Going to graduate school is an investment, but for accounting students, that investment is very likely to pay off in many ways. From improving your career advancement opportunities to increasing your salary and even preparing you for in-demand professional credentials, earning your master’s degree in accounting has several advantages. Since many colleges now offer accelerated five-year programs that award both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, you can complete your graduate education in less time and for less cost, making graduate school a better decision than ever.
Preparation for Professional Accounting Certifications
Earning your master’s degree in accounting can give your career a boost in and of itself, but for many students, graduate school is also a step on the path to attaining professional accounting credentials. In particular, many master’s in accounting students are preparing to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.
Generally, a graduate degree isn’t a requirement to attain professional certification. However, it does prove helpful for students considering all kinds of credentials in that the curriculum of a master’s degree in accounting program will include studies in the same topics found on a credentialing exam. Some graduate accounting degree programs are specially designed for students preparing for the CPA or other exams and tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of these students.
Another way earning your master’s in accounting degree can help prepare you for the CPA exam is by helping you meet college credit requirements. Though you can become a CPA with just a bachelor’s degree, in most of the U.S., you must complete an additional year of studies beyond what is traditionally required for an undergraduate degree, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Some accountants choose to fill up that extra year of studies with more undergraduate courses, perhaps completing a second major or adding a minor to their accounting major, the Association of International Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) reported. However, many aspiring CPAs choose to use their extra 30 credit hours to work toward earning a master’s degree in accounting or taxation, which also helps them learn the advanced and specialized technical skills that can help them pass a challenging certification exam.
Passing the four-part Uniform CPA Examination is no easy task. The national average CPA exam pass rate is just 52.9 percent, though both undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in CPA-track degree programs often have higher rates of success.
Job Opportunities With a Master’s Degree in Accounting
You can have a profitable and fulfilling accounting career without going to graduate school, but if you never advance your education, you might have limited options for advancing your career. Some of the most lucrative and prestigious jobs you can do with a degree in accounting are senior-level and management roles, such as accounting manager, audit manager, tax manager, senior tax associate, senior financial analyst, finance director and controller. To move into these roles, or to advance into other high-level positions in certain specialties within the field of accounting, you may need a graduate degree.
In recent years, master’s in accounting degrees have become more in-demand, according to U.S. News & World Report. Surveys of hundreds of employers worldwide showed that 45 percent intended to hire employees with a graduate degree in accounting. Graduates of master’s degree programs in accounting were particularly likely to find employment in taxation and auditing, though others went to work for government entities or in business consulting, U.S. News reported.
Employers are so interested in candidates with a master’s degree in accounting that, at many schools, they begin recruiting as early as the first weeks of the fall semester. As a result, it’s not uncommon for accounting students in a graduate program to have a job lined up long before they graduate with their master’s degrees.
In addition to opening new doors to management and senior-level positions, having your master’s degree in accounting can also improve your earning potential. Like many other business occupations, accounting is one career path in which there is a wage premium for having a master’s degree, according to the BLS. Using your graduate education to become a CPA can boost your salary even more. Accountants with a CPA license earn 10 to 15 percent more than those without the credential, the AICPA reported. Over the course of their entire work-life, that can translate to $1 million more income for CPAs, Pennsylvania Institute for Certified Public Accountants reported.
Many undergraduate and graduate accounting students find free career services and recruiting help, including assistance with writing resumés and preparing for interviews, through their school.