What Can I Expect from an Online MSA Program?

Online master’s in accounting programs offer convenience and flexibility to students without sacrificing the quality of education provided at traditional brick-and-mortar college and university campuses. With most online programs offering 24/7 access to course materials, postgraduate accountants have the freedom to continue working within their industry while they further their education. With so many different online offerings available, make sure to sift through them all to find the program that works best for your situation.

Concentrations Offered for an Online MSA

CONCENTRATION DESCRIPTION CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR
Taxation Explore federal income tax system, giving students the tools they need to determine individual income tax and intelligently analyze a variety of tax accounting, planning and audit situations. Certified public accountant (CPA), individual financial adviser with an accounting firm or bank, tax law court adviser in a courthouse
Corporate Accounting Covers corporate accounting standards and how to apply them to business transactions and accounting practices. The programs also cover corporate taxation regulations, investor and creditor dynamics, different asset valuation approaches and capital budgeting techniques. CPA or financial adviser for corporate entities in a traditional business setting
Forensic Accounting Prepares for a career in fraud, embezzlement and theft investigation. Students will hone their investigative skills, learn how to prevent fraud, detect ongoing criminal activity and aid in prosecution of cases involving financial crimes. Forensic accountant for risk consulting firms, public accounting firms, law enforcement agencies, attorneys, insurance companies, financial institutions or government organizations
International Accounting With a focus on standards in the global economy. Students will learn financial concepts relevant to international markets versus the United States’ generally accepted accounting principals (GAAP), along with the regulations and requirements regarding international tax compliance. Physician assistant in a hospital pediatric department or pediatric private practice
Public Accounting Prepares students to help businesses and individuals make ethically and fiscally responsible financial decisions. Coursework covers business law, tax compliance regulations and accounting concepts. Clinical researcher in a laboratory setting, often on a college or university campus
Auditing Ethical standards of their industry, the computer technology used for auditing purposes and a deep understanding of the audit process, along with various reporting options. Clinical researcher in a laboratory setting, often on a college or university campus

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Accounting

The curriculum offered in online MSA programs will differ between schools, as there are many factors that can affect coursework. Some programs may require on-campus classes that won’t be offered in others, accelerated programs may offer less variety, and any specialty you choose will affect your curriculum as well.

Although curriculum varies, there are some courses that are found in most programs, including:

COURSES DESCRIPTION
Business Law and Ethics Ethical and legal framework under Sarbanes-Oxley that helps ensure you meet legal and ethical obligations to clients and stakeholders.
Accounting Information Systems Current practices used to create, implement and manage manual and computerized accounting systems.
Financial Research and Compliance Delving into GAAP, international accounting standards (IAS) and international financial reporting standards (IFRS) and teaching you how they apply to practical situations.
Advanced Audit Examine intermediate audit concepts and practices.
Advanced Taxation Delve into a more complete look at the theory and practices of accounting.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Accounting?

The length of time required to complete your online MSA degree depends greatly on the type of program you choose. Generally, MSA degrees are designed to be completed in two to four years. Typical credit requirements range from 30 to 45 credit hours, with completion times that vary depending on the course load pursued. More aggressive schedules make it possible to complete these programs in as little as one year.

Accelerated programs are also available and are designed to help students obtain their MSA degrees faster. Most accelerated programs are set up to be completed within 12 to 15 months, but some schools offer programs that can be finished in just eight months. How quickly you’ll be able to obtain your degree will depend on the amount of time you can dedicate to your online courses.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Accounting Prepares For

CERTIFICATION DESCRIPTION
Certified Public Accountant An online master of science in accounting can prepare you to take the CPA Exam through the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy to become a certified public accountant. This certification identifies accountants as qualified financial professionals with education in the latest accounting practices and allows them to sign client tax returns and represent them to the IRS in the event of an audit.
Certified Management Accountant Completion of an online master of science in accounting gives you the knowledge you need to sit for the CMA exam offered by the Institute of Management Accountants. As a certified management accountant, you demonstrate you have the unique expertise and skills required to handle company accounting management, allowing you to pursue executive-level accounting positions.
Certified Internal Auditor An MSA with a concentration in auditing should prepare you to pass The Institute of Internal Auditors’ CIA exam. A Certified Internal Auditor designation is globally recognized and demonstrates an auditor has the knowledge and skills to perform competent internal audits anywhere in the world.
Enrolled Agent Completing a masters in science in accounting program with a taxation concentration lays a solid foundation to complete the Enrolled Agent exam offered through the Internal Revenue Service. This tax-specific exam is intended to be complementary to the CPA exam and give tax-focused accountants the additional in-depth knowledge needed to work for or with the IRS.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Accounting Degrees

When making your list of potential online programs to pursue your masters in accounting degree, take the time to verify that each of your options is accredited. Accreditation ensures the quality of education offered meets the minimum standards required to supply you with the tools you need for your chosen career. Completing an unaccredited program may lower potential employers’ confidence levels in your abilities and can often disqualify you from professional certifications and licensing.

You should expect any program you choose to be accredited by at least one major agency. The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) offers international accreditation for business-related programs, including those that focus on accounting. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission focuses on online and distance programs that have been in existence at least two years. Finally, schools can be accredited through region-based agencies such as the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools or the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Employment Outlook for MSA Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

Accounting positions of all types are expected to grow 10 percent between 2016 and 2026 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3 percent higher than the overall job growth average. While earning recognition as a CPA offers the most advantage in job prospects, obtaining an MSA will not only increase your chances of passing the test to receive certification, it will also give you an edge over CPAs who hold a bachelor’s degree or below. An MSA degree qualifies you for more prestigious, executive positions with strong competition.

Expected Salary

Along with a stronger advantage for preferred job openings, holding an MSA degree allows you to command a higher salary. Earnings are generous for the specialized positions available when you obtain a master’s in accounting.

Job Title Salary Range
Certified Public Accountant (CPA) $46,000-$104,000
Internal Auditor $42,000-$79,000
Financial Planner $40,000-$115,000
Accounting Manager $47,000-$98,000
Certified Financial Planner $45,000-$119,000
Risk Manager $55,000-$128,000

Source: PayScale.com

Within any accounting specialty, having your MSA degree increases your odds of landing a higher position, which leads to a significant boost in pay. Online MSA programs also give you the necessary training to earn additional professional certifications that also contribute to a wage increase. See the difference between entry-level positions and their senior counterparts.

Average Salary of Entry-Level and Senior Positions

Source: PayScale.com

Career Opportunities

An online master’s degree in accounting opens doors to a variety of career opportunities, depending on the concentration chosen. A graduate degree allows you to move up in your current organization, lets you pursue more lucrative professional opportunities and increases your earning potential.

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY PROJECTED GROWTH RATE
Accountant Accountants oversee financial records, prepare tax filings and ensure their clients are compliant with applicable financial regulations. They can work with individuals or businesses and have the choice to operate alone or under the umbrella of an accounting firm. $69,350 per year 10%
Auditor Auditors are trained to spot discrepancies in financial paperwork, potential fraudulent financial activity and noncompliance with internal protocol or external regulations. They are also responsible for generating various reports to summarize their findings so individuals, companies and government agencies can decide what actions to take. $69,350 per year 10%
Financial Adviser Financial advisers offer assistance to individuals in regards to management of personal finances. This can include investment advice, savings, retirement, taxes, estate planning, loans and insurance options. $90,640 per year 15%
Financial Manager ancial managers aid organizations in financial planning. They oversee the financial health of a company and create strategies to help the organization reach its financial goals through investment direction and careful monitoring of assets, revenues and expenses. $125,080 per year 19%

Professional Organizations

Accountants will often generate professional leads through the daily connections they make, so professional organizations are a great way to increase their client pool and connect with other professionals in the industry. These organizations can also offer opportunities for continuing education credits and staying up to date on the latest industry news. A few popular organizations for accountants include:

American Association of Finance and Accounting: This organization is especially helpful for those who want to keep their professional options open. It was created to help match qualified accountants with prestigious firms in need of professionals.

The Institute of Internal Auditors: An organization dedicated to promoting honesty and ethics in auditing procedures. It offers training and certification opportunities for members to improve their career options.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Accounting

Even with the savings that online programs can provide, pursuing a master’s degree in accounting may require financial assistance. The first step to applying for financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This opens the door to possible grants and loans funded by the federal government. Private scholarships are also an option for accountants, and you can check out a few listed below.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship

Award: $5,000

Deadline: March 1

Eligibility: Must hold a liberal arts degree and be pursuing a graduate degree in accounting with a CPA designation.

AWSCPA Scholarship Award

Award: $5,000

Deadline: March 1

Eligibility: Must be a woman pursuing an undergraduate or graduate accounting degree in an accredited program, have completed 30 credit hours with a minimum 3.0 GPA, be an AICPA Student Affiliate member, demonstrate financial need and plan to participate in the AICPA Legacy Scholars program for the full academic award year.