Master's Degree in Accounting

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Updated September 26, 2022

This guide explores common concentrations, benefits, career options, and career projections for those with a master's in accounting.

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A bachelor’s degree suffices for most entry-level accountant and auditor roles, but a master’s in accounting prepares candidates for specialized positions and leadership responsibilities. Those with advanced accounting master’s degrees are highly marketable in the career space. These graduates qualify for diverse career options.

Professionals with master’s degrees in accounting hold positions as financial controllers, senior financial analysts, and senior auditors, with average annual salaries ranging from $71,000 to $87,000, according to Payscale salary data as of April 2022. Completing an accounting master’s degree may also qualify students to sit for the state’s certified public accountant (CPA) exam.

Students pursuing an accounting master’s degree typically complete their coursework within 1-2 years. Admission to graduate school typically requires prerequisite coursework, which may entail a set number of credit hours, a bachelor’s degree in accounting, or an accounting-related specialization.

Graduate programs cover advanced accounting theory and practice (e.g., cost accounting, financial reporting, ethics, and taxation).

Financial performance is a key responsibility of accounting decision-makers. These professionals help firms achieve and sustain fiscal health. Applicants may not qualify for leadership roles without advanced degrees.

Why Get an Accounting Master's Degree?

Master's in accounting programs can open doors to well-paying, stable career paths in areas like financial accounting, public accounting, forensic accounting, and auditing. Many employers prefer candidates with master's degrees.

  • Higher Earning Potential: Master's graduates earn more on average than those with just bachelor's degrees in accounting. May 2022 Payscale data reports an average salary of $74,000 for those with master's degrees in accounting, compared to $67,000 for those with only bachelor's degrees in accounting.
  • Job Competitiveness: Earning a master's degree in accounting can help individuals stand out from the competition in job interviews. An employer who must choose between a candidate with a master's degree and one with just a bachelor's is likely to pick the better-educated individual.
  • Qualify to Take the CPA Exam: Those who complete bachelor's degrees in accounting usually need to take additional accounting courses to fulfill education requirements for the CPA exam. Master's degrees in accounting typically meet these requirements.

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Master of Accounting Degree Options

Students interested in pursuing master's in accounting degrees can choose from a variety of options. The following list outlines the degree types available to accounting master's students.

  • Master of Accountancy or Master's in Accounting: Master of accountancy and master's in accounting degrees typically provide a broad overview of the accounting profession. Students take core, elective, and foundational courses. Graduates can take the CPA exam to become certified public accountants. They can pursue any type of accounting career, including forensic accounting, management accounting, and government accounting.
  • Master of Science in Accounting: Generally, a master of science in accounting does not differ substantially from a master of accountancy or master's in accounting degree. Curricula typically include a broad overview of the accounting profession and various types of accounting. Potential careers for graduates include forensic accountant, budget analyst, and staff accountant.
  • Master of Professional Accountancy or Accounting: Master of professional accountancy and accounting degrees tend to be very practice-based rather than emphasizing theory. Students take courses in career-relevant areas like fraud examination, internal auditing, and taxation. Graduates can pursue careers in areas like public accounting, fraud, taxes, and forensic accounting.
  • Master of Business Administration in Accounting:MBA in accounting degrees examine accounting theories and practices in addition to business principles, practices, and theories. Graduates with MBAs in accounting qualify for a variety of business-focused careers such as management analyst, business consultant, and financial manager. These graduates may take the CPA exam to pursue more traditional accounting careers as public accountants, management accountants, or auditors.

Master's in Accounting Concentrations

For those seeking specialized degrees, many master's in accounting programs offer concentrations. Concentrations let students focus their studies on the specific areas of accounting relevant to their career interests and goals. Students who choose concentrations take core classes on top of courses in their specialization.

The number and types of concentrations available vary by program, but typical concentrations include financial accounting, auditing, forensic accounting, and international accounting. Other possible specializations include taxation, accounting information systems, and government accounting. In most cases, concentrations appear on students' diplomas and transcripts after graduation.

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Should You Get Your Degree Online?

Shifting trends in education are pushing learners toward online graduate accounting programs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 37% of higher education learners were taking at least one online course as of 2019. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that number has likely increased.

Online learning curricula are delivered either 100% online or in a hybrid format. Earning an accounting master’s degree online empowers learners to select programs geared toward their learning styles. Individuals should also consider accreditation, reputation, cost, and location when vetting online programs.

Before selecting a degree, students should assess program requirements, accreditation status, and overall costs. Asynchronous programs allow students to complete coursework on their own schedule, such as before work or during lunch breaks. Some schools also offer accelerated programs to help learners earn their degrees more quickly.

Interview With an Accounting Professor

Portrait of Dr. Katherine Campbell

Dr. Katherine Campbell

Why did you choose to study accounting? Was it something you were always interested in?

Like many accountants, I did not know anything about the accounting profession when I started college. I was studying art history. Because there are art auction houses, I wanted to know something about auctions. I needed permission to take a business course, and the dean advised me to take principles of accounting. I found it fascinating, one course led to another, and I ended up with an accounting degree and the opportunity to start my career at a Big Four public accounting firm.

What advice would you give to students considering earning a degree in accounting?

Studying accounting develops business analysis skills, and public accounting firms are typically at the top of lists of best places to start careers. Accountants don’t always spend their entire careers working in accounting, so one of the best things about studying accounting is that it is an outstanding foundation for many business careers. In fact, many successful entrepreneurs have accounting backgrounds. Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, is one example; I recommend his memoir, Shoe Dog, to students.

What advice would you give to students who are trying to decide whether to earn an accounting degree online or on-campus?

Both online and on-campus programs can be great options for pursuing an accounting degree. I encourage students to find a program that suits their learning style and supports their career objectives. Regardless of delivery mode, students should do a bit of research to find a high-quality program that has a current curriculum and a track record of success in graduating students who become successful professionals.

What are the benefits of earning a master's in accounting? Are there different benefits for those who want to be professionals in the field vs. academics?

A master’s in accounting is an especially good option for students who want to pursue the certified public accountant (CPA) designation. A master’s program will help students meet the 150 credit hour requirement to sit for the CPA exam, prepare for the exam, and develop analytic and communication skills that are important for success in accounting careers.

Research shows that in public accounting firms, having a master’s degree is associated with more rapid promotion and a greater probability of promotion to partner. While a master’s in accounting would benefit those pursuing both professional and academic career paths, most programs have a professional focus.

Studying accounting develops business analysis skills, and public accounting firms are typically at the top of lists of best places to start careers.

From your perspective as an accounting academic, is there anything that you wish would change about the accounting industry? Why or why not?

Like it or not, the accounting profession is changing rapidly due to advances in technology and its application. This creates a dynamic environment with opportunities for innovative thinking and new roles in developing and utilizing technology. While individuals might occasionally find themselves wishing for a slower pace of change, it is an exciting time to enter the accounting profession.

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Accounting Jobs and Salaries

After completing a master’s in accounting, graduates may land roles with more responsibilities and above-average salaries. For instance, accounting controllers supervise accounts receivable, accounts payable, budgeting, and payroll functions. These professionals earn an average annual salary of $103,560, according to Payscale data from April 2022.

Moreover, financial managers earn a median annual salary of $131,710, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also projects jobs for these professionals to grow at an above-average rate.

Seasoned accountants may thrive in quality improvement or risk management roles. These and other specialty positions typically require advanced degrees in accounting or CPA licensure.

Forensic Accountant


Forensic accountants apply accounting and regulatory compliance theories and methods to investigate financial crimes. They specialize in finding fraudulent accounting practices committed by individuals, groups, or organizations.

Forensic accounting cases include bankruptcies, divorces, and contract disputes where fund misappropriations or misrepresentations occur. These specialized accountants also mitigate risk by introducing or improving internal control best practices.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree in accounting,
master's degree and certification often preferred

Job Outlook (2020-30): +7%

Average Annual Salary (April 2022): $71,970

Tax Accountant


Tax accountants prepare and file tax returns on behalf of individuals and companies for the prior tax year. Some work in house year-round, while others contract during tax season. In addition to filing annual tax returns, these specialized accountants research tax laws, coordinate tax audits, and respond to regulatory correspondence.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree in accounting,
master's degree often preferred

Job Outlook (2020-30): +7%

Average Annual Salary (April 2022): $57,980

Budget Analyst


Budget analysts collaborate with critical stakeholders to formulate company, department, and program budgets. They support financial decision-making by reviewing funding proposals and estimating spending activity. By analyzing costs and benefits, these professionals can project financial needs. Budget analysts can manage organizational spending to reduce operating expenses.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree in Accounting

Job Outlook (2020-30): +70%

Average Annual Salary: $63,130

Chief Financial Officer


Chief financial officers (CFOs) are integral to their organizations' executive leadership teams. They oversee operations that affect financial performance. These include cash flow, capital outlays, regulatory compliance, and other financial strategic initiatives. CFOs typically oversee the company controller and other key financial personnel.

Required Education: Master's degree in accounting or finance,
plus specialized certification like certified public accountant
or chartered financial analyst

Job Outlook (2020-30): +7%

Median Annual Salary: $98,980

Future Accounting Education

Earning both a bachelor's and a master's in accounting typically meets the 150-credit requirement for CPA licensure.

Governed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Board of Examiners and administered by Prometric Testing, the CPA exam features four sections: auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation.

Students typically prepare for and complete these sections one at a time, often taking at least a year to complete the whole exam. The AICPA recommends 8-12 weeks of preparation for each section.

Accounting master's degrees also help students prepare for other accounting certifications, such as certified public bookkeeper, certified management accountant, and certified internal auditor.

Graduates interested in research and/or teaching careers may pursue accounting master's degrees before completing Ph.D.s in accounting or related fields. Many Ph.D. graduates seek careers as professors, public policy researchers, consultants, and analysts.

Common Questions About a Master's in Accounting


What can I do with a master’s degree in accounting?

Graduates of master's in accounting programs can work in a variety of accounting and auditing positions. Typical job titles include forensic accountant, public accountant, financial accountant, and auditor.

Should I get an MBA or a master's in accounting?

Master's in accounting degrees ready students for professional positions in the accounting and auditing fields. MBAs provide a broader, business-focused education, giving learners more widely applicable skills for a variety of fields.

Is a master’s in accounting worth it?

Graduates with a master's in accounting degree can pursue many well-paying accounting and auditing careers. Accounting professionals holding master's degrees make higher average salaries than those with bachelor's degrees alone.

Do you need a master's to become an accountant?

A master's in accounting is not required to become an accountant. However, many employers prefer job applicants with master's degrees. Moreover, typical 120-credit bachelor's programs do not qualify students to sit for the CPA exam.

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