The temptation to “fix” a company’s accounting books may be alluring, 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 if a few cents went missing here and there?
Unfortunately for would-be racketeers, there are professionals trained to detect fraudulent changes in accounting. Forensic accountants protect fraud detection, financial statement sheets, and auditing and assurance for small businesses and large corporations. Many master’s degree programs in forensic accounting are available to give financial crime fighters the knowledge and training they need to pursue this analytical and growing career.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) does not track data specific to forensic accounting, the growth rate for accountants overall is expected to be 7 percent from 2020 to 2030, with a reported median salary of $73,560 for accountants and auditors (BLS 2021).
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), forensic accountants with a Certified Forensic Fraud Examiner credential can expect to earn even more with salaries ranging from $80,000 to $147,000. In addition, the BLS estimates 96,000 new positions will be created in the coming decade, working in all industries where accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services are provided (BLS 2021).
For those who want to balance budgets and bring justice to white-collar crimes, becoming a forensic accountant offers an opportunity to specialize in the growing field of accounting. Read on to learn more about masters degree programs in forensic accounting.
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, a State University of New York (SUNY), 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 2.9 or higher), a statement of purpose, and a current resume. In addition, applicants must also verify they have completed prerequisite courses in the principles of accounting, intermediate accounting, accounting systems, and auditing theory.
Other schools may only require completing a bachelor’s degree, although undergraduate accounting coursework will indeed 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 allowed 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 pm 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.
At the University of New Haven (UNH), students can earn a master of science in investigations, including coursework in financial crimes. The UNH program allows students to choose from a concentration in criminal investigation, economic crimes, or digital forensics. The program is offered entirely online and can be completed in as little as one year.
Some online master’s programs are organized such that graduates earn a master’s in accounting with a concentration in forensic accounting. These programs tend to have a broader overall accounting focus, and fewer classes specifically focused on forensic accounting.
Nonetheless, these accounting degrees also target many of the critical forensic accounting topics. For example, New England College has an online program offering a concentration in forensic accounting delivered 100 percent online and can be completed in just under two years.
Southern New Hampshire University also offers an online MS in accounting finance with a concentration in forensic accounting. Courses cover topics such as including interview techniques/legal aspects of fraud and intro to forensic accounting/fraud exam. This program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, is yet another school that has a master’s program in accounting with a concentration in forensic accounting that students can complete in two years. This program is offered by the College of Business which is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Graduates from this program have a solid background in fraud investigation and prevention, dispute resolution, and expert testimony.
There is no shortage of hybrid and online master’s degree programs focused on forensic accounting. Working students can choose from general accounting degree programs with a forensic accounting concentration or pursue a master’s degree that focuses entirely on the field of forensic accounting. The schools mentioned above are fully accredited at the institutional level, and some hold programmatic accreditation.
Students planning to enroll in a master’s in forensic accounting program will ensure that their school is accredited. Both programmatic and regional accreditation are essential factors to evaluate when choosing a forensic accounting degree program from any institution of higher education.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB) accredits business schools and accounting programs nationally. This organization accredits business schools and, as of 2021, accredits 188 schools for their business and accounting programs.
For example, the University at Albany (UA SUNY) School of Business holds programmatic accreditation through the AACSB. According to the University at Albany School of Business, this dual accreditation in business and accounting through the AACSB is rare, with fewer than two percent of the 16,000 business schools worldwide. In addition, UA SUNY holds regional accreditation through the Middle State Commission on Higher Education.
Not all programs will have earned AACSB accreditation. In this case, it is essential to look at a program’s regional accreditation, which evaluates the institution as a whole, not just the college that confers degrees in a specific discipline such as business or education. The regional accrediting agencies that the U.S. Department of Education has recognized are:
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).