What can a master’s in accounting provide versus a traditional MBA?
Think valuable preparation for the CPA exam — an exam that only 50% of first-time test-takers pass.
Most undergraduate accounting majors want the CPA designation; This globally-recognized license provides increased credibility, security, and opportunities. Plus, CPAs enjoy a competitive edge amongst other finance professionals. The problem is, taking the CPA can be a daunting process.
While a master’s-level degree isn’t required to sit for the CPA exam, students must have 150 credit hours prior to the test. Since a typical bachelor’s degree consists of 120 credit hours, aspiring accountants must obtain an extra 30 hours before they can take the test. For this reason, a master’s in accounting offers great value: it helps students accumulate the rest of their required credit hours while preparing them for the rigors of the exam.
And while accounting might seem mere boring bean counters to some, the field provides those who enter it a clear view of where money is coming and going. By following the money, you can gain real insights into the success or failure of a business.
“As business becomes more complex and the skills demanded of professionals expands, you don’t have time to specialize in data analytics or technical financial accounting in a four-year undergraduate program,” says Leslie Hodder, professor and graduate accounting programs chair at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “A master’s in accounting helps make you a certified professional.”
Hodder believes that a master’s in accounting can create a fulfilling career for those who are passionate about problem-solving. “You don’t have television programs that make accounting seem all that interesting. But it’s a tool that allows people to do things that are socially and professionally meaningful,” she explains.
POST GRADUATION ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Poets&Quants interviewed 13 alumni from 13 schools across the world to learn more about their experience in a master’s in accounting program.
A few of the accomplishments from recent master’s in accounting graduates include developing an equity program, being granted the Chrislynn Freed Master of Accounting Outstanding Student of the Year Award, coding a customized online reporting package from scratch, running a 200-employee dermatology practice, and receiving the Elijah Watt Sells Award.
For Kelley School of Business’ Lindsey Dillard, her biggest accomplishment so far has been gathering the courage to make a career switch into the accounting field.
“Before I studied accounting, I ran my own small business as a certified professional dog trainer in Arkansas. My company was performing well thanks to my CPA’s excellent business advice. However, I found myself desiring to become a better business person. One day I told myself, ‘I want to know what he knows,’ so I took the leap at enrolling in accounting classes at my local university.”
Once she stepped into the accounting world, Dillard says that door began opening for her. Soon after, she landed a year-long internship in the accounting department at ABF Freight’s corporate headquarters.
“This gave me insight into some of the complexities of accounting in large companies. As my education and experience progressed, the more I built an interest in learning how to solve difficult business problems where there is no straight-forward answer.”
With her sights set on working in New York City in public accounting, her master’s program at Kelley helped her clear a path.
“I started with Ernst & Young in 2019 with an offer to be in a one-year researcher rotation in the firm’s Professional Practice Group. Being a researcher exposed me to how the firm interacts with its clients and regulatory bodies on a national level. The role gave me insight into complex accounting problems our clients face daily, which I found fascinating. Now that I am in assurance, I hope to continue to grow my accounting career and see where the journey takes me.”
WHY A MASTER’S IN ACCOUNTING?
For many grads, the choice to pursue a master’s in accounting over an MBA was a no-brainer. Most were drawn to the way in which it would help them prepare for the CPA exam, and what that designation would grant them in the workforce.
Ali Walter of Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business chose a graduate accounting program because she knew she wanted to become a CPA . “I knew the MAcc program would make that easier for me,” she says.
For others, an MBA didn’t provide enough specialized education. “I knew at a young age that accounting is the language of business,” says University of Florida Fisher School of Accounting’s Jonathan Goren. “I never really considered an MBA. I like learning, and my goals were to have an interesting educational experience, great career opportunities, and financial freedom.”
Also seeking a program that would provide specialized knowledge, Kelsey Evenson of University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business chose a master’s of accounting over an MBA. “The program’s focus on tax was the driving factor for me,” she says. “Especially in the Seattle market, having a master’s degree specific to tax is valued by many of the accounting firms. I knew this program would build the foundation of knowledge I would use for the rest of my career.”
ACCOUNTING AT THE KELLEY SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
Turns out, even faculty support a specialized degree.
Originally part of the Stanford Faculty, Leslie Hodder has been teaching at Kelley School of Business since 2003, working at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. She entered her role as chair of the graduate accounting programs in fall 2020 and now oversees the programs’ strategy, curriculum planning, and management functions.
While Kelley recently held its 20th anniversary of offering graduate accounting programs, Hodder says that their curriculum has evolved over time. Now, the school has two master’s programs in accounting, both of which qualify students to sit for the CPA exam. The first is a 3/2 MBA, which is an integrated five-year program where students simultaneously earn an undergraduate degree in accounting together with their MBA. The second is a Master’s of Science in Accounting with Data and Analytics. In both programs, 100 students start each year.
“We’re a boutique, high-touch, interactive program. We keep our class sizes intentionally small so that we can maintain that quality,” says Hodder.
Our Masters’ Series
Next Page: 12 in-depth profiles of Master’s in Accounting alumni.
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.