Nearly every industry seeks professionals with a master’s degree. Even self-made entrepreneurs find that more doors open for them when they can place letters at the end of their name and add impressive academics to their biographies. For an accountant, the peak of the profession used to be the CPA degree. While that is still true to a large degree, you will often have to take graduate-level courses to qualify to simply sit for the CPA examination. For that reason, you may wish to consider an online accounting master’s degree to propel your career to the next level.
Once you have completed your undergraduate degree in accounting or business and have started to work in your field, you might find that attending graduate courses isn’t so convenient. Late nights in the office, commute times, and family commitments may impede your ability to physically attend courses. Online courses were created to fill that need, so that you can get both the experience and paycheck you need while also learning and building for a better tomorrow.
Online colleges and universities aren’t all the same. While all offer you the freedom to take courses no matter where you are—from a remote mountain to a distant urban center—not all will provide equal measures of flexibility. If you are working and managing a family and can’t always count on being free at specific times, you will need to seek out programs that areasynchronous. That means that you will be free to log into the virtual classroom at any time of the day or night to retrieve materials. It also means that you will not have to log in at specific times for seminars or other presentations.
If, however, you find that your ideal program does require that you virtually attend events each week, discuss this matter with your employer. You may be able to find a quiet space in the office so that you can participate in the class. After all, most employers love seeing their employees take the reins and improve their skills with a graduate work. Your supervisor may welcome this idea gladly.
What to Look for in an Online Master’s of Accountancy Program
Just as all programs aren’t structured the same in terms of their weekly scheduling, so too are there differences in the overall programs themselves. There are several areas to investigate when researching an online graduate program for accountancy:
- Program Concentrations
- CPA Preparedness
- Alumni Success
Accreditation is very important when considering an online program. If your program is not fully accredited it could hurt you if you decide to go for a CPA license in your state because they may not regard your program as meeting state standards. One of the top accrediting agencies is the AACSB, but there are many other agencies that are recognized by most every state, including the following regional and professional 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
As a graduate student, you will probably want to specialize. After tasting from the accounting buffet as an undergrad, you probably want to focus on the area that will comprise your chosen career path. There are many concentrations available and you will need to investigate the offerings of each school you consider. The available concentrations might include these focuses:
- Information Systems in Accounting
- CPA Preparation
- Forensic Accounting
When you decide to earn the CPA credential you should first cross reference your online program’s course offerings against your state’s education requirements for its CPAs. It is vital to keep these standards in mind as you pursue your education, as you may one day wish to sit for the CPA examination. Note that most states do not acknowledge commercial CPA preparation courses in the application packets from their licensees and only a few will accept such for-credit coursework. This is why it is vital to check each state’s CPA license requirements and to ask detailed questions of the admissions recruiter from each university. There is no need to take courses that won’t be counted towards your CPA application.
When researching an online university, try to find out how well its alumni have fared in the job market. While this is not an easy thing to quantify, you can ask for specifics on CPA exam pass rates. You might also try to find alumni by searching Internet resources such as LinkedIn and by performing basic Google searches.
If you are already working for an accounting firm, you might ask around to see what schools your supervisors and other colleagues find estimable. If you are a member of any civic or corporate social groups, you might also ask where people completed their master’s work or where they might consider earning an advanced degree.
While every master’s program has some unique components, there are certain core courses that most will offer. After all, you will need to have a common base of knowledge and vocabulary so that you can work in an office with accountants from a wide variety of schools. Some of the core classes you might take include, but are not limited to:
- Federal Income Tax I & II
- Business Law
- Governmental Accounting
- Business Ethics
- Theories of Accounting
While these courses may sound familiar, they will likely be wholly different from what you studied in your undergraduate program. Graduate level courses, whether online or classroom based, are far more in-depth and will push you to learn at a level you have not previously attained.
Online Vs. Campus
The question of whether to study online or in a typical campus environment is not always an easy one. If you choose a campus education, you may have to sacrifice time from your job an family. However, that sacrifice may be worth it when you can interact with professors and fellow students face-to-face.
The online option for graduate school will appeal to the working professional, particularly if you have a family to help support or some other obligation. Since most traditional campuses now offer online education, you can study at schools that are geographically out of your local area or have a name and reputation that isn’t physically in your town or city. You will not necessarily have to leave your hometown in order to study in Boston or San Francisco, for example. With a laptop and WiFi connection, you can choose the program that’s best suited for you without worrying about any geographical limitations.
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