Four Certifications You Can Pursue with a Master’s in Accounting

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Far from a homogeneous field, accounting offers many specialized areas and certifications that may enable students to pursue a unique niche and a rewarding career. Earning a Master of Science in Accounting can prepare aspiring professionals to pursue certification in public accounting, management accounting, fraud examination, or internal auditing.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the job market for accountants will continue to grow at a rate of 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, the agency indicates that those who earn professional certification may have an advantage over their colleagues. Since the BLS estimates that the median income for accountants and auditors is $68,150, while the top 10 percent earn more than $120,910, ambitious professionals in this field could have ample opportunity to advance.

The accounting field offers myriad opportunities for driven professionals to pursue specializations in areas including auditing, public accounting, management accounting, and fraud examination. While each focus area requires aspiring professionals to pass a specialized exam, earning an MSA degree may prepare professionals for this initial assessment and enable them to acquire necessary skills and experience for any specialization. Discover how earning a master’s in accounting could prepare students to pursue four key accounting certifications.

Certified Public Accountant

Certified public accountants (CPAs) have more experience and education than the typical accountant, and they can process financial statements, serve as financial advisors, and help businesses develop savvy financial strategies. Earning CPA certification has the potential to open more doors for students, as it may allow professionals to take on roles like accounting director, chief financial officer (CFO), and other executive-level positions.

As Robert Half states, the CPA designation is “highly valued throughout the accounting industry, and some companies even require it for managerial jobs. If you know you want to make your career in accounting and have the time and money to invest, the CPA is a good certification to pursue.”

While some CPAs opt to specialize in certain industries, others choose to offer services in a specialized area, which may allow them to develop expert-level skills and in-demand experience. CPAs may specialize in financial planning, industry-specific financial consulting, nonprofit accounting, or many other areas of interest.

To earn CPA certification, students will need to meet academic requirements, pass a uniform examination, and earn licensure. For most aspiring CPAs, the path to certification begins with finishing 150 semester hours of accounting education. Although the typical undergraduate degree does not satisfy these academic requirements, aspiring CPAs can earn 150 semester hours by enrolling in a Master of Accounting program, which enables students to earn a graduate degree while also working toward CPA licensure.

As the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) explains, this level of education has become essential for accountants to become proficient in tax law, complex business methods, and federal and state regulations. Completing the 150 semester hours may also enable students to become adept at information systems design, accounting automation, and other contemporary issues.

In addition to helping meet the 150-semester-hour requirement, earning a Master of Science in Accounting may offer additional preparation for pursuing CPA certification. The NEC curriculum, which includes courses on international accounting, government and nonprofit reporting, and auditing and attestation, can provide the educational basis needed to pursue a career in this field.

Preparing for the CPA Exam

Upon completing the educational requirement for this certification, students can prepare for the exam, which includes components on regulation, auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, and financial accounting and reporting. After passing the CPA exam, which takes a total of 16 hours to complete, they can apply for licensure in a specific state and build a career as a CPA.

Certified Management Accountant

Certified management accountants (CMAs) specialize in analyzing balance sheets, financial statements, and financial reports for companies and organizations of all sizes. These professionals focus on providing in-depth research, measured studies, and data-based investigations of the numbers that power all types of organizations.

Since CMAs can provide high-value analysis rather than simply crunch numbers, these professionals often take on leadership roles. Accountants who have earned the CMA certification may take on positions such as treasurer, budget analyst, senior accountant, CFO, and even chief executive officer.

In many cases, CMAs may also have advanced earning potential. According to the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), over the course of their career, 22-year-old CMAs could earn $500,000 more than professionals without a CMA or CPA certification.

To earn CMA certification, candidates must maintain IMA membership, earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, complete two years of professional experience in management accounting, and complete both parts of the CMA exam. Upon passing the CMA exam, professionals can use the CMA designation, which may help advance their careers.

Although hopefuls do not have to earn a master’s degree prior to pursuing the CMA designation, the MSA may help prepare aspiring management accountants to pass the CMA exam and make the most of their certification. The MSA curriculum includes courses on cost accounting, which focuses on reporting and improving financial performance, and business finance, which concentrates on financial analysis and management as well as capital budgeting and handling corporate funds. The Master of Science in Accounting program’s courses on business law and ethical standards may also help students master key concepts of management accounting.

Certified Fraud Examiner

Certified fraud examiners (CFEs) serve on the front lines of fraud identification and prevention in the financial industry. These professionals specialize in analyzing financial transactions for fraud schemes, investigating potentially dishonest accounting activity, understanding how the law applies to financial deception, and deterring fraudulent activity in a variety of settings. Fraud examiners may analyze data, review records, interview employees, and even testify in court.

CFEs may pursue a range of positions, including forensic accountant, audit specialist, management consultant, special agent, or compliance officer. Those who earn the CFE designation not only hold a professional certification but also have the potential to increase their earnings. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), professionals who hold a CFE earn more than 30 percent more than colleagues without certification.

Since experienced CFEs can help organizations save money and improve performance, they may offer employers substantial benefits. Because the CFE serves as an international indicator of excellence in this field, earning this credential may help fraud specialists advance their careers no matter which location they prefer.

To earn CFE certification, candidates should familiarize themselves with the ACFE’s point system. The organization awards points for professional experience and academic degrees, and aspiring CFEs must have at least 50 points plus two years of relevant experience before taking the professional exam.

Earning a master’s in accounting and completing the Master of Science in Accounting coursework may help candidates gain essential knowledge on fraud-related topics. Courses on government and nonprofit reporting cover reporting and disclosure issues for a range of entity types, while classes on auditing and attestation cover enterprise risk management, compliance, and audit planning for small and large organizations. Graduate-level courses on auditing standards and ethics may also guide aspiring CFEs as they prepare for their professional pursuits.

Certified Internal Auditor

Certified internal auditors (CIAs) specialize in high-level internal auditing practices. Earning this designation may help students position themselves as trusted advisors and may also open doors to advanced career opportunities. Since these professionals could earn $38,000 more annually with a CIA certification than without, according to the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), this designation could also increase earning potential.

As a CIA, accountants may choose among four different specializations. With a Certification in Control Self-Assessment, professionals could provide high-level risk management. As a Certified Financial Services Auditor, accountants could advance their career in the banking or savings and loan industry. As a Certified Government Auditing Professional, focused individuals could specialize in the public sector. With a Certification in Risk Management Assurance, a student could become a risk management leader.

To earn CIA certification, the accountant must hold a four-year degree from an accredited institution, pass the CIA exam, and provide a character reference. He or she must also have a predetermined amount of work experience, depending on educational background. With a master’s degree, accountants usually need only 12 months of professional experience.

Earning a master’s in accounting can help students become eligible to take the CIA exam, and the coursework may prepare them to excel in this field. Courses on auditing and attestation cover auditing controls and risk management, while classes on ethical standards for auditing professionals examine the ethical behavior issues and compliance standards that candidates must master.

Whether you aspire to a career as a CIA, CFE, CMA, or CPA, earning an online master’s in accounting could enable you to achieve your professional goals. Visit the School of Graduate and Professional Studies at New England College to obtain online Master of Science in Accounting program details and discover how this degree could prepare you to pursue certification in the accounting field.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Association of International Certified Professional Accountants – Career Paths

Association of International Certified Professional Accountants – Examination Content

Association of International Certified Professional Accountants – Licensure Requirements

Institute of Management Accountants
Association of Certified Fraud Examiners – Benefits
Association of Certified Fraud Examiners – Qualifications
Association of Certified Fraud Examiners – Skill Set
The Institute of Internal Auditors – Certification
The Institute of Internal Auditors – Certified Internal Auditor
The Institute of Internal Auditors – Steps to Certification
Robert Half