In a nutshell: To reach the top levels of the accounting field, consider getting a master’s degree.

In most professions, those at the top of their game stand the best chance for both rapid promotion and increased income.

This proves especially true for accountants. The profession already offers strong salaries and job security for those who earn a bachelor’s degree and become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). But for the more ambitious, earning a master’s degree opens the door to the top-paying jobs in the profession. That includes jobs such as chief accounting officer and chief financial officer.

Those are executive positions considered among the most important in any organization. Money is the life’s blood of every business. Accountants are needed in every industry, as well as in nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

So how do you get there?

Education Requirements for Accountants and CPAs

As mentioned above, you can enter the ranks of the accounting profession with a bachelor’s degree. It also is beneficial to earn a CPA designation. Becoming a CPA requires taking classes beyond those needed to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Almost every state requires 150 semester hours before you can take the Uniform CPA Exam to become a licensed CPA.

So why go on to earn a master’s degree? As tax laws and regulations become more complex, and the global nature of economics makes business even more competitive, fewer firms are hiring those with only a bachelor’s degree for top accounting jobs, according to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). A master’s simply opens doors that a bachelor’s does not.

Educational Options

In earning a master’s degree, accountants learn the latest strategies in accounting, as well as the latest information on tax law and regulations. It’s a complicated field, which is why those with a master’s degree are valued.

Master’s courses can include statistics for business, federal and business taxes, preparing corporate reports, computer information and analyzing financial statements. They also typically include preparation on how to use the latest technology for collecting, analyzing and interpreting data.

Some students choose to earn an MBA with a focus on accounting. Others may seek a master’s in accounting after earning a bachelor’s in business administration or another business-related field. Master’s degree programs have become popular enough that some schools provide a five-year program where students earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

The Advantages In Job Growth And Salary

The AICPA projects that those with a master’s degree will earn 10% to 20% higher starting pay than those with a bachelor’s. That’s significant, as an accountant with a bachelor’s degree already earns a solid salary.

As of May 2016, the median annual salary for accountants across the United States was $68,150, with the top 10 percent in the profession earning $120,910, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s a salary level often associated with C-suite positions, the very jobs a master’s degree can help you attain.

Keep in mind that salaries vary by state, region and industry. Do your own research to check on your specific location and area of interest.

The BLS also projects 10 percent growth among accountants between 2016 and 2016, faster than the average rate of growth of all professions. That translates into almost 140,000 people entering the profession.

The career choices also are varied. They include:

  • Public Accountants: They serve clients in a variety of areas, including taxes, auditing and consulting.
  • Government Accounting: In this role, accountants write financial reports, audit performance and finances and evaluate the efficiency of government operations. They may also work for investigative agencies as forensic accountants, looking into the finances of companies for evidence of inappropriate financial activities.
  • Corporate Accounting: Working directly for large businesses, accountants in these jobs handle financial reporting, taxes, internal and management auditing.

In all the above situations, those with a master’s degree might lead a team doing the work.

There’s an upside to earning a master’s degree in accounting. While it requires dedication, time and effort to attain, it’s a worthwhile consideration for those with the right combination of skills and ambition.

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