Study Forensic Accounting: Master's Degree, PhD & Class Info

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What will you learn in a forensic accounting program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential forensic accounting careers.
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Master's and PhD in Forensic Accounting at a Glance

Within the field of accounting, there are individuals who make their careers investigating possible crimes. Using the techniques of accounting, they investigate crimes as part of a team, following the money to accumulate evidence and even testifying as part of trials, acting as expert witnesses. Forensic analytics follows a process of data collection, preparation, analysis, and reporting.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions in the accounting field in general are expected to grow about 16% from 2010-2020, which is about as fast as average for all occupations. Positions for forensic accountants specifically may grow as a result of increased regulation.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working as investigative accountants in the private or public sector Individuals interested in teaching the methods of investigative accounting in academia as professors and researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Forensic accountant ($63,000 - accountants and auditors across all specializations)*
- Financial manager ($107,000)*
Same as master's, plus:
- University business professor ($75,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 4-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 10-15 courses
- Master's thesis or capstone project
- Master's exams
- Roughly 15-25 courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Teaching requirement
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in accounting Bachelor's or master's degree in accounting or Master of Business Administration with a concentration in accounting
Online Availability Hybrid No

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)

Master's in Forensic Accounting

Master's degree programs covering forensic accounting may be offered in a variety of formats. They may be available as programs specifically in forensic accounting, or they may be available as accounting programs with forensic accounting concentration options. Additionally, Master of Business Administration programs commonly offer accounting concentration options, which may offer forensic accounting coursework. Such programs may focus on both advanced accounting concepts and criminal investigation techniques.

Pros and Cons


  • Forensic accountants perform a key role in pursuing white collar criminals and building evidence needed for prosecution
  • Master's degrees programs in forensic accounting can prepare students for more advanced roles in the field
  • These professional programs may also include preparation for advanced certifications in the field of forensic accounting


  • A master's degree in forensic accounting is not necessary for all roles in this field
  • Despite the opportunities for asynchronous learning that some programs offer, completing a graduate program while working in the field can be challenging
  • A forensic accounting program could limit your professional options by being too specific of a field

Courses and Requirements

A master's degree program in forensic accounting covers a series of areas of knowledge and applied skills. Beyond covering the basics and purposes of forensic accounting, these programs give a background in the legal framework and basics of criminology necessary for the performance of duties, the methods used for collecting and analyzing evidence and the most common ways in which forensic anthropologists are employed. While programs at this level may or may not require a thesis, a capstone project may be considered an alternative.

Online Degree Options

If you are seeking a master's degree in forensic accounting, you may be able to find a hybrid online program that will suit your needs. This type of program will require some campus attendance, but at the same time, is geared for students seeking to earn the degree while fulfilling professional career obligations. Asynchronous learning provides for the bulk of the coursework, allowing you to more easily schedule your educational time.

Stand Out with This Degree

Those seeking to benefit from a master's degree program in forensic accounting will want to develop not only the skills and knowledge that come from education, but also hands-on experience from internships or concurrent work in the field. Beyond that, students may want to develop strong professional relationships with mentors such as professors, who will then be able to speak to students' strengths and qualifications as they engage in the job search.

Doctorate in Forensic Accounting

For students who are seeking a higher level degree for the purpose of research or teaching, a doctorate in forensic accounting may be an appropriate choice for developing the necessary academic credentials. These PhD programs prepare students for roles in university departments, with the most competitive applicants going on to become tenured professors. While master's programs are generally professional degrees, these doctoral programs focus on the training of researchers and teachers in the forensic accounting field.

Pros and Cons


  • For those seeking research and academic positions, a doctorate in forensic accounting is a standard requirement
  • Doctoral programs that cover forensic accounting also train students in the skills needed to perform as independent researchers
  • These programs provide an opportunity to develop professional relationships with recognized authorities in the field


  • Doctoral programs that focus on forensic accounting are fairly rare, and attendance may require relocation
  • A doctoral program may not be an advantage in the professional world
  • Programs are not always specific to forensic accounting, so prospective students may need to research faculty specializations in planning their educations

Courses and Requirements

As with many doctoral programs, PhD programs in forensic accounting commonly require a dissertation involving original research and making a significant contribution to the field. Coursework is designed around developing the analytical skills necessary for research. Programs may also require students to perform a certain amount of teaching for the purpose of developing the skills needed for university-level employment. In addition to training appropriate mathematical and statistical skills necessary for research, courses taken may cover such topics as:

  • Microeconomics
  • Mathematical economics
  • Econometrics
  • Theories of decision making
  • Investigative accounting
  • Forensic accounting research methods
  • Litigation support and expert testimony

Online Degree Options

As of December 2012, there are no online doctoral programs specifically focused on forensic accounting. At this time, on-campus PhD programs will be your best option for obtaining a forensic accounting education at the doctoral level. On-campus programs will provide you with face-to-face interaction and mentoring opportunities as you improve your research skills.

Stand Out with This Degree

While doctoral programs in forensic accounting generally have both research and teaching requirements, students interested in these areas may seek to go beyond the minimum requirements and use the doctoral program as a resource for developing their skills further. Engaging in research projects early in the program may provide the opportunity to develop research and writing skills. Taking advantage of opportunities to teach beyond minimum requirements may help students stand out when competing for teaching positions.

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