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To get an entry-level accounting position, most companies demand only an undergraduate degree in accounting. But as employees seek to move up the career ladder, a CPA designation — which requires students to take an additional 30 credit hours beyond an undergraduate degree before they can sit for the exam — is critical.

While there are different ways to acquire the necessary requirements, completing a master’s degree program is the easiest path to prepare for the exam, says Louise Single, director of the Master of Accounting (MACT) program at St. Edward’s University. “If you’re going to spend 150 total hours at school to get a CPA certification, I think it makes sense to have a master’s degree at the end of it, too.” she says. “During a hiring process, for example, a hiring manager might decide to exclude anyone who doesn’t have that degree.”

A master’s degree lays the groundwork for those who want to land roles in the upper echelons of business and nonprofit worlds. “A master’s degree can help people develop the kind of skills that pay off over time, like talking to clients, making presentations, and having intelligent discussions about accounting issues,” explains Single.

Below are four positions that nearly always demand graduate degrees in accounting.

Partner

These coveted — not to mention highly compensated — roles at accounting firms require the technical expertise that a CPA designation offers. Because partners are part owners of a company, they bring vision and strategic direction to their roles. They develop the direction of practice areas, create new business, and serve as both leaders and role models at a company.

Controller

A controller heads up an accounting department and reports to the CFO at large companies or the president at smaller ones. Controllers tackle things like payroll, budgeting, tax compliance and financial statements.

Chief Financial Officer

This senior management position oversees all of a company’s financial activities, which includes reporting and presenting financial information, making company investment decisions, and forecasting to help predict a company’s financial future. It’s important for anyone in this role to be able to make complex financial statements and information accessible and compelling to those without a financial background.

Treasurer on a Board of Directors

A treasurer can play a huge role for an organization. While treasurers are always expected develop budgets, detail the organization’s cash position, and provide financial comparisons over time, they can also nudge other board members to think about an organization’s long-term financial future and develop performance indicators that provide snapshots of an organization’s financial health.

The Master of Accounting (MACT) program at St. Edward’s University helps students develop deep technical expertise in areas including accounting research, advanced federal taxation and fraud examination. CPA pass rates for St. Edward’s University graduates are among the top five in the state.

Erin Peterson is a freelance writer.

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