Whether you earned your bachelor’s degree recently or more than a decade ago, by now you recognize the benefits of an accounting degree. You may love numbers and have excelled in mathematics in high school, but being truly successful in accounting requires skill, resolve, and expertise, all of which accounting firms assiduously look for on resumes before hiring accounting graduates. Even entry-level accountants require robust qualifications that attest to their capabilities. A college degree has supplied you with the training and understanding that led you to become the accountant you are today.
But have you ever thought about the benefits of an accounting degree online? Not just any accounting degree, but a master’s degree? From properly preparing you to get your CPA license to expanding your potential job opportunities, there are a litany of advantages to supplementing your undergraduate credentials with a graduate degree. The ability to attend the classes online makes it convenient.
That’s where the University of Alabama at Birmingham can help. The Collat School of Business has enabled individuals throughout the country to reach new heights in their career paths with results-driven curriculum that accountants and auditors need to excel and separate themselves from their less-qualified peers. And since the coursework is available online, you can complete the program at your own pace.
What are the biggest benefits of a master’s degree in accounting? The advantages are countless, but here are a few of them:
Readies You for the CPA Licensing Exam
Based on the most recent statistics available from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, there are over 658,267 certified professional accountants in the U.S. A CPA license is a highly coveted credential because it allows you to apply for accounting jobs that aren’t available to those with an entry-level education.
For example, someone who has their CPA license can prepare audits. The Securities and Exchange Commission requires public companies to file audited financial statements. It’s a legal obligation that must be done, and a CPA can address this issue.
Additionally, if the IRS seeks to audit a business, a CPA can speak on the business’ behalf, effectively serving as their representation. A non-CPA financial accountant does not have this capability.
The curriculum available through a master’s degree program provides students with the preparation and credits they may need for eligibility to take the test itself. Each state varies in terms of how many semester hours a test taker must have completed prior to registering for the exam; the total is usually between 120 and 150 hours, according to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), depending on the state. In Alabama, the required number is 120. However, as the AICPA points out on its website, “In most cases, the additional academic work needed to acquire the technical competence and develop the skills required by today’s CPA is best obtained at the graduate level.”
Anyone who has taken the CPA exam can testify that the test can be challenging. Made up of four sections — (1) Auditing and Attestation, (2) Business Environment and Concepts, (3) Financial Accounting and Financial Reporting, and (4) Regulation — the CPA test has an average first-time pass rate of between 14% and 20%, according to Accounting Today. That’s substantially lower than the average for bar exams in general, which runs around 70%.
As long as you go into the test prepared, there’s less to worry about. Completing a master’s degree can sharpen your test-taking skills beyond what you obtained from your undergraduate degree. Not only does an online degree give you greater competence in work settings, but it can also give you greater confidence in exam settings.
Broadens Your Potential Career Path
Accountants are found in just about every industry. While they may primarily work in tax preparation and bookkeeping — nearly 1 in 4 accountants are in this kind of work environment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) — they’re also in government, insurance, energy, and manufacturing settings. You name the sector, an accountant is there. They don’t just work for accounting firms.
A master’s degree in accounting not only makes you more aware of where the latest accounting jobs exist, but gives you the relevant training that can lead to eligibility. For example, the online master’s program through UAB includes several three-credit courses that are highly focused on certain specialties. These classes include Not-for-Profit Accounting, Advanced Auditing and Attestation, and Corporate Governance.
Furthermore, the UAB faculty are a tremendous resource. Since they all have decades of experience and have worked in various capacities, they may be able to offer recommendations about what you need to focus on to prepare yourself for an alternative accounting career path, perhaps one you never anticipated traveling down.
Heightens Your Earning Potential
From examining financial statements to inspecting account books, the accounting profession can be labor-intensive, involving lots of different competencies to perform on behalf of a client, accounting firm, or other employer. But accountants are well compensated for their skill sets, including those who are entry level. As the BLS reports, accountants and auditors earn a median salary of approximately $76,440. That’s more than double what the median wage is among all occupations ($39,810).
The benefits of an accounting degree at a master’s level can lead to even greater things in terms of salary. According to Accounting Today, senior-level CPAs who work full time stand to earn $66,000 with a small accounting firm ($89,000 on the high end) and $110,000 with a large firm ($78,500 on the low end).
You may be able to take the CPA license exam with solely a bachelor’s degree, but as the AICPA pointed out, a graduate-level curriculum better prepares you for the test and increases your chances of answering the questions correctly. Additionally, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy says that accountants with their CPA license average 10% to 15% more in salary than those without this credential.
Aside from the CPA exam, the caliber of the education students receive from the Collat School of Business can supply you with the confidence and comprehension to take several other exams within the accounting profession, including the CISA, CIA, CFE, and CMA exams. For this last one, the job responsibilities of a Certified Management Account can differ, as can the qualifications. You’ll need to prepare appropriately as a result, but the UAB curriculum has you covered.
Enhances Your Job Security
So long as businesses are making money, accountants will always be necessary. Because of this, the occupation comes with a healthy amount of job security. With 1.4 million accountants in the U.S., according to BLS data, there are loads of job opportunities.
What there aren’t too many of are people with graduate degrees — in accounting or in any other industry, for that matter. The share of individuals in the U.S. with a master’s degree has nearly doubled since 2000, but it’s still just 13.1%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Beyond a master’s degree in accounting, those who pursue and obtain their graduate degrees tend to earn more when they begin a new job versus those who have bachelor’s degrees alone. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the difference in average starting salary for newly hired job applicants across numerous occupations can be more than $20,800 for those with a master’s degree compared to individuals with only their bachelor’s. Inside Higher Education obtained this report.
Because a master’s degree in accounting provides graduates with a more well-rounded understanding and level of proficiency in the field, the credential can potentially give you more robust job opportunities than those whose education ended with their bachelor’s. The expertise that you bring to your position could also make you a more valuable commodity in the eyes of an employer.
Job security is something more Americans are valuing these days, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands, rattled the U.S. economy, and led to sweeping job losses in 2020. In a survey conducted by Gallup that same year, 64% of Americans said they were for the most part satisfied with the level of job security they felt like they had in their current role. In 2019, the rate was 65%, virtually the same.
A master’s degree may not guarantee that you’ll never have to worry about job security. However, with an additional 61,700 accounting jobs becoming available between 2019 and 2029, according to the BLS, the skills you obtain will supply you with the capabilities that employers seek from applicants as well as their existing employees.
Allows You to Study at Your Pace
The first perk that comes to mind about the benefits of an accounting degree online is the convenience. Remote work is more common than ever, and high-speed internet access has made logging on easier than ever. Since the curriculum is just a click away, online students can take the courses on their own timeline so it doesn’t conflict with their work or family obligations. So instead of adjusting your existing schedule around the degree program, the degree program adjusts to you. It’s possible to finish UAB’s Master of Accounting program in as little as five semesters.
Strengthen Your Financial Management Skills
An accountant may not be a financial expert, but they tend to be well versed in the strategies and approaches needed to be successful with personal tasks, including budgeting, spending, and saving. The course curriculum can help you build a solid foundation in the fundamentals of money management. The UAB coursework is no exception. Essentials of Financial Literacy, Macroeconomics, and Microeconomics are all in the bachelor’s program, but the master’s-level coursework builds on these courses. They’re designed to provide students with the analytical and practical tools they need to become a better steward over their financial life and circumstances.
Obtain an Even Greater Grasp of Taxes and Tax Laws
Taxes are complicated. It’s a big reason why so many tax preparation organizations exist. The U.S. tax code changes regularly: Credits that were available one year may not be the next. Factoring in business expenses — and what qualifies as them — is similarly complex.
Accountants prepare, compute, and compile tax returns, and because everyone who works on a full-time basis must report their earnings to the IRS, there will always be a need for such accounting services. A master’s degree can give you a stronger comprehension of tax-related concepts and processes. If taxes are your specialty, or are something you enjoy doing, you may want to consider opening a private practice, which is something a number of financial accountants decide to do as a second career in retirement. Your master’s coursework and experienced instructors may be able to offer some suggestions on how to turn this potential career path into a reality.
Firms Up Your Soft Skills
From computational analysis to scouring profit and loss statements, accounting requires a healthy dose of hard skills. As the BLS points out, accountants and auditors are tasked with many different detail-oriented responsibilities that require a thorough understanding of certain concepts and calculations, whether related to statistics, calculus, or algebraic equations.
Soft skills — i.e., personal attributes, which are intangible in nature and thus less quantifiable — are every bit as important. Since accountants often work in collaboration with other members of a team, qualities like good communication, organization, and critical thinking are all soft skills that accountants need in spades to be effective in this field. As an overarching rule, employers highly value soft skills. A survey from Morning Consult found that listening skills and attention to detail were the soft skills that organizations wanted the most from newly graduated job applicants, as reported by Inside Higher Education.
The UAB Collat School of Business can help you improve your existing soft skills and acquire new ones. Courses such as Principles of Accounting, Advanced Financial Accounting, as well as Current Topics in Financial Accounting will enhance your know-how through a combination of hands-on exercises, discussions, and readings that will make you more proficient both in work as well as in life in general.
Whether you want to challenge yourself academically or have a specific goal in mind — and a master’s degree can help you meet it — the Collat School of Business’ Master of Accounting has what you need to become more successful. From ongoing networking opportunities to access to some of the brightest minds in the accounting industry, the benefits of an accounting degree that you can do online are numerous.
For more information on the program, detailed course descriptions, and answers to frequently asked questions, visit the program page and download the free brochure.