Career Outlook for Masters Degrees

Every level of society, no matter how small or large, needs accountants.  From small business to medium-sized businesses to the largest multinational corporations, every dollar matters and keeping appropriate track of money flows is critical.

The same is true of governments.  The smallest village or town needs a knowledgeable expert to manage the local taxpayers’ coffers with as much expertise as the accounting staff for large cities, states, and national governments.

The banking industry reflects the same small-to-large scale, too, and is an industry that draws significant attention from graduates of accounting programs.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the US Department of Labor, updates its Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) every year.  All details supplied in this article are derived from the OOH.  As of this writing, data for 2008 is used.

That year – 2008 – will go down in history as a headline-making banner year for the banking industry, with the very biggest banks making all the news.  In spite of the headlines, the OOH reports that 85% of all banks in the US had fewer than 20 employees on staff that year.

The most heavily populated states employed the largest number of bank personnel, with California, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas topping the list.

The banking industry is now one of the most globalized industries on the planet, making it ever more important for accountants holding a masters degree to understand how money is used, valued, and exchanged by governments around the world.

The business of financial management, in all its guises, is one of strict regulation.  Earning a masters degree in accounting is an ideal way to jump start a lucrative career but an accounting graduate is almost guaranteed to face more exams after graduation.  Each speciality in the financial management industry requires licensing or certification unique to the specialty.  The education does not stop with graduation but, in most cases, the paychecks begin to look highly attractive.

Because the need for effective and profitable money management is universal, so are the job opportunities for graduates of accounting.  According to the OOH, the rate of job growth across the entire spectrum of financial management careers is growing much faster than average, with continued growth projected well into 2018.  Even with an expanding job market, competition is described as intense, given the industry’s above-average rate of pay, job security, outstanding benefits, and comfortable working environment.  The career outlook for accountants holding a masters degree is said to be the best in the financial industry although not without intense competition.

The OOH indicates there were 1,290,600 accountants and auditors employed in the US in 2008.  That number is expected to jump 22% by 2018, to 1,570,000 accountants and auditors on the job in the US.

The OOH breaks down accounting and auditing positions as seen in the table below.  Please note the salary data reflects the median annual wage for industries that employ the largest number of accountants and auditors.   In general, the medial annual wage for an accountant / auditor in the US in 2008 was $59,430.

Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping, and Payroll Services: $61,480
Management of Companies and Enterprises: 59,820
Insurance Carriers: 59,550
Local Government: 53,660
State Government: 51,250

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is an outstanding interactive resource for students in all fields and at all levels or the education or career ladders to find out exactly what’s the going rate of pay, local trends, conferences, and professional development opportunities are available in a given area.  The NACE salary calculator pinpoints the right salary offer from both the employer and the employee perspectives for more than 1,000 occupations spanning more that 560 individual regions across the US.

A salary survey conducted by NACE in July 2009 indicates the average salary offered to graduates with a bachelor’s degree was $48,993.  Those holding a master’s degree in accounting were offered the average annual salary of $49,786.

For detailed salary information, job growth projections, typical work conditions, educational and training requirements, specialties within the field, and many other details of the life of an accountant, please see:

US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2010-11 Edition
The list of potential employers below illustrates just how diverse the job prospects are for a graduate holding a masters in accounting:

The Four Largest Accounting Firms in the World:

  1. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited
  2. PricewaterhouseCoopers
  3. Ernst & Young
  4. KPMG

Careers Pages of Other Major Employers of Accountants:

More Accounting Outlook Resources: