Out of 565 employers from around the world, 45 percent plan to hire master of accounting graduates this year, according to a survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council. In last year's survey, only 36 percent of employers planned to hire business school graduates with this degree.
Full-time master in accounting programs usually take one year to complete and accept students fresh out of undergrad. The job hunt for many of these students begins before they step foot on campus.
"We can connect with the students that have been accepted into the program – immediately – and start working with them and preparing them for fall recruiting," says Andy Rabitoy, director for undergraduate career services at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington, which also works with students pursuing a master of professional accounting. His office helps students with several job-related needs such as interview preparation and fine-tuning their resumes.
Incoming graduate accounting students at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University are put in touch with the career services office over the summer to sharpen their cover letters and perfect other skills that may help secure a job, says Stephen Singer, director of career management and corporate relations at Fisher. Classes begin Aug. 27 and on-campus recruiting begins the first week of September.
"It's a very robust recruiting cycle," he says. Two-thirds of recruiting for students in the program takes place in the fall, he says.
Most of these students are gearing up to work within one of two career paths at a public accounting firm such as KPMG or Deloitte; a small percentage will go work in other areas that leverage an accounting background. Below, experts describe the career tracks most popular for business school graduates with a master's degree in accounting and the classes that students take to prepare.
• Taxation: At a public accounting firm, graduates have a number of options. "You could be doing compliance work where you're working on corporate or individual tax returns," says Michael Akers, who is the chairman for the department of accounting at Marquette University. Graduates could also work in tax analysis, working with organizations to minimize their tax liability, he says.
Classes that focus on corporate tax, tax research and international tax can prepare students for the field, he says.
• Auditing: An auditor examines the financial statements of organizations to determine if they're fair, Akers says. An auditor's specific role depends on the employer.
"Public accounting firms, they go audit organizations," says Akers. "But an internal auditor works for a specific organization." Courses in financial accounting, financial statement analysis and accounting communications, Akers says, can help students when they become employees.
Major firms may have distinct jobs that focus on taxation or auditing, but smaller firms may operate differently, says Singer. "The regional accounting firms tend not to specialize in tax or audit." Instead jobs are more "cross-functional" and require familiarity and work in both areas.
• Other: Besides working at a public accounting firm in taxation or auditing – the most common career paths – a few other jobs also appeal to students, experts say. Working in consulting or manufacturing, or with the government, are some, Singer says.
[Consider an online accounting master's degree.]
Whether a graduate pursues a more traditional path or ventures out into something more like advisory services, which is similar to consulting, the pay isn't likely to vary by much.