Masters in Accounting Schools offer programs of study where students could further their expertise in taxation, general or forensic accounting. Through these programs, participants may study communication and reporting as well as ways to leverage technology for accounting purposes. This type of curriculum could help the student gain the ability to think critically, problem solve, and develop sharper financial decision skills.
Many Masters in Accounting schools feature courses to help students meet the educational requirements for professional certifications and related exams. These programs may suit persons with undergraduate degrees in accounting who wish a fifth year of study to meet CPA licensing requirements. Or, to students who do not have a prior degree in accounting but want to prepare to pursue a professional career in the field.
Almost all states require CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework to be licensed. Because this is 30 hours more than the usual 4-year bachelor’s degree, some grad schools may have a 5-year combined bachelors and masters degree to meet the 150-hour requirement.i
Most state Boards of Accountancy defer to regional and national accreditation agencies to determine if an accounting program meets CPA licensing requirements. National accrediting agencies include The Association for Advancing Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB); The Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and The International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE).
DID YOU KNOW?
Every accountant who files a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is required by law to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).ii
In some Masters in Accounting schools, admission may be competitive and students may be encouraged to apply early. There may also be different standards for prior education and applicants may be required to complete course prerequisites.
Because each university sets its own standards, it is important to review the information they provide vis a vis required documentation. Below is a general guideline that may help interested students prepare.
Accounting is thought of as the language of business and universities may confer any number of degrees at the Masters level. Each is likely to have its own designated coursework and requirements so prospective students should scan course lists and factor in their professional goals to any decision.
A Master of Accounting (MAcc) is a graduate professional degree built to ready students with the 150 credit hours of classroom courses needed to sit for the CPA exam. Universities that confer this degree may also refer to their programs as either Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) or Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAcc).
Generally, either of these variations is a graduate degree in accounting that could include a few courses meant to offer a general perspective of the business environment, but with a narrow focus on accounting.
Students in a MS in Accounting program might take from 32 to 36 credits. The courses are typically built to foster a solid grasp of the ethical methods to record and report the activities of a business. While course plans vary between graduate schools, they are often tailored to expose participants to specific areas of accounting.
In tandem, students could further refine their skillsets through electives and possibly prepare them to pursue other certifications such as Certified Management Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner. Commercial law, fraud examination and business analytics are thus some potential elective topics to look for.
A dual MBA/MS in Accounting degree could provide students with a broad business education coupled with a deeper knowledge in financial and public accounting. Students who complete the dual-degree program may earn an MBA with a focus in accounting and an MSA degree. This type of course plan could ready graduates to sit for the CPA exam and may be suitable for those whose undergraduate degree is not in accounting.
That stated, students who work towards an MBA/MSA degree could expect to have two separate course plans and a capstone MBA project. For the MBA degree, students may develop a solid foundation in management and leadership skills through a course plan woven with business disciplines and responsive to issues in a global context.
On the MSA degree side, requirements could be equally broad, and students may be required to complete a one-year internship under the guidance of a licensed CPA. A course plan might include both basic and advanced topics in financial reporting, auditing, and accounting theory. Students might also take accounting electives in tandem with some of the following.
An MBA in Accounting may enable students who have earned a BS in Accounting to complete the 150 hours for certification as a CPA. In addition to the extra, advanced courses in accounting, taxation and auditing, students may be exposed to a series of MBA topics. These could include not-for-profit accounting, human resource management and marketing strategy among others.
Importantly, in an MBA program, accounting is an area of emphasis, surrounded by a holistic set of core courses in the functional areas of business. As a graduate program, it typically requires that students hold a baccalaureate degree in a related field and that they complete coursework traditionally spread over two years of full-time instruction—although many programs offer flexible scheduling.
Internships are often required, as are capstone courses that take the place of the thesis traditionally linked to MS programs - the MBA is viewed as a practical, professional degree rather than a research degree, after all.
A Master of Science (MS) in Taxation usually offers an in-depth and highly focused course plan compared to the curriculum of either a Master of Accountancy degree or a Master of Accountancy with a focus in tax (both of which typically only include a few tax courses).
Students who pursue a MS Tax degree may be exposed to all areas of tax: corporate, partnerships, international, state and local, estate, property and gift. Stacked onto core topics, participants could build research skills as they study techniques applicable to tax issues and how to communicate results.
Other important areas that might be discussed could include the many administrative procedures necessary for tax compliance with the various tax jurisdictions with primary emphasis on IRS practices. See below for several other potential topics.
To complete their degree, MS Taxation students usually need to complete an internship. An internship may provide students with a clinical tax experience, which could enable them to apply theory and skills in a professional environment at either (i) a public accounting firm; (ii) an accounting or internal audit department of a private enterprise; or (iii) local, state, or federal government agency.
A Master of Science in Accounting and Taxation (MSAT) program is often planned-out for students who seek to develop or advance a career in professional accounting or taxation in industry, public accounting, government, or not-for-profit organizations. Often, the course plan helps students meet CPA licensure requirements.
Program participants may take required courses in business law, ethics and taxation of business organizations. However, distinct from a MS Tax, MSAT students may be able to choose a direction or track, within their program dependent on their career goals.
Students may also take electives in their track or branch out to take courses in other disciplines like finance, management, or data analytics.
A Master of Science in Accounting and Finance could expose student to key international accounting standards, global financial markets and the factors behind organizational successes and failures.
On top of a deeper grasp of theory, students could develop practical skills, such as the ability to evaluate financial statements, estimate fair values and compare different investments. Take a look at some potential course topics below.
To cap their program, students might research and prepare a thesis.
Many of today’s universities with Accounting Masters programs offer both full-time and part-time formats as well as evening courses that may fit into the life of at-work adults.
Interaction: Apart from the schedule-factor, students who pursue their Masters degree in Accounting on campus may be in for much more than number crunching. These may feature smaller size classes and cohort-based programs. Students might thus form lasting relationships, expand networks, and find a mentor to guide their research and professional growth.
Location and Local Partners: Other potential side benefits could be derived from the Masters in Accounting school location. Frequently, such schools have wide business and financial centers through which there may be opportunities to learn from visiting speakers and make connections. Nothing quite like an in-person business card exchange.
Career Placement: It is not uncommon for some programs to be recruiting hubs for public accounting firms, midsize and boutique firms. If this interests you, check out prospective school’s job placement rate for its graduates. Where are they now?
Learn by Doing: In class learning may be reinforced through for-credit internships. The location of the internship might depend on where the student applies during their school’s recruiting season. Find out more by looking into potential target agencies in your university’s vicinity.
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[i] bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-4 | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-4