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Grad Program: Accounting

Basic Information

Anyone who remembers Enron’s collapse can tell you that ethical accountancy is crucial for corporations, stockholders, and the economy as a whole.

But a graduate specialization in accountancy will allow you to do much more than prevent fraud. Accounting deals with financial data and its application. Financial data is used by businesses to monitor and manage their success, and it is also used by outsiders to evaluate the standing and health of a company.

As an accounting specialist, you’ll become an expert in the gathering and interpretation of financial data, and the ways in which that data can affect a company. You’ll learn how companies can present their financial data to shareholders and potential investors. You’ll learn the ways in which taxes and regulations affect a company’s financial performance. You will be trained to speak authoritatively on the effects of business decisions—mergers and acquisitions, capital investments, executive compensation, etc.—on a company’s bottom line.

This specialization is not just for aspiring accountants. It’s useful for anyone who needs to measure a firm’s performance in order to evaluate past business decisions, accurately gauge current financial status, and determine the best course of action going forward. And, of course, these skills are needed in the government and non-profit worlds as well as in business.

The career outlook for those who specialize in accounting is bright. Whether you become an accountant, a consultant, a manager, or a financial advisor, you’ll be valued for your ability to conduct rigorous quantitative analysis of a product or firm.

Degree Information

Accountancy programs generally have two tracks: financial and managerial. In the financial track, you are trained to be an external advisor, evaluating and reporting on another firm’s data. In the managerial track, you are trained to evaluate your own firm’s data and use that information to make sound business decisions.

Students who want to be accountants usually earn a Master of Professional Accountancy, a Master of Accountancy, or a Master of Science in Accountancy—three names for a similar (generally one-year) degree. These programs are designed to fulfill the coursework requirements you’ll need to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam in most states. An MBA with a concentration in accounting will give you similar training, but with a broader focus on management and leadership, and more classes in other areas of business. Most MBA programs take two years to complete. If you choose to earn a PhD in accountancy, you’ll focus on more theoretical questions, like how financial information affects capital markets.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Does the program train professional accountants, or is it meant to give you accounting skills as part of a broader management or business curriculum?
  • What sorts of careers have alumni pursued? Have they had a high rate of success on the CPA exam?
  • How much catch-up work (if any) will be required if you did not study accounting or economics as an undergraduate, and are any make-up classes available from the program you’re considering?
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