The enticement to “fix” a company’s accounting books may be tempting, particularly in a time of economic unrest or while a company is on the road to recovery. After all, who would really be able to tell?
Unfortunately for would-be racketeers, there are professionals trained to detect fraudulent changes in accounting. These professionals are known as forensic accountants and higher education programs are available to help those interested in this type of work learn more about fraud detection, financial statement sheets, and auditing and assurance. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) does not track data specific to forensic accounting, the growth rate for accountants overall is expected to be 10 percent from 2016 to 2026. Coupled with a reported median salary of $82,938 for uncertified forensic accountants and $104,500 for those who have earned a Certified Forensic Fraud Examiner credential, this may be a career worth pursuing (Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.com). Many master’s in forensic accounting degrees are available to help professionals obtain the knowledge and training they need to pursue this analytical and growing career.
Admission requirements for students seeking master’s in forensic accounting degrees will vary by program and school. For example, at the school of business at the University at Albany, State University of New York, an undergraduate degree in accounting is required for master’s degree applicants. Interested applicants who have not earned this degree must have a minimum of 24 undergraduate credits in accounting.
By comparison, the prerequisites are different for master’s degree applicants at the West Virginia University (WVU) where applicants need an overall undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher and a score of at least 500 on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). If those two requirements cannot be met, applicants must have a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certificate, a related accounting certification from an approved organization, a Juris Doctor (JD) or at least two years of relevant work experience. Applicants must also be able to verify they have completed prerequisite courses in the principles of accounting, intermediate accounting, accounting systems, and auditing theory.
Other schools may only require completion of a bachelor’s degree, although undergraduate accounting coursework will surely offer a learning advantage. Many other requirements may be necessary for admission to a master’s degree program, including letters of recommendation, completion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the GMAT, a standard GPA, often a minimum 3.0, and even an interview.
Many master’s in forensic accounting programs will be from 30 to 36 credits in length. Some may be fast-tracked and completed in one year while others may allow students to work at their own pace. In general, the Master of Forensic Accounting, often referred to as an MFAcc or MFA, enables students to learn more about aspects of the field such as criminology, legal issues, professional ethics and various data-analysis methodologies. Students may also learn about cyber forensics, internal auditing, and risk management. Case studies and role management may be part of some learning, and some courses may even be offered as part of a masters of science (MS) in forensic accounting program. Master’s level courses often include:
Students in a master’s in forensic accounting program may also be given the opportunity to complete the extra coursework needed to apply for certified public accountant (CPA) licensure. This is true of the masters in forensic accounting programs at the University at Albany and the College at Brockport, State University of New York.
Additionally, many of these programs prioritize flexibility for students, offering them online learning or the ability to take classes in the evening. For example, at the College of Brockport, classes in its forensics accounting masters start after 5 p.m. so that students have the chance to work or to complete internships during the day. Students can also complete their degree in either one to two years at the school, depending upon their part-time or full-time enrollment. Finally, students can take up to nine credits, or three courses, on a non-matriculated basis, meaning they don’t even have to be admitted into the program.
To offer students even more options, master’s in forensic accounting programs are being made available through web-based learning, which may be wholly online or available through hybrid learning that provides a mixture of campus-based and online classes. Below is a list of schools offering some of these online options for masters in forensic accounting.
Some online master’s programs are organized such that graduates earn a master’s in accounting with a concentration in forensic accounting. These types of programs tend to have a broader overall accounting focus and fewer classes specifically focused in forensic accounting. Nonetheless, these accounting degrees also target many of the important forensic accounting topics.
Students interested in forensic accounting may want to give further thought to whether a degree entirely focused in forensic accounting is their objective or whether a masters degree in accounting with a forensic accounting concentration would be a sufficient alternative.
Students planning to enroll in a master’s in forensic accounting program will want to ensure that their school is accredited. Both programmatic and institutional accreditation are important to evaluate.
Nationally, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB) accredits business schools and accounting programs. This association, which accredits business schools, has 180 schools accredited for their accounting programs. For example, the University at Albany has regional accreditation through the Middle State Commission on Higher Education and both business and accounting accreditation through the AACSB. In fact, this dual accreditation in both business and accounting through the AACSB is rare, and has only been obtained by approximately two percent of the 13,000 business schools worldwide, reports the University at Albany.
Not all programs will have earned AACSB acccreditation. In this case, it is important to look to a program’s institutional accreditation, which evaluates the school as a whole. The institutional accrediting agencies that have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education are: