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If you have chosen accounting as a career, have you thought about earning a master's degree in accounting yet? Whether you choose a Master of Science (MS) in Accounting or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in accounting, there may be issues related to the job market and the professional environment that favor pursuing your master's degree. Meanwhile, the ability to earn a master's degree online has made this credential more accessible than ever. So, how do you get started?

This guide takes you through the key decisions involved in pursuing a master's degree in accounting. The issues discussed include:

  • Deciding whether a master's in accounting is for you. This guide explores some of the trends surrounding master's degrees and the accounting profession, and introduces some of the basic issues involved in choosing between an MS in accounting and an MBA in accounting.
  • Learning about master's programs in accounting. From specialized Web sites like WorldWideLearn.com to Web tools from the U.S. Department of Education, educational resources are readily available online. These resources may make it simpler to gather information about on-campus and online master's degree programs.
  • Choosing the right graduate accounting program. After you've gathered some information on master's degree programs, you can start to narrow down the list. Should you attend on campus or earn a master's degree online? Would you be better served by an MS in accounting or an MBA in accounting? Which school might be the best fit with your interests and career goals? This guide lists a series of key decisions that may help you focus in on a short list of schools.
  • Applying to your choice of schools. Planning out the application process may increase your chances of success.
  • Making the most of your master's in accounting. Even as you pursue your degree, there are things you can start doing to improve your career prospects.

The following sections may help you address each of these issues.

Deciding to Pursue a Master's in Accounting

If you are wondering whether a master's in accounting is right for you, here are some key factors to consider:

  • Professional requirements. To become a certified public accountant (CPA), you must pass the CPA exam. Most states now require candidates for the CPA exam to have 150 hours of accredited college education--30 hours beyond the standard bachelor's degree requirement. To acquire the extra credit hours, why not do so by earning an additional education credential like a master's degree?
  • Competitive environment. In the early part of the 21st century, the rate of increase in people earning master's degrees has exceeded that for any other level of degree. This may mean that the bar is being raised in the job market. If you want to compete for the best openings and promotions, you may have to step up your credentials to match the competition.

If you decide to pursue a master's in accounting, one of your preliminary decisions should be to choose between an MS in accounting and an MBA in accounting. An MS in accounting may give you the most intensive course of study if your intention is to narrow down your career on accounting. An MBA in accounting, or an MBA with a concentration in accounting, often combines some advanced accounting knowledge with a broader management and business perspective. This may be useful if you are looking toward a career in investment banking or corporate finance.

After you've decided on a master's degree program, the next step is to begin researching graduate accounting programs.

Researching Graduate Accounting Programs

Accounting may be seen as more of a mainstream degree, so there are many master's programs you can choose from. Fortunately, certain resources may make information about master's programs more accessible to help you build your list of possible schools. The following are some resources that you may find helpful:

  • Online directories. Whether you decide to earn a master's degree online or on campus, online directories like WorldWideLearn.com compile information on both types of programs. In addition to helping you identify relevant master's degree programs, they may also offer information on a variety of topics related to continuing your education, such as accreditation, financial aid, and test preparation.
  • Publications. Publications such as U.S. News & World Report and Kiplinger's offer college guides that rank institutions according to a variety of criteria.
  • The U.S. Department of Education Web site. From databases on accreditation to information on applying for federal financial aid, the U.S. Department of Education Web site is a reputable resource for people planning to return to college.
  • Individual college and university Web sites. Though you may not have time to look in detail at every institution offering a master's in accounting, college and university Web sites are often helpful sources of information. After you've narrowed down your list of schools that you're considering, the individual Web sites are a viable way to get a better feel for the characteristics of each program.

Because these resources may make it simpler to compile information about master's programs, you should cast a wide net starting out. You may not want to decide about whether to earn a master's degree online or on campus, or even what level of tuition you can afford, until you've had a chance to consider all the possibilities. Then, you may go step-by-step through a list of selection criteria and narrow down the field in an orderly manner.

Choosing the Right Master's in Accounting Program

One purpose of the accounting occupation is to make sense of large amounts of detailed information through the application of well-defined processes. You can take the same approach to choosing the right master's in accounting program for you.

Using the above resources, you should be able to identify several schools offering a master's degree in accounting that interest you. After gathering detailed information on each of these schools, you can then apply an orderly process to make sense of the data.

The following is a list of individual criteria you may use to help narrow down your search:

  • Accreditation. The appropriate accreditation is important, so you may want to consider only schools that meet the necessary standards. You can find out more about accreditation from the U.S. Department of Education, and you may also want to check with your state's accountancy board to see which graduate degree programs they recognize.
  • Cost. You should confront the issue of cost early in your selection process so that you don't spend time researching programs that you won't be able to afford. However, you may want to postpone any decisions based on cost until you have researched your financial aid options. If you have an outstanding academic background or pressing financial need, you may be eligible for financial aid that may make even some of the more expensive programs affordable. Online directories like WorldWideLearn.com offer more information on financial aid, as does the U.S. Department of Education. Also, if you are currently employed, find out if your employer may pay for some or all of your education, especially if it relates to your job. If your financial resources are limited, keep in mind that you may be able to afford to earn your master's degree online, because online master's degree programs are often less expensive than on-campus ones.
  • Convenience. Convenience is another reason why people often decide to earn a master's degree online. If you are located near a major metropolitan area, you may have easy access to a number of on-campus programs. However, if you don't live near a campus that offers a graduate degree program you're interested in, online grad schools may be a viable option for gaining access to a master's in accounting. An online master's degree may also be more convenient if you have scheduling issues due to an existing job or family obligations.
  • Likelihood of admission. As you start to narrow down the field, take a look at the admissions standards of different schools. Applying for graduate school can be a time-consuming and costly process, so you may want to think twice before applying to programs that are not likely to accept you. It's all right to aim high and apply to your dream school if you have also applied to a safety school program, but you should be realistic in comparing your test scores and prior grades to each program's admission standards.
  • Suitability. Your choice between an MS in accounting or an MBA in accounting may have been the first aspect of determining which schools are suitable to your needs, but there are also some more subjective factors. It may be difficult to make subjective evaluations of every school on your original list, but after you've pared that list down to some serious contenders, you can start to look at other factors. For example, visiting a campus or taking a detailed look at a school's Web site may tell you more about a school's approach to education. You should focus on the accounting department and the master's degree program especially, and consider factors such as the placement rate, the type of courses offered, the student-to-teacher ratio, and whether any of the faculty have work experience similar to your planned career path.
  • Reputation. In addition to published ratings of different programs, you should look at whether the faculty members in the accounting department have published articles or books, or are regularly called upon to speak at accounting conferences. If possible, try speaking to recruiters and hiring managers responsible for filling accounting positions to see which accounting programs they respect the most when looking at candidates.
  • Campus environment. If you choose an on-campus program, your choice may be influenced by factors such as a large versus a small campus, an urban versus a rural setting, etc. On the other hand, if in-person interaction is less important to you, you may opt for an online master's degree program as a way of shutting out environmental distractions.

Applying to a Graduate Accounting Program

As with choosing a school, you may manage your application to a graduate accounting program via an orderly process with an emphasis on time management.

Several components may be involved in the application process, and different schools are likely to have different requirements. To make sure you leave yourself sufficient lead time for each step, you should start by assembling a list of relevant deadlines. Then, work backward to figure out when to start each step--and it's a good idea to leave yourself a cushion for factors beyond your control.

Here are some of the different components of the application process that you may encounter:

  • Individual school applications
  • Financial aid applications
  • Academic transcripts
  • Test score results
  • Letters of recommendation

In particular, signing up for and taking standardized tests may require a substantial amount of advance planning, and having letters of recommendation submitted is largely beyond your control. Therefore, you should get an early start on these components of the application process.

Looking Ahead: Building Your Career with a Master's in Accounting

A series of financial scandals and crises in the first decade of the twenty-first century has resulted in higher accounting and audit standards, and increased the demand for qualified accounting professionals. So, the outlook for job growth and compensation levels in accounting may be favorable. To make the most of this opportunity, you can try the following suggestions in addition to earning your master's in accounting:

  • Become a regular reader of accounting journals. Accounting is not static. New regulations, tax changes, bookkeeping techniques and technologies, and financial instruments are some factors that may make accounting an evolving field. Throughout your career, you should augment and update your base of knowledge by reading about the latest developments.
  • Gain experience. While you are working toward your master's degree, you should try to gain some practical experience, even if it is via an entry-level job or an internship.
  • Join a professional association. An organization such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has a variety of resources that may help your career.

Accounting is a vital and rewarding profession that you may apply to a wide variety of industries and sectors. Earning a master's degree in accounting may be a way to increase your career options.


  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • California Board of Accountancy
  • New York State Education Department
  • Sienna College
  • University of North Carolina
  • U.S. Census Bureau

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