.
    • Certified Fraud Examiner Administered by ACFE, this credential demonstrates an understanding of how to prevent and detect fraud. The exam covers subjects such as investigation techniques, the law, and financial transactions and fraud schemes. It costs $400. While the four-part exam takes about eight hours to complete, applicants may take one section at a time over the course of 30 days.
    • Certified Internal Auditor The Institute of Internal Auditors, North America offers this credential to financial professionals who plan to oversee their company's governance, risk management, and financial analysis systems. The CIA exam consists of three parts and 325 questions, covering topics like due professional care, planning auditing engagements, and information security. It costs roughly $1,300 for nonmembers.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Current students and recent graduates of master of science in forensic accounting online programs should consider joining a professional organization. These organizations host regional and national events, giving you the chance to develop new professional connections, share best practices, and learn about potential career opportunities. They may also administer continuing education or formal certification programs. In addition, professional associations often host mentorship programs, giving students and recent graduates the chance to benefit from the experience and networks of more established forensic accountants.

  • American Board of Forensic Accounting Established in 1993, ABFA works to elevate the profession of forensic accounting through multiple certification programs and a code of ethics. The board also hosts a national networking conference.
  • Association of Certified Fraud Examiners In addition to its credential offerings, ACFE publishes case studies, profiles, and official reports on fraud prevention and investigation. Members can also connect with colleagues through an online community and review job listings in a career center.
  • Institute of Certified Forensic Accountants ICFA administers a set of professional certification programs that provide training and institutional validation for forensic accountants, internal auditors, and fraud specialists. ICFA also publishes an e-magazine and white papers on combating fraud.
  • National Association of Forensic Accountants NAFA hosts in-person professional development workshops on topics like kickback investigations, fraudulent business valuations, hidden asset investigation, and expert testimony in litigation matters. It also shares research and policy developments through its monthly newsletter.
  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants AICPA represents more than 430,000 CPAs around the globe. While not specific to forensic accounting, the institute provides valuable career guidance, policy briefs, scholarly articles, and continuing education opportunities
  • Federal Student Aid The U.S. Department of Education offers work-study opportunities and low-interest loans to students pursuing a master's in forensic accounting. It also hosts a private scholarship search engine and provides advice on identifying other sources of aid.
  • This Way to CPA Sponsored by AICPA, this resource for current and aspiring accounting students provides guidance related to choosing a school, financing your education, preparing for the CPA exam, and finding your first job.
  • Harvard Business School Working Knowledge: Filled with research conducted by Harvard Business School faculty and advanced doctoral students, this site features research and policy briefs on subjects like accounting audits, corporate accountability, crime and corruption, and governance compliance.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab Whether drafting a research paper or a court document, forensic accounting students and professionals must know how to write clearly and concisely. The Purdue OWL offers tips on citing sources, shaping arguments, and writing for specific audiences.
  • National Association of State Boards of Accountancy NASBA administers the Uniform CPA Examination, which serves as a professional requirement for many forensic accountants. Its website also includes resources to help students prepare for the exam and a listing with each state licensing board's contact information and individual requirements.