An accounting degree can open doors to various career paths such as being an accountant, auditor, or financial analyst. However, to set yourself apart from others and advance in your career, pursuing further education can be beneficial. This is where an online master’s degree in accounting can be useful.
Online master’s degrees in accounting provide students with the opportunity to deepen their understanding of accounting practices. Credits earned in these programs can also be applied towards the 150-course credit requirement for taking the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams. With a license and a master’s degree, you can take on leadership roles in the field such as senior accountant, finance manager or corporate controller. This can also lead to an increase in salary, as accountants and auditors in the top 10% earn a median annual wage of more than $128,680 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, 2021).
This article covers how to get into online master’s degree programs in accounting and what to consider when evaluating different programs. It also provides information on the curriculum, experience, pacing, and teaching style of online classes. With this information, you can find a program that fits your budget and educational goals.
Best Online Master’s Degrees in Accounting Table of Contents
- Can you get a degree completely online?
- Will employers take my online degree seriously?
- Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
- Online vs. Traditional Master’s Degree in Accounting
- How much does an online master’s degree in accounting cost?
- What are the requirements of an online master’s degree in accounting?
- Courses to Expect in Online Master’s Degree in Accounting
- Things to Look for in an Online Master’s Degree in Accounting
Can you get a degree completely online?
Educators embracing the use of technology in the classroom have largely contributed to the acceptability of online education. A survey found that almost 80% of educators said that technology helped them do a better job. They also said that it boosts learning outcomes by improving engagement (84%) and behavior (33%) (Promethean, 2021). As such, it comes as no surprise that one can get a master’s degree in accounting completely online.
Will employers take my online degree seriously?
With the pandemic shifting the world of work and education online, employers take online degrees far more seriously than they did pre-pandemic. In a survey of hiring managers, three out of four said that they are more likely to hire applicants with an online degree than they were prior to 2020. The same survey found that 75% of employers believe online education will boost the likelihood of lifelong learning post-graduation (FutureLearn, 2020).
This is a huge shift in employer attitudes to online degrees pre-pandemic. One proof of this is a survey done by Richards et al (2019) titled “Overcoming employer perceptions of online accounting education with knowledge,” published in the Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research. The study found that “of the 220 CPAs surveyed, 41.6% agreed that it would impact their decisions to hire. The top three concerns identified were the integrity of online courses, opportunities for live interaction, and the design of effective courses.”
Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
An online master’s degree in accounting issued by major reputable universities may be recognized in other countries. However, certifications on top of one’s degree may also play a part. For example, taking the CPA exams in the U.S. and the Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) in the United Kingdom lead to certifications that are globally recognized (Wall Street Mojo, n.d.). To hurdle the CPA exams, one has to brush up on different topics, including Financial Accounting and Reporting which is said to be the hardest with a passing rate of 46.64% based on Q1 2021 data (UWorld, 2021). Aside from online graduate degrees, working professionals in the business industry also now have the option to get online graduate certificate programs.
Online vs. Traditional Master’s Degree in Accounting
Online master’s degree programs in accounting confer graduate-level business degrees, which let students earn advanced coursework in accounting theory and practice. There are different types of master’s degrees in accounting, such as Master of Accountancy (MAcc), Master of Science (MS) in Accounting, or MBA in Accounting/Accountancy, to name a few. Despite the different titles they have, they generally prepare graduates to take the CPA exam or pursue professional accounting careers.
Students can take their master’s in accounting online or on-campus. In deciding what mode of instruction to take, they should be guided by the following differences:
- Schedule. In terms of start times, traditional programs usually have start terms during fall, spring or summer. Online degree programs in accounting may also follow this schedule, though there are institutions that offer courses on a year-round schedule. In terms of class schedules, both online and traditional formats may offer evening classes for working professionals.
- Learning experience. On-campus programs give students the opportunity to learn through live interactions in the classroom. They can work with others to complete a capstone project, where they write a paper on an issue relevant to the field and then present the results of their research. Traditional programs may also require students to complete a campus residency requirement in the last semester of the program. In contrast, interactions with professors and other students in online programs are done on video or chat platforms. Most of the time, online degrees require self-study by the student, with some occasional group work.
- Pacing. Both traditional and online master’s degrees in accounting typically require the completion of 30 credit hours. However, there are some online programs that require 32, 36, or even 48 credit hours. Students can complete the program at their own pace, whether full-time or part-time. Accelerated options are also available where the student can take on additional courses in a given term or get credit for work experience to complete the degree faster. As such, they can complete both types of degrees in one to three years.
- Teaching methods. Traditional teaching methods in accounting involve lectures, discussions, and problem-based learning. It can also involve fieldwork in the community or through accounting internships (AICPA, n.d.). On the other hand, online teaching methods can involve synchronous or asynchronous learning. With asynchronous learning, students do not need to come to class at a specific time. Instead, they access recorded lectures, homework, and assignments on their own time from a learning management system (LMS). It may also involve synchronous sessions where the student can interact with the professor and his peers live through video platforms.
Is an online degree cheaper?
Whether or not an online degree is cheaper than traditional ones largely depends on which school one is enrolled in. There are online schools that can charge anywhere from $400 to $2,000 per credit hour. On the other hand, there are also traditional schools that charge as low as $300 to $2,000 per credit hour. But students must bear in mind that they also need to pay for housing, transportation, and on-campus meals with a traditional degree so an online degree can end up being the less costly option. It is also important to note that the cost of getting a bachelor’s degree is different from the cost of pursuing graduate degree program.
Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?
An online degree from a reputable institution can be just as good as a regular degree. An accredited online master’s degree in accounting will have a curriculum that meets the standards of the accrediting body. For this reason, learners are embracing online degrees. In a survey, 74% of students said they would prefer to take some courses fully online after the pandemic (Campus Technology, 2021).
How much does an online master’s degree in accounting cost?
The average cost of online master’s degree programs in accounting is $24,983.83 for in-state students. However, actual prices vary from one college or university to another. The Master of Accountancy program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, for example, costs $472.22 per credit or a total program cost of $14,170 (UTRGV, n.d.). On the other hand, there are also more expensive degree programs like the one being offered by the University of Miami, which costs $2,213 per credit (University of Miami, n.d.).
On the other hand, the average cost of postsecondary degrees in general as of 2018 is $18,947, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2018). This figure takes into account tuition and required fees for private, public, and nonprofit institutions. In-state costs can be as low as $303 as in Florida Atlantic University. It can also be as high as $1,960 as in the program offered at George Washington University.
There are many factors that affect online degree pricing, including:
- Student loans. Prospective enrollees can apply for Federal Student Aid loans to secure funds for their college tuition. Currently, interest rates for student loans are set to 0% until September 30, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, interest for direct unsubsidized loans for graduate or professional borrowers will be set at a fixed rate of 5.28%. This is applicable to loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2021, and before July 1, 2022 (Federal Student Aid, n.d.). Students can also avail of private loans, eligibility for which, will depend on their credit score.
- Scholarship opportunities. Aspiring master’s students can apply for need-based or merit-based scholarships. Scholarships can be awarded based on one’s academic record. There are also generous donors and foundations that award scholarships based on financial need, the student’s geographical location, or fulfillment of some other criteria. Enrollees can learn of these scholarship opportunities by joining a financial aid webinar conducted by the school or getting in touch with a financial aid counselor.
- Military or veteran discounts. Through its Tuition Assistance program, the U.S. Army will shoulder $250 per semester hour (or its equivalent) of credit when the tuition and fees of the institution exceed $250 per semester hour. However, there is a cap of 39 semester hours for graduate credit or a master’s degree, whichever comes first (U.S. Army, 2021).
Is an online master’s degree in accounting worth it?
For those who aspire to be registered CPAs, online degree courses in accounting can very well be worthwhile. This is because credits earned in such programs can count towards the 150 credit hours required to sit for the CPA exams in the U.S. Online degrees are also flexible, which gives working professionals the opportunity to pursue a degree despite the demands of their career and domestic responsibilities.
What are the requirements of an online master’s degree in accounting?
To apply for admission for an online master’s degree in accounting, applicants have to submit school transcripts, standardized test results, a statement of purpose, or letters of recommendation. Technological requirements include a desktop, laptop, or mobile device, compatible browser, and an antivirus program. Upon graduation, students are expected to exhibit industry knowledge, analytical skills, critical thinking, and interpersonal communication skills.
Different schools, colleges, and universities will have varying requirements for admission. However, below are the common ones:
- Undergraduate Transcripts. Schools usually require applicants to submit a copy of their transcripts from all colleges and universities attended. There are schools that ask for official transcripts while others only require unofficial ones.
- Undergraduate GPA. Most online schools require students to have at least a 3.0 Grade Point Average. However, there are schools that require a higher GPA while others do not specify a minimum GPA for admission.
- Standardized Tests. Schools may require that candidates submit their official Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test scores. However, there are also schools that make GMAT or GRE test scores optional or waive these requirements if the applicant meets certain criteria. Some schools also accept alternate test scores like SAT, ACT, LSAT, or MCAT provided that these are taken within the period specified by the school.
- Undergraduate Accounting Degree or Courses. Most, if not all, master’s programs assume that students have an undergraduate accounting degree or that they have taken a specified number of accounting units. If not, they may require that the student take leveling courses. Other programs may require students to have a minimum number of years working as an accountant to qualify for the program.
- Statement of Purpose. Candidates may be asked to explain why they want to earn an online master’s degree in accounting at their institution. They can also be asked to elaborate on why they think accounting is the right career choice for them.
- Letter of Recommendation. Some schools may require the applicant to provide letters of recommendation from personal or professional contacts. These references may receive an email survey where they are asked to comment about the abilities of the applicant.
Online master’s degree programs in accounting instill in students essential skills to be successful in the accounting profession. These include:
- Industry Knowledge. Graduates are expected to acquire the necessary technical expertise in specific areas of accounting. For instance, they should have up-to-date knowledge of tax laws that constantly change to properly advise their clients (Robert Half, 2020). They should also have ledger skills, standard reconciliation skills, an understanding of GAAP, SEC reporting, and initial public offerings.
- Analytical Skills. Accountants have to go through complex financial data, which requires them to be meticulous and detail-oriented. With good analytical skills, an accountant can identify a problem at the outset, before it becomes a more complicated issue and affect the bottom line of the organization (The Balance Careers, 2019). For example, they can quickly review an analysis report and determine whether the figures are reasonable.
- Critical Thinking. Accountants must be able to spot errors, discrepancies, and inaccuracies. If undetected, such mistakes can have serious consequences for clients and employers (Accounting.com, 2021). Forward-thinking accountants who have a good grasp of financial strategy and can plan ahead will be valuable assets to organizations. It can also help boost the confidence level of clients in accounting businesses. As of September 2020, the monthly Accountants Confidence Index (ACI) for accountancy businesses in the U.S. was at 43.91 (Accounting Today, 2020).
- Interpersonal Communication. After analyzing financial records, accountants must explain their findings to their peers and clients. More often than not, these clients do not have a background in accounting or have limited knowledge of accounting processes. Having excellent interpersonal communication skills can help accountants get their points across in a way that even non-accountants will understand.
What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?
Students must comply with the following hardware and software requirements:
- Desktop or laptop. Students will need a desktop or laptop to access lectures, assignments, and other course content from the learning management system of the institution. Hardware specifications may vary, so it is advisable for students to check with the institution regarding their hardware requirements.
- Mobile device. Learning management systems may have a mobile app. Students on the go may prefer to check course updates on a mobile device instead of a desktop or laptop.
- Virus protection program. It is recommended that students install an antivirus program on their computers to keep them safe from viruses, worms, spyware, and other types of malware.
Courses to Expect in Online Master’s Degree in Accounting
Different online master’s in accounting programs, while similar in curricula, may offer varying courses. However, they often share core subjects which include:
- Financial Reporting. This course equips students to prepare the financial results of an organization such as income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows. It also includes annual reports, earnings calls, and prospectus for investors (AccountingTools, 2021). Accounting principles, practices, and frameworks may be discussed such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).
- Auditing. With an auditing course, students can learn how to examine the financial records of an organization or individual. They will be able to check their accuracy and if they comply with laws, regulations, and accounting standards. With this, they can make recommendations on improving operations, internal controls, governance, and other internal processes of an organization (AccountingEdu.org, 2021).
- Taxation. In this course, students will learn about the basics of income taxation as it applies to individuals or businesses. Students will be exposed to different types of taxes, and learn how to use the basic income tax formula. They will also learn how to determine inclusions, exclusions, deductions, and the tax implications of certain transactions.
- Accounting Ethics. Students can learn about the specific sets of rules that accounting professionals must follow as prescribed by the governing bodies of CPAs. Such rules can include the observance of independence, payment of contingent fees, showing professional competence, and conducting one’s work with integrity and due care (Corporate Finance Institute, n.d.). This will equip them to handle sensitive financial information and decrease the chances of incurring legal liability (WallStreetMojo, n.d.).
- Forensic Accounting. Forensic accounting involves the study of accounting and investigative techniques to uncover financial crimes (Investopedia, 2020). Students can learn about forensic accounting audit procedures, from investigation to reporting and litigation. With this course, students will become familiar with the procedural requirements for investigating fraud in civil or criminal cases. One possible career path after completing an online master’s degree course in accounting is that of a forensic pathologist. According to ZipRecruiter (2021), a forensic pathologist has an annual salary of $161,772.
Source: ZipRecruiter, 2021
Things to Look for in an Online Master’s Degree in Accounting
As mentioned earlier, online programs have their differences. So, before you decide on which one to take, it is best to gauge your prospects thoroughly. Among the things you can look for in an online master’s degree in accounting are:
- CPA Exams Passing Rate. Reputable online master’s degrees in accounting include in their curricula the core subjects that will be tackled in the CPA exam. One can gauge how effective said curriculum is by looking at the passing rate of exam takers from the institution one is interested in. Schools usually indicate in their brochures or website If they have top national rankings or have a high passing rate for the CPA exams.
- Job Placement Rate. Another sign of a good program is the opportunity for graduates to land an internship or a full-time job after graduation. Though some schools share such statistics on their website, candidates have to ensure that this data is accurate. For public universities, applicants can double-check placement rates through government websites in certain states. Another option is to talk to alumni working in the accounting field.
- Accreditation. Accreditation can impact the quality of the degree, one’s job prospects, and income potential. Accreditation can either be regional or specialized. Regional accreditation means that the school itself meets certain academic standards. On the other hand, specialized accreditation is conferred on the specific degree program or area of study. For accounting, the most prestigious accreditation is The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business or AACSB (This Way to CPA, n.d.).
- Hidden costs. It is true that an online degree saves one from on-campus expenses like housing, transportation, and food. However, one also has to consider other expenses that online schools charge. This may include deposit fees of $250 to $500, which applicants need to pay once accepted into the program. Other charges include an application fee, information technology fee, distance education fee, and graduation fee. During exams, one may also need to pay a proctoring fee. In addition, the costs of the program usually exclude textbooks and course materials.
Doing the Math: Impact of a Master’s Degree in Accounting
In the business field, accounting is one of the most popular degrees, so much so that undergraduate students might be debating to get a finance vs. accounting degree. But once they do decide to pursue accounting, obtaining professional experience plus, an advanced degree gives one the chance to further one’s career with the corresponding boost in salary.
According to EMSI, one can expect a salary increase of 11% to 14% at every stage of your career when one gets a master’s degree. For instance, a bachelor’s degree holder without CPA certification and with zero to three years of experience can expect an average median salary of $62,300. This increases to $70,000 with a master’s degree with no CPA license and further to $72,600 with a master’s degree and CPA license (Franklin University, n.d.). Thus, it is reasonable to say that enrolling oneself in affordable online master’s degree programs in accounting eventually pays off.
- Accounting.com. (2021, May 5). Top Accounting Skills for Success. Accounting.com. https://www.accounting.com/resources/top-skills-for-accountants/
- Accounting.com. (2021, May 5). Top Paying Jobs You Can Get With a Master’s Degree in Accounting. Accounting.com. https://www.accounting.com/resources/top-jobs-masters-in-accounting/
- AccountingEdu.org. (n.d.). Audit Meaning: What Is Auditing?. AccountingEdu.org. https://www.accountingedu.org/what-is-auditing/
- Accounting Tools. (2021, April 14). Financial reporting definition. AccountingTools. https://www.accountingtools.com/articles/what-is-financial-reporting.html
- American Institute of CPAs. (n.d.). Sample Teaching Strategies and Techniques for Accounting Courses. AICPA. https://www.aicpa.org/interestareas/accountingeducation/resources/sample-teaching-strategies.html
- Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. (n.d.). The importance of accreditation on your way to CPA. AICPA. https://www.thiswaytocpa.com/education/articles/choosing-well/importance-accreditation-your-way-cpa-hood/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2021, July 7). Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accountants and Auditors. U.S. BLS. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-5
- Corporate Finance Institute. (n.d.). Accounting Ethics: Code of professional conduct. Corporate Finance Institute. https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/accounting/accounting-ethics/
- Federal Student Aid. (n.d.). Understand how interest is calculated and what fees are associated with your federal student loan. Federal Student Aid. https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/loans/interest-rates
- FutureLearn. (2020). Do employers value online learning?. FutureLearn. https://www.futurelearn.com/info/do-employers-value-online-learning
- Franklin University. (n.d.). Master’s Degree in Accounting Salary: How Much Can You Expect to Earn?. Franklin University. https://www.franklin.edu/blog/masters-degree-in-accounting-salary
- Half, R. (2020, October 16). 7 Skills CPAs Need — and How to Get Them. Robert Half Talent Solutions. https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/salaries-and-skills/the-top-7-cpa-skills-you-need-and-how-to-get-them
- Hayes, A. (2020, October 25). Forensic Accounting. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/forensicaccounting.asp
- Kelly, R. (2021, May 13). 73 Percent of Students Prefer Some Courses Be Fully Online Post-Pandemic. Campus Technology. https://campustechnology.com/articles/2021/05/13/73-percent-of-students-prefer-some-courses-be-fully-online-post-pandemic.aspx
- Kolakowski, M. (2019, October 31). What Does a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Do?. The Balance Careers. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/certified-public-accountant-or-cpa-careers-1286929
- National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). Average graduate tuition and required fees in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by control of institution and percentile of charges: 1989-90 through 2017-18. NCES. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_330.50.asp?current=yes
- Promethean. (2021). The State of Technology in Education 2020/21. Promethean. https://resourced.prometheanworld.com/technology-education-industry-report/#schools-strategic-goals
- Richards, R., Stevens, R., Silver, L., and Metts, S. (2018). Overcoming Employer Perceptions of Online Accounting Education with Knowledge. Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1204076.pdf
- Thakur, M. and Vaidya, D. (n.d.). Accounting Ethics: What Is Accounting Ethics? Wall Street Mojo. https://www.wallstreetmojo.com/accounting-ethics/
- The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. (n.d.). Accountancy MACC Online. UTRGV. https://www.utrgv.edu/accelerated/programs/accountancy-macc-accelerated-online/index.htm
- University of Miami. (n.d.). Master of Professional Accounting. University of Miami. https://uonline.miami.edu/programs/master-professional-accounting/index.html
- U.S. Army. (n.d.). Tuition Assistance (TA). U.S. Army. https://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil/Benefit-Library/Federal-Benefits/Tuition-Assistance-(TA)
- UWorld. (2021). CPA Exam Pass Rates. UWorld. https://accounting.uworld.com/cpa-review/cpa-exam/pass-rates/
- Vaidya, D. (n.d.). ACA vs CPA – Are They Similar?. Wall Street Mojo. https://www.wallstreetmojo.com/aca-vs-cpa/
- ZipRecruiter. (2021, July 29). Forensic Accountant. ZipRecruiter. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/Forensic-Accountant-Salary