Accounting Graduate Degree Programs
Accounting graduate programs may provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to sit for the CPA exam, or extend studies to include applied research and direction in leadership. The wide range of accounting graduate degrees offers room to select a program that lines up with professional aims in areas like taxation, financial accounting, fraud and forensic accounting or business administration.
Accounting Graduate Programs: Exploring Academic Paths
Students could look for Accounting Graduate Programs at all levels, from a Certificate to Masters in Accounting and Accounting PhD programs. Graduate accounting programs often feature independent study, internship experiences, and in-depth topics in auditing, tax regulations and much more.
Propective accounting grad students should identify their goals and understand how the completion of each accounting grad degree might aid them in meeting those aspirations. A review of each type is given below.
DID YOU KNOW? Some employers prefer to hire applicants who have a master’s degree, either in accounting or in business administration with a concentration in accounting. i
Masters in Accounting Programs
A Masters in Accounting program often includes a blend of core courses and electives to help graduates prepare for CPA licensing requirements. Some accounting graduate schools also allow students to tailor studies through an added area of emphasis such as finance or taxation. These may be referred to as “tracks” or “concentrations.”
Internships and Research
Students in some programs might need to complete for-credit internships. These are usually to gather real-world experiences and engage with coursework in a tactical way. Also, they may be mandatory for CPA licensure. Other possible assignments could involve a capstone project or research thesis – largely dependent on the
type of Accounting Masters program.
Credits and Courses
The total number of courses or credit hours required for graduation varies by school and program, but generally falls between 30 and 60 credit hours. Programs that accept students who don’t have a Bachelors in accounting or relevant work experience may tend to include more courses and prerequisites. Applicants with previously earned accounting degrees might anticipate a shorter time to completion -about one year or less of full-time study.
Throughout a Masters degree program, students undertake dedicated courses to help them deepen their knowledge and develop relevant skills. Below is a list of some of the classes graduate students could expect to take.ii
- Advanced Managerial Accounting: With its strong emphasis on data analysis, a course in managerial accounting could help students learn how to use cost information to plan out and control business activities (E.g. budget, cash flow)
- Advanced Business Law: Students could learn how to create and analyze contracts as well as navigate securities regulations that pertain to accounting practices, corporate governance and ethics
- Advanced Financial Accounting: Students might delve into the complexities of business consolidations, foreign currency transactions, translation of foreign currency financial statements, hedging and derivatives, and partnerships
- Tax Strategy: Participants could be brought up-to-speed with current tax system regulations and may study the research software and strategic methods used for tax preparation
Multiple Options for Masters Students
Students who want to earn a Masters degree in accounting should research multiple programs before making an enrollment decision. There are certainly many options. Master of Accountancy (MAcc) and Master of Science in Accounting programs (MS) often admit students with undergraduate degrees in accounting or a related field. These are highly focused on the finer points of accounting – theory, practices and current compliance.
By contrast, the Master of Business Administration in Accounting (MBA) and the Master of Professional Accounting (MPAc) programs often enroll students from a variety of humanities-based and other undergraduate majors. These programs usually lead students through a generalized series of courses in the functional aspects of business management and operations. Accounting courses provide a focal area and may be used to refine skills or to prepare for the CPA.
In order to ensure that a program could support one’s goals, it is really important to review a program’s accreditation, course lists, experiential learning opportunities and student career services. Want to avoid the GMAT? You cna find Online Masters in Accounting Programs that don't require the GMAT!
Master of Accountancy
A Master of Accountancy (MAcc) degree could enable experienced students to fulfill the 30 credit hours needed to fulfill the education requirements of CPA licensure.
Full time students could complete these programs in 12 to 15 months, and the curriculum is usually similar to that of a Master of Science in Accounting (MS). Foundational courses may help students to build soft skills such as how to effectively manage teams and client relationships. Students may also get to choose a number of electives in areas such as auditing, fraud detection and financial reporting.
MAcc bridge option programs are usually planned-out for students with a non-accounting Bachelors degree. Before they begin the Masters courses, students may need to complete some preparatory accounting courses which could tack another 12 or so credits onto the curriculum.
Master of Science in Accounting
A Master of Science in Accounting could foster a deeper grasp of accounting systems, theories, ethics and practical skills in accounting research and analytics. These proficiencies are usually defined by the AICPA Core Competency Framework. They often include the ability to think critically, problem solve, make complex decisions, communicate, report and leverage technology.
Students in an MS in Accounting program may expect to complete from 30 to 36 credit hours of coursework. Full time students could complete these programs in 12 to 18 months. The MS curriculum is similar to that of a Master of Accountancy (MAcc), and usually satisfies CPA licensure education requirements.
MS in Accounting Concentrations
In addition to these features, MS students could often choose a concentration to focus some of their coursework and research. Accounting graduate schools offer different emphases depending on their faculty.
- Management Accounting
MBA in Accounting
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a professional and generalized degree where students could focus in accounting. Some MBA in Accounting programs might prepare students to pursue CPA licensure, though not necessarily. If this is a goal, make sure to look for a program such as a joint MBA/MSA degree program or check with the school first.
Students who strive towards an MBA in Accounting might expect to complete 40 – 60 credit hours of coursework. Many of these programs are offered in accelerated formats, so completion time varies depending on the number of courses students take each term.
MBA vs MS in Accounting
One of the ways an MBA differs from a MAcc or MS in Accounting is that it leads students through a generalized business core curriculum that typically covers managerial processes such as marketing, operations, strategy and leadership.
In addition to courses in areas such as financial and managerial accounting, a concentration in accounting could expand on the theory and practice of financial reporting, and the impact of taxes on business decisions. A course in cost analysis could expose MBA Accounting students to profit planning, strategy, and the behavioral aspects of accounting information.
Master of Professional Accounting
A Master of Professional Accounting (MPAcc) curriculum is often designed to meet the upper-level course work requirements of the CPA licensure system in the school’s home state. MPAcc programs typically require 30 credit hours of coursework, in which students might tailor their course plan to line up with specific interests. Full-time students could complete these programs in 9 to 15 months.
Some MPAcc programs are specifically planned out for students who already have an undergraduate (or MBA) degree with a major or concentration in accounting, and might place emphasis on leadership, teamwork, planning, and communication skills.
Students may also need to complete a capstone project which might ask them to apply economic and financial concepts, principles, and theories to problems in business. An internship is usually required as well.
Master of Science in Taxation
In A Master of Science in Taxation (MST or MS Tax) program, students could expand skills and knowledge as related to tax issues. Most programs are comprehensive and could feature courses in federal, state and local, international, corporate, partnership, individual, and exempt organizations, as well as, estates, gifts, and trusts.
Is a CPA a Masters Degree in Accounting?
Every accountant who files a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is required by law to be a CPA (Chartered Public Accountant). CPAs are licensed by their state’s Board of Accountancy, and one requirement to be eligible to take the CPA exam is 150 semester hours of college coursework.
Because this is 30 hours beyond the usual 4-year bachelors degree, some schools offer a 5 year accounting program in which a Bachelors in accounting and Masters in accounting are rolled together. Technically, a Masters degree in Accounting is not a requisite to take the CPA exam, but some requirements to become a CPA could be fulfilled through a Masters degree program. i
PhD in Accounting Programs
A PhD in Accounting is the highest level of academic award and is a research-focused doctorate degree. Some accounting graduate schools may roll the Masters and PhD into one continuous program while other PhD Accounting programs may enroll students who are CPAs and hold a Masters degree.
A full-time PhD accounting program may take, on average, 4-7 years to complete. First, students have to complete about 2-3 years of coursework. Each seminar in of the coursework might explore a specified area of accounting to challenge participants to think about it more deeply and examine it from all angles. See below for examples.
- Applied Research Methods
- Multivariate Modeling
- Financial Reporting
- Forensic Accounting
Depending on the program, students might receive a full spectrum of business management and accounting courses and approaches to interrelated issues. Apart from the emphasis on student research, most programs feature classes in scholarly writing, ethical theory, global practices, the latest accounting technology, and a systems-thinking approach.
Once the coursework is completed, students must typically pass a broad exam before they work to produce independent projects and a thesis. While the coursework may be easily mapped out on a timeline, the dissertation may take about 2-3 years of hard work and dedication.
What Is a DBA in Accounting?
A Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in Accounting is a terminal doctorate with core business courses and a concentration of courses in accounting. Often thought of as a ‘practical’ doctorate, a DBA degree may highlight leadership in professional management, human resource development, and strategy for optimized performance and bottom line growth. See below for further examples.
- Accounting Ethics
- Managerial Accounting
- Tax Jurisprudence
- Financial Crime and Compliance
Applicants to a DBA in Accounting program may have an MBA or Masters-level degree in a related field. While students in PhD Accounting programs usually research to add new insights to their field, DBA learners might want to refine skills in tax research and auditing to problem-solve a workplace challenge. This type of inquiry is synthesized in a DBA dissertation.
Graduate Certificate in Accounting
Of all the Accounting Graduate Programs, a Certificate in Accounting is a non-degree award that features a few Masters-level courses. These may not be intended or delivered specifically as a prep course for the CPA exam, so if this is a set-in-stone goal, make sure to check your state CPA requirements.
Typically, short term, a Graduate Certificate in Accounting may consist of about 21 credits. In their courses, students might examine auditing theory, managerial cost accounting and intro to taxation. A choice of electives may round out the certificate requirements, and students in these programs may not have to conduct research or a final thesis.
Accreditation for Accounting Graduate Schools
Accounting graduate schools may be regionally accredited institutions. In addition, they may house accounting graduate programs that have been recognized by professional accreditors such as the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). Accreditation often speaks to program standards and tries to align them with current ethical practices in the profession.
Earn a Graduate Degree in Accounting Online or On Campus
Do you prefer interaction? Would you like to study accounting abroad? Are you an at-work professional who wants to fit studies in when you are at your home desk or on your laptop? Either way, refine your search for any level of accounting graduate program by format – online or campus.
Online study may not be in real-time – though some schools may use live video conferencing – so it does require a level of self-motivation. That stated, scheduling could be convenient and planned around a person’s other duties such as a current career.
On-campus programs often feature guest lectures and it may be easier to network and build up professional connections. Also, many accounting grad schools know students are on-the-go and have classes scheduled evenings and/or weekends, so the schedule could be just as manageable as in online formats. It really is a question of preference and learning style.
Apply to Accounting Graduate Programs Next
Find the perfect accounting graduate degree next. Compare accounting graduate programs from partner schools at the Masters, MBA, PhD, DBA and Certificate levels. Ready to select? Use the on-page form to contact the schools on your list and jumpstart your accounting career.
[i] bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-4 | [ii] nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cipcode/cipdetail.aspx?y=55&cipid=88885
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