For accountants interested in criminal justice, pursuing a forensic accounting specialization is a logical and exciting career opportunity. By earning a graduate certificate or degree in forensic accounting, professionals with bachelor’s degrees in accounting can become certified in fraud examination, thereby protecting individuals, corporations, and entire economies from the perils of financial corruption. Online forensic accounting programs have expanded to allow students to maintain their current jobs while earning a certificate or degree.
Occupational demand for accountants is on the rise, creating a need for thousands of new jobs in the coming decade. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects accountant and auditor positions to increase by 4 percent between 2019 and 2029. In the same decade, 61,700 new jobs will be in demand nationwide (BLS 2020).
With a graduate certificate or a master’s degree, accountants can pursue specialties in forensic accounting or internal and external auditing. It stands to reason that as the need for accountants increases, professionals with forensic accounting training will stand out with their unique skill sets and may be able to access higher-paying positions. The average annual salary for accountants is $81,660 (BLS May 2020). With more education and years of experience in the long-term, accountants with master’s degrees could earn closer to the 75th percentile ($97,530 per year) or 90th percentile ($128,680 per year).
While technical skills are highly sought after when hiring forensic accountants, schools and employers seek candidates with more than number-crunching abilities these days. To this point, a white paper by worldwide hiring agency Robert Half International shows employers are looking for internal audit candidates who can communicate with integrity and diplomacy. These are essential skills when dealing with sensitive financial and legal matters.
To help CPAs expand their skills, here are 10 top online forensic accounting programs that offer graduate certificates or master’s degrees in forensic accounting. These top-ranked online forensic accounting programs do not compromise quality when it comes to delivering high instruction standards. Each program is dedicated to helping students enhance their skills to pursue future career opportunities in accounting and criminal justice while meeting the highest educational quality levels.
Through its College of Business, the Florida Atlantic University School of Accounting offers a two-year online executive master of accounting degree with a concentration in forensic accounting. Though the school is based in Boca Raton, Florida, with satellite campuses around the state, all classes in this program are available online and compatible with a wide array of portable media devices, including mobile phones and tablets.
The program attracts a diverse student body, including students enrolled in 35 US states and several countries such as Japan, France, Kenya, and Jamaica. Students local to the Fort Lauderdale area can also attend live lectures on-campus or virtually once per week on Saturdays in addition to live-streamed lectures offered during the workweek. In addition to online lessons, students in this program complete online coursework and have access to technical support assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The College of Business is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Florida Atlantic University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The Northeastern University College of Professional Studies, based in Boston, Massachusetts, offers an online graduate certificate in forensic accounting. The program is designed for working accountants to expand their skill sets to include the ever-changing rules and forensics techniques to their existing accounting skills. A graduate certificate is awarded upon completion of this program, which can take six to 12 months to complete.
In addition to experiential learning, students take courses in forensic accounting principles, dissecting financial statements, and litigation support. To be eligible for admission, students must have a bachelor’s degree and submit unofficial transcripts, an online application, a statement of purpose, and a professional resume. Northeastern University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Through the Malcolm Baldrige School of Business, Post University offers a certificate program in forensic accounting. Offered on-campus and online, this program has the infrastructure to admit and deliver instruction to students in Connecticut and around the world. This 18-credit forensic accounting certificate aims to provide students with strong theoretical and analytical backgrounds in fraud prevention, detection, deterrence, and investigation.
Graduates from this program are prepared to take the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) examination, an essential credential for those pursuing careers in forensic accounting. Post University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Originally founded as an accounting school, Southern New Hampshire University has been conferring accounting degrees since 1932. These days, SNHU offers an online master of science (MS) with a concentration in forensic accounting and trains students to apply forensic accounting principles with the intent of upholding the law and prosecuting white-collar crime. The curriculum aligns with the Content and Skills Specification Outlines (CSOs/SSOs) set forth by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
To be eligible for admission, incoming students must have at least a bachelor’s degree and a GPA of 2.75 or above. However, accommodations can be made if a student does not meet all prerequisites. As well, GRE and GMAT scores are not required for admission. Southern New Hampshire University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education, and the Accreditation Council accredits the graduate program for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).
The Continuing Education division at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte offers an online forensic accounting certificate for a wide range of financial security professionals, including CPAs, current forensic accountants, internal auditors, business owners, attorneys, and law enforcement officers.
To earn this certificate, students must complete three classes within two years from the date of enrollment and achieve an 80 percent or higher on the final online quiz. The three-course sequence includes principles of forensic accounting, fraud prevention and detection, and introduction to computer forensics. The University of North Carolina is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
At Golden Gate University, students can complete a 15-credit graduate certificate in forensic accounting either on-campus in San Francisco, completely online, or through a hybrid of in-person and online instruction. All students must take three core courses: introduction to financial forensic accounting, fraud auditing, and damages. Students can choose six electives in intellectual property, expert testimony, bankruptcy and insolvency, an internship, and others.
To be eligible for admission, students must have a bachelor’s degree and meet coursework requirements in math, economics, finance, and graduate writing proficiency with grades of “B” or higher. Students must complete all certificate courses with a “B” average or 3.0 GPA to earn the certificate. Golden Gate University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Based in Henniker, New Hampshire, the New England College of Graduate and Professional Studies offers a fully online master of science degree in forensic accounting. Students learn through an interdisciplinary approach in this program combining traditional accounting with auditing and investigation tactics and skills. The online course environment is collaborative and flexible in nature and emphasizes creative learning.
Graduates from this program are prepared to work in large and small organizations utilizing expansive knowledge and reporting techniques needed for litigation. New England College is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
With its main campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, LaSalle University offers a fully online certificate in fraud and forensic accounting. The program consists of five courses and 15 credits, although some courses may be waived for students who have prior accounting experience. The LaSalle program can be completed in 10 months and is designed to give students a thorough academic foundation to prepare them to protect financial systems and expose fraudulent criminal activity in multiple economic sectors.
Faculty in this program come from various backgrounds in data analysis, leadership and management, computer networks and security, and forensic accounting. Students must complete an application to the graduate school, submit official transcripts, a resume, and a 200-word essay outlining the reasons they want to pursue this program.
The John Chambers College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University offers a full array of online forensic accounting programs, including a 12-credit graduate certificate and a 30-credit master’s degree in forensic accounting and fraud examination.
To complete the certificate program, students must complete four graduate courses over two years and attend at least two live residencies on-campus in Morgantown, West Virginia, or virtually online.
As for the master’s of science degree in forensic and fraud examination, this hybrid specialized accounting program aims to teach students essential skills to detect, prevent, and deter fraud. This program features a “low residency” hybrid approach, featuring online courses and requiring two on-campus visits to interact with faculty and students. Association accredits the John Chambers College of Business and Economics to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), and the Higher Learning Commission accredits west Virginia University.
With campuses in Stevenson and Owings Mills, Maryland, Stevenson University offers a fully online master of science degree and an online post-baccalaureate certificate program in forensic accounting. In the online master’s program, students have the opportunity to learn from professors who have years of experience in the field. The master’s program curriculum includes fraud accounting, investigation and analysis, business valuation, and litigation theory and practice.
In the 18-credit certificate program, students learn from faculty who are practicing forensic accountants, emphasizing combining accounting, auditing, computer, and investigative analyses to form cogent conclusions for litigation purposes. Stevenson University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and is a member of the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA) Academic Alliance.
Several factors were taken into account in determining which online forensic accounting programs were best suited to this top 10 list. This top 10 list is by no means exhaustive but is representative of reputable forensic accounting programs that meet high-quality educational standards.
To qualify to be on this list, the forensic accounting programs featured above meet the requirements listed below.
Determining a school’s accreditation status is essential when researching educational programs. All programs featured on this list hold one or both types of accreditation: programmatic or regional. Programmatic accreditation is awarded by a national or international organization such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
Regional accreditation is awarded to an educational institution recognized by the Council for Higher Education Association (CHEA). Examples of regional accreditation organizations are the Higher Learning Commission, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, or the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
In countless ways, the internet has revolutionized how students learn and how educators teach. Most universities in the 21st century use online resources in the form of student records, class registration, and learning management systems. However, a fully online program must have the technological resources and tech support to support distance-based learning so students can complete their lessons, communicate with their instructors and classmates, and demonstrate their knowledge securely and efficiently. The schools featured on this list have an established reputation for high-quality online learning as verified by accrediting agencies and satisfied student alumni.
While some courses can be delivered entirely online, a hybrid approach is better suited for some disciplines. Due to the interactive nature of courses that require collaboration and application of learned skills, programs featuring low-residency or some level of synchronous personal interaction as a part of the curriculum were given priority. Since communicative skills are a valued element of many schools that confer certificates and graduate programs in forensic accounting, programs that emphasize strong interpersonal communications skills through a discussion forum or an in-person conference session were included on this list.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).