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Best MSA Programs in the USA in 2021

September 21, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Students who have completed a bachelor’s degree program in accounting should pursue an accounting master’s degree for a multitude of reasons. Career advancement is one of the most motivating at this level of accountancy. The education in graduate student courses will increase the likelihood of receiving a CPA or CME designation, and job prospects and pay in professional accounting are notably improved.

An MSA commands a premium salary outlook in top organizations. It offers a wide range of business career opportunities, too.

Accountants are problem solvers, critical thinkers, excellent communicators, objective, methodical, and resourceful. These are highly coveted skills for numerous businesses that seek to increase profitability and efficiency and eliminate white-collar crime. 

Accountants are trusted to help businesses make key decisions. Sometimes, these decisions are positive because they mean the business is growing. Sometimes, they’re not so good when the numbers aren’t quite where they should be. In either case, accountants are the backbone of thriving businesses. These skills command a premium salary in many top organizations.

That said, there are a lot of options available for someone with a degree in accounting. Accounting skills can take you to employment in financial accounting, sure, but also administration, risk management, banking, finance, government, nonprofits, corporate accounting, auditing, risk management, consulting, and taxation practices.

Furthermore, many MSA grads continue to become CFOs of Fortune 500 companies, comptrollers, and international merger and acquisition experts. This degree has a lot of potential, and is definitely worth considering by people with a head for numbers and lofty career goals.

What to Look for in an MSA Program

The most common question asked is whether an MSA program is right for you. A master’s accounting degree program provides a substantial edge in professional accounting. A bachelor’s will get you in the door; however, a graduate degree opens up substantially more employment opportunities.

Most employers seek out an MSA over a bachelor’s degree, across just about every industry. 

MSA degrees are for those looking to become a certified public accountant, corporate accountant, auditor, fraud examiner, financial analyst, and more. It offers a boost in employment with banking, taxation, insurance sectors, or any company with a financial division.

An MSA provides superior analytical skills, deepens knowledge of accounting principles, and teaches the latest technology. It is a very important step in a CPA designation.

Once the individual has passed the CPA exam, they can file reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission,  making you more marketable to potential employers.

In pursuing an MSA designation, consider the following:

  1. To sit for the CPA exam, you need to complete 150 hours of coursework, which takes about five years. 
  2. A master’s degree reduces supervised work requirements by two years, which means you will be certified faster.

These are two areas to consider in your career path. Furthermore, in searching for an MSA program, ensure that it is an accredited institution, which is what most companies are looking for.

How Do Online MSA Programs Compare to Traditional Programs?

This question is challenging for every graduate student and it has many layers. Traditional programs are superior to an online MSA program in several different ways, especially concerning what certain (but not all) companies are looking for in new hires.

Some companies prefer a traditional in-person education over one that the student received online. These businesses prefer candidates who have had experience in team building. They see the individual as having experience working in a collective environment and being better equipped to integrate into the business world.

Online learning is sometimes seen as a deficit in these organizations. It does not allow these companies to evaluate how well the individual will integrate within a team environment. This idea is especially important for an enterprise type of business wherein effective communication and collaboration are key.

Online learners may lose out on on-campus recruitments as they aren’t able to leverage job prospects as effectively. On-campus presentations for corporate recruiters, interviews with potential employers, streams of job opportunities are non-existent in online learning.

Furthermore, there is still a mild perspective that most online learners are older people who are either furthering their career or are beginning a new career path. Their concern is that the individual may be outside the typical hiring window.

However, due to recent changes in how we’re socializing during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, this perspective will probably change, if it hasn’t already. Many an accounting student has no choice but to participate in an online program due to the many challenges we’re facing today. Hopefully, this will erase the stigma associated with online learning as it is a valid and rewarding way to get an education.

In most instances, the employer is not aware that those attending local or advance collegiate schools have chosen distance education. They initially view where the applicant received their degree. The question mostly comes up in interviews when the interviewer asks the candidate how they managed full-time work with an accounting degree program.

Then the determining factor becomes how well the candidate answers the question. If the student had a reason for choosing an online education and can explain why it was positive, the interviewer is more likely to see it as a positive attribute.

Then, there is the other side of the coin. Some employers prefer online learning. They see online learning as a positive due to the additional skills that the student obtains.

Online learners manage time well. Many juggle work responsibilities with academia which is favorable in a company. They are self-sufficient- someone they can assign a task to and ensure its completion.

Some online learners work ahead, which is equally as impressive. Online learning allows you to work at your own pace. Finishing early shows an ambitious, go-getter personality that is highly sought-after in many enterprises.

With online learning, students appreciate being able to work at home. There is no commute, more flexibility, and a reported higher satisfaction. These become reasons to pursue a degree online.

In terms of quality of learning, most experts found there was no difference. There was no advantage of one over the other. Businesses tended to look for accredited, reputable institutions over curriculum.

What Courses Are Involved in an MSA Program?

There is a mixture of accounting, business, economics, and even law involved in an MSA degree. Some institutions offer electives, while others can be more general.

The core courses tend to be:

  • Accounting Principles and Practices
  • Professional Auditing Methods
  • Cost Analysis for Informed Decision-Making
  • Using Information Technology to Evaluate Financial Information
  • Applications of Financial Regulations in Business
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Individual and Corporate Tax Preparation
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Business Law
  • Financial Statement Analysis
  • Investments 
  • Economics of Organizations

Some institutions additionally offer:

  • Forensic Accounting- Teaches how forensic accounting principles are applied in complex financial transactions like mergers/acquisitions, bankruptcies, and contract disputes. It determines how findings are used in court cases to prosecute white-collar crimes. 

The outlook for MSA graduates is promising over the next ten years. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics cites 135,700 job openings for accountants and auditors projected annually from 2019-2029. The average outlook is 4%, which, by definition, is as fast as average.

Recent graduates find employment in the following areas:

  • Data Analyst was the most common. Starting wage is $39,900 with a median salary of $55,000.
  • Business Consultant (Management Analyst). Entry-level salary is $50,000 with median pay of $81,000.
  • Product Manager. Pay starts at $55,000 and averages at $109,000.
  • Financial Manager. The outlook for this position was 15%, with an expected salary of $129,890.
  • Actuary. An 18% outlook and a median salary of $108,250 make this job very attractive.
  • Chief Financial Officer has an outlook of 4%. The median annual salary is $184,460. Business degrees in conjunction with accounting designations are preferable in advancing to this job position.

These are just a few examples of what to expect in common areas in this field. There are many specialties continually becoming present. Therefore, there may be additional fields presenting themselves in upcoming years.

So, what schools provide you with the best chance of success?

Top-Rated MSA Programs 

The top-rated MSA programs of 2021 are:

  1. Northeastern University, Boston, MA
  2. The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
  3. Indiana University-Bloomington, Bloomington, IN
  4. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Campaign, IL
  5. Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
  6. Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC
  7. Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC
  8. DePaul University, Chicago, IL
  9. Bradley University, Peoria, IL
  10. University of Washington, Seattle, WA
  11. Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA
  12. Brigham Young University-Provo, Provo, UT
  13. Ohio University, Athens, OH
  14. George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
  15. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI

The best online institutions are:

  1. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
  2. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus, University Part, PA
  3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL
  4. University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
  5. Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, Standish, ME
  6. University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
  7. Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA
  8. Regis University, Denver, CO
  9. University of Scranton, Scranton, PA
  10. Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA
  11. Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
  12. Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ
  13. University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
  14. University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA
  15. California State University, Sacramento, CA

Acceptance into a top-rated MSA program is currently at 7.7%

What Are The Most Affordable MSA Programs?

For traditional colleges, the most affordable MSA Programs are:

  1. California State University, Los Angeles, CA
  2. Albany State University, Albany, GA
  3. Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, AR
  4. Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL
  5. Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS
  6. University of Central Arkansas, Conway, AK
  7. Missouri State University, Springfield, MO
  8. University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO
  9. University of Texas, Tyler, Texas
  10. Texas A & M Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi, TX

What are the Most Affordable MSA Programs Online?

  1. Culver-Stockton College, Canton, MO
  2. Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, NC
  3. Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA
  4. St. Joseph’s College, Standish, ME
  5. Virginia International University, Fairfax, VA
  6. Concordia University, Ann Arbor, MI
  7. Bellevue University, Bellevue, NE
  8. Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, IN
  9. National University, La Jolla, CA
  10. Regis University, Denver, CO
  11. Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester, NH
  12. University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT

Financial Assistance

There are numerous scholarships available to those pursuing a degree in accounting. Among them are:

  1. PCPS George Willie Ethnically Diverse Student Scholarship & Internship. This scholarship is available to ethnically diverse undergraduates (5th year) or graduate accounting students pursuing their CPA license. 

Amount: Up to $10,000

Click Here To Apply

  1. AICPA/Robert Half Student Scholarship. Provides financial assistance to accounting majors planning on becoming CPAs.

Amount: $10,000

Click Here To Apply

  1. AICPA Scholarship for Minority Accounting Students. Awarded to outstanding undergraduate and graduate minority students planning on pursuing their CPA.

Amount: Up to $5,000 annually.

Click Here To Apply

  1. AICPA Scholarship for Future CPAs. Financial assistance to accounting majors planning on becoming CPAs.

Amount: $5,000

Click Here To Apply

  1. AICPA Two -Year Transfer Scholarship Award. Provides financial assistance to students who want to transfer from a two-year college to a four-year institution to complete their accounting education.

Amount: $5,000

Click Here To Apply

  1. AICPA John L Carey Scholarship Award. Financial assistance to students with liberal arts and other non-business-related degrees pursuing graduate studies in accounting and CPA licensure.

Amount: $5,000 per year

Click Here To Apply

  1. SWSCPA Scholarship Award. This award provides financial assistance to outstanding female students majoring in accounting/accounting-related fields.

Amount: $5,000 per year

Click Here To Apply

  1. Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship. Full-time students in accounting, business administration, finance, or criminal justice programs can apply.

Amount: $1,000-$10,000

Click Here To Apply

  1. Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting Scholarship. Provided for women obtaining accounting degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels.

Amount: $1,000-$16,000

Click Here To Apply

  1. Frank L. Greathouse Government Accounting Scholarship. Undergraduates or graduate students enrolled full-time in preparation for a career in state/local government finance.

Amount: $9,000

Click Here To Apply

This is just a partial list of scholarships available for those pursuing an accounting designation. For a full list, click here.

In addition to scholarships, some post-secondary institutions offer other options for completing your degree. 

Student loans are always available, and in many cases, are a great way to obtain your education. You can view it more favorably when there is a rationale of the probability of a good-paying career upon graduation. Then, this option works.

However, millions of students face crushing debt due to student loans each year. Not all students can find jobs immediately after graduation- no matter how hot the job market is. Many have to work multiple jobs just to pay off the debt.

Student debt hampers your lifestyle. Many graduates struggle to pay off the loans. It prevents them from the future that they had originally envisioned.

Students who demonstrate academic accomplishment, skills, and related experience may get graduate assistantships. Full and part-time assistantships in research or administrative positions go to qualifying students. 

The amount given equates to full or half tuition and as a stipend given on a per-semester basis.

The academic department through which the student is admitted awards assistantships. There are limited positions available, so competition is fierce.

Another option is flexible payment plans. Some institutions offer students to pay scheduled installments towards tuition, fees, and housing. Many people find this more manageable than up-front costs related to post-secondary education.

They are interest-free payment plans- not loans- so there are no credit checks. The monthly plan is available for fall and spring terms. Weekly plans exist for summer terms.

Note that while many students chose to study accounting, many combine an accounting background with a business degree (MBA). This combination allows for greater business flexibility and creates more open doors for a career.

How In Demand are MSA Graduates?

USNews.com cited that accounting professions are increasing in demand. Globally, out of 565 employers, 45% plan to hire a Master of Accounting graduate. Meanwhile, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, only 36% plan to hire business school graduates with this degree.

The majority of graduates work in three fields. The first is taxation. Working at an accounting firm provides many options for grads. Graduates can engage in compliance work while working on corporate or individual tax returns.

Graduates can also work in tax analysis- working with organizations to limit tax liability. 

The second is auditing. An auditor examines financial statements to determine if they are fair. Public accounting firms audit organizations. However, internal auditors work for a certain company. 

The third category is “other”. This category is graduates working in consulting, manufacturing, or with the government. The pay for this sector doesn’t vary much from the norm. 

Graduates with a master’s degree usually begin at $55,000, depending on their location and the cost of living. 

Yet, no matter what the courses or degree, there is one thing owners cannot stress enough: obtaining a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or CMA (Certified Management Accountant) designation. 

Most companies feel that it brings credibility to the role. It is a critical validation of the experience and knowledge of those interested in leadership roles or who want to open up their own practice.

Accountants must demonstrate skills such as the ability to apply accounting theory and principles to real situations. They must demonstrate clear communication skills, allowing them to be strategic partners to businesses. They must adapt to new technologies without becoming overwhelmed or increasingly reliant on a specific brand of software.

The most important skills for success in this career are skills in accounts payable, accounts receivable, auditing, budgeting, financial analysis, Microsoft Office, and tax preparation.

Little Known MSA Tidbits In Terms of Prospects

Top Paying Accounting Jobs:

  1. Auditing Manager
  2. Chief Financial Officer
  3. Corporate Controller
  4. Internal Auditor
  5. Tax Accountant
  6. Treasurer

Most Popular Jobs With an MSA:

  1. Accounting Manager. This individual prepares or reviews ledger entries and reconciliations. They maintain the general ledger system, monthly, quarterly, and annual financial statements, and assist with regular reporting.

May hire, train and supervise accounting staff.

Average salary is $107,822

  1. Auditor. An auditor is someone who inspects financial records and checks for accuracy/reliability. It can be internal, external, government, and forensic auditor. Responsibilities include ensuring taxes are filed, organizing and examining financial statements to comply with the law, and making recommendations to management.

Salary is $58,083

  1. Chief Financial Officer. CFOs should excel in financial management, performance, business strategy, and risk management. They are good at keeping companies informed about wise financial and business decisions. 

They implement revenue strategies, access financial risks and opportunities, and more. 

Annual Salary upwards of $321,645

  1. Corporate Controller. This person supervises an accounting department and oversees high-level financial strategies. They maintain financial statements, payroll, preparing budgets, general ledger, and tax compliance.

Salary is $130,226

  1. Finance Manager. Responsible for the financial health of a business. They create financial reports, direct investment activities, and strategies and plans for long-term financial goals. They work in banks and insurance companies.

Average salary is $114,000 with a 19% growth.

  1. Financial Analyst. This role assesses the financial health of a business and guides investment decisions. It is ideal for those who enjoy gathering data, financial modeling, spreadsheet maintenance, developing investment theses, communicating with investors, and forecasting.

The Average Salary is $77,280

  1. Forensic Accountant. This job is one of the fastest-growing jobs aiding law enforcement. People investigate fraud and use accounting skills such as auditing to provide expert opinions on legal matters in court. They must be very detail-oriented as judges, attorneys, and juries scrutinize their reports.
  2. Managerial Accountant. This person is in charge of planning and preparing financial reports for internal employees. They help executives make informed and financially responsible decisions. They engage in operation and cost-based planning, forecasting, overseeing the product process, incremental costing, and enterprise optimization. 

The Average Salary is $83,240

  1. Tax Accountant. Tax accountants use skills and knowledge of tax legislation/regulations to provide help to their clients. They aid in paying taxes in the most efficient way possible while complying with government laws and procedures.

Average salary is $63,000

  1. Information and Technology Accountant. This person is responsible for which system the company uses to organize and report financial data. It requires proficiency in accounting and information technology. It is ideal for natural problem solvers and those interested in technology solutions.

Salary is $76,146

Is Pursuing a Career in an MSA Worth It?

Many businesses and graduates would say yes. People with a master’s degree education learn superior analytical skills, gain a deeper understanding of accounting principles, and adopt the latest technology than an undergraduate degree.

An MSA prepares you to write the CMA and CPA. The CPA exam has almost become a standard in achieving an accounting career. 

For the CMA exam, you must fulfill several requirements. You need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited accounting program, plus two years of professional experience. The exam covers financial reporting, planning, performance, and financial decision-making. 

A master’s degree helps students meet the credit requirements and familiarizes them with the test material. The exams are not mandatory, but in many cases, preferred as they demonstrate capabilities.

A master’s in accounting and an MBA in accounting are different, mainly in the depth versus breadth of knowledge. MBA programs focus on a broader business experience with an introduction to accounting. The emphasis is more on business with an MBA than accounting.

A master’s in accounting provides a student with deep knowledge in the field. Complex accounting topics and critical thinking of accounting theory/practice are emphasized.

A master of science in accounting is superior to an undergraduate degree. An undergraduate degree is fine, and it can create good opportunities. However, it is more of a baseline in which to pursue a career in accounting, even when from advance collegiate schools.

An undergraduate degree will not help prepare for the CPA/CMA licenses like a master’s will. Master’s studies go over more of the material presented on both of these rigorous tests.

The CPA and CMA licenses are not easy to pass and require extensive preparation. Working full-time in an office may not afford the luxury of delving deeper into the requirements for these licenses. The responsibility is up to the individual, in this situation, to prepare for the exam. In many cases, you may not know what to expect.

An accounting master’s degree opens up greater possibilities in the field of accounting. Those with an undergraduate bachelor’s degree make a decent wage, but most employers want a master’s designation, especially when a business is involved.

Businesses are looking for someone with an accounting background that is a competent business analyst. They want to know about profitability, viability, and expenses. These are the backbones of any business. 

Accountants in these sectors are highly valuable to a company’s success. They can look at the bigger picture and make recommendations that benefit the business. They can tell owners which expenses may need eliminating to grow. They also tell of the overall health of the business.

They are essential to a business’s survival, which is what places this field in such high demand.

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