Master’s programs in accounting can help you move past entry-level accountancy positions into financial leadership roles like Controller, Actuary, Treasurer or Budget Analyst. Employers for these jobs often prefer candidates who have completed master’s-level accounting work, and salaries for these positions can be substantially higher than entry-level accounting jobs. This guide provides insight into the best online master’s in accounting programs for 2018, what you can expect from a master’s program and potential careers you can pursue once you’ve completed your degree.
The rankings below represent the best online master’s in accounting programs for 2019. We used data gathered from the Department of Education, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and information provided from the schools listed to compile these rankings. Each program has been accredited, so students can be assured that each college listed here meets a high degree of educational excellence.
Online master’s in accounting programs are for working professionals who hold undergraduate degrees in accounting or a closely related field and want to further their education to enhance their career options. The intensive financial coursework in these programs prepares students for many different potential careers and specialized financial positions that otherwise would be unavailable.
Online programs vary in length depending upon the institution. Some master’s programs can be completed in a little as nine months to one year of fulltime study. Others will take between two or three years for part-time students. Students are usually required to complete between 30 and 48 credit hours, depending on prior work and educational experience.
Students who complete online master’s accountancy programs gain deeper knowledge of:
Master’s of science in accounting programs typically have a sharp focus on advanced accounting and financial practices and principles. Master’s in Business Administration in Accounting programs, meanwhile, have a stronger emphasis on business coursework so graduates have more well-rounded overall business acumen.
Curriculum varies, but many online master’s in accountancy programs offer similar core coursework. The following are some examples of classes students can expect.
Coursework examines concepts and principles of examining financial statements, as well as auditing responsibilities and standards.
Coursework focuses on applications of IRS revenue codes and federal regulations, tax laws and tax policies, tax treatments of gains and losses, tax theories and ethics, and the taxation of partnerships, S-Corps and corporations.
Coursework examines the financial decisions and challenges that corporate managers must face and overcome. Topics include budgeting, business valuations, capital sourcing structures and mergers and acquisitions.
Students study financial reporting principles and their link to corporate financial statements. Students also learn how alternative financial reporting decisions impact financial statements, such as reported income and asset values.
Coursework focuses on the principles of financial reporting to department heads, investors, regulators and corporate managers. Coursework has a strong emphasis on cost, profit and price and the tools necessary to make important and informed financial decisions.
Master’s in accountancy programs offer many opportunities for financial specializations. Here are some of the most common ones.
Master’s programs in managerial accounting have a strong emphasis on topics such as cost management, cost measurement and estimating, decision making, differential analysis, budgeting, performance evaluation, cash flow and trends and ratios.
This specialization is for accounting majors who wish to fight financial fraud. Coursework includes fraud examination and detection, principle of forensic accounting, interview techniques and computer forensic investigation.
This specialization is for students who wish to enter private, public or government careers as auditors. Curriculum includes fraud examination, auditing techniques, forensic accounting, financial reporting and financial statement analysis.
Depending upon the program, students may be required to complete a master’s thesis or capstone project. These projects typically are the culminating classes of the degree path. Thesis projects typically involve an in-depth examination of case studies or tax laws and their applications. Accountancy capstone projects might involve preparing income statements for businesses, tracking stock market trends and compiling comparative data, or comparing a financial analysis of different companies. Not all online master’s programs in accounting require these terminal projects, however.
Choosing the right college is one of the most important decisions students can make. Choosing a properly accredited institution ensures curriculum adheres to high standards of excellence since all programs are peer-reviewed by the accrediting body. Additionally, regional and programmatic accreditation for master’s in accounting programs means colleges and universities advance curriculum designed to improve business and accounting practices. There are more than 570 U.S. colleges and universities accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. In addition to meeting 15 distinct criteria for business accreditation, these institutions also meet six additional standards for accounting accreditation.
Students seeking to enroll in master’s in accounting programs should also ask about the professional credentials of the faculty, such as how many faculty hold terminal degrees in their fields and similar qualifications. Other factors to consider include graduation rate, class size, cost and program length.
Students who complete master’s degrees in accounting have many different career options. Here are common career pathways that dovetail nicely with the accounting skills learned in college. Students should note, however, that some positions may require additional training, certification or licensure beyond a master’s degree in accounting.
Actuaries uses advanced math, statistics and financial theory to analyzes financial risk and the potential costs associated with certain events. They also design and administer a wide range of financial products, including pension plans, investments and insurance policies.
Auditors examine a company or organization’s financial records to ensure there hasn’t been any mismanagement of funds. Their work also helps organizations identify way to eliminate budgetary waste and reduce instances of fraud. External auditors are hired by companies to examine their financial data and report back to the federal government and investors that appropriate financial filings are correct.
Budget analysts work with departmental managers and corporate executives to prepare and develop organizational budgets. Many also compile departmental budgetary data to prepare comprehensive organizational spending reports. They also estimate the future monetary needs of their organizations.
Financial managers, which can include advanced titles such as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), are responsible for the overall financial health and strategy of a company or organization. While additional certification isn’t required, some financial managers choose to earn additional professional certifications such as Certified Treasury Professional (CTP) or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Many accounting-related positions are expected to grow much faster than average through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth for actuaries, in particular, is expected to be especially high at 22 percent, versus the 7 percent for all occupations. This is due, in part, to the overall growth of the economy and globalization. The previous financial crisis has also increased the desire and need for risk management within companies, so accounting professionals with experience managing financial risk for companies and organizations may be in high demand.
There are many different professional organizations accounting professionals should consider joining. Membership offers opportunities for networking, annual conferences, professional development and continuing education. Here are five of the leading accounting trade groups and organizations.
The world’s largest organization of certified public accountants has more than 431,000 members globally working in all aspects of accounting and financial planning.
Founded in 1919, the IMA has more than 100,000 members worldwide. Its focus is to advance the profession of accountants in key management positions, such as controllers, treasurers and budget analysts. This group also offers the Certified Management Accountant credential.
The IIA was established in 1941 as the global voice for internal auditing professionals. Today the IIA has more than 185,000 members worldwide who work as auditors, risk managers, controllers and in other related accounting professions.
NAPA provides accountants with opportunities for continuing education, training, licensing and key credentials, such as the nationally recognized Accounting and Certified Public Bookkeeper certifications.
The NSA is a national organization that advocates for increased professional success for members working in accountancy and taxation roles through continuing education and the promotion of ethical standards for professional excellence.
This global organization is dedicated to professionals working in the accountancy profession. Its membership numbers more than 3 million accountants in more than 130 countries.
Master’s degree programs can be quite expensive. According to the College Board, the average annual cost of tuition and fees for master’s degree programs at public four-year universities in 2017-2018 academic year was $8,670. Annual tuition and fees skyrocket to just under $30,000 at private nonprofit four-year colleges.
Students who enroll in online master’s programs will often find significant savings on tuition and fees, not to mention on room and board. In addition to these savings, students can explore these methods for paying for their degrees:
Federal student aid, such as student loans and grants, is a common way to fund a college education. Students can learn more about financial aid for online schools from our guide.
Many of the main accounting industry organizations offer scholarships. These include the National Association of Black Accountants, which offers approximately 50 scholarships each year ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate scholarships – the John L. Carey Scholarship for grad students is $5,000 per year. The Institute of Management Accountants offers a graduate scholarship to students who meet certain criteria.
Private colleges and universities often offer scholarships to help lure top students to their programs. For example, Edgewood College automatically awards $5,000 to incoming master’s in accounting students with an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 or higher.
Other ways of funding college include nation-wide merit based scholarships, prestige scholarships, and teaching assistantships, where grad students teach undergraduate accounting courses for reduced tuition costs and a cash stipend each semester.