2021 Guide to the Best Online Master’s Degrees in Accounting

Maximize your potential in the accounting field by earning a master’s in accounting online. Find the best program for you and learn what it takes to get this degree in a flexible online program.

If you’re a stickler for accuracy and a natural with numbers, earning a master’s in accounting online degree might be a good career move for you. An accounting master’s is usually needed to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). It’s also required for those who want to dive into specialty areas in accounting, such as tax accounting. These advanced concepts simply can’t be covered at the bachelor’s level, and they set graduates up for work in a variety of well-paying fields.

Before choosing from one of the many great options for online master’s degrees in accounting, you might have some questions, such as how to choose a school, what kind of classes you’ll take, and what kind of employment prospects you’ll have after you graduate. Get answers to those questions and many more in this guide. Read on and start your journey toward getting your online master’s degree in accounting.

College Spotlights: Best Master’s in Accounting Online Programs in 2021

A graduate degree in accounting can open a number of professional pathways and opportunities, so it’s not surprising that there are plenty of online master’s in accounting programs to choose from. To help you find the right one, you’ll want to consider cost, education quality, and learning options. Here are three top-notch programs that give you a good idea of what’s out there. Look for a full list of program rankings later in 2021.

The University of Arizona

Offered through the Eller College of Management, the Master of Science in Accounting Online program at The University of Arizona is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and is tailor-made for students who need maximum learning flexibility and convenience. Students choose from one of six start dates and earn their degrees in as little as one year, or they can complete coursework at a slower pace, allowing more time to graduate while they continue working or taking care of personal obligations.

The 30-credit curriculum is 100% online, meaning no campus visits are necessary to graduate. To apply, students must have a bachelor’s degree with at least a 3.0 GPA. Even though a finance, accounting, or business bachelor’s degree is not required, incoming students must complete several prerequisites, such as financial accounting, managerial accounting, and principles of federal taxation. Applicants must also provide GMAT test scores, with scores between 500 and 700 the most likely to result in acceptance to the program.

Auburn University

Students looking to earn their Master of Accountancy degree will appreciate Auburn University’s Master of Accountancy online degree program from the Harbert College of Business. Accredited by the AACSB, this program’s curriculum helps graduates prepare for the CPA exam; Auburn University graduates boast an 87% CPA exam pass rate. The program is made up of 30 credits, 18 of which are electives. This gives students ample opportunities to choose a subspecialty through classes like business law, predictive modeling, and real estate investing.

The vast majority of the coursework is online. However, students will need to complete one three-day, on-campus residency. The residency takes place in the final spring semester of the program and consists of a series of business seminars, workshops, and social events. In addition to the learning that occurs during the residency, it also offers networking opportunities that other 100% online master’s degree in accounting programs do not offer.

Purdue University Global

The Master of Science Degree in Accounting Online program at Purdue University Global is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and offers students the chance to study cost accounting, auditing, taxation, research, and risk management. But the curriculum goes further, providing three concentrations to choose from: Tax, Public Accounting-CPA Track, and Private/Corporate Accounting-CMA Track.

Students must complete 52 quarter credits, with each class taught in a six-week term. This makes it easier for students to fit coursework into their busy personal or professional schedules. For additional flexibility, students choose from four different start dates between March and August. Depending on their track, graduates will be ready for the Certified Public Account exam, Certified Internal Auditor exam, or the Certified Management Accountant exam.

Advantages of Earning an Online Master’s in Accounting

The master’s in accounting online degree is one of the most useful graduate degrees for anyone who has an interest in accounting. Not only is it necessary to become a CPA, but it also offers flexible learning options and provides the chance to shift career fields by completing one of the many specializations available. Here are some other reasons to choose a master’s in accounting online program:

  1. Work while in school

    Most students can earn their master’s in accounting fully online, with no need to visit campus. They can also choose when to start and attend classes, thanks to programs offered in an asynchronous format. All of this makes it possible to continue working while in school.

  2. Become a CPA

    Though this varies by state requirements, for the most part a master’s in accounting isn’t required to become a CPA. However, a bachelor’s degree in accounting usually doesn’t offer the necessary academic training hours needed to take the CPA exam. Students need roughly two semesters of full-time coursework beyond the typical bachelor’s degree to become eligible to take the CPA exam.

  3. Specialize

    Most online master’s in accounting programs offer several areas of specialization. And even the ones that don’t have a robust list of electives available, giving an ample opportunity for students to tailor their education and meet their professional goals.

What You’ll Learn in Master’s in Accounting Online Programs

The majority of online master’s degree in accounting programs have two sets of classes. The core classes are required for all students and cover advanced auditing, accounting, and financial principles. The electives allow students to customize their education. The following is a list of classes that provide a good idea of what you can expect if you enroll in a master’s in accounting online program.

Popular Courses

  • Advanced Accounting

    One of the core classes that all students must take, Advanced Accounting covers the creation of financial and accounting statements and the reasoning behind them. Students also learn about other forms of accounting and financial statements, such as those involving foreign currency, securities, and corporate restructuring.

  • Income Tax II

    Before enrolling in a master’s in accounting online program, most students have foundational income tax courses under their belt. In this class, students take the next step and learn about income tax concepts for corporations, sole proprietorships, estates, trusts, and partnerships.

  • Fraud Examination

    The primary focus of this class is to look at various types of accounting fraud, including how and why it occurs. But the class also covers how accounting fraud is investigated and what happens when fraud is discovered. Students discuss why fraud occurs and steps organizations can take to prevent it.

  • Advanced Auditing

    This course teaches students how to think like independent auditors. In addition to learning how to conduct an audit and create a report to summarize findings, students also learn about ethical guidelines and how to use technology to improve the auditing process.

  • Ethics for Professional Accountants

    Accounting may be about numbers and rules, but gray areas still exist. This class outlines many of these gray areas to increase awareness of ethical challenges. Students also learn about the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants Professional Code of Conduct.

Specialization Options

Besides becoming a CPA, one of the biggest reasons students enroll in a master’s in accounting online program is to specialize in a particular area. This may be helpful in getting a promotion or changing employers, and it may also help a student become more effective in their current job by developing more advanced skills. Here are five of the most popular specializations in online master’s in accounting programs.

  • Forensic Accounting

    Many crimes are financial in nature, with highly complex schemes. It takes special tools to examine financial and accounting documents to detect evidence of fraud and embezzlement. This concentration teaches these tools, as well as how to work with law enforcement to gather evidence and establish a case.

    Learn more about online master’s degrees in forensic accounting

  • Taxation

    This specialization is among the most popular, given the prevalence of tax questions and issues in financial and accounting environments. Students learn about various tax codes and principles, such as individual income tax, corporate tax issues, trust and estate tax questions, and tax law.

    Learn more about online master’s degrees in taxation

  • Healthcare Management

    Hospitals and other medical organizations have elaborate and complex accounting and financial operations. This specialization is meant for students who work in a healthcare setting and would like to better apply their accounting expertise. Topics covered include the economics of healthcare businesses, healthcare accounting principles, and leadership.

  • Finance

    Not every accounting student wants to be an accountant or auditor. Some want to learn more about accounting so they can be more effective in finance. This specialization teaches advanced accounting knowledge along with helping students take the next step in their finance education. Classes include valuation modeling, financial statement analysis, and financial management.

  • Public Accounting

    Many students enroll in an online master’s in accounting program with the goal of becoming a CPA. To help students succeed, many schools have special curricula developed to prepare students to take and pass the CPA exam. Topics covered in this specialization include financial analytics, business consulting, and government accounting.

Accreditation for Online Master’s Degree in Accounting Programs

To ensure students receive a high-quality education, independent organizations review a school or its programs and grant accreditation. This is important for getting financial aid or having other schools or employers recognize a student’s degree.

There are two main types of accreditation. Institutional accreditation applies to an entire school. Most institutional accreditation comes from regional accrediting bodies. Programmatic accreditation applies to a specific program. When it comes to online master’s degrees in accounting, there are two main organizations that grant programmatic accreditation: AACSB and ACBSP. Any prospective student should confirm that their master’s in accounting online program is accredited by either of these organizations.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Accounting

The master’s degree in accounting is a very technical and highly specialized degree. This means that graduates can expect to focus much of their work on accounting and other financial duties. These duties include examination of tax and accounting principles in a variety of contexts, such as auditing or counseling services to help clients navigate their way through the tax system or understanding accounting requirements for a specific goal, like selling securities. However, where students with a master’s in accounting get hired varies widely, from the private sector to the government to having their own business. Here are some of the possibilities.

Accountant

Accountants prepare and analyze financial documents for clients, such as companies, nonprofit organizations, and individuals. While a master’s degree isn’t technically required to become an accountant, if an individual wants to become a CPA a master’s degree is usually necessary to meet the education hours necessary to be eligible for the CPA exam.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$44,480 $71,550 $124,450

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Financial Examiner

Financial examiners confirm that financial records comply with applicable tax or securities laws. A master’s degree in accounting helps by allowing a financial examiner to become a CPA and take on greater responsibilities. The master’s can also provide specialized training, opening up new options for financial examiners.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$43,500 $81,090 $158,200

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Tax Attorney

To become a lawyer, an individual must earn a juris doctorate degree. However, many current lawyers that deal with taxes and financial documents benefit from an online master’s degree in accounting. This is especially true for divorce and finance attorneys; having a deep understanding of accounting and tax principles can give their clients an edge during negotiations.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$59,670 $122,960 $208,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Financial Manager

Financial managers are responsible for the financial operations of their organizations. A master’s in accounting online program provides the additional expertise necessary for preparing and examining financial documents, especially when making long-term projections. These skills are important because financial managers oversee individuals who create financial documents; having a background in how these documents are prepared makes a financial manager more effective.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$68,370 $129,890 $208,000+

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Personal Financial Advisor

Personal financial advisors work with clients on financial decisions about investments, taxes, estate planning, and insurance. These clients are often individuals or families. Completing a master’s in accounting online program is not technically a requirement, but it can provide much-needed background to offer the best financial advice possible. This is particularly true of personal financial advisors who complete their accounting degrees with a specialization in taxation, as almost any financial decision has tax implications.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$42,950 $87,850 $208,000+

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Accounting

Before starting a master’s in accounting online program, you’ll need to figure out how to pay for it. That’s one of the biggest hurdles; the good news is the many financial aid options available, such as grants, scholarships, fellowships, student loans, and employer tuition assistance. The latter form of financial aid is one of the most convenient, but keep in mind that you may be required to work for your current employer for a set length of time after graduating. To learn more about other financial aid options, visit this financial aid page.

What Your Online Master’s in Accounting Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost

Southern New Hampshire University

36

$627

$22,572

University of Oklahoma

33

$984.85 (est)

$32,500

University of North Dakota

30

$765

$22,950

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Accounting Master’s Degrees

What are the typical admissions requirements for an online master’s in accounting?

Each master’s in accounting online program has its own admissions requirements. For most programs, applicants need to provide the following:

  • Official transcripts showing completion of a bachelor’s degree
  • GRE or GMAT test scores
  • Reference letters or letters of recommendation
  • Completed application
  • Application fee
  • Resume or curriculum vitae
  • Personal statement or statement of purpose

For most programs, a bachelor’s degree in accounting, business, or finance is not required. However, students who don’t have these degrees will need to show that they’ve taken certain accounting prerequisites.

How long will it take to finish my master’s in accounting online?

Many master’s in accounting online programs consist of 30 to 36 credits and can be completed in about one year, assuming full-time study. However, plenty of programs are set up so students can take classes part-time, extending the time it takes to earn a degree to two or three years. Check out this example at Western Governors University.

Can I earn a master’s in accounting 100% online or do I need to visit campus?

Most programs are 100% online, with students completing all coursework without ever having to set foot on campus. However a few programs have limited in-person requirements, such as an on-campus residency. These usually last a few days and offer students the chance to interact with their classmates and professors face to face. These experiences provide a different way to learn and a chance to network and solidify professional connections