Online degrees in accounting, even Master of Accounting degrees, are ideal for individuals seeking to continue their education beyond their undergraduate degree in accounting and acquire more knowledge in the field. In most states, they also help to satisfy the 150 semester hours required to sit for the CPA exam and apply to become a certified public accountant (CPA). Most every graduate from a college of business will have around 120 semester hours and a Master of Accountancy will put them over the standard 150 semester hour requirements that most accountancy boards have. There are many benefits for working professionals associated with an online graduate degree in Accounting, including more opportunities, training and development. Masters of accountancy find that they receive higher pay and greater responsibilities. This is true no matter your accounting career goals, or even if you've passed all four parts of the CPA examination. With specializations, you can find yourself focusing your new accounting degree on financial accounting, public accounting, financial management or managerial accounting, forensic accounting, accounting information systems, risk management for corporations, becoming an internal auditor, offering advice on financial decision making, cost accounting, and more


Master's Degree Breakdown

Accounting master's programs vary from school to school in faculty and staff, policy, events, leadership, and the classes and unique opportunities for study and individual success they provide. However, most master’s in accounting degree programs from a graduate school or business school generally consist of 30 to 60 credit hours. Full-time students can expect to complete their coursework in about two years, while part-time students will naturally take longer. However, a “fast track” accounting master's program may be available that can be completed in as little as a single year for full-time graduate students. This is especially true when you have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, as you already have a strong foundation. Some master’s degree level accounting coursework or admissions requirements may be waived and you'll be able to meet your career goals, pass the CPA exam and become a financial manager or gain CPA licensure in no time.

The cost of accounting master’s degrees also varies drastically. Students can pay as little as $6,000 in tuition at a lesser-known graduate school or college of business, or as much as $25,000 at more prestigious institutions or for an MBA in accounting concentration rather than an accounting master's degree. It’s important to find a program that suits both your educational needs and your budget.

While most every college of business requires that candidates 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 class options for those with unrelated bachelor’s degrees.

Individuals interested in enrolling in a master of accounting, a master of science, or a master of accountancy (MAcc) online degree program may also need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and score above a certain threshold. This is a four-part, standardized test required by most graduate accountancy 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 graduate school of business for program admission requirements, however, as the GRE or GMAT requirement can sometimes be waived for students with high undergraduate GPAs and/or years of work experience in accounting. A master of accounting from an executive graduate program may only require a resume or an accounting of your professional experience. Candidates who have already passed the CPA exam may also need to show their CPA license or CPA certificate.

Reasons to Get Your Online Master’s in Accounting

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Benefits of earning a master’s in accounting

  • Access to financial careers in nearly any industry
  • Better understanding of accounting basics, as well as core financial and managerial accounting or financial management 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 bachelor's degree accontancy 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. Attending a master’s program for accounting will help to satisfy CPA certification requirements. Students should discuss this with an adviser from their school of business to ensure that they have the specific 150 semester hours required to sit for the CPA exam. Finally, a master of accountancy degree will not only satisfy academic requirements for most any board of accountancy, but the accounting coursework will surely provide preparation for the CPA examination.

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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, whether that is accounting information systems, forensic accounting, or managerial accounting. The most important thing is that the graduate school of business have full accreditation. Most any state university will have at least regional accreditation that allows students to sit for the Uniform CPA examination. State Accountancy boards often examine transcripts and look for national accreditation. That is, the Board of Accountancy may not recognize regional accreditation from some other region, so make sure your credits will qualify you to sit for the CPA exam.

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 accounting degree, regardless of the method by which they completed the coursework. Keep this in mind while selecting your school of business, as some potential employers may not immediately view an online degree in accounting as equally credible to traditional degrees. If you have a degree from a state university, chances are that most employers won't care how you attended class. Furthermore, if you can pass the CPA exam and qualify to become a licensed Certified Public Accountant, most any employer will be happy to have you on board.

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. A licensed certified public accountant (CPA) 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 auditors and accountants hold full-time positions, with one out of five working more than 40 hours a week. Overtime is, however, most common during income tax season.

While almost every field has a need for financial specialists, the largest employers of accountants are accounting firms offering auditing, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services, as well as government, finance and insurance companies, and business management enterprises. Many accountants are also self-employed. Here are a few potential jobs that an online graduate degree 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
  • Financial Manager
  • Income Tax Preparer
  • Statistic Planner
  • Tax Examiner / Collector
  • Taxation Specialist
  • Treasurer

Salary Outlook

According to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, accountants made a median annual salary of $69,350 in 2017. While 10% 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 online graduate school of business and accounting degrees will differ, especially if you attend an MBA program or a business school at a state university, there are some general curriculum expectations you should be aware of. Commonly, accounting students will be expected to complete a certain number of foundational, core, and elective courses while they complete their academics for a master of accounting or undergraduate degree in accounting. Additionally, most any state university school of business offering an online graduate accounting program will require certain coursework prior to enrollment. These classes usually consist of field basics, like introduction to accounting, financial accounting, taxation, microeconomics, macroeconomics, business law, and some level of mathematics. They may also require that you have a certain number of years of work experience. These days, a graduate school of business is likely to require not only undergraduate transcripts but a resume as well.

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Common accounting concentrations

Those who intend to earn a master's degree in accounting from a reputable graduate college of business from a private or state university 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 sub-fields specifically geared to suit your preferred career path. Those who are in a Master of Accounting program may seek out courses that build softer skills, such as communications or general business coursework. While graduate business school concentrations vary between institutions, but may include:

  • Accounting Information Systems

    Ideal for business school accounting students who want to work with both accounting and information technology to meet the financial needs of 21st century local, national, and global entities. Most any business school with a Master of Accounting program should include some accounting information technology courses.

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting

    Ideal for Master of Science in Accounting 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. A school of business may offer this subject as part of their reciprocal MBA program.

  • 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. Since cybersecurity is increasingly important, your school of business may soon offer programs such as a M.S. in Accounting that focuses on forensics.

  • 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. This is an important part of the CPA examination so make sure that your graduate business school offers ample coursework in this area.

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Common accounting courses

While most any graduate business school that offers a master’s accounting program may offer courses with varying titles, much of the content will be the same. Most every school of business will offer common graduate accounting courses including:

  • 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 accounting master's 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 school’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 school of business 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 MS in 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 business school 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
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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 accounting master’s programs?
  • 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 degree in accounting?

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