Beyond the CPA

The top five finance and accounting degrees & certifications.

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An advanced degree or certification can open new doors in almost every professional field. For accounting and finance professionals, the Certified Public Accountant certification is easily the most common — but it's hardly the only one. In fact, there are so many options available within these fields that it can be hard to choose the right one for you.

To help you make the choice, we've gone beyond the CPA certification and broken down five of the most useful finance and accounting degree and certifications for advancing your career.

Master of Accountancy.

One of the most popular degrees in accounting and finance, the Master of Accountancy (MAcc) is also one of the most versatile. The CPA exam requires 150 hours of relevant coursework — 30 more hours than a typical bachelor's degree demands — and many MAcc programs are designed specifically to provide this coursework. 

These degrees are often highly technical and cover advanced topics in business, auditing, taxation, and accounting technology. However, most programs offer a variety of electives, allowing students to tailor their MAcc degree to their own goals and professional interests. Graduates of MAcc programs frequently go on to join financial consulting firms, government agencies, and public accounting teams at large companies.

Master of Finance.

Like the MAcc degree, the Master of Finance is a great way to gain the additional coursework and advanced knowledge needed for the CPA exam. This degree often comes in two distinct varieties: the Master of Finance (MFin) and the Master of Science in Finance (MSF). These two degrees sound similar, but they differ substantially in their coursework and the types of positions available to graduates.

MSF programs are designed to prepare graduates for roles in investment banking, corporate finance and financial planning. MSF coursework focuses on advanced principles of economics, finance, and management, and may include electives covering real estate, securities, and international finance. These programs are ideal for accountants and finance professionals who want to broaden their understanding of advanced topics and increase their chances of promotion to senior leadership positions.

While the MSF is highly conceptual, the MFin is much more technical. Focusing on highly quantitative areas like financial engineering and computational methods, MSF programs will be challenging for those without prior experience or coursework in engineering or computer science. Coursework often covers topics like "economic theory, probability, statistics, optimization, and computer science." For those with a passion for all things quantitative, an MFin degree is avenue for entry and advancement within fields like financial engineering, risk management, financial forecasting, and quantitative trading.

Master of Science in Taxation.

For those who specialize — or would like to specialize — in taxation, the Master of Science in Taxation (MST) degree is incredibly useful tool for career advancement. Coursework often covers a broad range of taxation types, including corporate, real estate, bankruptcy and tax policy. This versatile degree can open doors for careers in financial planning, corporate taxation, and consulting. Like the other Masters programs listed above, the MST is great for fulfilling the additional education requirements for the CPA exam. CPAs who start their own tax preparation firms often possess MST degrees.

Certified Financial Planner.

The Baby Boomer generation is retiring in droves, and they need plenty of help planning for it. That's just one of the reasons why earning a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification is a highly lucrative option for finance and accounting professionals. The job market for financial planners is poised for explosive growth over the coming decade, and those with CFP certifications will be highly in-demand. However, earning a CFP isn't easy. Substantial coursework is required, as is mastery of nearly 80 different topics within financial planning. The 10-hour exam has a pass rate of just 64 percent, but those who do pass earn prestigious credentials and the keys to a very lucrative career.

Chartered Financial Analyst.

Another rigorous certification with massive career-boosting potential, Bloomberg Businessweek notes that the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) "designation is considered the gold standard of the investment management field... with many going on to careers as portfolio mangers or research analysts at hedge funds and private equity firms." The CFA requires around 300 hours of self-guided study and three separate six-hour exams, each focusing on tools and concepts related to advanced financial analysis. Like the CFP, passing the CFA exam can open the door to a variety of high-level career options in finance.

These aren't the only finance and accounting degrees and certifications, nor are they the only sought-after skills in the industry, but they do offer the greatest potential for career advancement. But don't stop here — combine the credentials listed above with a CPA or an MBA for maximum effect.

Already have one of these degrees? Browse our accounting and finance job opportunities to see if your credentials are a match and apply today. 

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