If you’re wondering whether a master’s degree in accounting is really worth it, knowing about the differences between an undergraduate and a graduate education can help. There are important differences in the coursework of these degree programs, including complexity and degree of specialization. Your career opportunities are also different depending on whether you have a graduate degree.
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Accounting Curricula Differences by Degree Level
The most obvious difference between undergraduate and graduate degree programs is the level of difficulty. Graduate-level studies cover more advanced subject matter, so they are naturally more complex. The coursework in a Master of Accountancy (M.Acc.), Master of Science in Accountancy (M.S.Acy.) or Master of Professional Accountancy (M.P.Acy.) program builds off of the introductory and intermediate subject matter students learned as undergraduates. Core coursework for a master’s degree program in accounting might delve into topics such as advanced cost accounting, advanced financial reporting, accounting and federal tax research methods and advanced auditing. Other subjects of study common in graduate accounting programs include fraud examination, corporate financial management and accounting information technology systems and auditing. Students must typically complete a capstone course before they can graduate.
What you might not expect is that master’s degree programs are often more specialized than the typical undergraduate accounting program. Many graduate degree programs in accounting allow students to use their free electives or program electives to develop expertise in an academic track or concentration. Among the most popular specializations in graduate accounting programs are auditing, financial accounting, forensic accounting and tax accounting, according to U.S. News & World Report. By strategically choosing a specialization that fits your career goals, you can make sure that your graduate education allows you to not only move up in your career field, but also move into niche roles that offer competitive wages and exciting new job duties.
If you’re not sure another two years in school is the right choice for you, an accelerated dual degree program may help you complete your undergraduate and graduate degrees in just five years.
Career Opportunities With a Master’s Degree in Accounting
What can you do with a master’s degree in accounting that you can’t do with an undergraduate degree? A bachelor’s degree is generally the minimum degree required to work as an accountant. With your bachelor’s degree in accounting, you can get started in an entry-level accounting role and advance to more senior staff accounting roles, with more complex job duties and higher wages, as you gain experience. However, if you want to do more than just work as a staff accountant, you may need a more advanced education.
Having a master’s degree can be particularly helpful if you aspire to become a certified public accountant (CPA) or attain another sought-after accounting credential. In the broad field of public accounting, the creation of financial documents required by law, there are some important duties that you can only perform if you become a CPA. As a result, CPAs tend to command higher salaries and have better job prospects than accountants without the certification.
A master’s degree is not technically a requirement to become a CPA, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, earning a traditional 120-credit hour bachelor’s degree isn’t enough to qualify you to sit for the CPA exam. In nearly every state in the U.S., CPA candidates must have completed 150 semester hours of college studies. If you want to become a CPA, you need to spend at least one extra year in school. Since the additional studies are already required for most aspiring CPAs, many accounting students use that year to earn or work toward earning their master’s degree. Students who aren’t ready to commit to a master’s degree program can choose to take their additional 30 semester hours of study in undergraduate or graduate coursework as a dual major or non-degree option.
Graduate school isn’t only for prospective CPAs. Earning your master’s degree in accounting can also help you advance to a management role, like financial manager, accounting manager or compliance manager. You could also use your specialized graduate-level studies to transition into a more specialized role in accounting, such as actuary, auditor, forensic accountant or risk analyst. Some graduates of master’s in accounting programs go on to work in government roles such as revenue agents, tax examiners and treasurers of government entities.
Graduates of master’s degree programs in accounting can earn as much as $20,000 or more per year than their peers who have only a bachelor’s degree, according to U.S. News & World Report.