Masters in Accounting Degree
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A Master of Accountancy degree is typically the highest degree sought by those looking to work in the accounting field. Master’s degrees in accountancy typically prepare graduates to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination or other professional certifications that are commonly required for advanced, managerial, or leadership roles in the accounting field. Those with a Master of Accountancy degree and professional certification may find positions in a variety of accounting roles. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly 550 not-for-profit business schools in the US offer advanced accounting programs, including master’s, MBA, and doctoral programs as well as graduate certificates.1
Master of Accountancy Degree Learning Goals
1. Prepare for CPA examination.
The most common next step after graduating from graduate accounting programs is to pursue the CPA designation. During graduate school, students should study the body of knowledge necessary to pass the examination. Students should also understand the CPA guidelines of their state and check that they meet the educational requirements for licensure. For those already holding a CPA or not seeking CPA certification, the master’s program may be aimed at bolstering specific skills (e.g., tax or audit) or to attain higher-level management positions.
2. Understand both the accounting theory and the practical skills used in the field.
Graduates with a Master of Accountancy degree should be able to understand foundational and advanced concepts in accounting and apply them to accounting work. Students should learn how to leverage information technology commonly utilized in the field and be able to understand the technical side of accounting. Graduates may also benefit from learning business communication and leadership strategies to advance in their careers.
3. Be able to use accounting to make business decisions.
Accounting is frequently referred to as the “language of business,” so graduates should be able to translate the information that they learn from accounting data into information about an organization. Those with graduate degrees in accounting should be able to use their perspective on financial operations to communicate and help make decisions about business and organizational operations. Those who master this ability may be more likely to advance into managerial and leadership positions in their careers.
Master of Accountancy Program Options
A master’s degree in accounting typically takes about one to two years to complete for full-time students, and working professionals can choose from part-time or fully online program formats. Schools offer a variety of master’s degrees, such as Master of Accountancy (MAcc), Master of Professional Accountancy (MPA), Master of Science in Accounting (MSA), or Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Accounting. Note the MBA curriculum will provide broader exposure to various business areas, such as marketing and strategy, so the depth of accounting emphasis will be lower than the other degree types noted.
Online Degree Formats
Because many master’s in accounting students are working as they complete their graduate degrees, online options are common at this level. Many schools have select coursework that can be completed online and many others offer fully-online programs. As students prepare to take the CPA exam and to meet the experience requirements for becoming certified, it may be preferable to attend an online master’s program, which allows for more flexibility in completing assignments and more autonomy in learning.
Master of Accountancy degree programs typically require a bachelor’s degree to be admitted. Universities vary, but for many programs, this undergraduate degree does not necessarily need to be in accounting. However, students without an academic accounting background may need to complete some prerequisite courses in foundational accounting skills before starting graduate-level courses. Graduate programs in accountancy commonly require GMAT or GRE scores, references or letters of recommendation, and undergraduate transcripts for admission consideration. Students interested in highly-competitive programs may need to present high test scores, have a competitive undergraduate transcript, and complete an interview for admission.
Core Concepts and Coursework
Graduate accounting coursework typically covers advanced accounting knowledge and its application in the industry. Most programs aim to satisfy the educational requirements for the CPA certification, and some schools even include CPA examination preparation courses. Master of Accountancy students may also study business operations, finance, organizational behavior and other related subjects to gain a broad background in business and prepare for leadership roles. Course titles vary by school, but common classes may include:
- Accounting and Financial Analysis
- Accounting in Public, Governmental, and Not-For-Profit Organizations
- Auditing and Assurance Services
- CPA Examination Preparation
- Financial Statement Analysis
- Information Technology for Accountants
- Managerial and Cost Accounting
- Professional Communication for Accountants
- Professional Responsibility and Ethics in Accounting
- Taxes and Business Strategy
Select Master’s in Accounting Programs
Students at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (USC) can earn a designated STEM Master of Accounting (MAcc). This full-time, one-year curriculum has a global focus, and students learn how to apply their accounting and business knowledge to real-life situations. The coursework also emphasizes the technical skills needed to do research and analysis in the accounting industry. A Summer Intensive Program consisting of 15 units is required for students without an undergraduate degree in accounting. USC maintains an active alumni network and professional connections within Los Angeles to help students network for post-graduation career opportunities. Many MAcc graduates go on to work in public accounting, private industries, auditing, assurance services, and consulting. USC also offers a Master of Accounting with an Emphasis on Data and Analytics (MAcc D+A) and a Master of Business Taxation (MBT) program.
The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago offers a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a concentration in Accounting. This program has a full-time degree format that can be completed in 21 months. Through a broad general business curriculum, students learn to think critically and evaluate business strategy in many different contexts. The coursework starts with foundational courses, such as Financial Accounting and Statistics, and continues with coursework in business operations and business management. After completing the core curriculum, students can choose a concentration. The Accounting concentration includes classes such as Accounting and Financial Analysis; Cost Analysis and Internal Controls; and Taxes and Business Strategy. Those specializing in accounting learn how to understand an organization’s business decisions through the framework of financial information. All students complete an additional leadership training course to develop management and leadership skills.
University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School offers a Master of Accounting (MAC) degree. The on-campus degree is designed for those without an undergraduate accounting degree and can be completed in one year. It is designed to prepare students to sit for the CPA examination. Students learn the theoretical knowledge necessary in the accounting field as well as technical and analytical skills. The curriculum focuses on developing leadership and management skills with an emphasis on professional ethical standards. After finishing the core classes, students can choose to concentrate in Tax or Audit and take a variety of elective courses. UNC also offers a flexible online MAC, which can be completed by students with or without an accounting degree. Depending on their accounting background, online students may test out of certain courses and finish their degrees at an accelerated pace.
At the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, students can earn a Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) on campus or completely online. Most students complete the program in just two semesters, but part-time, flexible options are available, which take more time to complete. The curriculum focuses on both general and applicable knowledge in accounting and business, and the coursework fulfills the educational requirements necessary to take the CPA examination. Students take courses such as Financial Statement Analysis; Taxes and Business Decisions; and Information Technology for Accountants. Through this coursework, students learn how to analyze business operations, understand financial valuation, and improve their business speaking and writing skills. Students with non-accounting academic backgrounds may need to complete some prerequisites before beginning the program.
Southern Utah University’s School of Business offers an online Master of Accountancy (MAcc) degree. This online program satisfies the 150-hour requirement for the CPA licensure for students with sufficient undergraduate accounting study. Through a curriculum focused on accounting foundations, students learn how to think critically about business decisions. The coursework also emphasizes the quantitative skills and information technology knowledge necessary in the accounting field. The core curriculum includes courses in managerial accounting, taxation, business law, and auditing. Students learn how to communicate professionally and also follow ethical standards in the industry. Many SUU alumni go on to work for accounting firms or government agencies in the region.
Students can earn an online Master of Professional Accountancy (MPA) through the University of South Dakota (USD). This program teaches the body of knowledge and specialized skills necessary to work in public accounting, and the curriculum meets the 150-hour requirement to sit for the CPA examination. The core classes include Cost Accounting; Accounting Theory; Business Policy and Strategy; and Accounting in Governmental and Non-Profit Organizations; and students can choose from a variety of electives in different accounting subareas. USD also emphasizes professional development, communication skills, and high ethical industry standards. Those without an academic accounting background may need to complete some online prerequisite courses before beginning the program.
Jobs with a Master of Accountancy
Graduates with master’s degrees in accounting may find career opportunities in consulting, governmental finance, or other related positions. Master’s degree holders who also hold professional certifications, such as CPAs, may have an advantage in finding managerial or advanced positions. Some possible career titles include:
- Business Owner
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
- Financial Analyst
- Government Auditor
- Internal Auditor
- Professional Accountant
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I do with a master’s degree in accounting?
This advanced degree opens the door to many management and leadership positions in the field of accounting. Graduates can pursue professional certifications by taking the Uniform CPA Exam and start careers as accountants, auditors, consultants, or other accounting roles.
Does earning a master’s degree in accounting qualify me as a CPA?
Earning a Master of Accountancy degree can prepare graduates to become CPAs, but a graduate degree in accounting is not the same as a CPA designation. CPA qualifications vary by state, but in general, individuals must meet educational requirements, pass an examination, and fulfill other conditions. A Master of Accountancy may prepare students to meet these educational conditions, but further steps are required for professional certification.
How much can I make with a master’s of accounting?
Accountants and auditors earn an average annual wage of $79,520, and these positions are projected to grow by 6.4%, equating to around 90,700 positions, through 2028.2,3 Financial and investment analysts earn an average salary of $94,160, and these roles are projected to grow by 6.2% through 2028.3,4
Do I need to have an accounting undergraduate degree to pursue a graduate degree in accounting?
Undergraduate accounting degrees are not generally required for admission into master’s programs. However, students with academic accounting backgrounds may have an advantage in gaining admission to competitive schools, and some accounting class credits may transfer. Some schools may also require students without a business background to complete prerequisite courses before beginning a graduate-level accounting program.
Can I earn certification with a master’s degree in accounting?
Graduates from Master of Science in Accountancy programs frequently pursue Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designations after graduation. Many graduate-level accounting programs prepare graduates to sit for the examination, both by teaching the body of knowledge necessary to pass the exam and also by fulfilling the 150-hour educational requirement for the certification. Graduates with master’s degrees in accounting may also pursue other common professional certifications, such as Certified Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), or Certified Management Accountant (CMA). These professional designations are common for those who want to work in mid-level, managerial, or leadership positions in the accounting industry.
How do online Master of Accountancy degrees differ from on-campus programs?
In general, online graduate degree programs in accounting are designed for those who need a part-time or flexible class schedule. Those working full-time or with other scheduling constraints may benefit from a more flexible format. Distance-learning formats vary by school, but many universities take advantage of online classrooms, recorded lectures, and other online learning tools. Sometimes the faculty who teach online programs are different than the instructors teaching on-campus. Check with your school(s) of choice to make sure their online program offers the same benefits to students as their traditional program.
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019 Accountants and Auditors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132011.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019 Financial Analysts: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132098.htm