What Is a Master's in Accounting?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

You have degree options at the master's level, including the Master of Accounting (MAC) or the Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting.

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Accounting is an important component of business operations, which is why accountants and similar roles show steady 7 percent job growth over the next decade, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [1]. 

Working in accounting often requires being analytical, understanding business principles, and being comfortable with technology. A master’s degree in accounting is a graduate degree that deepens your knowledge of accounting and finance. Whether you’re seeking to advance in your current role or move into a new career, you can pursue either goal with a master’s in accounting degree. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the types of accounting degrees available to earn, what you’ll learn in each program, and what you can do with them. 

Master’s degree in accounting

At the master’s level, accounting programs often focus on helping you develop a greater knowledge of accounting and finance. More than mastering spreadsheets and other accounting software, you may also be expected to deepen your analytical abilities with in-demand data skills, such as statistical analysis, coding, and more. 

You can earn your master’s in accounting in-person or online, and program lengths vary: from eight months to two years of full-time study. It’s worth noting that accelerated programs, such as those that take less than a year to complete, can require a more significant time commitment to ensure you finish on time. 

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Master of Science in Accountancy (iMSA)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Types of master's in accounting degrees

It’s possible to earn different types of master’s degrees in accounting or related subjects, such as taxation. Let’s review the key differences. 

  • Master of Accounting (MAC): Sometimes called the Master of Accountancy or the Master of Science in Accounting, this general master’s degree is often designed for students who earned their bachelor’s in accounting and have a firm understanding of business and accounting principles. You will focus on learning advanced accounting techniques in a shorter time frame (around one year) than other programs. It will also prepare you to take the CPA exam, if you so choose.

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Accounting: The MBA is a lucrative business degree that combines a general knowledge of business with a concentration in accounting. You can expect a combination of business courses on operations and management, among other key subjects, with some accounting courses. You typically do not need to have a bachelor’s degree in accounting to apply for this type of program. 

  • Master of Professional Accounting: This graduate program, which is often available online, is similar in length to the MS in Accounting, and typically designed for students who earned their bachelor’s in accounting. Besides deepening your knowledge of accounting, it’s often specifically geared to students interested in taking the CPA exam. 

  • Master of Science in Taxation: Typically intended for accounting students who want to advance their knowledge of complex tax codes, this two-year program focuses on a mix of accounting and taxation coursework to help you move into a tax-focused career, such as tax advisor. 

Master’s in accounting coursework

The type of accounting master’s degree you choose will determine the coursework you must take. For example, the MS in Accounting focuses almost exclusively on accounting and financial coursework, whereas the MBA will bridge business and accounting. 

Common MAC coursework includes:

  • Federal taxation

  • International taxation

  • Corporate taxation

  • Cost systems

  • Auditing and assurance 

  • Ethics and negotiations

  • Tax practice and procedure

Common MBA coursework includes:

  • Corporate finance

  • Business contracts

  • Microeconomics

  • Managing people and organizations

  • Consumer behavior

  • Business communications

  • Supply chain management

  • Principles of operation

Master's in accounting concentrations

As a graduate student in accounting, you may have the opportunity to specialize in an area of accounting that best suits your career goals. Programs may offer different concentrations, so it’s best to review the ones you’re interested in attending for more information. 

Some common MAC concentrations are: 

  • Assurance

  • Audit and control

  • Financial reporting

  • Accounting information systems

  • Public accounting

  • Business administration

  • Managerial accounting 

What can you do with a master's in accounting?

With a master’s in accounting, you can work in numerous industries performing an array of accounting, financial, tax, or managerial duties. However, with an MBA, you can also explore careers related to business in general, including management and leadership. 

While the median annual pay for an accountant is $77,250, according to the BLS, you can explore more advanced roles with a master’s in accounting [2].

Job titleTotal annual pay*
Accounting manager$100,956
Senior auditor$101,451
Senior accountant$111,221
Finance manager$133,389
Corporate controller$139,683
Tax director$147,730
Chief financial officer (CFO)$223,386

*All salary and bonus data from Glassdoor as of August 2022.

Do you need a master's in accounting to be a CPA?

MAC degree programs or Master of Professional Accounting programs both prepare you to take the CPA exam. States grant CPA licensure and traditionally require 150 credit hours from an accredited college or university before you can take the exam. Because a bachelor’s degree typically involves earning a minimum of 120 credit hours, you’ll need another 30 credit hours at the graduate level to qualify for the CPA exam, which is why many master’s programs are designed to take one year or less.  

If you have a bachelor’s degree, you may be allowed to take credit courses toward meeting the CPA exam qualifications without pursuing a degree. Check your state’s CPA licensing requirements to learn more. 

Choosing the best master's in accounting program for you

The best master’s in accounting program for you will depend on your resources, your career goals, and your preferred way of learning. Here are some ways to reflect on the best type of degree—and program—for you. 

Online vs. in-person 

Because you have the option of earning your accounting master’s degree online or in-person, think about which learning style seems most suited to your needs. While some students enjoy the structure of in-person learning, others enjoy the flexibility of learning online. 

Length of program 

The length of your program will depend on the type of master’s degree you choose to earn: MAC vs. MBA. Remember that MAC and Master of Professional Accounting degrees take one year and require you to first have earned your bachelor’s degree in accounting. 

Cost

A Master of Accounting degree may cost less than an MBA. The average cost of a two-year master’s degree is $66,340, but MAC degrees take around one year to earn [3]. However, the average tuition at top US MBA programs is $148,978, according to a report from BusinessBecause [4].  

Coursework 

What you learn is often the most important part of a graduate education. As you review potential programs, browse course catalogs to understand what you’ll be studying because it’s important to make sure that the coursework aligns with your larger career and educational goals.

For example, if you want to focus almost exclusively on accounting then perhaps an MAC makes more sense. However, if you want to hone your business acumen in equal measure then perhaps an MBA makes more sense.  

Learn more: Is a Master’s Degree Worth It?

Next steps

You can earn your Master's of Accounting (iMSA) from the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois on Coursera. There’s no application fee and you can be considered for a range of scholarships. 

You can also take master's level coursework such as the MasterTrack Certificates Finance, Analysis and Modeling and Supply Chain Excellence offered by Rutgers.  

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Accountants and Auditors: Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Business-and-Financial/Accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-6.” Accessed August 30, 2022.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Accounts and Auditors: Pay, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Business-and-Financial/Accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-5.” Accessed August 31, 2022.

3. Education Data Initiative. “Average Cost of a Master’s Degree, https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-a-masters-degree.” Accessed August 30, 2022. 

4. BusinessBecause. “BusinessBecause Cost of MBA Report 2021, https://www.businessbecause.com/resources/resources-guides/cost_of_mba_report_2021.” Accessed August 30, 2022. 

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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