Taxation is an area of specialization within the accounting profession. It is an area of accounting practice that requires specific knowledge of tax codes as they apply to a range of taxable entities, including individuals, partnerships, businesses, corporations, and non-profit organizations. While training in accounting includes learning the basic elements of taxation, navigating the complexities of the tax system often requires a degree of expertise that not all accountants possess. Taxation specialists are tax accountants who have cultivated a comprehensive knowledge of the legal and ethical aspects of taxation, the various strategies for managing tax liabilities and auditing risk, and the research methods used to stay up-to-date on changes in the tax system.
Master’s in taxation degree programs are designed to prepare students to work professionally in the field of accounting as a tax specialist. These programs provide core instruction in general accountancy and business practices, but focus primarily on proficiencies that are specific to taxation. Students in a master’s in taxation program study federal, state, and local tax codes. They learn about different types of taxable entities and how to manage the tax liabilities of the different entities, from individuals and partnerships, to large businesses and corporations. Students in these programs also receive instruction in the auditing process and develop professional communication skills for working with clients and government representatives. In addition, it is common for master’s in taxation programs to include a capstone project that gives students an opportunity to research a taxation problem and generate a solution.
Online master’s in taxation degree programs utilize distance learning technologies to deliver the same coursework and training as campus-based programs. Students in an online master’s in taxation program receive all or most of their instruction online by logging on to a learning management system (LMS) for lectures, presentations, discussion groups, and other class activities. Exams and assignments may also be completed and submitted through an LMS, and students typically interact with instructors and classmates electronically. There are online degree programs that require a limited number of campus visits, but many are 100% online and do not require students to travel to a college, university, or other designated location.
Taxation is a specialization within accountancy and master’s in taxation programs are typically offered by colleges and universities with established master’s in accounting degree programs. Accounting and taxation master’s programs may be housed within a school of accounting; more typically they are offered through schools of business and schools of law. Different schools have different ways of designating master’s in taxation programs. Some schools make taxation a track within their master’s in accounting degree program, while others offer a master’s in taxation program that is separate from their master’s in accounting program. Typical names for master’s in taxation programs include:
OnlineEducation.com conducts independent research and identifies online master’s in taxation programs based on a number of criteria. To be included on the site, programs must be offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities. They must offer a curriculum that covers core areas of accounting and taxation, including but not limited to auditing, financial reporting, federal income tax codes, and tax research methodologies. In addition, OnlineEducation.com currently limits its definition of online master’s in taxation programs to programs that require two or less campus visits per year.
There a several central areas of instruction in a master’s in taxation program, including basic accountancy, financial reporting, and auditing skills; the ethical and professional practice of accountancy; and methods for studying and interpreting tax codes. The master’s level curriculum in taxation also includes coursework in preparing tax documents, professional writing and communications for tax specialists, and the structure of various taxable entities. Students in these programs learn about corporate taxation, estate and gift taxes, and other specialized designations within the tax code, like partnerships, non-profits, and S-corporations. In addition, many master’s programs offer elective coursework in subjects like corporate finance, international taxation, property taxation, interstate commerce, and trust and estate taxation. It is also not uncommon for students to complete a capstone research project as part of a master’s in taxation program.
Drawing on actual online master’s in taxation program curricula, the table below offers an overview of coursework students typically complete as part of these programs.
|Tax Research and Professional Responsibilities||An overview of the laws and ethics that pertain to tax professionals, and the research methodologies used by tax specialists.|
|Foundations of Taxation||The historical and theoretical foundations of the tax system, including case studies in tax law and the legal cases that underpin the contemporary tax code.|
|Principles of Auditing||The ethical and legal concerns in auditing individuals, partnerships, businesses, and corporate and non-profit entities.|
|Income Tax of Corporations and Shareholders||Federal laws and statutes regarding the taxation of transactions between corporate entities and their shareholders, including dividends and stock redemptions.|
|Federal Estate and Gift Taxes||An exploration of federal laws and statutes pertaining to wealth transfers, including the estate and gift taxes.|
|Partnership Taxation||An examination of the tax implication of partnership formation, liquidation, and other aspects of legal partnerships.|
|Communication for Accounting and Taxation Professionals||Professional writing and communication for tax specialists, including communicating with clients, businesses, and the IRS.|
|Taxation of Property Transactions||An overview of the processes for determining property value and corresponding tax liabilities, as well as the tax implications of depreciation and capital gains on property holdings.|
Admissions requirements and prerequisites for online master’s in taxation programs vary by program. The baseline requirement is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year college or university, or the equivalent. Some programs prefer candidates with at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, while other may require or prefer candidates who have one or more years of experience in tax-related positions. It is also not uncommon for programs to require students to have completed one or more courses before applying or enrolling, usually an economics course (microeconomics or macroeconomics) and a financial accounting course. Many programs require the submission of GRE or GMAT test scores, although this is generally waived for applicants who have already passed the Certified Public Account (CPA) exam. In addition to a formal application, many programs also require the submission of a short personal statement and letters of recommendation.
There are several key structural components that may distinguish one online master’s in taxation program from another. Online master’s in taxation programs are generally designed to accommodate working professionals and others who may have significant commitments outside of school. However, some programs may be more flexible in their design than others. The three primary areas of structural difference are: 1) online instructional methods; 2) enrollment options; 3) required campus visits.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: There are two basic methods for delivering online instruction. Synchronous instruction is delivered in real-time, which means that students must be logged on to the LMS to view lectures and/or participate in discussions and other class activities for designated periods of time each week. Asynchronous instruction does not include a real-time component. The asynchronous instruction format allows students to access lectures and other course materials at their convenience, 24-7. While synchronous instruction offers less flexibility than asynchronous instruction, it may be preferable for students who are more comfortable in an online learning environment that is similar to traditional classroom-based learning. It is also important to note that asynchronous instruction still requires students to keep up with class syllabi and turn in assignments by designated times.
Part-time vs. Full-time Enrollment: In order to accommodate students who may have already started their professional careers and who may opt to continue working while enrolled in an online master’s in taxation program, these programs often offer some amount of flexibility in enrollment options. A typical 30-32 credit-hour master’s in taxation programs can be completed in four or five semesters of full-time enrollment, or the equivalent of 20-24 months, by students who take three or more classes per semester. Many online programs offer students the option of part-time enrollment, which allows students to enroll in just one or two classes per semester. Students enrolled part-time in an online master’s in taxation program may take three or more years to graduate, and some programs put a cap on the number of years a student can be enrolled before graduating.
Campus Visits: Some online programs incorporate a limited number of campus visits, often referred to as intensives or immersion sessions, as part of the required curriculum. These on-campus sessions are instructional in nature. They may include lectures, seminars, discussions, and/or networking opportunities. Prospective applicants should take note of whether an online program includes these session, which may last for as few as two-to-three days or as many as seven-to-ten days. Campus visits require travel and students can incur expenses in addition to regular tuition costs while attending these sessions. However, campus visits can be a valuable addition to an online program, particularly for students who want the opportunity to meet with instructors and fellow classmates. OnlineEducation.com does not currently include online master’s in taxation programs that require more than two campus visits per year.