Best Degrees and Curriculum for Accounting Grads

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In an article in the Winter 2002 issue of the Pennsylvania CPA Journal, two accounting professors at Ball State University explore the pros and cons of four types of degrees and curriculum available to accounting students today.

  • MS, Accounting. The master's in accounting degree provides the best preparation for the CPA examination. It also affords an opportunity for more in-depth study, regardless of whether a student's area of interest is public, private or nonprofit accounting. Potential disadvantages include minimal training in other important business disciplines, such as business administration, and limited interaction with fellow students who have business experience to share in classroom discussions and group projects.
  • MBA. Key advantages of MBA programs include the broad range of students with whom to interact, along with the fact that an MBA is generally the best choice for accounting students who wish to eventually advance to upper management. Some MBA programs also integrate international travel, which can further enhance the educational experience. The primary disadvantage is often the lack of emphasis on technical accounting topics. This can affect performance on the CPA exam.
  • Double Majors. Students can meet the 150-hour educational requirements by taking undergraduate level courses under programs that offer double majors. The accounting major component develops the knowledge base to succeed in the profession, while the second major (e.g., information systems or finance) provides complementary, in-depth study in a related discipline. The key disadvantage is the lower compensation compared with that commanded by students with graduate degrees.
  • Traditional Undergraduate Degrees. Most individuals currently in practice possess traditional single-major undergraduate degrees. Unfortunately, accountants with only these degrees today get lower levels of compensation compared with all the other options. A big disadvantage of this degree is that it does not conform to the education requirement of the CPA exam in some states.

There is a great deal of variability in these programs between universities, and accounting students should choose the programs that best meet their educational objectives.

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