Potential Careers in Accounting for Graduate Students

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Virtually every industry involves some level of number-crunching. But if there is one line of work that embodies this task more than any other, it’s accounting. From organizing to analyzing to compiling and more, accountants’ day-to-day duties are wrapped up in dealing with massive volumes of data. As a result, most accounting job opportunities are typically found in the financial sector.

However, since financial management is a common bond of just about every occupation, accountants work in an incredibly diverse number of sectors in various capacities.

With an online Master of Accounting degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Collat School of Business, the career possibilities available to you are innumerable. While a bachelor’s degree in accounting is often sufficient to pursue a plethora of open positions, the skills you’ll learn through this program give you the tools and knowledge that employers look for in applicants.

The following will provide you with several examples of potential careers in accounting you can pursue with an online master’s degree in accounting, what some of the responsibilities of each position involve, and how much the occupations mentioned pay in terms of median salary. By the end, you may rediscover why accounting was a smart career path to choose for exciting professional opportunities and authentic upward mobility.

Accounting professional working with older couple clients at desk

Forensic accountant

These days when you hear the term “forensics,” you may think of television crime dramas like “CSI,” “Without a Trace,” “True Detective,” or “Blue Bloods.” Forensic accounting is a discipline that often intersects with crime, but the kind that is very real. Those who specialize in this industry may use their skills and capabilities to assess allegations of fraud, money laundering, industrial espionage, identity theft, and other money-related improprieties. Because these are very serious charges, a forensic accountant may be called upon by law enforcement agencies to corroborate whether these activities are occurring.

“Forensics” as a term literally means “suitable for use in court.” Accountants specializing in this area may be called to testify in hearings or trials to answer questions and present their findings.

How much forensic accountants earn can vary widely, often in line with their level of experience. Their median salary is approximately $68,924, according to the most recent figures available from PayScale. That’s right around what the median annual wage is for accountants in general, based on data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


The primary job function of an auditor is inspection. In this role, auditors are charged with closely examining the accuracy of financial statements, financial records, and other similar documents. Internal auditors may perform these tasks on behalf of their employer as proactive measure to ensure that the organization is complying with relevant laws and statutes. An external auditor, on the other hand, may work for an outside auditing firm or government accounting agencies that are charged with oversight.

While a master’s degree isn’t required to become an auditor — external or internal — individuals in these roles must be extremely adept at accuracy and have a comprehensive understanding of the rules and regulations of certain industries. Successful completion of a master’s degree and the CPA exam may be required as well, depending on the position.

According to PayScale, an auditor’s annual salary runs between $55,000 and $60,000. Employer, skill level, demand, and expertise can all factor into earning potential, as is the case for other similar careers in accounting.

Financial analyst

Just as accountants do more than count numbers, the same goes for financial analysts; their duties go far beyond analyzing finances. As the BLS explains, these analysts’ primary function is providing guidance to help businesses make smart investment decisions. Much of their time is thus focused on the stock market, analyzing how stocks and bonds are performing at any given moment. They also examine financial statements, which is part of the reason why accountants can smoothly transition to this role.

There are also specific types of financial analysts. Professionals in these positions may devote their efforts and expertise to particular areas of finance, such as investment decisions (when serving as portfolio managers) to managing unpredictability (as risk analysts).

Financial analysts are usually very well compensated. Their median annual wage in the U.S. is nearly $81,600, according to the BLS. The earning potential can easily be in the six-figure range, particularly for analysts who specialize in securities and commodity contracts.

Certified public accountant

The gold standard of accounting licensure, CPA certification provides a host of work opportunities that typically aren’t available to accountants with undergraduate degrees alone. Upon successful completion of the four-part CPA exam, CPAs can serve in advisory capacities, launch their own accounting firm (rather than working for an employer), or specialize in a particular type of accounting, such as forensics, management, software applications, or information systems.

CPAs also are usually paid more over the course of their career, making a CPA program a worthwhile investment. According to Accounting Today, the average salary for a CPA in the U.S. is currently $70,000. Those with decades of experience can often make more than double this amount, depending on what part of the country they work in and their employer.

An online master’s degree is a great way to better prepare yourself for what to expect in the CPA exam — and how to approach studying — so you make the most efficient use of your time.

Certified management accountant

Many people aspire to become a certified public accountant. An equally worthwhile pursuit is the role of certified management accountant. CMAs not only analyze data, but also help business owners make strategic decisions based on their insights, experience, and understanding of particular industries. If one were to combine accounting with financial analysis, a CMA might be the result.

According to the Accounting Institute for Success, CMAs are employed in many different business sectors aside from finance. They include manufacturing, education, mining, insurance, real estate, transportation, health services, construction, and utilities.

Much like CPAs, CMAs must go through comprehensive training and testing to earn their formal designation. These include the successful completion of a bachelor’s degree and passing Parts 1 and 2 of the CMA exam. The beauty of an online master’s degree is the concepts and techniques taught in the program can help you better prepare for the CMA exam, so you know what to expect when it comes time for testing.

Obtaining a CMA or CPA is highly recommended both for the skills that you can obtain and from an earnings perspective. Generally speaking, CMAs and CPAs tend to earn more than those with only a bachelor’s degree, because of their expertise and capabilities. According to the CMA Exam Academy, those who have a CMA stand to earn 47% more throughout their career compared to accounting professionals without this credential.

Tax examiner

As the job title implies, a tax examiner is charged helping organizations and individuals understand how much they owe in taxes. While everyone is required to pay taxes, the mandatory amount can vary widely, depending on laws at the state and/or federal level. Tax examiners help to make this understanding easier for their clients, which may be individuals or organizations.

Given the nature of their job, tax examiners are overwhelmingly employed in the public sector, specifically by federal and state governments. BLS figures show that tax examiners who work at the federal level tend to have a higher median salary ($61,590) compared to state ($53,760) or local government ($45,410).

Cost accountant

Running a business isn’t all about making money; it’s also about spending it. A cost accountant closely examines the actual cost of doing business so business owners and other decision-makers can maximize their performance and overall profitability.

Whether it’s assessing the price of labor, materials, research and development, overhead, or maintenance, cost accounting is another form of management accounting, which helps business owners with slim margins make smarter, more cost-efficient decisions.

In terms of earnings, their average salary per year ranges between $43,000 and $77,000, according to PayScale.

Budget analyst

Financial planning is a core component of just about every business decision, but it’s easier said than done. Budget analysts provide their clients with the tools and concepts to arrange their budgets so they can better manage spending. They may do this by helping managers review proposals, put finalized budget sheets together, monitor spending, and estimate future financial needs. Here are a few other duties that budget analysts typically perform, as outlined by the BLS:

  • Consolidate department budgets where possible.
  • Evaluate how savings programs are functioning.
  • Reconcile differences between approved and actual spending.
  • Explore alternative funding methods
  • Examine previous years’ budgets to uncover or identify areas of improvement.
  • Oversee spending over a given period of time.

As has been a theme with the accounting roles referenced, this specialty tends to pay well. The median annual wage for budget analysts is $76,540, based on the latest figures published by the BLS. Those who work for or on behalf of the federal government have the highest annual salary at over $83,000. This is a function of the deadline-driven nature of the job and the education that’s often required to become one. Many employers prefer to hire applicants who have a master’s degree in accounting, economics, or business administration. Similarly, credentials (i.e. a Certified Government Financial Manager distinction from the Association of Government Accountants) are highly recommended, but not necessarily required.

What you will gain through an accounting master’s degree program

With a bachelor’s degree, you’re well on your way to success in the field of general accounting. But if you’re interested in broadening your professional horizons, an online master’s degree is the way to go. At UAB’s Collat School of Business, the curriculum is designed to build upon what you learned as an undergraduate so you can broaden and strengthen your hard and soft skills. Moreover, because it’s 100% online, you can complete each course on your own schedule and at your own pace.

Apply today and take the first step toward starting a new career path.

Recommended Reading

The Benefits of Getting Your Master’s of Accounting Degree Online

Accounting Tips to Help You Pass Your First CPA


Bureau of Labor Statistics: Budget Analyst

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Accountants

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Tax Examiner

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Financial Analyst

Payscale: Auditor

Payscale: Forensic Accountant

Payscale: Cost Accountant

Accounting Institute for Success: What Is a CMA?

CMA Exam Academy: CMA Certification

Accounting Today: How Much Do Accountants Really Earn?