On this page

Back to top

Online Master’s in Accounting: California’s Top Programs

Author: Quinn Dannies

Editor: Mikalee Byerman

Invest in your career by earning your master’s in accounting (MAcc) online in California, where the demand for licensed CPAs continues to rise.

Find your school in just 60 seconds

Find Your School in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Take our quiz
  2. Match with schools
  3. Connect with favorites
A panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, with vibrant orange hues on the bridge and soft blue skies above, overlooking the calm water.

Looking for a lucrative, secure future — and maybe even a job that allows you to work from home? Accountants top the list of the most in-demand remote jobs in the country. In California specifically, demand for licensed CPAs is particularly high and expected to increase by a whopping 13% over the next 10 years.

So if your goal is to capitalize on these abundant opportunities, it’s time to explore a graduate degree in accounting. And better yet, earning your master’s in accounting online in California means you can strike a balance between school and other obligations.

In this guide, we’ll start by spotlighting top schools, and then we’ll dive into details about what you can expect from an online master’s in accounting in California and what you can do after graduation. Keep reading to get started on the next stage of your education and career.

School Spotlight: California Online Master of Accounting (MAcc) Programs

Let’s begin by identifying top schools. Part of the challenge of finding the best online master’s in accounting in California is that “best” means different things to different people. But we think there are a few qualities we can all agree on — outstanding quality, affordability, and excellent student outcomes among them. Below, we’ve highlighted three schools that offer a master’s in accounting online in California that check all these boxes. Perhaps one of these will be the perfect school for you, but if not, you can use these spotlights to give you an idea of what to expect from a quality online MAcc program and a point of comparison for evaluating other schools.

California State University, San Bernadino (CSUSB)

The online Master of Science in Accountancy program at CSUSB is a flexible, accessible MAcc program for students with a background in accounting or those new to the field. Students looking to change career course can better qualify for admission by earning an online accounting certificate before applying, participating in CSUSB’s Open University classes, or joining an intensive summer session.

Students can set their own pace, with the availability of a 16-month accelerated option — which operates on a traditional semester schedule and offers students the ability to engage deeply with classwork — or a less intensive MAcc that can take up to three years to complete.

On the curriculum front, CSUSB focuses on relevant skills and technology for modern accounting practices and pays special attention to preparing students to launch their own accounting firm. This makes CSUSB a great option for students searching for an online master’s in accounting in California with an eye toward business leadership.

Sacramento State University

The online Master of Science in Accountancy program at Sacramento State University is focused on preparing students to become well-rounded accountants who are ready to ace their CPA exam after graduation. The school’s curriculum is built around a comprehensive set of required courses targeted toward CPA licensure, which includes essential topics in auditing, financial accounting, regulation, and business concepts.

Before graduation, students apply their hard-earned knowledge to a culminating experience project in accounting and ethics. This unique capstone project allows students to engage in real-world accounting practices with an eye toward navigating the professional, ethical, and legal considerations that accountants encounter during their day-to-day work.

This program operates on an accelerated 18-month format. Students take classes one at a time in six-week sessions. This structure allows you to dedicate yourself completely to one topic at a time in order to fully engage with each course. Because the program caters to working professionals, all coursework is asynchronous and fully online for maximum flexibility.

National University

The MAcc program at National University may be the most flexible option for earning your master’s in accounting online in CA. National takes an innovative approach to scheduling by operating on a quarter-credit system. This means students take ultra-accelerated four-week courses that break content into smaller bites than traditional accelerated degrees; although your course list may look longer, it’s possible to finish your degree in about a year.

Another standout feature of National University comes in the form of financial aid. Students can apply for the Key Grant, a needs-based scholarship that awards applicants $625 per class.

National offers separate tracks for students with and without bachelor’s degrees in accounting, so students from all backgrounds have options to join the program. The school also prides itself on being veteran-founded and offering accommodations to veterans and active-duty military students.

What You’ll Learn in an Online MAcc Program

The curriculum for MAcc programs is designed to build on the foundational knowledge you’ve earned during undergraduate study, in the workforce, or by completing prerequisite courses. Generally, you’ll complete a set of core classes that will prepare you for CPA or other professional licensure exams. Alongside the core classes, you’ll have the opportunity to select from electives that suit your interests and professional goals.

Below are a few courses you can expect to find in the core curriculum of any reputable program offering an online master’s in accounting in California.

Advanced Accounting Information Systems

As the course name suggests, this class is all about mastering the systems you’ll use in your day-to-day work. Typically, these classes assume you’re well versed in basic software like QuickBooks, so your coursework will build upon your existing knowledge and focus on systems with specialized applications. These might include specific systems for managerial, financial, auditing, and tax accounting. In addition to gaining this foundational knowledge, you may also cover accounting systems design, database setup, and information-based decision making.

Accounting Law and Ethics

Accounting law is a whole graduate degree in itself, so don’t expect to emerge from this class with all the details of tax law in hand. Rather, accounting law and ethics courses typically focus on preparing you to handle situations that may arise during the course of your work. The curriculum may include history, relevant legislation, and ethical guidelines. You’ll leave the class equipped to comport yourself with professionalism and stay on the right side of accounting law. Because the CPA exam includes an ethics section, most schools that offer a master’s in accounting online in California build their syllabus around topics that will be covered in that test.

Taxation

Depending on your program and specialization, you can expect to take one or more courses on taxation. Some schools offer a single taxation class for non-specialists that covers the basics of personal, business, and non-profit tax law and best practices. Other programs break those topics down into three separate classes to allow for more in-depth study. If you plan on specializing in taxation, you might look for a program that offers more focused instruction or a dedicated program of study.

Online MAcc Program Specializations for CA Students

Many students pursue their MAcc to develop specialized skills. This means you’ll find that most schools that offer an online master’s in accounting in California allow students to tailor their education to their interests. Sometimes you’ll find that a school might advertise a specialized track in their MAcc program, while others offer a more DIY approach by allowing students to opt for electives that match their long-term goals. In this section, we’ll cover a few popular specializations for MAcc students in CA.

Forensic Accounting

Forensic accountants require specialized knowledge in accounting systems, law, and ethics. Because of this, they need coursework that goes above and beyond what is covered in the typical core curriculum. Schools that offer a forensic accounting program give students the opportunity to pursue coursework that emphasizes these skills and prepares graduates to solve accounting mysteries. Many programs also offer specialized classes to introduce you to the topic, like UCLA’s online Financial Investigations and Forensic Accounting course.

Management Accounting

Students who specialize in management accounting often have their eye on C-suite positions or careers in financial management. Coursework in this emphasis typically focuses on data-driven decision-making, corporate accounting, and accounting information systems.

Accounting Data & Analytics

MAcc programs in accounting data and analytics, like the one at Golden Gate University, prepare you to apply new technologies to traditional accounting practices. These degrees are becoming increasingly popular as businesses are beginning to consider how AI, automation, and other tech can help inform decision-making and improve efficiency.

The Cost of a Master’s in Accounting in California

If you’re considering a master’s in accounting, the importance of financing your degree has likely already crossed your mind. In fact, one of the best ways to maximize the benefits of your education is to pay as little as possible out of pocket.

Before you start the hunt for your dream school, make a budget and stick to it. It is important to remember that a high price tag doesn’t necessarily mean a better education. Instead, focus on finding accredited MAcc programs with affordable tuition. Also thoroughly research your financial aid (more on that in a minute). By making smart financial decisions when it comes to picking your program, you’ll be in a position to focus on your studies and future career without the stress of unnecessary debt weighing you down.

To help you plan your budget, we’ve laid out the costs of a few popular programs in the table below to help you get a feel for the cost of an accounting master’s degree.

School No. of Credits Resident Cost/Credit Est. Resident Tuition
University of California, San Bernadino 33

$900

$29,700

Sacramento State University 30

$740

$22,200

National University 45

$442

$19,890

Financial Aid Options for California Accounting Majors

If the table above has your blood pressure spiking, don’t panic just yet. With a little legwork, you can likely round up some financial support so you don’t have to pay the full cost out of pocket.

One traditional approach to paying for a master’s degree is to work as a graduate assistant in exchange for a tuition waiver and stipend. While these positions do exist for online students, they may not be as common. Fortunately, there are other options as well. Many online programs offer other financial aid opportunities to make their programs more accessible. These opportunities may include scholarships, grants, and fellowships awarded based on merit or financial need.

You can also look for financial aid outside of your future program. Many professional organizations like the California CPA Association have scholarship programs for future accountants. Another popular option for students is to take advantage of employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement or professional development programs to pay for their coursework.

California’s Most Lucrative Accounting Careers

Career advancement is a common reason that students choose to pursue a master’s in accounting online in California. Indeed, earning an accounting graduate degree is a great choice if you’re looking to level up and increase your paycheck. Although you don’t need a master’s degree for licensure in California, the extra experience you earn during a graduate program can prepare you to ace your CPA exam and qualify you for better paying positions right out of the gate.

Below, we’ve looked at the wage information and growth projections for popular accounting careers that favor master’s degree holders. You can use this information to help you get a feel for the potential return on your investment in a graduate program.

Certified Personal Accountant (CPA)

The job title “CPA” covers a pretty broad range of responsibilities. CPAs might work with individuals to manage their taxes, create budgets and analyze data for business clients, conduct audits, or perform many other accountant-type services. The key here is that calling yourself a CPA means you’ve passed your state exams and hold a CPA license. This license demonstrates that you are an expert in the field and typically commands significantly higher salaries than non-CPA accountants.

CA Career Outlook: CPA

Median Salary
(CA)
Top 10% Salary
(CA)
CA Projected Growth
(2020-30)
US Projected Growth
(2022-32)
$92,160 $159,330 13% 4%

CA Median Salary
$92,160
CA Top 10% Salary
$159,330
CA Projected Growth (2020-30)
13%
US Projected Growth (2022-32)
4%

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Tax Accountant

Tax accountants may work for individual, business, international, or non-profit clients to help them manage their records and prepare tax documents. Depending on your goals and available opportunities, you might work for a tax accountancy firm (or start your own) or for a single organization. Because taxes are too complicated for the average mortal, there is plenty of demand for specialists in this field. If taxes are your passion, you may consider bolstering your credentials by pursuing a program that offers a specialization in taxation.

CA Career Outlook: Tax Accountant

Median Salary
(CA)
Top 10% Salary
(CA)
CA Projected Growth
(2020-30)
US Projected Growth
(2022-32)
$92,160 $159,330 13% 4%

CA Median Salary
$92,160
CA Top 10% Salary
$159,330
CA Projected Growth (2020-30)
13%
US Projected Growth (2022-32)
4%

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Fraud Examiner

If you love accounting and mysteries, a career as a fraud examiner might be ideal for you. Fraud analysts review accounts, perform interviews, and generally put in the work to track down financial bad actors. For the management-minded, there are also careers that involve overseeing fraud prevention and detection systems. Many fraud examiners are employed by the government, but there are also opportunities to work as an independent consultant or for larger companies as an in-house expert.

CA Career Outlook: Fraud Examiner

Median Salary
(CA)
Top 10% Salary
(CA)
CA Projected Growth
(2020-30)
US Projected Growth
(2022-32)
$78,500 $154,380 15% 6%

CA Median Salary
$78,500
CA Top 10% Salary
$154,380
CA Projected Growth (2020-30)
15%
US Projected Growth (2022-32)
6%

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

FAQs About California Accounting Master’s Programs

Is it worthwhile to earn a master’s degree in accounting in California?

In short, yes. For starters, the long-term earning potential for accountants with a master’s degree is significantly higher than if you only have a bachelor’s. But, even for accountants, life isn’t all about money. Because having a master’s in accounting qualifies you for more advanced roles, you’ll also be able to take on more interesting work that is focused on your interests and expertise. The chance to take on engaging and meaningful work sets you up for a fulfilling, sustainable career with ample opportunities for growth.

How important is accreditation when choosing an online MAcc program?

We’re not exaggerating when we say that accreditation is the most important factor in choosing an online master’s in accounting program. Specifically, you should focus on programs that carry both school-level accreditation and accreditation by the AACSB. Accreditation ensures that your program of choice meets a high standard of academic excellence. The AACSB focuses specifically on reviewing and endorsing accounting programs, so their stamp of approval carries extra weight. When you attend an unaccredited school, you run the risk of receiving a sub-par education and earning a diploma that may not be seen as valid by future employers or your state licensing board.

Can I earn an online graduate certificate in accounting instead of a master’s degree?

Absolutely! Graduate certificates in accounting aren’t as rigorous as a full master’s degree, but they can be a great way to develop specialized skills and develop professionally. Management accounting graduate certificate programs are particularly popular because they can help you round out your skills as you climb the corporate ladder. Earning a graduate certificate can also be a great way to test out the grad-school waters. As long as you earn your certificate at an accredited school (we can’t stress this enough), you should be able to apply your certificate credits toward a future MAcc degree.

What are common admission requirements for online accounting programs?

Admission requirements vary from program to program. The main difference you may find is that some schools are geared more toward students who already have experience and credentials in the field. These schools may require a certain amount of work experience and professional licensure. Other programs are open to students who may be newer to the field and have fewer professional prerequisites.

A major factor for many students is whether or not a school requires applicants to complete the GMAT. Because accounting relies heavily on quantitative skills, many programs insist that students take the test. However, there are excellent programs that don’t require the GMAT or offer test waivers based on your credentials and academic background.

Do I need an undergraduate degree in accounting to enroll in a MAcc program?

For the most part, MAcc programs don’t insist that you have a bachelor’s in accounting to pursue your master’s. However, almost universally, schools do require specific prerequisite courses or equivalent professional experience.

If you don’t have an accounting background, you can set yourself up for your master’s by taking your prerequisites independently before applying. Alternatively, you can look for programs that have a track specifically for students like you. These programs typically involve an extra time commitment because you’ll start your coursework with foundational classes to help you get up to speed before diving into the advanced curriculum.