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Masters in Accounting: Your Guide to an Advanced Accounting Degree

MastersinAccounting.info strives to be the most comprehensive resource for those interested in earning a master’s in accounting or master’s in finance. On our site you will find student reviews, a jobs board, possible career paths and career outlook information, and salary outlook information relating to advanced degrees in accounting, as well as profiles of top programs and their ratings from various sources. Prospective students can also research online master’s in accounting degree programs and schools. Use the directory below to find out more about launching your career with a master’s degree in accounting or finance.

Table of Contents
Earning a Master’s Degree in Accounting
Types of Master’s Degrees in Accounting
Finding Accredited Accounting Programs
Understanding Business School Accreditation: AACSB, ACBSP, and IACBE
Educational Prerequisites, Program Requirements, and Concentrations
Best Value Schools with On-Campus Accounting Programs
US News Top Master’s in Accounting Schools
Public Accounting Report’s Best Master’s in Accounting Schools 2018
Accounting Schools with the Highest First-Time CPA Pass Rates in 2018
Online Master’s in Accounting Degree Programs
Accounting School Information by State
Accounting Salary and Career Outlook for Graduates
Career Interviews
Frequently Asked Questions

Earning a Master’s in Accounting Degree

A Master’s in Accounting (MAcc), also frequently found as a Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAC) or Master of Science in Accounting (MSA), is an advanced, graduate-level business degree. The curriculum covered in a master’s in accounting degree program is focused primarily on fundamental concepts of accounting, effective accounting methods, and gaining the knowledge required to pass the CPA Exam. Individuals with talent and interest in working with numbers and strong attention to detail can excel in this career field as auditors at large accounting firms, in management positions in corporate accounting, or as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) for individuals or businesses. There are also strong opportunities for accountants to advance to upper management positions such as CFO, COO, or CEO of a corporation. Graduates are prepared to take the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, which is required for CPA licensure in most states and is expected for many advanced accounting jobs.

Types of Master’s Degrees in Accounting

As you research accounting programs, you may notice that there are numerous degree titles for a master’s in accounting. As a general rule, despite the different titling, most master’s in accounting programs have a similar structure in order to prepare graduates to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam and embark on professional accounting careers. There can be, however, minor differences based on how a degree program is titled. Typically, programs will fall into one of the following categories, though you should be aware that these are not hard and fast rules for defining program types:

  • Master of Accountancy (MAcc), Master of Arts (MA) in Accounting/Accountancy, and Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAC or MPA): These degree titles are largely treated the same in the career field; all three are professional-track degrees that typically qualify graduates to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam.
  • Master of Science (MS) in Accounting/Accountancy: An MS program generally includes more STEM-based courses and can be more math and analytics intensive compared to other programs.
  • Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA) in Taxation: Taxation-focused master’s degrees are excellent preparation for careers in tax as a greater percentage of coursework in these programs will focus on tax issues compared to other accounting programs.
  • MBA in Accounting/Accountancy: An MBA program with a focus in accounting is truly an MBA program, with a focus on preparation for careers in business while offering select courses in accounting. You should be particularly careful to check whether a given MBA in Accounting will qualify you to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam in your state.

There are various related finance degrees that can qualify you to become a CPA or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). These are generally Master of Science (MS) programs with heavy concentrations in finance, advanced math, statistics, and analytics. Examples include the MS in Finance, MS in Quantitative Economics, MS in Financial Engineering, MS in Finance and Analytics, and MS in Financial Analysis. In addition to evaluating the core program, you should also pay attention to concentrations or specializations. In an accounting master’s program, a concentration or specialization generally consists of three to five courses in a specific area of study, such as taxation, forensic accounting, public accounting, and so on. Not all schools offer concentrations, and it is more common to see formal concentrations in MBA programs. However, if you are seeking a specific career track, finding a program that offers concentrations can help you meet your goals.

Finding Accredited Accounting Programs

Accreditation is one of the most important considerations when evaluating accounting programs. In the simplest terms, an accreditor will evaluate programs and award accreditation if a school or program meets a defined set of minimum standards. There are two main types of accrediting agencies in the US, regional and national. It is important to make sure that a school is accredited by one of the seven regional accreditors recognized by the US Department of Education, which are based on the region where the school is located. These regional accreditation agencies are:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior Colleges and University Commission

Regional accreditation is important as it is commonly required in order to transfer credits from one program to another and to qualify for admission to programs based on a previously-earned degree. It is also a qualifier for federal financial aid. In addition to regional accreditation, there are national accreditation agencies. National accreditors are organizations that evaluate specific types of programs, such as business programs or accounting programs. The major national accreditors for business and accounting schools are discussed further below.

Understanding Business School Accreditation: AACSB, ACBSP, and IACBE

In addition to regional accreditation, you may want to look into programs that hold business or accounting accreditation from one of the major national accrediting bodies for these fields: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). When evaluating AACSB vs. ACBSP vs. IACBE accreditation, you will find that these three agencies have similarities as well as differences.

All three forms of accreditation are voluntary and serve as markers for a school’s commitment to excellence in business and/or accounting education. All three accrediting bodies base a school’s accreditation on outcome factors including faculty quality, curriculum quality, and institutional resources and research, which together indicate overall academic quality.

Of the three forms of accreditation, the AACSB is the oldest and best-known, as well as the largest (over 600 programs accredited) and most prestigious for research-focused programs. The AACSB accredits both business schools and individual accounting programs. Because of its focus and reputation, attending an AACSB-accredited accounting program is strongly recommended for students who are pursuing careers in research or academia.

ACBSP and IACBE accreditation are more frequently held by smaller, private universities that offer baccalaureate and master’s programs but not doctoral programs. Both agencies accredit business schools as well as accounting programs, as does the AACSB. However, ACBSP and IACBE consider faculty contributions beyond research as a marker of scholarly activity and are less strict than the AACSB on how faculty are considered qualified in terms of academic or professional experience. Although there are differences, the ACBSP and IACBE accreditations are still held as markers of quality by employers.

Educational Prerequisites, Program Requirements, and Concentrations

Typically an undergraduate degree in accounting is not required in order to be admitted to a graduate accounting program, though if your degree was outside of business there may be prerequisite courses to complete before starting your master’s degree program. Prerequisite coursework may include basic accounting, pre-calculus, and statistics. A satisfactory score on the GRE or GMAT is usually required for admission. Executive accounting programs may require prior work experience. Schools may also require a satisfactory grade point average in undergraduate coursework. A master’s in accounting degree program often takes one to two years of intensive study as a full-time student or longer as a part-time student.

Master of accounting degree programs typically focus on advanced level accounting topics, methods, and theory and generally include accounting, tax, and auditing courses as well as business electives and financial analysis courses. Many programs provide opportunities to earn a concentration in one or more areas of accounting and finance. A concentration typically takes at least three courses, or nine credit hours, in a narrower area of study. Common concentrations in accounting master’s programs include:

  • Accounting Information Systems
  • Assurance
  • Audit
  • Control
  • Financial Reporting
  • Financial Services
  • Forensic Accounting
  • Government Accounting
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Taxation

Best Value Schools with On-Campus Accounting Programs

To help you choose the best master’s in accounting school for you, we have researched the most affordable schools in the country offering a master’s degree in accounting on campus. To make our list, the schools had to have an undergraduate graduation rate of 85% or above and a net annual undergraduate tuition price of less than $20,000. A high graduation rate is usually considered a benchmark for a university’s success and a low net price is important for students as a benchmark as they consider the overall investment represented by a master’s degree. In addition to this information, we have also included in the table below other important factors, including student loan default rate, the percentage of faculty with tenure, and US News & World Report rankings.

SchoolGrad Rate1Student Loan Default Rate1% Tenured Faculty2US News National Rank3Net Price1
University of Florida90%1.9%52%#35 tie$11,313
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill89%1.5%46%#30 tie$11,649
Brigham Young University-Provo86%1.3%51%#66 tie$13,120
University of Wisconsin-Madison87%1.7%48%#49 tie$14,169
University of Georgia86%2.4%54%#46 tie$15,539
College of William and Mary91%1.3%47%#38 tie$15,622
University of California-Davis86%2%43%#30 tie$15,724
University of Maryland-College Park86%2.1%44%#63 tie$16,790
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor92%1.5%35%#27 tie$16,856
University of Virginia-Main Campus94%0.9%54%#25 tie$17,845
University of Connecticut85%2.5%39%#63 tie$19,650

See Table Notes and References at bottom of page.

US News Top Master’s in Accounting Schools

US News & World Report ranked the following schools as having the top 10 accounting graduate programs in the country based on factors such as recruiter assessment, mean starting salary, employment rates, and student selectivity.1

1. University of Texas-Austin (McCombs)

The McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas-Austin offers a Master in Professional Accounting (MPA) that is open to students who hold a bachelor’s degree in any academic field. Students with an accounting background can typically complete the program in 36 credit hours or three semesters, while students from other academic backgrounds usually complete a 42-credit hour program across four semesters. Team competitions, workshops, distinguished speaker lyceums, and internships are integrated with the curriculum. Students may choose one of four specialized tracks in financial reporting and assurance, managerial accounting and control, taxation, or an individualized generalist specialization. Graduates of the program are prepared to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination. The MPA program is consistently top-ranked by US News & World Report and the Public Accounting Report, among others.

2. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers a Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) program that emphasizes career development for students with both limited and strong backgrounds in accountancy. The MSA program cohort begins in June of each year and requires 32 semester hours to complete. The curriculum for the MSA can be customized according to the student’s background and individual career and education objectives. Courses are led by faculty with extensive experience, with a focus on hands-on training as preparation for in-demand advanced career fields including public accounting, banking and financial services, and consulting. The undergraduate and graduate accounting programs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are consistently ranked among the best accounting programs in the US by such publications as BusinessWeek, US News & World Report, and the Public Accounting Report.

3. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania awards a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Accounting with a focus on concepts and applications for accounting data and analysis as well as training for leadership. This three-year degree program is offered through the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking and typically qualifies students to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam. Students may have the opportunity to complement the core curriculum with electives such as Advanced Corporate Finance, Competitive Strategy, and Entrepreneurship and Venture Initiation. Wharton also offers distinctive opportunities such as Global Career Treks and the Wharton International Volunteer Program. Wharton’s business school faculty are distinguished by their top publication and citation rates, and students further benefit from individualized career advising and access to Wharton’s extensive alumni network.

4. Brigham Young University (Marriott)

Brigham Young University offers a Master of Accountancy degree through the BYU Marriott School of Management. This full-time program can generally be completed in one-and-a-half to two years. Students may enter one of two standard tracks or “stems” upon acceptance to the program, professional accountancy or taxation. Students in either track may additionally elect to pursue a second focus area in Accounting Information Systems by tailoring elective choices to courses within the accounting information systems core. Students in all tracks graduate with a deep understanding of accounting and auditing practice, standards, and ethics, and are prepared to assume positions of leadership in the accounting field. The Marriott School of Management has been cited as a top-ranked graduate school by numerous publications, including the Public Accounting Report, US News & World Report, and Forbes.

5. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (Ross)

The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor offers a Master of Accounting (MAcc) degree program that prepares students for the increasingly cross-disciplinary focus of accounting practice by combining the study of accounting, finance, and management. The MAcc is a full-time, cohort program that begins in the fall semester. MAcc students take courses integrated into the Master of Business Administration curriculum, including accounting and finance electives. In the final spring semester of the program, students attend the Ernst & Young Accounting and Public Policy Symposium in Washington, DC as part of a graduate research seminar. This allows students to experience the interaction between public policy and business firsthand. Graduates of the program are qualified to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam and receive career search advice beyond graduation through the University of Michigan Alumni Career Services department.

6. University of Chicago (Booth)

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business offers a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Accounting that can be pursued full- or part-time. The full-time program is 21 months in length, while the evening and weekend programs are designed to be completed part-time in two-and-a-half to three years. In all programs, the curriculum is built around one required course in Effective Leadership, allowing students an exceptional degree of personalization in choosing courses to complement individual career goals and objectives. Students pursuing an MBA at Chicago Booth may additionally take up to six free courses after meeting graduation prerequisites through the Take 3 and Alumni Post-Graduate programs. Chicago Booth has developed what it calls the “Chicago Approach to Business Education”, which emphasizes conceptual knowledge as well as real-world applications for executives, and its faculty are internationally renowned for their academic and professional contributions to accounting practice and policy.

7. University of Southern California (Marshall)

The University of Southern California offers a Master of Accounting program through the USC Marshall School of Business and the USC Leventhal School of Accounting. This full-time, one-year program emphasizes conceptual thinking and problem solving as well as life-long professional development and learning. Graduates of the program will also have a firm understanding of accounting ethics and professional standards and be prepared to apply global perspectives in a business environment. The faculty of USC Marshall and USC Leventhal are productive academic scholars and business professionals with a reputation for advanced research. Students and graduates can find further benefits through the school’s Corporate Connections, which helps students find career resources and make connections with school alumni and others in the fields of accounting, business, and academia.

8. Stanford University

The Stanford Graduate School of Business offers a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program that can be tailored with a concentration in accounting through electives during the second-year curriculum. The MBA program typically requires two years of full-time study to complete and emphasizes leadership, analysis, and creative thinking to encourage business innovation. During the first year of the program, students focus on general management perspectives and foundations and complete a required global experience through one of many international study options. The second year of study is devoted to fulfilling degree requirements through electives, which may also include compressed courses in the form of intense business seminars between one and two weeks in length. Stanford University is globally recognized for the quality of its business education programs, and its faculty include Nobel Laureates and other leaders in academics and research.

9. New York University (Stern)

New York University’s Stern School of Business offers a Master of Business Administration (MBA) that can be customized with up to three specializations from across 24 fields including Accounting, Corporate Finance, and Financial Systems and Analytics. With full-time study, the MBA program can be completed in two years, or students can elect to pursue part-time study in evening and weekend classes to complete the degree in two to six years. Students who specialize in accounting graduate with a comprehensive understanding of accounting, competitive advantages and information systems in accounting, and management practices. New York University Stern is ranked among the top schools in the world for research productivity, and New York University has been recognized as a top graduate school by US News & World Report, Times Higher Education, and other prestigious publications.

10. Ohio State University (Fisher)

Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business houses a competitive Master of Accounting (MAcc) program. While in-depth accounting courses are included in the curriculum, the program is intentionally designed to provide students with a broader foundation in business than is typically found in comparable programs in order to prepare them for executive careers. Class sizes are intentionally limited in order to encourage peer and faculty interactions, allowing graduates to draw on a strong network of professional contacts. In 2019, 82 students were admitted to the MAcc program. Applicants from all academic majors are encouraged to apply, though admission is competitive. The 2019 incoming class had an average undergraduate GPA of 3.75 and an average GMAT score of 596. Other graduate programs within the Fisher College of Business that may be of interest to aspiring accounting professionals include an Executive MBA and a Specialized Master in Finance.

Public Accounting Report’s Best Master’s in Accounting Schools 2019

The Public Accounting Report ranks accounting programs annually based on a survey of accounting professors at over 200 colleges and universities across the United States. In 2018, the top master’s in accounting programs according to this survey were:2

  1. University of Texas
  2. Brigham Young University
  3. University of Illinois
  4. University of Notre Dame
  5. University of Southern California
  6. University of Michigan
  7. University of Florida
  8. Indiana University
  9. Texas A&M University
  10. University of Alabama

Accounting Schools with the Highest First-Time CPA Pass Rates in 2018

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) oversees the Uniform CPA Exam, which is required for CPA licensure in all US states. The Uniform CPA Exam consists of four parts, or sections: Auditing & Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR), Regulation (REG), and Business Environment & Concepts (BEC). The sections are taken separately due to the depth of knowledge required to pass each part, but all four sections must be passed within 18 months in order to earn a passing score on the exam as a whole. The overall pass rate is, therefore, the pass rate for candidates passing the fourth and final exam in a calendar year.

According to NASBA, the overall national pass rate first-time candidates for 2018 was 38%.3 Graduates from the following schools with 10 or more first-time Uniform CPA Exam candidates in 2018 had the highest overall passing rates in the US:3

  1. University of Detroit Mercy (95%)
  2. Rice University (90.8%)
  3. Emory University (89.9%)
  4. Brigham Young University (89.2%)
  5. University of Virginia (89%)
  6. University of Wisconsin-Madison (87.2%)
  7. University of North Carolina at Asheville (87%)
  8. Beth Medrash Govoha (85.7%)
  9. Georgetown University (85.2%)
  10. University of Florida (84.8%)

Online Master’s in Accounting Degree Programs

For prospective students who do not live near a campus that offers a master’s in accounting program or for those who prefer the greater flexibility and time savings of completing a degree from home, an online MAcc program may be right for you. Numerous colleges and universities maintain accredited online programs for those interested in graduate-level accounting education. To help you find top-quality programs we developed a ranking of online accounting programs from schools such as Auburn University, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Connecticut as well as a guide to evaluating online programs and deciding whether online study is right for you. To learn more, visit our online master’s in accounting page.

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Seton Hall University – Online Accounting Programs:

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The University of Scranton – Online Accounting Programs:

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Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota – Online MSA:

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Accounting School Information by State

We have thoroughly researched master’s in accounting schools at the state level to help you find the right program to launch your career as an accountant. On the following pages, you will find quick facts about available programs, rankings of the top masters in accounting programs, profiles of well-known schools, top accounting firms, salary and job outlook information, as well as student reviews and other information to help you make an informed choice.

Accounting Salary and Career Outlook for Graduates

The average salary of accountants and auditors is $70,500 per year, with the top 10% of accountants earning more than $122,840 per year.4 Accountant salaries vary according to numerous factors, including education, experience, geographic area, and industry. For example, accountants and auditors working in finance and insurance had the highest average salary in 2018, at $74,690 per year, compared to $68,420 per year for those working in government.4 See our master’s in accounting salary and job outlook page for a sortable table of salary and projected job growth by state.

The accounting profession is projected to experience faster job growth than most other professions over the next decade according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS projects that employment for accountants and auditors will grow by 6% from 2018 to 2028, with about 90,700 new jobs expected to be added to the workforce during this period.4 Compliance with increased financial regulation is one factor driving demand for skilled accounting professionals. The increasing complexity of the tax and regulatory environment in the US is another factor accounting for growth in this field. Visit our accounting careers page to learn more about growth areas in the fields of accounting and finance.

Career Interviews

Our accounting career interviews feature successful accounting professionals who share their career journeys and advice for students who are just starting out. You can click on the profile images below to read the individual’s interviews.


Russell Fox
Principal, Clayton Financial and Tax

Anthony Cantanach
Associate Professor, Villanova University

Bill Kennedy
Owner, Energized Accounting

William Byrnes
Associate Dean, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

See all of the interviews on our accounting career interviews page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a MAcc vs. MSA or a MAcc vs. MBA?

A Master’s in Accounting or Master’s in Accountancy (MAcc) and a Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) typically have very similar curricula, focused on accounting coursework with some supplemental courses in business. An MSA may have more science or applied math courses compared to a MAcc. An MBA is a Master of Business Administration, which is a degree that is focused on business courses that may have some supplemental courses in accounting. If you decide to pursue an MBA with a concentration in accounting, which is an option at many schools, you should be sure to research whether the coursework will qualify you to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam.

What can you do with a master’s degree in accounting?

A master’s degree in accounting prepares you for professional-level careers in accounting and auditing and typically qualifies you to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam. Only accountants who have passed the CPA Exam can become licensed accountants and use the title Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and independently provide certain accounting services to the public.

What jobs can you get with a master’s in accounting?

A master’s in accounting plus CPA licensure prepares you for most professional jobs in accounting, auditing, and attestation. This includes positions such as CPA, account manager, auditor, controller, cost accountant, and compliance manager. See our careers page to learn more about careers in accounting.

Is a master’s in accounting worth it?

If you want to work as an accountant, a master’s in accounting is a typical requirement for most jobs in this field. This is because in order to qualify to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam, you must have 150 credit hours of college education – typically 120 credit hours at the bachelor’s level and 30 credit hours at the master’s level. You should carefully consider your desired career path and compare employment listings to typical education levels in order to decide whether a master’s degree is the right path for you.

How many years does it take to get a master’s in accounting?

Most master’s in accounting programs require around 30 credit hours to complete, which can be completed in one to two years of full-time study depending on the curriculum and how often required courses are offered.

Does it matter where you get your master’s in accounting?

The field of accounting can be quite competitive, especially when it comes to opportunities to work for the largest and best-known firms. If your career goals include working for the Big Four or in highly competitive positions such as investment banking, graduating from a top-ranked master’s in accounting program may make it more likely for you to be considered. Top-ranked universities tend to have closer relationships with the top accounting firms and will typically also have alumni at these firms with whom graduates can network in order to land a position. However, with a competitive academic background and work performance, you can succeed with a master’s in accounting from any school as long as that school has the appropriate accreditation.

Table Notes and References:
1. National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
3. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities

References:
1. US News & World Report Top Business Schools-Accounting: https://premium.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/accounting-rankings
2. Public Accounting Report, 38th Annual Professors Survey 2019: https://wpcarey.asu.edu/sites/default/files/par-grad-2019.pdf
3. National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, State Board Report, October 2019: https://nasba.org/app/uploads/2019/10/10-NASBA-SBR-October-2019_FINAL_AC.pdf
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accountants and Auditors: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm