Accounting Masters Degrees Tips

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Is an Accounting Master’s Degree Worth the Investment?

Is an Accounting Master's Degree Worth the Investment?

Unlike the obvious income benefits of earning a Bachelor's degree, there has long been debate regarding the cost/benefit factor of a Master's degree. Some professions mandate the earning of a Master's degree or even a Doctorate to be hired and continue employment, such as teaching in college. While there are few professional opportunities that mandate a Master's degree in accounting or an MBA, the data shows that most graduates benefit with higher compensation in both the short- and long-term.

This debate began some years ago because, at that time, one had to “suspend” their career for 18 to 24 months to earn their degree. One of the “top” business schools could easily cost $30,000 to $60,000 to procure the graduate degree. It often takes six to seven years to “break even,” so to speak, because of the investment and corresponding lack of professional income for the time period you were in school. Yet, if you assume a 30 to 40 year working career, even with this cost, the Master's degree would prove to be a good investment.

With the invention of the “executive” Master;s, the “fast track” Master's and, particularly, the online Master's degree, the cost/benefit factor has improved greatly. While data shows that, if you left the workforce and attended Harvard, Amos Tuck, Wharton, or one of the “top 10” b-schools, your starting compensation will outpace everyone else. However, by using one of the on-campus evening/weekend programs or one of the better online accounting graduate programs, you will a) have a lower investment, b) have the ability to continue your professional career growth and keep your job and c) be able to accelerate or decelerate your course load to suit your schedule, not the school's needs. After completing your degree requirements using this approach, you might not be offered “Harvard money,” but you will still command excellent compensation in recognition of your achievement and future value to employers.

   
How Long Are Accounting Graduate Programs?

Length of Accounting Graduate Programs

The time requirement to complete accounting graduate programs varies by your major and school. A standard campus program normally takes between 15 and 18 months, depending on how aggressive your course selection may be. Online Master's degree in accounting programs may allow you to accelerate your studies, depending on the foundation courses, your time availability,and the maximum number of credits your school will allow you to take each semester. Some online programs advertise that a student may complete all degree requirements in only 10 to 12 months.

Much depends on the number of credit hours required to earn your new degree. You should plan on at least 30 credit hours to qualify for graduation, but some may require up to 40 credit hours. If you desire to combine your studies to earn an accounting MBA, you will often have degree requirements from around 36 to as many as 55 credit hours or more. Also, some accounting graduate programs are tailored for students planning on a public accounting career and earning a CPA designation. Many states have an education requirement, which now is a 150-hour education requirement for CPA candidates. Consequently, some programs are tailored to meet these requirements.

Examine programs that appear to fit your career goals, consider your available study time and calculate your projected graduation date based on the required credit hours necessary to earn your degree.

   
What Are My Future Prospects If I Earn an Accounting MBA?

Future Prospects With an Accounting MBA

There are a variety of Master's degrees called by different names that equate to what might be called an “Accounting MBA.” The 21st century has created thousands of new, more lucrative opportunities for holders of this type of graduate degree. You can even combine an additional specialty if your focus is more defined. Along with accounting graduate programs titled, “MBA in Accounting,” you could also select others like “MBA/Accounting and Finance” or “MBA/Accounting and Information Technology.” As often happens, disaster for some brings opportunities to others. The corporate scandals of the new millennium, like Enron, WorldComm and Tyco, have opened new, higher compensation doors for accounting MBAs.
The passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 further enhanced the opportunities by specifying the manner through which all public companies report the results of their operations fairly. Opportunities for accounting MBAs exist in both the public sector (external forensic auditors) and internally (many companies have their own internal auditing staff) to ensure the requirements of the act are being met and to report and investigate possible violations. People with accounting MBAs have an excellent combination of accounting and operational business knowledge to provide the expertise needed to manage the responsibilities of fair reporting. Compensation, after new graduates gain some professional experience, routinely exceeds $100,000 per year for many of these positions.

   
Could I Graduate Sooner with an Online Accounting Master's Degree Program?

Accelerate Graduation with an Online Accounting Master's Degree Program

While relatively rare some years ago, you now have numerous choices for earning an accounting Master's degree online. These options become even more valuable for those already busy on their professional career path with full time employment. You can sometimes greatly accelerate your studies because of the flexibility of course selection, “class” times, number of credits taken each semester and the savings of commuting time and dollars, making it possible to speed the process to graduation.

Both pure Master's degrees in accounting and the new “combination” programs that allow you to earn an MBA with a special concentration in accounting are now available online from a variety of colleges and universities. There are some primarily on campus institutions, like Boston University, Rutgers University and the University of Maryland that now offer distance learning Master's degrees. There are a number of websites that can provide you with access to many of the options available for earning an accelerated accounting Master's degree online. You might also investigate programs, called “executive” or “fast track” Master's degree programs, that are structured in a way that you earn a graduate degree in 10 to 15 months.

   
What Can I Expect to Earn If I Have a Masters Degree in Accounting?

Projected Earnings With a Masters Degree in Accounting

Assuming you have limited or no real professional experience, your beginning compensation will vary by job title and geographical location. Here are some statistics compiled by PayScale, an online research firm that provides salary and benefit information for both employees and employers. The compensation levels shown are median figures for the U.S. as a whole for job titles filled by people with MBA or MBA in accounting degrees.

  • Controller: $78,700
  • Financial Analyst: $54,100
  • Senior Financial Analyst: $70,800
  • Chief Financial Officer: $122,900
  • Information Technology Manager: $83,600

Do not be mesmerized by these numbers for better or worse. If you work in or very near one of the larger cities in the U.S., like New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles, you could earn 25 percent to 40 percent more than “median” salaries. As you gather experience, you will also enjoy compensation that can be considerably higher than any average calculated value. If you decide to earn a CPA certification, you will have the option to follow a public accounting path or serve as an officer, such as CFO, within a company. Either professional action plan will provide an excellent compensation package.

   
Do Some Graduate Schools Offer Forensic Accounting Courses?

Graduate School Forensic Accounting Courses

A few schools offer graduate accounting Master's degrees in forensic accounting, while many more offer graduate level courses or certificates in forensics. The well-publicized failures of Enron, WorldComm, and Tyco spurred the advancement of the field of forensic accounting and fraud investigation. The passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 has opened up even more opportunities for those who have received specialized education in forensic accounting. Of course, forensic accounting has been performed for many years by both internal and external auditing professionals, but the very public accounting scandals of the past few years have caused a dramatic increase in the number of forensic accounting professionals (40 percent of the U.S. top accounting firms are expanding in this area) and the level of fraud and misinformation examination expertise needed by both CPA firms and internal auditors.

There are many new course offerings for those wishing to develop expertise in forensic accounting. It is important to note that many employers require a candidate to also have earned a CPA certificate. While it is not yet an across the board requirement for all forensic-related employment, some of the more challenging positions mandate the certificate.

There are now some Accounting MBA concentrations in forensic accounting. For example, you can earn an “MBA in Fraud Management” or a “Master of Science Degree in Economic Crime Management”. If you are sure that forensic accounting is your preferred career path, you should examine some of the newer Master's degrees available in this field.

   
What Are Graduate Accounting Certificate Programs?

Graduate Accounting Certificate Programs

There are numerous schools that offer certificates in accounting graduate programs. Forensic accounting related certificates are popular with titles like Financial Crimes Certificates and Fraud Investigation Certificates. Others are offered only to those who have earned their Bachelor of Science degree in accounting. You may also opt for a Graduate Certificate in Accounting to further your expertise. Most of the certificate programs in accounting graduate school are designed to provide additional expertise to people already in mid-level to upper-level management positions . Those who are seeking to join this management group will also benefit from graduate certificate programs in their primary area of specialization or to assist a shift in specialty.
The course hour requirements differ greatly depending on the nature and depth of the program. Some certificates can be earned with as little as six to 12 credit hours, while others may require over 15 credit hours. Some schools offer certificates with a combination of subjects, such as accounting and finance, finance and information systems or even accounting and fraud management. If your goal is to receive a CPA designation, you may want to consider earning a “certificate to help you earn a certificate” so to speak. This is a certificate program designed to help you pass the uniform Certified Public Accountant examination. While this examination naturally has different questions each year, research provides data predicting the propensity for certain question areas and some certificate programs concentrate on these probabilities.

   
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