What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Accounting?

What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Accounting?

If you can see yourself crunching numbers for an accounting firm, helping a small business secure startup funding, or directing big financial decisions for a major corporation, earning your master’s degree in accounting is a critical step. A master’s degree in accounting can help you become a highly sought-after specialist or even a leader in the field.

Accounting is a fertile professional field filled with opportunities for career advancement and high earning power. But in order to truly seize on these opportunities, you should consider earning a master’s degree.

This advanced degree in accounting is a basic threshold if you plan to sit for your state licensing exam, and become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Just getting started? Check out our look at the accounting major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in accounting.

Or read on to find out what you can expect as an accounting master.

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What You Need to Know About Master’s In Accounting Program

These are the two primary purposes for earning a master’s degree in Accounting:

  • An online master’s in accounting degree prepares students for mid-level management positions via skills development in advanced accounting and business management.
  • A graduate accounting degree is also considered an excellent qualification and preparation for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure exam.

Professional Responsibilities of Accountants

Accountant using a calculator and notebook

A master’s degree in accounting prepares students to perform the essential tasks of their accounting career:

  • Conduct professional-level research into best accounting practices and execute financial strategies to address client needs,
  • Generate, analyze and present accounting information to internal and external users,
  • Address accounting, risk management, and legal issues affecting organizational operations and direction,
  • Create accounting information systems, internal audit systems, and quality improvement processes, among others

While an undergraduate degree in this field is the minimum employment requirement, graduates of a Master’s in Accounting degree program are preferred by private and public accounting firms, according to official labor statistics data. This is especially true in the upper echelons of the industry.

For higher-level accounting careers, accountants with high-level leadership skills and strategic planning skills have an edge. Make building these skills a priority if you’re interested in pursuing the following positions:

  • Financial analyst
  • Forensic accountant
  • Chief financial officer
  • Financial manager

Master’s of Business Administration Versus Master’s of Accounting

Why pursue a master’s in accounting degree instead of a master’s in business administration (MBA)?

After all, you can develop similar skills when pursuing either of these graduate degrees. In fact, accounting is among commonly offered concentrations in MBA programs.

You can also sit for the CPA exam if you hold either a master’s in accounting degree or an MBA degree. And you also qualify for executive-level jobs with either of these academic credentials.

But not everybody wants to earn an MBA! If your response is a “yes” to the questions below, then a master’s in accounting may be the better fit for you.

  • Do you want to pursue a specialized accounting job such as an auditor?

  • Do you have little academic background and/or professional experience in the accounting industry, but want to pursue the accounting profession?

  • Many master’s in accounting programs accept students with little accounting background but with related work experience, such as in business management.

  • Do you seek an advanced degree in a shorter period? (Earning a Master’s in Accounting degree can take less time than an MBA)

Should You Become a Certified Public Accountant?

If you decide on becoming an accountant, the next big decision is whether to pursue a CPA license.

Some graduate accounting programs arrange for CPA certification to be completed before graduation or shortly after. Keep in mind that you can earn a master’s degree without becoming a CPA. But there are notable benefits in earning your CPA license in addition to your master’s degree.

  • First, a master’s in accounting degree and a CPA license are complementary credentials that employers value. This is because an CPA is certified to manage finances and navigate tax law for both organizations and individuals. Whereas a master’s degree comes with more transferable skills suitable for a variety of professional roles.

  • Second, being a licensed CPA and a master’s degree holder makes you stand out from the competition. In the business and finance sector, overachievers are common and so it pays to have an edge.

  • There’s also the public perception that a master’s degree is superior to a bachelor’s degree. Potential employers and clients have a marked preference for master’s degree holders to fill positions that individuals with bachelor’s degrees may not qualify for.

The Bottom Line: By earning a Master’s degree and a CPA license you demonstrate your work ethic and preparedness for the job market.

How to Compete in the Job Market

Even with a master’s degree in accounting, it can be a challenge to stand out from the competition. You may be one of dozens in a pool of candidates with a master’s degree in accounting or business administration.

This is where leveraging your online master’s degree in accounting comes in! After all, what’s the use of a master’s degree if you cannot sell it and yourself?

Here are effective ways of leveraging your master’s in accounting degree.

  • Leverage the flexibility of online learning to pursue independent studies and/or internships related to your desired accounting job.

  • Highlight your specialized knowledge and skills, such as database management or project management in the field of accounting.

  • Emphasize your relevant work experience as it applies to the position you’re gunning for. Real-world experience often trumps advanced degrees. Highlight hands-on experience to stand out.

  • Highlight your transferable skills that will be valuable to an organization’s goals (Research the company’s objectives so you know what you’re talking about).

In the end, your master’s degree in accounting is a means to an end and, as such, you should wield it to your advantage!

How a Master’s Degree in Accounting Enables Success

Accounting is among the best-paying professions in the business sector, but there are several prerequisite courses that you’ll need to complete before you can become certified.

While an undergraduate degree in accounting will not likely fulfill these requirements, most advanced degree programs in accounting do incorporate these prerequisites. Therefore, one of the strongest arguments in favor of earning a master’s degree in accounting is the access it provides to you to the top roles in your field.

Whether you plan to apply your accounting knowledge to financial decision making for a Fortune 500 company, to balance the ledgers for a government agency, or to provide financial services as an independent accounting consultant, earning a master’s degree in accounting will make this possible.

How Can I Qualify To Get a Master’s Degree in Accounting?

Many accounting programs will require you to complete the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT).

Some programs may require you to meet a certain scoring threshold while others may merely require that you complete the exam. These requirements will vary from one accounting master’s program to the next.

If no GMAT is required, the primary requirement for gaining eligibility into an accounting master’s program is completion of a bachelor’s degree from a properly accredited undergraduate school.

While programmatic accreditation is not specifically required in this field, most regionally-accredited graduate schools will require that your bachelor’s degree be granted by a regionally-accredited college or university.

Some colleges may offer bundled bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, where you could earn your advanced degree in one continuous five-year program. This option could save you time and money if you already know that you’ll be pursuing your advanced degree.

However, the accelerated pace of such a program may make this a challenging way to earn both degrees. Find out if your school offers this bundling option and ask about eligibility requirements. But be sure you’re up to the added challenge!

For any additional questions about eligibility, refer to your intended program and learn more about application requirements and any additional requirements such as work experience, academic performance thresholds, and referrals.

Some programs may require that you’ve completed specific undergraduate courses in math, business administration, and accounting principles.

If you’re still working on building your qualifications, check out our look at the accounting major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in accounting.

What Kinds of Advanced Accounting Degrees Are There?

Though you can become an accountant or auditor after earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting, you will likely still be short of the necessary course requirements to sit for your CPA exam. Earning one of the following advanced degrees will provide you with the proper prerequisites to ascend to this top role in the field:

  • Master of Accounting (MAcc): A Master’s degree is the basic threshold for pursuing certification as a licensed public accountant. (Alternately, you may also qualify for CPA licensure as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting.) In order to become a CPA, you’ll also need to log a specified number of professional hours as well as sit for a state licensure exam. This certification would give you access to leadership roles as a practicing accountant or a financial officer, in either the accounting field or in the industry of your choice.
  • PhD in Accounting: The doctoral is a terminal degree in accounting, and will typically require between 3 and 5 years for completion. This degree is recommended for students interested in conducting field research or pursuing a professorship in accounting.

What are Some Popular Accounting Specializations?

The accounting specialization you choose will depend largely on the context in which you plan to apply your accounting skills. Your choice of specialization will help to determine whether you’ll practice for a private company, an accounting firm, a government agency, a research think tank or any number of other contexts where accounting plays a critical role. Popular specializations include:

  • Accounting (General)
  • Accounting Technology
  • Auditing
  • Accounting and Finance
  • Accounting and Business/Management
  • Accounting and Related Services

What Courses Will I Take as an Accounting Master?

Your accounting specialization will determine many of the courses you’ll take as an accounting master. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as advanced financial accounting and accounting information systems. However, you’ll also have a chance to choose from an array of courses that most interest you.

Common accounting masters courses include:

  • Auditing Theory
  • Accounting Ethics
  • Budget Analysis
  • Accounting and Cybersecurity
  • Global Finance and International Accountancy
  • Detecting Accounting Fraud
  • Tax Law
  • Financial Reporting and Business Analysis

Is a Master’s Degree in Accounting Worth It?

Accounting professionals enjoy high earnings relative to other career paths. However, there is a wide variation in earning potential for auditors, accountants and other financial services specialists. The wage premium for accounting professionals with advanced degrees is fairly high, with many of the most lucrative career paths reserved for masters in accounting. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while the median annual wage for accountants and auditors was $71,550 in 2019, there was a significant gap in earnings between those at the lowest and highest ends of the wage spectrum. While the lowest 10% of accounting professionals earned less than $44,480 in 2019, the highest 10% earned more than $124,450. A master’s degree and a public certification can help to place you at the top end of this pay scale.

Career Outlook for Students with Accounting Degree

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Degree Level: Master's

  • Location: The U.S. (Private Schools)
  • Avg. Cost of Degree*: $11,535
  • Avg. Expenses*: $17,123
  • Avg. Starting Salary*: $61,966
  • Avg. Salary after 4 Years*: $80,594
  • Avg. Cost Recoup Time**: 5 years
  • Job Growth: 4.52%
  • Number of Jobs: 2,051,900
  • * denotes ‘annually’
  • ** denotes ‘at 15% of annual salary’

Career Salaries

CareerJob GrowthAvg. Salary
Financial Managers15.97%$125,312
Financial Risk Specialists8.15%$89,827
Business Teachers, Postsecondary7.01%$86,765
Financial and Investment Analysts7.63%$82,451
Budget Analysts3.30%$78,432

Average Career Salaries

Bottom 10%MedianTop 10%

Promising Job Markets

StateCost of LivingAvg. Salary
#2 New York5% higher than average$104,966
#3 Michigan15% higher than average$78,409
#4 North Carolina11% higher than average$79,756
#5 Texas10% higher than average$79,329
#6 Ohio14% higher than average$75,885

Top Industries

IndustryAvg. Salary
Financial Managers$125,312
Financial Risk Specialists$89,827
Business Teachers, Postsecondary$86,765

What Are The Top Jobs With a Master’s In Accounting Degree?

While you could qualify to become an auditor or accountant with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, a master’s degree in accounting will qualify you to earn a certification to become a CPA. In addition to this top job in accounting, you could improve your qualifications for an array of specializations and leadership roles in accounting and financial services, including these top jobs:


Now that you know how to earn a masters in accounting, check out:

Check out the full list here and get started on your path to an advanced accounting degree.

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