Online master’s degrees in accounting are ideal for individuals seeking to continue their education beyond a bachelor’s degree and acquire more knowledge in the field. In most states, they also help to satisfy the 150 credit hour requirement to apply to become a certified public accountant (CPA). There are many benefits associated with this degree, including more professional opportunities and higher pay.

Master's Degree Breakdown

Accounting programs vary from school to school, but most master’s degrees generally consist of 30 to 60 credit hours. Full-time students can expect to complete their coursework in about two years. There are, however, a number of “fast track” programs available that can be completed in as little as a single year. This is especially true for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, as some master’s level course requirements may be waived.

The cost of online master’s degrees in accounting also varies drastically. Students can pay as little as $6,000 in tuition at lesser-known colleges and universities, or as much as $25,000 at more prestigious institutions. It’s important to find a program that suits both your educational needs and your budget.

While most institutions require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in accounting before granting admittance, some online universities and colleges admit students who agree to take additional prerequisite courses. This can increase the timeframe for completion, but does offer options for those with unrelated bachelor’s degrees.

Individuals interested in enrolling in an online master’s degree program may also need to complete the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). This is a four-part, standardized test required by most graduate programs. If the GRE is not required, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) may be. This exam focuses more on analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning. Always check your specific institution’s admittance requirements, however, as the GRE or GMAT requirement can sometimes be waived for students with high undergraduate GPAs and, or professional experienced in accounting.

Reasons to Get Your Online Master’s in Accounting


Benefits of earning a master’s degree

  • Access to financial careers in nearly any industry
  • Better understanding of accounting basics, as well as core financial and managerial accounting techniques designed to meet client demands in an ever-changing economy
  • Advanced professional qualifications
  • Improved career advancement opportunities
  • Increased earning potential

Additionally, many states require CPA candidates to attain an accounting degree, as well as complete a minimum of 150 semester hours. Most undergraduate accounting programs consist of only 120 semester hours, meaning that if you intend to become a licensed CPA you will need to take additional, higher-level accounting and businesses courses. Attaining a master’s in accounting will help to satisfy CPA certification requirements.


Benefits of earning your master’s online

  • Flexibility to complete program requirements at any pace and from any location
  • Access to highly-reputable colleges and universities regardless of residency
  • Ability to work professionally without courses interfering with responsibilities and scheduling
  • Around-the-clock access to professors who make responding to questions quickly a priority
  • Reduced tuition costs and resulting student debt

One of the biggest benefits of choosing to earn your master’s in accounting online, however, is the ability to access specialized accounting programs anywhere in the nation without relocating. You will have your pick of institutions, programs, and courses, making it easy for you to tailor your educational experience to your professional goals.

It’s also worth noting that some colleges and universities don’t differentiate between degrees earned traditionally and online. In cases like this, students can expect to receive the same diploma, regardless of the method by which they completed the coursework. Keep this in mind while selecting your program, as some potential employers may not immediately view an online degree as equally credible to traditional degrees.

Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, accountants and auditors can expect to see employment growth of 10 percent before 2026. This is faster than any other occupation, making it an optimal professional career choice. Job growth in this field is likely due to healthier economic conditions, more complex financial regulations, and business globalization. Licensed CPAs and those who have attained a master’s degree in accounting or a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting may be at an advantage as the job market continues to grow.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported that most accountants and auditors hold full-time positions, with one out of five working more than 40 hours a week. Overtime is, however, common during tax season.

While almost every field has a need for financial specialists, the largest employers of accountants and auditors are auditing, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services, as well as government, finance and insurance companies, and business management enterprises. Many accountants and auditors are also self-employed. Here are a few potential jobs that an online master’s in accounting will qualify you for:

  • Accountant
  • Accounts Payable / Accounts Receivable Manager
  • Actuary
  • Appraisal and Valuation Specialist
  • Auditor
  • Budget Analyst
  • Compliance Manager
  • Controller
  • Corporate Accountant
  • Cost Accountant
  • Credit Analyst
  • Director of Corporate Strategy
  • Director of Financial Planning
  • Director of Financial Reporting
  • Director of Taxation
  • Enrolled Agent
  • Financial Analyst
  • Financial Examiner
  • Financial Manager
  • Financial Reporting Analyst
  • Forensic and Investigative Accountant
  • Fraud Investigator
  • Internal Auditor
  • International Accounting Specialist
  • Management Accountant
  • Merger and Acquisitions Analyst
  • Payroll Manager
  • Personal Financial Planner
  • Revenue Agent
  • Risk Analyst
  • Statistic Planner
  • Tax Examiner / Collector
  • Taxation Specialist
  • Treasurer

Salary Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, accountants and auditors made a median annual salary of $69,350 in 2017. While 10 percent earned less than $43,020, top-tier accountants and auditors earned wages in excess of $122,220. Salary will vary drastically depending on job type, as well as professional and academic qualifications. Acquiring a master’s in accounting will qualify you for higher-level positions and, as a result, likely increase your annual take home pay.

Curriculum Expectations

While every educational institution and accounting program will differ slightly, there are some general curriculum expectations you should be aware of. Commonly, you will be expected to complete a certain number of foundational, core, and elective courses. Additionally, many institutions require certain coursework be completed prior to enrollment. These classes usually consist of field basics, like introduction to accounting, financial accounting, taxation, statistics, microeconomics, macroeconomics, business law, and some level of mathematics.


Common accounting concentrations

Those who intend to earn an online master’s in accounting will likely have the opportunity to select a concentration, frequently made up of elective courses. Because the field is so multi-faceted, it can be beneficial to specialize in one or two subfields specifically geared to suit your preferred career path. These concentrations vary per college and university, but may include:

  • Accounting Information Systems

    Ideal for students who want to work with both accounting and information technology to meet the financial needs of 21st century local, national, and global entities

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting

    Ideal for students who want to master accounting theories and principles to complete a large variety of tasks and address a wide range of potential finance issues

  • Forensic Accounting

    Ideal for students who want to specialize in forensic accounting and learn how to perform fraud examinations, financial statement investigations, and complex data management

  • Internal Auditing

    Ideal for students who want to become a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) through the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA)

  • Management Accounting

    Ideal for students who want to work in business, guiding critical financial decisions and driving strong performance with expert operations, management, and strategy skills

  • Taxation

    Ideal for students who want to assist individuals and businesses in preparing tax returns, managing tax liabilities, and offer advice on important financial decisions


Common accounting courses

While master’s accounting programs may offer courses with varying titles, much of the content will be the same. Some of the most common accounting courses include:

  • Accountants Professional Responsibility and Ethics
  • Accounting and Auditing for Government Entities
  • Accounting for Income Taxes
  • Accounting for Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Accounting Research and Communication
  • Accounting Theory
  • Advanced Assurance
  • Business Law, Business Ethics, and Public Accounting
  • Business Strategy and Taxation
  • Cost Accounting
  • Data Analytics for Accountants
  • Enterprise Risk Management
  • Federal Income Taxation
  • Financial Reporting and Auditing
  • Financial Statement Analysis and Valuation
  • Fraud and Forensic Accounting
  • Internal Controls Evaluations
  • International Finance
  • Introduction to Accounting Standards and Accounting Information Systems
  • Non-Profit Reporting

Importance of Accreditation

When comparing online master in accounting programs, one of the most important aspects to consider is the institution’s accreditation status. All colleges and universities can be accredited by regional, national, or specialized U.S. Department of Education agencies. Generally, you should give preference to institutions that are regionally accredited, as this accreditation process is much more extensive and rigorous. Some of the most reputable agencies include:

  • Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
  • North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, Board of Trustees
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Schools
  • Association of Advance Collegiate Schools of Business

A college or university’s accreditation status will impact your ability to transfer credits and file for federal financial aid. Accreditation is also particularly important if you plan to apply for a CPA license or certificate.

While every state’s requirements to become a CPA are different, most accountancy boards only accept degrees accredited by certain organizations. When possible, it’s important that you review your state’s CPA expectations prior to selecting your master’s in accounting program. If your college or university isn’t accredited by one of your state’s pre-approved accreditation agencies, you may not qualify to become a licensed CPA. In some cases, state accountancy boards do allow credit equivalency assessments to verify your educational records meet or exceed their specific requirements.

Choosing an Online Master’s Accounting Program

Picking the right online master’s accounting program is important, especially if you plan to pursue licensure as a CPA. Don’t rush the decision; take all the time you need to assess which college or university will match your educational background and future career plans. Factors you should consider are:

  • Accreditation status
  • Available resources
  • Completion timeframe
  • Concentration availability
  • Cost
  • Course selection
  • Prerequisites
  • Technical support

Questions to ask before enrolling

To ensure you enroll in an online institution that will meet your specific needs, ask yourself these questions:

  • 1. Do I have the right educational background to qualify for admittance into this accounting program? If not, can I take the prerequisite courses now?
  • 2. Can my professional work experiences count toward prerequisite requirements?
  • 3. Will the program help me reach my career goals?
  • 4. Does the curriculum match my experiences and, or special interests?
  • 5. Are degree concentrations available and do they fit my career objectives?
  • 6. Is the institution accredited by an agency that is pre-approved by my state’s board of accountancy?
  • 7. Will the coursework meet my state’s CPA requirements?
  • 8. Are financial aid options available for graduate students through the institution or will I need to apply for scholarships from outside organizations?
  • 9. Is there a difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for online master’s program candidates?
  • 10. What learning formats are available? Will the courses be taught online only, or are there some on-site requirements that must be met prior to graduation?
  • 11. Does the curriculum help me prepare for the Uniform CPA Examination?
  • 12. Can I enroll as a part-time student, or will I need to be enrolled in courses full-time?
  • 13. Are evening and weekend courses available so as not to interfere with my current work schedule?
  • 14. How long will it take me to complete this degree program and will my credits expire over time?
  • 15. Am I expected to pay my tuition per credit hour, per year, or in a lump sum prior to taking my classes?
  • 16. Does the school have a continuing education program to obtain a doctorate accounting degree?

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