Concentrations Add Value to Accounting Master’s Program
April 1, 2021 | By Stephen Caldwell
Note: This is part of a series of articles on the five newest master’s degree programs offered by the Sam M. Walton College of Business. JaLynn Thomas, the program’s co-director, provided insights and information for this article.
It’s not unusual for students who have earned an undergraduate degree in accounting to stick around for another year to earn a master’s degree, as well.
In fact, academic advisers encourage it.
To qualify for a CPA certificate and license, aspiring accountants first need a bachelor’s degree and a passing score on the Uniform CPA Exam. But they also must complete a minimum of 150 credit hours in college. Most students finish their undergraduate work with about 120 credit hours, so it makes sense to put the additional 30 hours to work toward a master’s degree.
The bigger question for students is how to make the most of that master’s degree, and that’s why the William Dillard Department of Accounting at the University of Arkansas recently restructured its graduate programs.
Like most universities, Arkansas previously offered a general master’s degree in accounting, and that served students well for decades. Accountants today, however, often end up specializing in a particular field, so the U of A adjusted its program to meet that need.
For instance, undergraduates in accounting typically do an internship during their junior or senior year, and those internships often lead to job offers. Accounting majors at the U of A routinely graduate not only knowing what type of accounting interests them the most but exactly where they will start their career. What they want and need is a master’s program that will specialize in that area.
To meet that demand, the Walton College now offers two options for a master’s in accounting. The Master of Accountancy is unique among accounting programs because it is designed specifically for students who are interested in pursuing a doctorate.
The Master of Professional Accounting, meanwhile, serves a larger population of students and now has concentrations in three common career paths: assurance and analytics, taxation and corporate accounting. Students pick their concentration before they begin the program, go through a curriculum designed for that specific career track, and get a transcript that highlights the concentration so that potential employers can see it.
The assurance and analytics track focuses on applying technology and analytics to accounting data, which is a growing necessity for auditors and other accounting professionals. It combines accounting classes with courses offered in the business analytics program from the Department of Information Systems. One of the textbooks used for this concentration, Data Analytics for Accounting, was co-authored by two U of A faculty members, Vern Richardson and Katie Terrell.
Traditionally, students with a desire to gain a deep understanding of taxation have had to target a Master of Taxation, which few universities offer. The U of A restructure allows these students to pursue a similar experience with tax accounting without going to a different school.
The corporate accounting concentration is the most broad-based of the three options. Not only does it provide value to those who want to work for large companies, but it also offers a less-targeted experience for students with an interest in public accounting.
While the restructured programs are still relatively new, the feedback from students has been positive. They like being able to pick their concentration and tailor their degree toward the career they’re most likely to pursue.
Many students actually can start on their master’s courses before finishing their undergraduate work by enrolling in the department’s Integrated Master of Accountancy (IMAcc) program. Students can be accepted into the program during their junior year, which allows them more flexibility during their senior year for scheduling classes and internships. They can take an internship for master’s credit, for instance, and take up to four master’s classes during their final undergraduate semester.
Students who are enrolled in the IMAcc and who finish their undergraduate requirements in December can start immediately on their master’s in the Spring semester. If they have an out-of-state tuition waiver, they can keep it while working on their master’s degree. And the IMAcc program is available regardless of whether they plan to pursue at Master of Accountancy or a Master of Professional Accounting.
The IMAcc provides the smoothest path toward a seamless, five-year competition of both an undergraduate and master’s degree. And the restructured master’s program provides concentrated options for students no matter the next step in their academic or professional journeys.