What is a Master’s Degree in Accounting?

What is a Master’s Degree in AccountingThese days, it’s becoming increasingly insufficient to know just the basics of accounting, and the MSA degree is a real must-have. 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.) in Accounting, or MSA. It is also known as the Master of Accountancy or Master of Professional Accountancy.


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 online or evening program options; this format enables students to complete the program in two years. In all cases, up to a third of the typical accounting master’s program consists of prerequisites or general education requirements, which could range from introductory accounting courses to calculus. The following represents a sample of some of the specific courses one can expect to encounter along the path to completing the MSA degree today.

International Accounting

While knowing how accounting works in the US is typically the most important requirement of being an accountant, knowing how accountancy works in other countries can also be a valuable commodity to possess. As such, International Accounting is a required course in most MSA degrees. Here, students will learn the basics of global trade and finance and how some of the key players across the globe handle money in their own ways.

Advanced Auditing

Auditing is the accounting practice of deeply reviewing an organization’s financial documentation and finances. These reviews can be conducted by the organization in question or an outside entity and may be conducted for a variety of reasons and end-goals. As it turns out, students will find, most audits are conducted for the purposes of identifying risks as well as opportunities to improve organizational efficiency and/or operational controls.

Situational Ethics in Accounting

Ethics is an important concern area for nearly all businesses, and true and above-board ethics in the accounting practices of those many businesses are as important as they are anywhere. This required course, Situational Ethics in Accounting, takes students on a journey through the wide world of accounting ethics. In addition to just learning about general ethics rules in accounting, students also learn about specific scenarios in which their ethics decisions can either make or break an operation.

Business Law

Similar to ethics in accounting and business, “business law” is the set of laws that regulates how business is legally permitted to be conducted in the US. While pertaining to a wide variety of business topics, accountancy is certainly one of those that is highly susceptible to business law today. Learn the ropes of it all right here.

Tax Research Methodology

Tax Research Methodology is yet another great example of the required coursework one can expect to encounter in an accounting master’s degree today. In this course, the student will learn the many procedures and best practices involved in tax preparation, research, and client tax representation work. Beyond the recommended best methods, the important rules and laws governing tax work will also be imparted upon the participating student.


masters in accounting

University of Texas (The McCombs School of Business) Master in Professional Accounting

For many years now, The McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas has been among the highest-ranked schools in all of the US for their various accounting degree programs. The school’s Master in Professional Accounting, in particular, is highly ranked and a very respected degree throughout the business world. In addition, CPA certification candidates who come from this school’s accounting program are consistently shown to do better than most others in the important testing process.

University of Illinois (The College of Business) Master of Science in Accountancy

The Master of Science in Accountancy at the University of Illinois leaves little to be desired when it comes to excellent college accounting degrees today. This consistently top-rated program ranks very highly in staff ratings, quality of the program, and successful employment outcomes in graduates. The school also boasts a notably high CPA first-time pass rate of 75-percent among all of its participating students.

University of Pennsylvania (The Wharton School) Master of Accounting

The University of Pennsylvania offers an A-rated program in its Master of Accounting degree program. Rated as the third-best for the year 2020 by US News and World Report, graduates of this degree program can rest assured of holding an accolade that really matters in the business world. With such a highly-rated business and accounting program lineup, it’s likely a sure bet that the school’s original founder, Benjamin Franklin, would be proud of the continued accomplishments of this historic, educational institution.

Brigham Young University (The Marriott School of Business) BYU Marriott Master of Accountancy

Coming in right at about number-four among today’s top-rated accounting master’s degree programs in the US right now is Brigham Young University’s BYU Marriott Master of Accountancy. This highly-respected degree prepares its graduating students to be among the best in the field year after year. The industry-trusted US News and World Report as well as Public Accounting Report and others consistently rank this program among the best accounting programs in recent years. For those interested in faith-based education, Brigham Young is also a top-rated Christian college.

University of Chicago (The Booth School of Business) Master of Science in Accounting

Finally, prospective accounting grads looking for an accounting school with some of the best professors in the trade are highly advised to take a look at the Master of Science in Accounting degree program offered by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. The teaching lineup in this program is renowned and includes the likes of experts Ray Ball, Phil Berger, Hans Christensen, and Michael Minnis just to name a few. Aside from the program’s all-star cast of teachers, it also features an industry top-rated curriculum and loads of respect to go along with it come graduation time.

Source: U.S. News & World Report


masters in accounting specialties

Some MSA programs in the United States focus on certain aspects of accounting, thus making MSA 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. Here are several more practice areas found in accounting that many find a great interest in today.

Forensic Accounting

With a master’s degree in accounting or better, one specialty work route accounting pros can opt to take is that of forensic accountancy work. How did this person or company arrive at these figures? Were the numbers intentionally changed, or was the mistake the result of a simple calculation flub? In forensic accounting, the accountant is tasked with focusing on investigative method utilization in order to answer certain questions about target individuals’ or organizations’ accounting.

Forensic accountants can be found at work in both private practice and in government and law enforcement capacities, seeking the hidden truth in the numbers. For those interested, the FBI is one of the largest, singular employers of forensic accountants today. Behind this law enforcement agency, large corporations and private accounting firms offer the most positions here.

Startup Accounting

Startups are new, fledgling business operations, and these particular kinds of businesses often call for a specialized type of accounting curtailed to exactly their kinds of needs. In these new types of business operations, there is often a much more narrow and sensitive tolerance range for mismanaged finances, loans, loan interest matters, new contract matters, and more. Enter the startup accountant.

Startup accountants are a relatively new specialty group in the accounting world, but for those in need of their services, they are uniquely necessary. While many, general practice accountants can adapt to this role, those particularly experienced or schooled in this area of fledgling business endeavors are the more immediate, best fit. As this is a relatively new field of accounting practice and academic study focus, an increasing number of schools are now offering specialty classes in this subject area.

IT Audit Accounting

IT audit accounting is also a relatively new specialty area of accounting. In this specialized focus, the accounting professional works specifically with computers and information technology platforms to audit individuals’ and organizations’ accounting portfolios. As touched on above, auditing itself is the practice of fully reviewing the financial records of a person or organization. Audits are conducted for any number of reasons, too, but an increasing number take place through strictly digital means, making this particular specialty area one that is sure to continue to grow.

Management Accounting

In management accounting, as this role’s name suggests, the accounting pro works in a fairly new and hybrid position that sees them working in both a management role and in company accounting matters too. Those looking for a job in this type of position won’t find it in one particular sector but in many sectors and types of businesses in which this approach of hybrid position has been elected operational. Naturally, those able to multitask and focus on a variety of sometimes dueling business strategies are the best fit for this unique accounting job.

Environmental Accounting

Yet another form of specialized accounting we see on the rise today is that of environmental accounting. In environmental accounting work, the acting accountant must integrate a whole array of possible environmental issues into a company’s accounting picture. In some enterprises, this type of accountant is needed to handle operations that may primarily deal with environmental factors. In other cases, however, the accounting pro may find themselves doing environmental accounting work strictly for the satisfaction of environmental laws and regulations in an otherwise non-environmentally-involved company.


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.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that accountants and auditors made a median annual salary of $70,500 in 2018. However, that figure is likely to be higher for MSA holders. The BLS expects a 6 percent growth in the accounting profession between 2018 and 2028. Salary.com provides the following salary information for accounting professionals.

accounting master's degree


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. At the end of the day, those equipped with an MSA degree typically have exactly what they need in order to be assured of an excellent future in accounting work to come. For more information on today’s MSA degree or the wide world of accounting work made available thereafter, the US Department of Education and the American Association of Accounting represent two of the leading industry resources with which to inquire further.

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