These days it’s becoming increasingly insufficient to know just the basics of accounting. In the wake of the financial services meltdown of the 2000s, laws have been changed or altered to better scrutinize corporate finances. More than ever, businesses need professionals with a comparatively high level of training in accounting and auditing. To this end, some colleges and universities offer a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in Accounting, or MSA. It is also known as the Master of Accountancy or Master of Professional Accountancy.
FOCUS AND OBJECTIVES
While the Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting is the entry point for a career in accounting, the M.S. degree prepares people for a more advanced, mid-level management position in the workplace. In the program, students learn how to conduct research, generate and analyze accounting data, address risk management and legal issues. They also learn how to create quality improvement processes, compliance strategies, and reimbursement procedures. Above all, MSA graduates should be familiar with the overall management of the accounting department of their companies.
Classified as a graduate professional degree, the MSA is a rather short one. Most programs consist of around 15 to 30 credits, and can be wrapped up within a year as a full-time student. For people working full-time, however, there are evening-program options; this format enables students to complete the program in two years. Some educational institutions offer online/distance learning options or programs for people who want to learn at their own pace. Typical courses in an M.S. in Accounting program cover subjects such as financial statements analysis, business economics, and accounting information systems. Up to a third of the program consists of prerequisites or general education requirements, which could range from introductory accounting courses to calculus.
Some MSA programs in the United States focus on certain aspects of accounting, thus making graduates sub-field specialists. A prime example is the Master of Science in Accounting and Information Systems, which involves the integration of knowledge in accounting and information technology. Students with this specialty tend to be better handlers of database systems or software applications used in accounting. Another specialized MSA degree, the Master of Science in Accounting and Financial Management, better prepares graduates for handling the financial operations of companies.
After completion of the MSA, graduates can sit for a professional certification exam. The most popular one is the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, which confers the title of CPA. The exam is developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and used throughout the U.S. There’s also the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification, which is provided by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) and is geared towards accountants who want to become internal auditors. The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) provides the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) examination for aspiring account managers.
PAY AND JOB OUTLOOK
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that accountants and auditors made a median annual salary of $61,690 in 2010. However, that figure is likely to be higher for MSA holders. The BLS expect a 16 percent growth in the accounting profession between 2010 and 2020.
With a Master’s Degree in Accounting, graduates have a wider range of employment possibilities than those with undergraduate degrees. Moreover, accountants with graduate degrees can even stretch out into entrepreneurial endeavors, establishing accounting firms or consulting services.