Best Online Master's in Taxation Degrees

Earning a Master's in Taxation Online

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Both state and federal tax laws constantly evolve, often becoming more complex and difficult to navigate over time. This largely explains why the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment for accountants and auditors to grow by 10% through 2026, a rate of expansion that is higher than the average for all other occupations.

In addition to solid job prospects, this field promises strong earnings potential. In 2017, the median accountant earned $69,350, which is roughly $30,000 more than the national median salary. To best position yourself for these new and lucrative job opportunities, you should consider earning an advanced degree.

This page provides an overview of online master's in taxation programs, including admission requirements, curricula, and possible career paths. It also offers tips on how to finance your graduate education.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Taxation?

Many students seek out an online master's in taxation directly after they graduate with their bachelor's degree in a related field. This often allows them to take on higher-paying managerial roles without needing to accrue years of professional experience.

Other master's students choose to return to school after several years in the workforce. They may want to change directions in their careers, qualify for a more advanced position, or negotiate a higher salary at their current organization.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Taxation?

Pursuing Specialization

An online master's in taxation can help you develop the knowledge and skills needed to take on specialized roles in the industry. For example, you may want to become a personal financial adviser, offering your clients guidance on how to minimize their tax burden. A master's degree not only gives you the opportunity to take coursework in this area, it also helps you grow your portfolio.

Career Advancement Opportunities

While the BLS expects continued demand for qualified professionals across the financial industry, it also anticipates that those with a master's degree will enjoy better job prospects and a higher chance for advancement. Continuing your education at the graduate level can open up new professional opportunities at firms that require an advanced degree, or it can give you the leverage to negotiate a promotion or salary increase.

Online Learning Technology

Continued technological advances mean that organizations can now automate much of the functions once completed by accountants, auditors, and other financial professionals. As a result, employers may prize advisory and interpersonal skills more highly than pure technical knowledge. By becoming familiar with the distance communication tools used in a master's program, you can more easily use those same technologies to provide advice to clients and collaborate with colleagues around the globe.

Prerequisites for Online Taxation Programs

To apply to an online master's in taxation program, you must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Other requirements vary from program to program, though you can review some of the most common prerequisites below.

    • Work Experience: Schools that cater to recent graduates typically do not require applicants to possess any work experience. However, some programs require a minimum of two years of professional tax experience. You can often waive this requirement if you hold another advanced degree or a certification in a finance-related field.
    • Exams and Test Scores: While some online schools do not require entrance exam scores, you should plan to take either the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Scores for both of these exams remain valid for five years, and applicants with significant professional experience can often receive waivers for this requirement.
    • Coursework: Most programs want to see an undergraduate transcript that shows you completed coursework in accounting, finance, economics, taxation, or a closely related field. Some schools even require that you maintain a GPA of 3.0 in order to apply. Programs with less stringent admissions policies allow you to complete this coursework after being conditionally admitted to a graduate program.
    • Recommendations: Most programs require you to submit two or three letters of recommendation as part of your application package. Reach out to former professors, employers, and others that can speak to your academic achievement and professional experience in accounting or taxation. Give your recommenders at least two months to write your letter.
    • Essays: Many schools do not require you to write an application essay. Still, some selective programs may ask to see a statement outlining your academic and professional goals. When requested, use your essay as an opportunity to highlight your strengths and address any weaknesses in your application.
    • Interviews: Most online schools do not require students to take part in an admissions interview, relying exclusively on your application materials to determine whether you can succeed in their program. If your school does request an interview, you can often participate at a distance. Try a mock interview with a friend or colleague to prepare for common interview questions.
    • International Students: As an international student, you must meet all of the same admission requirements as those applying from the U.S. Your program may also ask you to demonstrate your English proficiency, as most classes and assignments require fluency. You should also confirm that your chosen program recognizes the degree you received abroad.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Taxation?

As mentioned above, the BLS estimates that accountants and auditors earned a median salary of $69,350 in 2017. The lowest 10% of these individuals made less than $43,020 that year, while the highest 10% brought in more than $122,220.

Generally speaking, finance professionals with more years of experience and higher levels of education earn more than those early in their career or without an advanced degree. For example, most financial managers now possess a master's degree in a field like taxation, accounting, or business, and their median salary in 2017 exceeded $125,000.

Traditional Careers for MTax's

Career Stats Description

Tax Manager

Median Pay: $94,907

Job Growth: 10.7%

Tax managers and preparers oversee all tax compliance and reporting procedures for a company, including filing taxes and finding additional deduction opportunities. They may also supervise accounting staffers.

Ideal for: Those with strong number-crunching, fact-checking, and research skills.

Trade Compliance Manager

Median Pay: $84,504

Job Growth: .7%

Trade compliance managers oversee all aspects of their organization's trade activities, ensuring that they adhere to all applicable laws and regulations. Given the complexity of navigating trade policies and procedures in multiple jurisdictions, many compliance managers specialize in international trade.

Ideal for: Professionals with exceptional attention to detail and a strong understand of the law.

International Tax Manager

Median Pay: $112,735

Job Growth: -1%

International tax managers typically work for multinational corporations or organizations that conduct a significant part of their business overseas. They perform many of the same functions as tax managers, but they must follow and reconcile tax codes from multiple countries.

Ideal for: Those who enjoy working with quantitative data and possess the research and communication skills to understand global tax law.

Senior Auditor

Median Pay: $67,845

Job Growth: 10%

Auditors ensure that an organization properly manages and documents its funds. Internal auditors typically work for a single organization, while consulting auditors may work for a firm that services multiple clients. Senior auditors often possess the experience and academic background necessary to supervise a team of financial professionals.

Ideal for: Accountants and auditors that want to take a step back from financial operations and take on a leadership role.

Non-Traditional Careers for MTax's

Career Stats Description

Actuary

Median Pay: $101,560

Job Growth: 22%

Actuaries put a price on risk and uncertainty. For example, an actuary may use their understanding of statistics, probability, and financial theory to determine the cost of a life insurance policy for an individual of a certain age and health status. In the financial sphere, actuaries help companies understand the possible cost of particular business decisions.

Ideal for: Those interested in applying their expertise in statistics to real-world issues.

Forensic Accountant

Median Pay: $69,350

Job Growth: 10%

Forensic accountants help law enforcement officials solve crimes through the analysis of financial records. They may also help private companies investigate civil infractions using those same accounting tools. For example, a forensic accountant may work for an insurance company that wants to determine if any of its customers have committed fraud.

Ideal for: Accounting professionals who possess above-average problem solving and deduction skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Taxation

The cost of an online master's in taxation can vary greatly depending on where and how you earn your degree. Attending a public university, for instance, often costs considerably less than a private institution, especially if you qualify for in-state tuition.

Many programs also allow for part-time and self-paced study. While you may end up paying more for a degree you earn on a part-time basis, you can spread your tuition payments out over a longer period of time and continue to work a full-time job while you study. Self-paced programs may allow you to earn your degree in considerably less time, potentially reducing the overall cost of your education.

Tuition Timelines

Part-time and self-paced tracks often appeal to those who need to balance their education with personal or professional obligations. Completing a program on a full-time basis may better suit recent college graduates.

Part-Time Path

Part-time students usually take two classes each semester and earn their online master's in taxation in about three years.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Southern New Hampshire University
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: Part-time students at Southern New Hampshire University typically graduate from this program in three years or less. As SNHU offers classes in ten-week terms, students can also schedule their learning around busy seasons at work, making this path ideal for accounting professionals.

Full-Time Path

On a full-time path, you can expect to take about four classes each semester. This approach allows students to earn their degree faster, but maintaining family and work obligations can prove difficult.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: St. John's University
Total Credits Required: 31
Summary: St. John's University anticipates that full-time students can graduate with their online master's in taxation in approximately two years. This assumes that you did not complete any undergraduate coursework that you could apply towards your advanced degree. If you did, you can potentially finish your program even faster.

Accelerated Path

Accelerated paths often allow for self-paced learning, meaning that you advance through your coursework as soon as you can demonstrate your understanding of the material. Students on these tracks generally receive less support from their instructors and classmates.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Northeastern University
Total Credits Required: 30
Summary: Northeastern University's accelerated master's program gives students the opportunity to earn their degree in just 12-16 months. While this track can help you quickly advance in your career, you should think carefully about whether this style of learning works for you.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

In addition to state and federal aid, many private organizations offer scholarships specifically for students pursuing a graduate degree in fields like taxation, accounting, and business. You can review five such scholarships below.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Taxation Program

If you pursue your online master's in taxation on a full-time basis, you can expect to graduate in about two years. Part-time study may require three years or more.

First-year students often take foundational coursework in areas like auditing and tax research methodology. Second-year students usually enjoy the opportunity to customize their learning through elective classes or by selecting a formal concentration. Most programs feature a capstone project to help students apply their learning to a real tax issue.

Major Milestones

  1. Enrollment: Roughly two years prior to graduation

    After you receive your offer of admission, reach out to an enrollment counselor to discuss your course of study. You can also contact your school's financial aid office to talk about scholarship and grant opportunities.

  2. Completing Foundational Coursework: Roughly one year prior to graduation

    In your first year, you can expect to complete foundational coursework in areas like estate and gift taxation and ethics in accounting. Students who took undergraduate classes in these subjects may elect to test out.

  3. Completing Elective Coursework: Roughly six months prior to graduation

    In your second year, you can begin to choose classes that align with your personal interests and professional goals. For example, you may take a class in corporate financial management to prepare for jobs in which you lead a team of accountants and auditors.

  4. Completing Capstone Project: Directly prior to graduation

    A capstone project requires you to apply your graduate-level learning in a practical setting. For example, you may partner with a local nonprofit organization to conduct a practice internal audit, helping them prepare for this annual requirement.

  5. Graduation: When all program requirements are met

    After you complete your capstone project and all of the courses required in your program, you can graduate with your online master's in taxation. Remember, some schools require you to maintain a minimum GPA in your classes to earn your degree.

  6. Sitting for the CPA Exam: At any point after graduation

    If you do not already hold certification as a public accountant, you should consider seeking this credential. Along with other requirements, becoming a CPA requires completing 150 hours of college-level coursework, which is 30 more hours than a traditional bachelor's program. A master's degree can help you meet this educational threshold.

Coursework

While the coursework you encounter in a master's program varies depending on the electives you choose, five common introductory courses appear in the list below.

Tax Research Methodology

This course introduces students to the methods of collecting, analyzing, and drawing conclusions from tax data. It lays the groundwork for students who want to pursue a master's thesis option or continue their education at the doctoral level.

Advanced Topics in Financial Reporting

Students in this class explore upper-level concepts related to financial reporting, including reporting procedures for the Securities and Exchange Commission, corporations in financial difficulty, and multinational accounts. Students typically complete an entry-level course in financial reporting before enrolling.

Situational Ethics in Accounting

In preparation for dealing with ethical dilemmas, this class helps students explore the philosophy of ethical decision-making in taxation, accounting, and business.

Business Law

This class offers a survey of legal issues and regulations within a business context. Students examine issues like torts and product liability, contracts, and employment law.

Managing Through Communication

Managers must know how to communicate, whether to set organizational direction, provide feedback, or deal with difficult issues. Students explore theories related to effective communication and practice concrete skills like active listening.

Requirements to Practice

All accountants filing reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must be Certified Public Accountants (CPA). Tax professionals who do not work with the SEC may still voluntarily seek out a CPA credential in order to demonstrate expertise in accounting to both clients and potential employers.

Many individuals working in finance-related fields also receive additional professional certifications. These credentials often signal specialized knowledge in areas like government auditing, risk management, and financial advising.

    • Certified Public Accountant: By law, all accountants filing with the SEC must become CPAs. To do so, you must complete 150 hours of postsecondary coursework and pass the four-part Uniform CPA Examination. States may list additional requirements as well, such as passing a criminal background check.
    • Certified Management Accountant: Offered by the Institute of Management Accountants, this credential serves professionals responsible for overseeing the financial health of their organizations. To become certified, you must work for at least two years in managerial accounting and pass a two-part exam covering topics like capital structure and risk management.
    • Certified Internal Auditor: The Institute of Internal Auditors administers this certification. Applicants must also work for two years, meet educational requirements, and pass a two-part exam. Certified auditors can also pursue additional and more specialized credentials in areas such as government auditing.
    • Certified Information Systems Auditor: Individuals with a background in both auditing and information technology can seek out this certification to improve their job prospects and command higher salaries. Certification requires five years of relevant professional experience and passing an exam on information systems control and security.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Joining a professional organization can make it easier to advance your career. These groups often host local and national networking events, giving you the chance to meet new colleagues and learn about interesting professional opportunities. They may also offer continuing-education programs, such as webinars, formal certification programs, or in-person training workshops. In addition, many host job boards and administer mentorship programs, helping recent graduates learn more about possible career paths in accounting and taxation.

  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants: Founded in 1887, AICPA continues to serve the professional interests of certified public accountants. In addition to establishing standards of conduct for the profession, the institute also develops and grades the Uniform CPA Examination.
  • American Accounting Association: The AAA represents accountants working in academia. In addition to hosting national meetings and publishing scholarly journals, the association maintains a career center with resources for accounting students and recent graduates.
  • Institute of Internal Auditors: The IIA represents more than 185,000 internal auditors around the globe. Members can access a wealth of online learning opportunities, pursue one of seven formal credentials, or share best practices with colleagues through web-based groups.
  • Institute of Management Accountants: With more than 100,000 members, the IMA promotes excellence in management accounting. The institute's primary offerings include the certified management accountant and certified in strategy and competitive analysis credentials.
  • National Association of Black Accountants, Inc.: The NABA, Inc. bridges the opportunity gap for African-Americans in accounting and finance. The association hosts conventions, offers awards to recognize service to the field, and provides scholarships.
  • US Department of Education - Student Aid: Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, can help you determine whether you qualify for grants, work-study positions, and low-interest student loans. This site also offers guidance on identifying additional sources of financial aid.
  • Harvard Business School Working Knowledge: The HBS Working Knowledge portal features scholarships and opinions from some of the leading minds in the business world. Students can read about topics such as corporate tax cuts and wealth redistribution.
  • NYSSCPA Accounting Terminology Guide: The New York State Society of CPAs compiled this list of more than 1,000 accounting and finance terms. This guide can help students early in their graduate studies as they encounter new concepts and programs.
  • National Association of State Boards of Accountancy: In addition to passing the Uniform CPA Examination, you need to meet the requirements of your state board of accountancy to become a CPA. This site links to all state boards, making it easy to understand your state requirements.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: Whether writing a paper for your accounting class or revising your cover letter and resume, Purdue OWL can serve as a comprehensive resource for how to write well.