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Careers in Accounting for Graduate Students

An online Master of Accounting degree can help professionals in the accounting world reach the next level in their career. Earning this achievement generally means qualifying to sit for the Certified Professional Accountant exam – although exact requirements vary by state. But CPA certification is not the only benefit. There are a number of career paths that absolutely require the additional credentials provided by a Master of Accounting diploma. While no degree provides an absolute guarantee of professional advancement, there are many benefits of achieving a Master of Accounting degree, from enhanced knowledge to networking opportunities.

Which career paths can students in an online Master of Accounting program expect to pursue after graduation? Consider the following three options:

Accounting professionals in a team meeting.

1. Certified Public Accountant

A CPA certification allows those who pass the exam to work with private citizens and provide a variety of assurance services directly to them. The ability to work with the general public in areas ranging from tax preparation to estate planning is a major draw for many in the accounting world, opening up a large potential customer base with a CPA certification in hand.

CPAs can also serve in direct accounting and advisory capacities for businesses of all sizes, using their knowledge and experience to help individuals and companies make prudent financial decisions, plan for the future, develop frameworks to work toward goals and maintain a positive financial outlook whenever possible. There are also a variety of roles related to business auditing where CPAs are needed or preferred. Passing the CPA exam means potential career options in segments of the economy ranging from education, nonprofits and the public sector to private-business accounting - for organizations ranging from new startups to centuries-old giants of international commerce - and a variety of work with individuals.

As the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants pointed out, earning the CPA designation can be the next step forward in a career that ultimately reaches a company’s corporate suite of executives. The AICPA said chief financial officers and chief executive officers often work as CPAs or pass the exam as part of their climb up the corporate ladder, as the knowledge imparted by both education and work in this field is vital for many aspects of successful business operation. While there’s no guarantee that passing the CPA exam will lead to a position in the C-suite, it provides a strong base of knowledge on which many executives in CFO and CEO roles draw upon to help lead their businesses.

In terms of earnings, CPAs have a median annual salary of $62,660, according to Payscale. Pay can increase for those who specialize in financial analysis and tax consulting, while developing experience as a CPA can also lead to salary improvement over time.

2. Auditor

Auditors focus on the examination of a wide variety of business or personal records to determine the accuracy of financial statements and similar disclosures. This role draws deeply on the skills and experience developed by earning a Master of Accounting degree and subsequent experience in related career positions. While not a universal rule, some auditing positions require the successful completion of the MAc degree program and passing the CPA exam, PayScale pointed out. Generally, auditors holding the MAc degree and the CPA designation are among the most desirable for many positions, due to the advanced nature of their education and qualifications.

Auditing is a complex process that can be applied to nearly every business and organization, whether public or private. Some auditors work directly for businesses and conduct internal investigations of financial matters. They serve in an important role that keeps business operations aligned with organizational and financial goals and moving forward, improving risk management and governance concerns, as the Institute of Internal Auditors of North America pointed out.

Internal auditors may work for nonprofits, government agencies and for-profit businesses. External auditors work for a separate business that is hired by a given organization to conduct an audit and determine the fitness of financial projections and similar documents. Their work is similar to internal auditors from an assessment perspective, but they act as an independent control in situations where internal auditors may not.

PayScale said the median salary for auditors is $54,632, with risk management and risk control skill sets providing higher pay. A career as an auditor can potentially lead to future positions in senior accountant and auditing roles, as well as financial controller titles. Ultimately, some auditors can reach positions like finance director, corporate controller, financial controller and CFO.

3. Financial Analyst

Financial analysts provide guidance about investment decisions to both individuals and businesses. A major and regular responsibility for financial analysts involves staying up to date on market trends. They also analyze past and current data to guide investment suggestions presented to clients and direct the decision-making process. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed out, financial analysts working for businesses also examine financial statements and perform a variety of work to determine the company’s prospects. Financial analysts also prepare many different reports, from forecasts to analysis of past actions.

The median salary for financial analysts is $58,434, according to PayScale. Salary can increase the first five to 10 years in the position, and many move on to other roles after a number of years as a financial analyst. Some possible career progressions may include senior accountant, financial controller and senior financial analyst. Further career development can lead to roles as a corporate controller, accounting manager and finance director.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Master of Accounting Program

For those already in the workforce, an online accounting degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham offers a fruitful educational environment that’s designed to take the needs of active professionals - whether veterans in the field or those aspiring to join - into account. Increased flexibility allows students to balance their current positions with a valuable learning experience. UAB offers a competitive, highly qualified environment for learners, one that ranks at No. 22 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Online Graduate Business Programs. The UAB Collat School of Business is also accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Recommended readings:
Interested in Accounting? Consider Pursuing These 4 Management Roles
FAQs about the Master of Accounting (MAc) enrollment process

Sources:
1. http://www.aicpa.org/BECOMEACPA/GETTINGSTARTED/FREQUENTLYASKEDQUESTIONS/Pages/default.aspx
2. http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Certified_Public_Accountant_(CPA)/Salary
3. http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Auditor/Salary
4. https://na.theiia.org/standards-guidance/mandatory-guidance/Pages/Definition-of-Internal-Auditing.aspx
5. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/financial-analysts.htm#tab-2
6. http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Financial_Analyst/Salary

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