Accountants are business professionals trained to prepare financial reports, analyze investment opportunities, manage tax liabilities, report on profits and losses, and much more. These responsibilities are integral to all types of business operations in the private and the non-profit sectors. For this reason, accounting is often thought of as the “language of business.” Training in accounting begins with a solid grounding in mathematics and economics. This knowledge is then applied in learning the laws and regulations that govern financial reporting, the intricacies of tax codes, and the professional ethics associated with accountancy. Accounts must also understand the general operating procedures of different types of businesses and possess professional communications skills to clearly articulate the practical implications of audits and other financial assessments. In addition, professional accountants, or certified public accountants (CPAs), should be proficient with a range of information technologies and computer software that have revolutionized the field of accounting.
Students in a master’s in accounting program learn theories and principles of accounting. They are introduced to the tools of the trade, including spreadsheets, ledgers, financial reports, tax documents, and other key aspects of financial reporting and analysis. They study the laws and regulations that govern the practice of accounting and learn about auditing, attestation, and assurance, three of the primary services provided by CPAs in the business world. Accounting programs include coursework in taxation in relation to different taxable entities (individuals, partnerships, corporations, and non-profit organizations). Most master’s in accounting programs incorporate elective or required coursework in one or more accounting specializations: financial accounting; cost accounting; management accounting; taxation; forensic accounting; and government accounting. Some master’s programs offer optional concentrations or tracks in one or more of these specializations. In addition, most master’s in accounting degree programs are designed to prepare students to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam, a test administered by the American Institute of CPAs for licensure in all 50 states.
Online master’s in accounting programs offer students the same knowledge and training as campus-based programs through the use of distance-learning technologies. Students in online master’s in accounting programs can log on to a program’s learning management system (LMS) from any place with an Internet connection to access lectures, presentations, and other course materials. They can also participate in discussion groups and forums, submit assignments, and take exams online. While some programs do require a limited number of campus visits, many are 100% online, and most are set up to accommodate students who may not be able to attend a traditional campus-based degree program, or who would prefer not to relocate or commute to a designated campus.
Accounting is an established academic discipline, and online master’s in accounting degree programs represent a clearly delineated path to acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to work in accounting. Typically, these programs are offered through business schools or schools of professional studies. They are generally aligned with curricular guidelines maintained by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). These guidelines establish curricular goals designed to prepare students for the CPA exam. Most online master’s in accounting programs go by one of three designations:
OnlineEducation.com independently researches and evaluates online master’s in accounting programs and classifies these programs based on clear and rigorous standards. All programs included on the site are offered by accredited, non-profit colleges and universities. In order for a program to be classified as online it cannot require more than two campus visits per year. Programs that require more than two campus visits per year are considered hybrid programs and are not included in our list of programs at this time. In addition, online master’s in accounting programs must have a curriculum that covers core accounting knowledge and proficiencies in order to prepare students to sit for the CPA exam.
The master’s level curriculum in accounting focuses on the principles, practices, and professional ethics of accounting, and the accepted tools and methods used in the field of accounting. Students learn procedures for performing audits and attestations, for preparing tax documents and financial statements, and for conducting financial reviews of different types of organizations and entities. Domestic and international tax law, financial regulatory compliance, and fraud detection and prevention are also core topics. Many programs offer more specialized coursework in areas like accounting software and IT systems; the Uniform Commercial Code, which governs transactions in the US; the Sarbanes–Oxley Act (SOX), which sets federal standards for reporting transparency in corporate accounting; and other topics relevant to accountancy. There are also programs that offer optional concentration and/or elective coursework in specific accounting specializations, including taxation, forensic accounting, and management accounting.
It is important to note that many master’s programs expect students to have already completed undergraduate coursework in statistics, pre-calculus, financial accounting, and/or economics, so these courses are not typically part of the master’s curriculum. However, many programs offer students the option of completing these prerequisites as part of a preparatory “bridge” curriculum, if they did not complete them during their bachelor’s program.
The table below details typical courses offered as part of an online master’s in accounting program.
|Financial Reporting||The methods and procedures for preparing and consolidating financial reports for businesses, NGOs, government agencies, and other enterprises.|
|Business Law for Accountants||An examination of the Uniform Commercial Code and other business laws and regulations with an emphasis on secured transactions, trusts and estates, insurance, contracts, and other legally binding agreements.|
|Auditing Theory and Practice||An examination of regulatory environments, risk assessment strategies, internal controls, analytical procedures, and professional responsibilities in the auditing process.|
|Accounting Information and Decision Systems||An introduction to computerized accounting information systems used to manage and analyze business processes, transactions cycles, and internal control structures.|
|Corporate Governance||An overview of how publicly traded firms and other complex organization are governed, including the role of boards of directors, shareholders, management, independent auditors, internal risk managers, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.|
|Tax Entities||Tax planning strategies for businesses and other organizations, methods for researching the Internal Revenue Code and Regulations, and procedures for representing clients before the Internal Revenue Service.|
|Accounting Communications||The research and communications skills used by accountants to explain financial reports, audits, and other procedures to clients and in SEC filings, earnings calls, and shareholder meetings.|
|Professional Responsibilities and Ethics in Accounting||An examination of ethical systems and ethical decision making in the context of accounting, fraud, and financial reporting.|
Like most master’s programs, online master’s in accounting programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university. While an undergraduate degree in accounting is not an absolute requirement, many online master’s programs insist that applicants complete certain accounting-related prerequisites, either during their undergraduate program or as part of a pre-master’s preparatory curriculum that most school’s offer online. Typical prerequisites include pre-calculus, statistics, financial accounting, and/or a business/economics course.
In addition, each program has its own admissions criteria. Online master’s in accounting programs may require applicants to submit standardized test scores (typically the GMAT or GRE); two or three references or letters of recommendation; and a short personal statement (500-1000 words). Some programs also have a minimum GPA requirement – usually 2.75-3.0 – although some programs will waive this requirement for applicants who have two or more years of relevant work experience. Students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher may not be required to submit standardized test scores.
Online master’s programs are generally designed to accommodate a wide range of students who cannot or would prefer not to attend traditional campus-based classes. They offer the convenience of distance learning, and flexibility for students who may be working or have other significant commitments outside of school. However, not all online programs are the same. Some may be more convenient and flexible than others. Finding the right program is important, and there are several key considerations that prospective applicants should be aware of. These include: the type of online instruction; the typical course load and time to graduation; and whether or not the program requires campus visits.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: There are two basic delivery options for online courses. Synchronous instruction is analogous to a traditional classroom experience: classes take place in real-time and students are expected to log on at designated times in order to view and participate in these classes. Asynchronous instruction allows students to access lectures and other course materials at their own convenience, 24-7. Students who want a program with maximum flexibility may prefer asynchronous instruction. However, asynchronous instruction does require self-discipline as students must meet set deadlines for assignments and keep up with lectures and other coursework. For students who prefer a more structured learning environment, synchronous instruction may be a better fit.
Part-time vs. Full-time Enrollment: Online master’s programs in accounting usually require the completion of 10-to-12 courses. Students who enroll full-time can complete this course work and graduate in a few as 12-to-15 months. This typically involves taking three-to-four courses per academic semester, and doing so year round (fall, spring, and summer semesters). Many programs give students the option of taking fewer courses per semester – one or two – through part-time enrollment. This extends the time to completion to two years or more. Most programs put a cap on the number of years a student has to complete the degree, usually between five and seven years. Applicants should evaluate their other time commitments and choose a program that best fits the amount of time they have to dedicate to their graduate program.
Campus Visits: Campus visits, often referred to as immersion sessions, are a required part of the curriculum in some online master’s in accounting programs. These scheduled sessions require students to travel to a campus or an alternate location for seminars, workshops, and networking opportunities. Immersions may be as short as a weekend (two-to-three days) or last as long as a full week (five-to-seven days). For students who want to meet face-to-face with instructors and classmates, immersions can be a valuable component of an online program. However, they do require travel, and the cost of room and board may not be included in the program’s tuition. OnlineEducation.com does not currently include any programs that require more than two campus visits per year, and there are many online master’s in accounting programs that are 100% online and do not require any campus visits. Prospective applicants should carefully research this aspect of online master’s in accounting programs as part of the application process to determine if they want to attend a program that does or does not require these sessions.