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Accounting Programs Add Up for Graduates

With the number of accounting jobs predicted to grow in the U.S., interest in graduate accounting education is changing and expanding. Educators at Master of Accounting programs are modifying their educational offerings to better prepare students with the needed skills to help them make immediate contributions in their new careers.

The Master of Science in Accountancy, or MSA, program is known for its rigorous curriculum and heavy focus on developing the technical knowledge needed by accounting professionals, according to Jack E. Wilkerson, Jr., the interim academic director of the Wake Forest Accountancy Program.

"Our MSA graduates experience a near 100% placement rate on a continuous basis," he said.

This could be because in the U.S., the employment of accountants and auditors is expected to grow much faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This 22 percent growth, predicted over 2008-2018, could result in nearly 280,000 available positions during that time. This growth is predicated upon the expectation that the number of businesses will increase and need more accountants and auditors to do taxes, set up books, and provide guidance, according to the BLS.

The growth in applications to Master of Accounting programs could be a reflection of this anticipated job increase. Administrators from 41 different Master of Accounting programs were polled in a Graduate Management Admission Council study. More than half, or 51 percent, indicated a rise in applications. Thirteen percent indicated no change and 36 percent reported a drop. Additionally, 65 percent of these programs reported a growth in international applications.


Initiatives shaping master's accounting programs

Master of Accounting programs prepare students to tackle the challenges they can encounter in the accounting world. They do this by providing needed training, offering a number of career tracks, and allowing for real-life experiences.

CPA Training

Master of Accounting programs generally welcome a diverse body of students — from those with accounting backgrounds to those without. Educators at schools like Wake Forest University do their best to help bring all students up to speed. At Wake Forest, this is done by having students without previous experience tackle technical issues during a special session prior to class start. All MSA students also have the opportunity to attend voluntary, non-curricular Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, exam training available on campus. To further help with training, members of the American Institute of CPAs visit campus regularly to update students and faculty on the recent changes to the CPA exam, according to Wilkerson.

"Our CPA pass rate has been among the very best in the nation continuously since the MSA program began in the mid-1990s," he said.

Career Tracks in Accounting

Innovative courses and career tracks make Master of Accounting programs pertinent to the times. To prepare graduates to operate in a global context, Wake Forest, for example, has integrated International Financial Reporting Standards, or IFRS, into accounting courses throughout the curriculum. Issued by the International Accounting Standards Board, IFRS are a set of international accounting standards stating how particular types of transactions should be reported in financial statements. The goal is to facilitate international comparisons. Meanwhile, Wake Forest also offers a negotiations course that enables MSA graduates to successfully resolve on-the-job conflicts that arise during mergers and acquisitions.

Example career tracks at Wake Forest include Assurance Services, Tax Consulting, and Transaction Services. The Assurance Services track prepares students to detect and investigate abuse and fraud, while Tax Consulting enables them to address clients' tax questions. Transaction Services professionals advise clients engaged in mergers, acquisitions, and related activities. This type of specified training can be helpful to students who already know how they want to use their education.

Real-Life Experiences

Another beneficial element of Master of Accounting programs is the ability to apply what is learned in class in internships, volunteer activities and even competitions. For example, in the Wake Forest MSA program, students participate in international case competitions sponsored by the Big Four accounting firms (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers). They also participate in the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program.

Internship programs are also available. As a way to learn and enhance skills, students reflectively write on their internship experiences, participate in leadership programs hosted by major accounting firms, and work with an MSA career coach.

"Our for-credit curricular internship program is structured so that the internship takes place during the school year and during the 'busy season' for accounting firms from January to mid-March," Wilkerson said.

From business school to The Boston Consulting Group

Megan Petitt is one of the students enrolled in the Master of Accounting program at Wake Forest. Originally from Orlando, she interned in corporate finance at Orlando Health and in marketing at Mercantile Capital Corporation prior to starting the Wake Forest MSA program. She also interned at Ernst & Young in Assurance & Advisory Services and at The Boston Consulting Group, or BCG, in Atlanta. In fact, she has found so much success that she said she plans to join BCG Atlanta as a consultant after graduation.

She credited the Wake Forest MSA program with giving her the insight to apply theory to real-world issues. She even noted one class in particular.

"The Advanced Financial Management course is a great example of learning through experience, as we are given challenging cases involving both the financial and strategic complexities that we will ultimately face in the business world," Petitt said. "These are the types of experiences I know will serve me well in the future."

Because of the MSA curriculum, Petitt now understands complex financial instruments, such as derivatives, and how they can be used to mitigate business and financial risk.

"This will be invaluable in my career as I analyze companies and work to make them more successful," she said.

Pulling it all together

With the expected growth in job opportunities in accounting and auditing predicted by the BLS, applications to Master of Accounting programs could continue to increase. However, even with a completed Master of Accounting degree, graduates might want to take steps to give them an advantage when it comes to seeking a job. According to the BLS, those accountants and auditors with specific certification or who have become CPAs could find the best opportunities.


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