Both new accounting students and experienced professionals know that going to graduate school can offer career opportunities beyond what you can expect with just a bachelor’s degree. However, just because you want to position yourself for promotion to high-level and high paying accounting roles doesn’t mean that you’re eager to spend years of your life going back to school, possibly disrupting your career in the meantime. You might be surprised how attainable a master’s degree in accounting really is and how quickly you can finish your graduate education and see a career boost.
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Accelerated Master’s Degree Options
Traditionally, a master’s degree takes two years to complete, or longer if you study part-time. If you’re just beginning to work on your undergraduate degree, you’re looking at six years of school before you join the workforce. For working accounting professionals, the notion of spending two or more years going back to school, and disrupting your focus on your career in the meantime, can be daunting.
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend two years in pursuit of a graduate education. Many master’s degree programs in accounting are accelerated and can be completed in as little as one additional year on top of your bachelor’s degree program. Investing that one year in yourself and your education can pay off when it qualifies you for promotions, professional licensure and specialized opportunities.
Accelerated master’s degree programs work in different ways. Some programs include all of the same classroom learning as a traditional master’s degree program, but taken in a more condensed schedule or in numerous terms that continue year-round. Other accelerated master’s degree programs change the structure of their coursework in more substantial ways, such as swapping out lecture courses for hands-on internships. The Master of Science in Accounting program at Western Governors University is a competency-based education program in which students pay a flat rate to study for a six-month term and are encouraged to complete as many courses as they want to over the course of that term. This online program has been in place since 2014, according to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.
Some accelerated master’s degree programs are intended for full-time students who don’t work, while others are meant for working professionals with years of accounting experience.
Dual Degree Accounting Programs
A type of accelerated graduate degree path that is particularly popular in the field of accounting is a five-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program. Many accounting schools offer this course of study, partly in answer to the large number of students who need a fifth year of education in order to get their Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.
Generally, five-year dual degree programs, like the University of Baltimore’s, work by allowing undergraduate students to take some graduate coursework and apply those credits toward both their bachelor’s and master’s degree requirements. Not every combined degree program takes a full five years. Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, offers a dual degree accounting program that takes just four years and four months to complete and includes a combination of face-to-face classroom learning, distance learning and internship experience.
If you choose to aim for admission into a dual degree accelerated program like Marist College’s, you may need to enroll first in the undergraduate program and then apply later on in your undergraduate career, perhaps during your sophomore or junior year, depending on the school. Admission to these programs may be competitive and require students to meet GPA requirements and prerequisites in order to be considered.
The graduate portion of Marist College’s accelerated dual degree program is also available to students who earned a bachelor’s degree from another school. These students begin a seven-month accelerated graduate program in May and finish in December.
Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Accounting
There are many reasons why going to graduate school for accounting might make sense. A master’s degree often appeals to aspiring CPAs, who in addition to needing an extra year of study to meet license requirements, must also prepare to take a notoriously difficult exam. Even if you don’t plan to become a CPA, having only a bachelor’s degree could hold you back when it comes time to seek promotions to leadership roles or senior-level roles.
Part of what makes a graduate education so sought-after by employers and so useful in your professional life is the opportunity to develop specialized skills and expertise that sets you apart from others in the field of accounting. As an undergraduate, you studied the foundations, principles and practices of financial reporting from the introductory through intermediate levels. Your master’s degree offers you the chance to learn accounting not just at the advanced levels, but also in specialized fields. For example, Rutgers University offers specialized master’s degrees in governmental accounting, financial accounting and taxation as well as its more general Master of Accountancy in Professional Accounting degree. The five-year dual degree programs at Webster University award students a general bachelor’s degree in accounting along with a master’s degree in finance or forensic accounting. Since most undergraduate accounting programs tend to have a more general focus, going to graduate school can be the perfect way to cultivate these higher-level and more specialized skills.
Raising your salary potential is another reason for going to graduate school. Accounting is one career field in which a wage premium typically accompanies a master’s degree, according to the BLS.