Since accountants work extensively with numbers, you might worry that going to graduate school for accounting will mean you need to study highly advanced mathematics. For students who aren’t as enthusiastic about complex mathematical equations and theories, the prospect of meeting the rigorous demands of a graduate curriculum in accounting can seem daunting. However, you may be surprised to learn that master’s degree programs in accounting tend to focus more on developing specialized and advanced skills in financial reporting concepts and techniques rather than on testing your knack for calculus, advanced algebra and other high-level mathematics.
Graduate Accounting Curriculum
As an undergraduate accounting student, you probably took your fair share of mathematics coursework. You had to meet your college or university’s general education requirements, so you may have taken a class such as college algebra or precalculus. If you earned a passing score on an Advanced Placement Mathematics Test in high school, you may have had the option to test out of this general education math requirement completely, if your school allowed you to do so. As part of your program requirements, you probably took one or two additional general or business-focused math classes, like business statistics or business calculus.
Generally, a master’s in accounting degree program won’t fill up your course schedule with math classes. It’s likely that the only math coursework you will need to do is that needed for applying new accounting concepts in your graduate-level accounting and auditing courses. If you have already worked in the field of accounting at the time you start considering a graduate program, then you have probably noticed that basic math functions such as adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying are the skills you use most often in your career. It is important to know the most often used accounting formulas and how to plug values into those formulas to get the data you need. However, you don’t need to know high-level math to do this.
That doesn’t mean that a master’s degree in accounting is easy. You will, of course, take advanced coursework. You will learn new concepts and theories as well as how to apply them. In many programs, you may have the option of pursuing an academic concentration that allows you to develop specialized skills in a subject like tax accounting or forensic accounting. However, that advanced coursework is more likely to take the form of studies in advanced auditing, advanced financial reporting, corporate financial management, federal income tax for corporations, forensic accounting and fraud examination and an accounting capstone course or experience.
Earning a master’s degree typically takes two years of full-time study, but some accounting schools offer accelerated dual degree options that allow students to complete both degrees in just five years.
Careers With a Master’s Degree in Accounting
If you think about what you want to do once you earn your master’s degree in accounting, the job you’re envisioning probably doesn’t include a great deal of complex mathematical work. The jobs you can get with a master’s degree in accounting tend to be more closely related to business than to sheer mathematical proficiency. For example, appraisal and valuation specialists identify assets and assess their value, budget analysts determine how much a business should reasonably spend on its expenses and tax examiners review tax return documents. Certainly, working with numbers and being able to use mathematical formulas is important for each of these roles. However, none of these positions is likely to require you to have a mathematician’s understanding of the most esoteric theories in topology, geometry or trigonometry. The math skills are among the most important qualities accountants should have, the skills needed for accounting relate to comparing, analyzing and interpreting financial data, not complex mathematical skills, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
One area of accounting in which you may need to do well at math is taking the professional examinations needed to attain certification. Perhaps the most widely known accounting certification is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. To attain this license, candidates must pass the notoriously challenging 16-hour, four-part Uniform CPA Examination.
Generally speaking, math classes are not high on the list of prerequisite coursework or recommended coursework for preparing for the CPA exam. Students should have some experience with business statistics and calculus for management and science. However, most of the coursework needed to succeed on the CPA exam is related to accounting principles, managerial cost accounting, intermediate accounting practices, auditing, tax accounting, economics and accounting information systems. The CPA exam measures proficiency in Auditing and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financial Accounting and Reporting and Regulation. The exam content will test your quantitative abilities, and some CPAs find that the math functions needed for the exam are more complex than those used in their daily work as certified public accountants.
Accounting is one occupation in which there is a wage premium for having a master’s degree, according to the BLS.