Earning an online master's in forensic accounting can open the door to a lucrative and exciting career investigating financial crimes. Forensic accountants look for fraud by examining financial statements, court records, and internal databases. They also help determine damages, loss of profits, and valuations; detect professional negligence; and assist in family law matters.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects faster than average job growth for forensic accounting professionals over the next ten years. This page explores forensic accounting coursework, how to choose the right program, and careers graduates can pursue after graduation.
What to Know About Online Master's in Forensic Accounting Coursework
Online master's in forensic accounting programs typically include advanced courses on government regulations, finance, and legal issues. As a result, graduates are well-versed in fraud investigation and prevention, valuation, dispute resolution, expert testimony, and litigation support. Learners also gain essential communication, math, organizational, analytical, and critical-thinking skills.
The typical master's in forensic accounting degree comprises 30-45 credits, which takes two years to complete with full-time study. Some schools offer accelerated online options that let learners graduate faster. Completion time for part-time learners varies depending on how many credits they take each term.
Students can earn their master's in forensic accounting online or on campus. Many learners, busy professionals, prefer distance education programs due to their convenience and flexibility. Regardless of the format you choose, online and on-campus forensic accounting master's programs typically offer very similar curriculums and program requirements.
What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Forensic Accounting Program?
The exact courses offered in master's in forensic accounting programs vary by school and by program focus. However, learners can expect to take courses in business, legal, and financial topics, including fraud investigation, financial reporting, and forensic examination skills. See the sample curriculum below.
- Advanced Fraud Investigation
This class explores the advanced principles and practices of fraud investigation. It emphasizes the role of litigation support investigators and forensic accountants. Students examine topics like terrorism financing, international money laundering, and organized criminal activities. The course also introduces expert testimony in courtroom settings.
- Forensic and Fraud Examination Skills
Students receive an introduction to fraud and forensic examination. They explore the relationship between forensic and fraud examinations and traditional accounting and financial issues. They also gain practical skills to conduct forensic and fraud examinations.
- Forensics Accounting/Systems
Learners explore the information technology aspects of forensic accounting and auditing. This class introduces the concepts, tools, and techniques used to audit information technology systems. The courses focuses on audit methodology used in accounting information systems, including both simple and complex computer systems.
- Advanced Financial Reporting
This course introduces advanced techniques in financial statement analysis. Students learn to use ratio analysis and to interpret financial accounting information like income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. The class also looks at accounting information used in credit and investment decisions.
- Legal Issues in Accounting
Students explore a broad selection of legal issues related to accounting. They investigate topics like secured transactions, bankruptcy, CPA legal liabilities, contracts, commercial paper, sales, and creditors' rights. The course also explores business ethics and social responsibility.
What Elective Courses are Available in a Master's in Forensic Accounting Program?
Many master's in forensic accounting online programs offer elective classes so students can tailor their degree to their interests. While specific elective classes vary by program, a representative sample forensic accounting electives is listed below.
- Contemporary Issues in Accounting
This course focuses on current issues in the accounting field, including tax law changes, changes in auditing procedures, and international accounting standards. Students also explore professional ethical issues and discuss the types of services that public accountants can provide.
- Business Research
Students learn some of the most commonly used research theories and methodologies for business. They also explore the practice of fact-based, data driven decision making and learn to evaluate business research proposals. Students gain skills in reading and conducting research.
- Corporate Governance and Fraudulent Financial Reporting
This class looks at fraudulent corporate financial reporting and how it affects corporate governance issues. Students explore topics like fraud prevention techniques, auditing, and internal control systems.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
Students often need to complete a special forensic accounting project in addition to their regular coursework. Most master's in forensic accounting programs do not include a thesis or exam as part of their graduation requirements.
Capstone projects tend to be the most common requirement, and they usually take place in the last term before graduation. Capstones are the culminating experience for students to synthesize the knowledge gained from coursework and put their skills into practice. Learners usually identify a research question relevant to the forensic accounting field and attempt to answer it. They may also need to write a report and create a presentation explaining their findings.
How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Forensic Accounting Program?
Finding a quality online master's in forensic accounting program begins with ensuring any prospective school is accredited. Choosing an accredited institution means you receive a high quality education that meets independently-set academic standards. Some forensic accounting programs also receive programmatic accreditation, which ensures students learn industry best practices.
Some forensic accounting master's programs may hold accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), or the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE).
Signs of trustworthy programs in forensic accounting include qualified faculty members, relevant and up-to-date coursework, and strong graduation and job placement rates. Any institution that lacks accreditation, or features outdated or hard-to-find program information on the school's website, should be a red flag.
Career Opportunities With a Master's in Forensic Accounting Degree
Graduates of forensic accounting master's programs can find many lucrative career opportunities in accounting, management, and finance. However, earning a degree in forensic accounting does not guarantee a career in the field. Also, some jobs may require additional licensure or certifications, in addition to a master's in forensic accounting. See below for a sampling of careers relevant to graduates of master's in forensic accounting programs.
- Accountants and Auditors
Accountants and auditors analyze and prepare financial records. They help organizations run efficiently by assessing their financial operations, making sure they pay taxes on time, and ensuring accuracy of financial records. They also find ways to reduce costs and improve profits. A subspeciality of public accounting, forensic accounting investigates financial crimes, including embezzlement, contract disputes, and bankruptcies. Forensic accountants combine accounting knowledge with investigative techniques to detect criminal behavior.
- Median Salary: $70,500/year
- Currently Employed: 1,397,700
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +10%
- Financial Analysts
Financial analysts help individuals and businesses make investment decisions. They recommend investments, evaluate financial data, study economic trends, and determine a company's value by analyzing its financial records. They can work for insurance companies, banks, or mutual funds. Financial analysts work as either buy-side or sell-side analysts. Types of financial analysts include portfolio managers, fund managers, risk analysts, and ratings analysts.
- Median Salary: $85,660/year
- Currently Employed: 296,100
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +11%
- Management Analysts
Also called management consultants, management analysts explore ways to make organizations operate more efficiently. They help managers reduce costs and increase revenues to improve profitability. Earning a certified management consultant credential from the Institute of Management Consultants can increase job prospects for management analysts. Most analysts enter the field after many years of experience in a field like accounting.
- Median Salary: $83,610/year
- Currently Employed: 806,400
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +14%
- Financial Managers
Financial managers oversee organizations' financial health. They create financial reports, develop long-term business strategies, and direct investments. They work in many different industries, including insurance and banking. Most hold five or more years of experience working in a field like accounting. Many employers seek financial managers who hold a master's degree. Earning a professional certification can further demonstrate competence in this field.
- Median Salary: $127,990/year
- Currently Employed: 580,400
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +19%
- Top Executives
Top executives help organizations meet their goals by creating and executing strategies, and coordinating an organization's operational activities. They work in almost every industry, for organizations both large and small. Some top executives need a certification relevant to their area of management, such as a certified public accountant credential. Top executives need leadership, management, communication, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.
- Median Salary: $104,980/year
- Currently Employed: 2,572,000
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +8%
What's the Expected Job Growth for Forensic Accounting Careers?
The BLS projects a 10% growth rate — a rate faster than average — for the accounting profession in the next ten years. Factors contributing to this promising career outlook include increased demand for accountants due to a growing economy, complex tax regulations, and globalization.
The demand for accounting professionals is tied to the health of the overall economy. As a result, the demand for forensic accountants may vary depending on the regulatory atmosphere and how much governments, police, and organizations prioritize detection or prosecution of financial crimes.
Professional Organizations for Careers in Forensic Accounting
Joining a professional organization can benefit forensic accounting professionals and students alike. Members receive access to career services, job boards, annual conferences, professional development programs, and networking opportunities. Joining a professional group also helps members stay current on new developments in forensic accounting.
The ICFA promotes the forensic accountancy profession by offering a forensic accounting certification program, an online magazine, and continuing education opportunities.
The first forensic accounting board and credentialing program, the ABFA promotes forensic accounting and certifies forensic accountants. Members also receive access to continuing education programs.
NAFA offers certification and training to certified public accountants working in forensic accounting. NAFA members receive newsletters and other publications and national discounts.
The world's largest anti-fraud organization, the ACFE represents more than 85,000 members. It offers certifications, trainings, events, and informational resources. The organization also coordinates a scholarship program for college students interested in anti-fraud careers.
A division of the American Accounting Association devoted to forensic accounting, this group promotes excellence in teaching, practice, and research related to forensic accounting. Members receive a newsletter, networking opportunities, and professional development.
How to Pay for a Master's in Forensic Accounting Degree
Master's students in forensic accounting can pay for their degree using student loans, scholarships, grants, and fellowships. Most learners cannot pay for their graduate degrees out of pocket, and instead rely on one or more financial aid sources. Below, we include a sampling of some major sources of funding for forensic accounting majors.
Federal Financial Aid
All master's students should start by completing the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA helps determine student eligibility for federal aid, including student loans, grants, and work-study programs. Even students who do not want to apply for federal aid should fill out the form, as many schools and private foundations use it to determine applicants' eligibility.
Scholarships from Professional Organizations
Professional organizations devoted to forensic accounting offer some scholarships for forensic accounting students. For example, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners Foundation offers the Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship Program in support of future anti-fraud professionals, including forensic accountants. The foundation awards four scholarships each year worth $1,000-$10,000. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Foundation also gives out several scholarships each year.
Scholarships or Tuition Assistance from Schools
Many forensic accounting students receive scholarships from their departments or schools to help pay for their degree. For example, LaSalle University's economic and crime forensics master's program offers need-based, tuition reduction funding on a limited basis. Some schools may offer scholarships for the full amount of tuition.
Graduate Assistantships/Research Positions
Some programs offer tuition reductions or assistance for forensic accounting students in exchange for their help with research or teaching projects. Students should contact their department to find out about potential graduate assistantships and research positions. Learners typically cannot be employed full-time to qualify for these types of positions.