Online Accounting Graduate Programs are tailored for accountants and busier students who want to work towards CPA licensure or expand their current skill set to more closely align with new tax regulations. Far from one-dimensional, an online accounting graduate degree could be a dynamic program of study where distance learners refine their niche in areas such as auditing, forensic accounting, and management.
written by Rana Waxman
Numerous colleges and universities maintain accredited online Accounting Graduate Programs for those interested in a graduate-level accounting education. Students could choose from a range of online Masters in Accounting programs, PhD and DBA in Accounting degrees, or certificates.
At any of these levels, online accounting courses may be supplemented by independent research especially at the doctoral level, internship(s) and academic writing. Those who focus on business administration programs such as through an online MBA in Accounting could also expect to study managerial processes and business strategy.
While many online graduate accounting programs are built for experienced accountants, there are also programs suited for non-accounting majors. These may introduce students to preliminary classes to bring them up to speed before continuing into a graduate curriculum.
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Job applicants who have a master’s degree in accounting or a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting also may have an advantage.i
One of the main reasons that students might consider working towards an online accounting graduate degree is to prepare to take – and successfully pass – their state CPA exam. Most states require aspiring Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) to complete at least 150 semester hours of study to become licensed. Students generally get credit for 120 hours via a traditional bachelors in accounting degree program. ii
To earn the required 150 hours, some schools offer the option of a combined 5-year bachelors and Masters degree program in accounting. Otherwise, students could pursue a Masters in Accounting on its own (usually 30 credits +). Or through an online MAcc Bridge program which is one example of an online masters in accounting for non-accounting majors.
The latter are typically planned-out for students with an approved bachelors degree in a business field other than accounting. So, not to be daunted if you are someone who aspires to pursue an advanced career in corporate or public accounting and lack some of the prerequisites.
The important thing to understand about online Accounting Graduate programs there are multiple opportunities that may meet distinct student goals. Students should thus identify their aims and reflect on how the completion of each degree might aid them in meeting those aspirations.
A review of each type of online accounting graduate degree is given below as a guideline but the ideal window into a course plan is that provided by the schools on your list.
Through an online Masters in Accounting program, accounting and non-accounting majors alike could study to build skills and knowledge in preparation for CPA licensure. Students who decide to pursue a Masters in Accounting online could gain a deeper grasp of theories, laws, and regulations as well as how to apply these concepts in everyday business situations.
Online Master of Accountancy (MAcc) and Master of Science in Accounting programs (MS) generally admit students with undergraduate degrees in accounting or a related field, while the Master of Business Administration in Accounting (MBA) and the Master of Professional Accounting (MPAc) programs may enroll candidates from a wider array of undergraduate majors.
Many online MAcc programs are 30-credits thus could prepare students to pursue their CPA credential and might be completed roughly within from 10 months (full-time) to 20 months (part-time).
Typically, comprehensive students could study to gain a holistic grasp of financial management, economics, financial reporting, auditing, taxation and regulation, and ethics in accounting. Participants might also learn how to apply advanced communication skills to accounting-related situations such as client care.
Electives, which sometimes equal about 4 courses, allow students to tailor studies in areas such as advanced auditing, advanced taxation, occupational fraud and abuse. An applied accounting research capstone could enable students to build key research and presentation skills in accounting, auditing, and tax.
An online Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) is like the MAcc degree in that it usually readies graduates with skills in auditing, taxation, cost accounting, and financial accounting in tandem with elective courses and a concentration to meet student-specific interests and goals. Often between 30 and 36 credits, some MSA programs are built for BS in Accounting students.
Students who pursue a MSA degree online might culminate their program with advanced review of concepts typically included on the Uniform CPA Exam. Graduates may thus be eligible to sit for professional certification examinations, which could include the Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA®), and Certified Management Accountant (CMA®) examinations.
Online MSA students often choose to refine their knowledge on a specific area, which may come about through prior work experience or to help problem solve in the workplace. The list below could provide potential students a reference point for thinking about areas of particular interest within the field of accounting and then to seek out schools with online Accounting Graduate Programs they could compare.
Online MS in Accounting - Auditing: Do you want to take a deeper look at auditing procedures, internal controls and forensic accounting concepts? Study concepts such as fraud examination and how to look for mismanagement of funds.
A focus in auditing could add coursework such as methods to obtain evidence and interview subjects. One might also learn how to apply preventive, detective, and investigative strategies to identify the causes of fraud and ways to identify and manage risks.
Online MS in Accounting and Taxation: A MSAT degree program could provide students with extra focus on the concepts, processes, and information sources relevant to tax research, including the Internal Revenue Code, treasury regulations, and federal and state tax cases.
Students might examine more deeply the United States income tax on foreign-earned income and the taxation methods of other countries. Other potential topics could include federal estate and gift taxes, and the impact of income tax, interstate succession, wills, gifts, marital property, and more.
Online MS in Accounting - Finance: A focus in financial and assurances could help graduate accounting students research methods used to assess how accounting information impacts business and managerial decisions. Participants might explore the organic nature of risks and how to manage them as well as accounting control systems.
Further topics might cover the relationship between international accounting, global business, and investment decisions such as the influences of culture, politics and economics. Students might also study financial reporting and analysis as well as advanced auditing.
Online MS in Accounting Government: Do you want to study the financial and managerial accounting concepts pertinent to the planning and administration of public, quasi-public, and nonprofit organizations? A focus in government could familiarize students with ways to maintain and examine the records of government agencies.
Topics of study could cover the development, design, and implementation of accounting information systems with an emphasis on internal controls, government regulations and taxation. Participants might also learn how to design and assess internal control systems and may build a solid grasp of risk assessment and management.
An online MS in Taxation could provide a highly-focused taxation curriculum to ready graduates for the complexities of old and new regulations. Some MST programs are built for currently licensed CPAs or students with an undergraduate accounting degree who want to meet the 150-hour requirement for CPA licensing in their state. Participants might enroll in a MST program to expand their grasp of tax issues that relate to financial institutions, financial products, employee compensation, real and intellectual property, and the practice of the tax professional.
Masters in Accounting vs Masters in Taxation? Distinct from the MSAT degree, a Masters in Taxation could immerse participants in tax research and the key concepts, rules and practices in income taxation for individuals, corporations and partnerships, as well as excise tax on estates and goods.
An online MBA in Accounting could provide a course plan that helps students develop a foundational grasp of managerial processes and may ready graduates to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and/or the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) exams.
That stated, this is something to verify with the schools you are considering. There are also MBA programs that focus on areas such as Financial Crime and Compliance Management and Economic Crime and Fraud Management. The latter may prepare students to take the CFE exam with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), so again it is all about goals.
In the core MBA business courses, students might learn ways to oversee all the functional areas of an organization. As well, how to take the lead and responsibility for the strategic direction of companies or specific business units within operations, sales, marketing, human resources, and administration.
MSA vs MBA? Courses in an online MBA program could cover similar topics to those in an MSA program – auditing and assurance, financial accounting, taxation for business and financial management. The primary distinction between an MBA and an MSA is breadth versus depth. An online MBA degree offers a broader view of business management whereas an MSA degree program could help an individual enhance expertise in one functional area of accounting.
An online PhD in Accounting is a research doctorate – usually in business administration- with focused accounting courses and directed inquiry. Students who choose to pursue a PhD in accounting online may aspire to teach, consult or lead in businesses rather than prepare to take the CPA or other credentialing exams. For this reason, applicants may already have a Masters degree.
A PhD curriculum might hone in on topics such as ethics, global operations, accounting technology, academic writing, research, and might foster a systems-thinking approach. Coursework is typically designed for the student to do research, determine the topic of their dissertation, and incorporate credited courses that are relevant on dissertation research.
A Doctor of Business Administration is a practitioner doctorate and is designed for experienced professionals who want to gain deeper business knowledge. Through a focus in accounting and applied research, students might fine tune managerial accounting methods that are essential to a company’s bottom line. DBA research often asks students to problem solve rather than come up with new theory (PhD).
An online Certificate in Accounting Program (CAP) could be intended for persons who have a non-accounting Bachelors degree and want to pursue an accounting career, but do not want the commitment of a second degree.
Since a certificate could entail fewer than 30 credit hours, students may need to make up the rest of the credits through additional business courses and/or prerequisites to sit for a CPA exam.
There is no ‘one’ format for online Accounting Graduate Programs. In some cases, students take synchronous evening courses through a virtual classroom. In other schools, the program may be designed with no set log ins. This flexibility could suit at-work professionals, students who live far from campus, and those who are both self-motivated and organized, with excellent time management skills.
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[i] bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-6 | [ii] bls.gov/OOH/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-4