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These days, a master’s degree is what a bachelor’s degree used to be.

accounting master's degree

These days, a master’s degree is what a bachelor’s degree used to be—a basic entryway to a job in corporate America. Professionals are expected more and more to hold a master’s degree, and accountants are no exception.

Even if you are a CPA or hold another professional certificate, adding academic credentials to your resume will put you in the running for jobs that your non-graduate level peers cannot yet apply for. This is especially true if you are aiming for a C-level position such as CFO, CEO or another spot among the top brass. Keep reading to learn more about accounting master’s programs.

A Master’s is the New Bachelor’s

Nowadays, doing graduate level work makes sense for all accountants. Though a few states will still grant a CPA license with only an undergraduate degree, most require a total of 30 hours for the license, if not to merely sit for the exam. It thus works to benefit a budding accountant to carry on after matriculating with their four-year degree and do some master’s level work. You could work on a graduate certificate in accounting if you don’t want to go all the way to the degree level.

A graduate certificate will be helpful to you for a number of reasons. First, you will have the additional schooling and knowledge that comes with post-graduate work. Second, you can put a full credential on your resume rather than a few courses—and employers like to see completion. Third, you should have the additional credits you need to sit for the CPA exam.

Once you have a graduate certificate, you can start preparing for the CPA exam if you so desire. If you meet your state’s requirements to sit for the CPA exam, you can focus your energy toward meeting the requirements. The CPA exam is a four-part test and is one of the most rigorous tests in the professional world. To qualify for a license, you must pass all four parts of the test, but if you only pass one part, you can add that to your resume. The four parts of the CPA exam are as follows:

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting–You will demonstrate your expert knowledge of financial reporting frameworks. You will analyze statements that reflect different reporting standards.
  • Auditing and Attestation–To pass this test, you will need to have comprehensive knowledge of the International Standards of Auditing, on top of the U.S. standards.
  • Regulation–This portion covers your knowledge of business law, ethics, taxation and professional standards.
  • Business Environment and Concepts–This section covers general business concepts and international business. You will need to be knowledgeable of information systems for accounting as well as economics, among other areas. Your writing skills will also be tested in this portion.

Applying for Your Master’s in Accounting

You will want to apply to accredited graduate programs when you’re ready.

One way to determine which school will bring the most esteem in the business world is to research your mentors. You might also talk to business leaders and top accountants, and find out where they got their degrees. From there, you can assess how your background matches the programs that interest you. Compare your GPA against the requirements of the program’s admission policy, but also assess how your professional experience adds up. If the information is available, you might also ask the school how well their graduates have done on the CPA exam, or how well they have fared achieving other licenses or professional certificates. They should also be willing to share where some of the alumni are working.

Look for Accreditation

One key element to watch for is a program’s accreditation. This is particularly important if you wish to be eligible for a CPA license. Look for a program that has been accredited by the AACSB, which is an international organization whose stamp of approval is highly valued in the academic and business community. If your program is not AACSB-approved, make sure it passes the muster of one of the following agencies:

  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges & Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business

You can check with your state’s Accounting Board to see what sorts of accreditation they are looking for. You will also want to see what their standards are for attaining a CPA license. Even if you don’t particularly want to earn that credential, if your coursework meets state standards you will be on the right track.

Which Accounting Concentration?

When you decide on graduate school, you will want to find a specific concentration for your degree. An undergraduate course of study may offer some opportunity to specialize, but the general thrust of most undergrad programs is to provide a strong grounding in the fundamentals of accounting. When you decide to concentrate on a specific area of accounting, you will show employers or potential clients that you are focused and have expertise in specific problems and in certain fields. You might decide to focus on one of the following areas:

  • Information Systems in Accounting
  • Auditing
  • Finance
  • CPA Preparation
  • Forensic Accounting
  • Taxation

A Decision of a Lifetime

Deciding to attend an accounting master’s program will prove to be one of the most important decisions of your professional life. Even after a few courses, you will be better prepared to meet the challenges of the modern business world, and opportunities could open up that once seemed unattainable. You can also specialize in the area that most interests you, giving you more leverage into how to work in your dream career.

Ultimately, education leads to opportunity. The more you have of the former, the more the latter should come. If the past is any indication there are many changes coming in the business world, so the better prepared you are the easier these challenges will be to face. Those who have earned their master’s and stay abreast of advances in their specialty could be the leaders of tomorrow’s dynamic accounting industry.