Accounting Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Course Info

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Master's degrees and PhDs in accounting can lead to careers in and out of academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Accounting: Degrees at a Glance

If you have a bachelor's degree and you're considering a career change to accounting, a master's degree can help you enter this field. If you're an experienced accountant looking to advance your career, a master's degree may also be an asset. However, attaining Certified Public Accountant (CPA) status can advance your career as well, and a master's degree is not required. A PhD in Accounting is unnecessary unless you'd like to be a university professor.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for accountants and auditors was expected to increase by 16 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is an average growth rate. However, since accounting is such a large profession, this means that nearly 200,000 new accounting jobs were projected to open up during that time frame. A 2005 survey by the American Accounting Association had also projected a strong demand for accounting PhDs on the academic job market.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? People with bachelor's degrees in other fields who want to transition into accounting, as well as accountants who want to enhance their qualifications Individuals who want to work as professors at the college level
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) Work experience may be required in addition to education, and a bachelor's degree is sufficient for some of the following positions:
- Accountant or auditor ($63,000)*
- Senior financial examiner ($75,000)*
- Business professor ($75,000)*
- University provost ($132,000)**
- Dean of business department ($154,000)**
(work experience in academia is usually required for provost and dean positions, and a master's degree may be sufficient for some jobs)
Time to Completion About 9-18 months full-time or 18 months to 3 years part-time Approximately 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Usually 10-19 courses - 17-20 courses
- Comprehensive exam
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in any field - Usually the same as the master's degree requirement; however, accounting background will be a consideration for admissions, and a strong math background is also important
Online Availability Yes Yes, but choose carefully

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011) and **Salary.com (May 2012).

Master's Degrees in Accounting

Many master's degree programs are structured to accommodate both professional accountants seeking career advancement and individuals who are new to accounting. Since most states require accountants to obtain 150 semester credits before sitting for the CPA exam, and undergraduate programs usually provide just 120 credit hours, you can fill this gap in credits by enrolling in a master's program.

Schools typically require students who already have a bachelor's degree in accounting to take just 10 courses, while students with a degree in another field will need to take 15-20 courses. Unlike most master's degree programs, the MS in Accountancy does not usually require the completion of a thesis.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Master's degree holders may receive preference in hiring over those with only a bachelor's degree
  • You can complete the 150-credit hour requirement for the CPA exam by earning your master's degree
  • Attending graduate school can provide you with valuable career networking opportunities

Cons

  • It can take over a year to earn your degree if you attend school full-time, and even longer if you go part-time
  • Most accounting jobs only require a bachelor's degree and/or accounting experience
  • A master's degree does not automatically qualify you for CPA candidacy

Courses and Requirements

The courses you'll take vary depending on your prior knowledge and experience. All students, including those who majored in accounting, are usually required to take advanced courses like corporate law, cost management, international accounting and ethics. However, students without an accounting background will also need to study topics like these:

  • Accounting and auditing basics
  • Managerial accounting
  • Federal tax planning
  • Corporate tax

Online Degree Options

Some master's degree programs in accounting are available entirely online, and many campus-based programs offer students the opportunity to take some classes remotely. Whether you attend an online or campus-based program, your course requirements will be more or less the same. If you plan to sit for the CPA exam someday, be sure to verify that the credits you earn in your online program will count toward your state's requirements.

Stand Out With This Degree

The BLS reports that getting practical work experience can improve your career prospects. Individuals lacking career experience in accounting can contact the career services offices of their schools to identify potential internships and externships.

After graduation, you can enhance your job prospects further by pursuing professional certification. Once you meet your state's education and work experience requirements, you can sit for the 4-part Uniform CPA Examination. You might also consider earning certification from the professional organization that's relevant to your accounting specialization, such as the Institute of Management Accountants or the Institute of Internal Auditors.

PhD in Accounting

Accounting doctoral programs are usually aimed at students who want to conduct research and teach at the college level. The courses, seminars, research projects and dissertations required by most PhD programs are designed to hone students' research and critical-thinking skills. Due to the intense focus on scholarly research and empirical analysis, a PhD in Accounting may be of little benefit to individuals seeking a graduate degree for non-academic career purposes. Potential doctoral candidates should also note that the mathematical and statistical knowledge required at this level is usually much greater than what's needed for a master's degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The job market for accounting professors is strong*
  • As professors, PhD holders will have the opportunity to teach future accounting professionals
  • Academics may conduct research that impacts the entire accounting profession

Cons

  • A PhD isn't necessary for the vast majority of accounting jobs
  • Earning a PhD will take about 4 years
  • You may be required work as a graduate teaching assistant while studying, and juggling teaching and academic responsibilities can be stressful

Source: *American Accounting Association, 2005.

Courses and Requirements

Most accounting PhD programs require students to take core courses during their first two years of study in areas like research methods and econometrics, economics and finance, financial reporting and advanced accounting. Students are usually required to pass a comprehensive examination at the end of their second year, at which point they enter the dissertation phase of the program. When the dissertation is complete, the student will defend his or her conclusions before a panel of professors.

Online Degree Options

Some institutions offer online doctoral programs in accounting. In order to be accepted, students need to have extensive experience in the field of accounting and knowledge of algebra, calculus and statistics. Online programs may require students to be on campus at certain times, but a 'virtual residency' through online video conferencing may be available.

It's important to note that some online PhD programs in accounting are designed to enhance your accounting skills, not prepare you for an academic career. If you're considering an online program, carefully evaluate it to determine whether or not it can help you meet your career goals.

Stand Out With This Degree

Students may seek out opportunities to participate in research and co-author academic papers, since such experience is viewed favorably on the job market. Doctoral candidates can also consider attending professional conferences in order to gain exposure and network with potential employers. In addition, many conferences offer graduate students opportunities to present their work to other academics and gain valuable feedback.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master - Accounting
      • MS in Accounting- Tax Specialization
      • MS in Accounting - Audit Specialization
      • MS in Accounting - Government Specialization
      • MS in Accounting - Finance Specialization
      • MBA: Finance
  • Online Programs Available
    2. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Accounting
      • Master of Business Admin: Finance
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Saint John's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Accounting
      • Master of Business Administration: Taxation
      • Master of Science in Taxation
      • Master of Business Administration: Interdisciplinary Business
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA in Accounting
      • MS in Accounting
      • MS in Accounting - Management Accounting
      • MS in Accounting - Taxation
      • MBA in Forensic Accounting
      • MS in Accounting - Forensic Accounting
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Accounting
      • Master of Finance
      • MS - Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Technology Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Human Resources
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Project Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Business Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting & Healthcare Mgmt.
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Government Analytics
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Accounting
      • MBA - Financial Management
      • Master of Business Admin - Accelerated General MBA
      • Master of Business Admin - General Business
      • MBA - Management
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Admin: Accounting
      • Master: Accounting
      • Master of Business Admin: Finance
      • Master of Business Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Georgetown University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Finance

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master - Accounting
  • MS in Accounting- Tax Specialization
  • MS in Accounting - Audit Specialization

Which subject are you interested in?

American InterContinental University

  • Master of Business Administration - Accounting
  • Master of Business Admin: Finance

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Saint John's University

  • Master of Science in Accounting
  • Master of Business Administration: Taxation
  • Master of Science in Taxation

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Southern New Hampshire University

  • MBA in Accounting
  • MS in Accounting
  • MS in Accounting - Management Accounting

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Colorado State University Global

  • Master of Professional Accounting
  • Master of Finance
  • MS - Management

What is your highest level of education?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Technology Management
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Human Resources

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Science in Government Analytics

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Northcentral University

  • Master of Science in Accounting
  • MBA - Financial Management
  • Master of Business Admin - Accelerated General MBA

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