One of the Degrees You Can Count On
With a skillful blend of business and number savvy, accountancy has long been one of the top selected career pathways for many academically sharp students. A degree in accounting unlocks jobs that work with individuals or companies that need support tracking inventory, revenue, and expenses, as well as all of the legal implications for each. Undergraduate degrees in accounting lead to entry-level positions like bookkeepers or accounting clerks earning on average $35K to start. But for those that pursue a master’s degree (MAcc) or even further certifications past a secondary degree, the career paths widen and income potential skyrockets. Entry-level master’s degree jobs can start as high as $52K, and with CPA licensure can jump to $68K in large firms.
But is a masters really required for future career success beyond just pay? The short answer is yes, since a master’s degree opens up a wide variety of job opportunities and routes to use these constantly in demand skills. In fact, earning a CPA, or Certified Public Accountant license, is one of the most sought-after certifications in the business world that can only be attempted with a completed master’s degree in this area. So, let’s look at what it takes to be accepted to a master’s degree program, what the programs entail, and what career options there are for MAcc graduates.
Undergraduate Requirements for a MAcc
Just like any field of study, those pursuing a master’s degree in this field can expect a fairly uniform experience when applying to programs at most universities. While some may vary a bit from these, generally you can expect that the following items or actions will be expectations that must be successfully completed in order to apply for a master’s degree program.
Bachelor’s Degree in Related Field
While more than just an undergraduate degree in accounting is acceptable, most programs require at least a related business field. However, remember that applicants will be competing for a spot in a MAcc program with undergraduates that may have focused on this area with a major or a concentration of courses, so general business degrees may find it challenging to find a master’s degree program slot when competing against other more narrowly prepared applicants.
Many schools publish a minimum grade point average for undergraduate classes. A 3.0 is a common expectation for many graduate programs, but some look at the whole student instead of focusing on just the GPA or even look at the GPA in only related courses. Each degree program has their own expectations for GPA.
Letter of Motivation
Much like a letter of interest written to a job application, this letter shows potential university programs an applicant’s desire and ability to be successful in the master’s degree setting. This letter may not be required at all schools.
A Curriculum Vitae
A professional type of a resume, the “course of life,” or CV for short, not only provides an applicant’s coursework completed but also provides a fuller picture of a candidate. The CV may include personal background information as well as research, publications a candidate has been in, professional associations, and even presentations completed by the applicant.
Up to three professional references may be required upon application to a master’s degree program, and schools may give specific source requirements like professor or related work experience supervisors.
GMAT or GRE
Some schools require a score of 500 on the GMAT, or Graduate Management Admissions Test, while others prefer a similar score on the Graduate Records Exam or GRE. Some schools only look at academic record, however, and do not require an additional exam for admission.
Master Programs in Accountancy
While programs differ slightly from school to school, a few courses are standard with this degree. All schools will offer some version of the following core courses:
- Accountancy theory and research
- Business law
- Business strategy
- Cost analysis
- Ethics in business
- Financial regulation
- Information systems
- Consulting Service
- Financial and managerial accountancy
Scope of a Master’s Program
One of the most common questions is regarding what inclusion in a MAcc program looks like. For most students, the program will run for 30-36 credit hours, which roughly translates to one academic year that carries 15 or more credit hours of coursework per semester. Since this is a full load of challenging courses that may not be feasible to take alongside a job, for many students this timeline may be extended to accommodate part-time work or other life necessities during the program.
Additionally, many MAcc students will be encouraged to take advantage of opportunities provided to be a part of one or more of the many professional organizations related to their field of study. From the general American Association of Accounting organization, to more specific groups that support CPAs or management fields, students will begin to network, find mentors in their chosen field, and generally learn more about what is happening in the professional world connected to accountancy.
Which Courses Will Be Most Helpful in MAcc Programs?
Students will have some amount of latitude in picking their coursework outside of required core classes. When pursuing a master’s degree in accountancy, a few courses are suggested to help support a wide variety of career options after graduation.
Graduate courses that focus on managerial strategies are very valuable for future accountancy careers. With a deeper understanding of how to analyze data to achieve specific goals, courses with an administrative or managerial focus will serve master’s degree candidates well in their future job prospects.
All current and future career paths will be dependent on deep knowledge of the technology used in professional settings. Graduate students will learn how to use and adapt to the available programs they will be expected to utilize regularly with their future jobs.
Regardless of whether a master’s degree candidate planned to pursue a CPA licensure, tax preparation study is a crucial part of all accountancy programs. These courses will focus on the fundamentals of common tax regulations for both individuals and corporations and partnerships.
These types of courses typically focus on identifying fraudulent reporting and the detection of fraud as well as money laundering and transnational flows. Cybercrimes would likely be discussed and contextualized for study.
Post Degree Licensing
Once a master’s degree is earned, the learning does not stop. Since laws and regulations are ever changing, all professionals in this field have a minimum expectation of keeping up with any and all adjustments to tax codes, business regulations, and other tightly connected laws. But many professionals will also reach for other licenses to further stand out in their professional lives or simply to gain a higher level of expertise within their narrower scope of their chosen career. For each of these impressive designations, future continuing education credits (CEUs) must be taken regularly to maintain the licensure.
CISA A Certified Information Systems Auditor shows expertise in the IT field and is a very specialized certification. The process can take up to three years and has a career experience requirement of at least 12 months of internal auditing experience.
CFA A Chartered Financial Analyst is a designation that certifies competence and ethics of financial analysts. With three levels of exams to pass prior to being given the highest honor of CFA charterholder, sometimes called the “gold standard,” passing even one is a great addition to a resume.
CIA A Certified Internal Auditor must pass a set of three exams as well as pass rigorous career standards and provide professional recommendations to become recognized as such. A CIA is certified to handle internal audits ethically and responsibly by working with management to set up systems to avoid fraud, theft, or losses. Job prospects for a CIA include working in public firm’s assurance and advisory divisions or in other public sector risk-assessment positions. Within governmental jobs, CIA’s may work within the fraud risk arenas to support government agencies or even non-profits.
CMA A Certified Management Acct. works with corporate finance and management positions. To earn a CMA designation, candidates must join a related professional organization, pass two exams, as well as have at least two years of work experience directly related to the certification. CMA’s can work across all types of industries since their defined skills of financial planning, risk-management analysis, and profitability analysis are applicable across many types of organizations. A CMA is often utilized in accountancy positions in the fields of technology, healthcare, and finance.
CPP A Certified Payroll Professional must work in the field of payroll for a business at least 18 months before applying for this certification. After the approval process that includes a few different pathway options, the CPP exam must also be passed. This licensure leads to careers inside of the payroll department like a payroll data analyst or a payroll manager or supervisor.
CPA A Certified Public Acct. is one of the most popularly sought designations for this career path, but also the most challenging. A CPA may work in the areas of auditing and review for a large corporation or fill the roles within the tax preparation arena for a business, partnership, or on an individual basis. Other CPA work with forensic auditing, financial planning, work with litigation services, or even work as a consultant for businesses or individuals in any of these high-level areas. To become a CPA, candidates must follow their local state regulations as the CPA requirements differ between states. Most have similar educational and professional experience conditions that must be met before the CPA exam is taken. The CPA exam is taken in four parts and all must be passed to be certified.
The CPA license is a gateway to many potentially lucrative career paths. With this certification, many CPAs look to starting out at one of the “Big Four” firms of KPMG, Deloitte, PwC, and Ernst & Young, as a jumpstart to their career. But CPAs also work in consulting firms that advise and guide both public and private businesses in financial and strategic planning issues. Other CPAs work in all sizes of private businesses as part of or lead of an in-house team. Governmental jobs are also popular career paths for CPAs at the local, regional, or national levels within entities like the Department of Defense or the Internal Revenue Service. Still other CPAs work in the realm of academia at universities, colleges, or even public and private school systems. Nonprofits lean heavily on the skills of CPAs, as well, providing needed support navigating the tax laws and rules affecting this type of organization. Some nonprofits need one CPA while others employ a host of them, depending on the size and scope of the organization. Lastly, the career of a CPA may lead to work on a Board of Directors helping to guide and audit the books for public and private companies, helping to give financial auditing support and direction.
Career Paths with a Master’s Degree
For those who pursue and successfully complete a master’s degree program in accountancy, a wide variety of career options are available that heavily lean on this type of knowledge and experience. Those with this high-level degree might expect to earn an average of $73K per year, and jobs in this field are only expected to be in higher demand in the future. While some are almost household names, other jobs for accountants are not as well-known. Here are some of the potential jobs that might be pursued with a master’s degree within the field of accountancy:
- Acct. Manager
- Budget Analyst
- Consulting Services
- Corporate Entertainment Accountant
- Cost Accountant
- Certified Internal Auditor
- Environmental Accountant
- Financial Accountant
- Financial Manager
- Forensic Accountant
- Government Accountant
- Payroll Accountant
- Sports Team Accountant
- Tax Accountant
- Treasury Analyst