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Forensic Accounting Degree: Accounting with a Side of Justice

By Brendan Conway updated on Friday, January 25, 2013

What is forensic accounting?
Forensic accounting is a very particular type of accounting. While it still uses some of the same principles, tools, and ideas of accountancy in general, forensic accounting fulfills a different function, and will require special skills above and beyond those required of accountancy in general.

Forensic accountants are generally hired in order to function in a kind of anti-crime capacity; they investigate companies and other financial institutions in order to look for instances of potential fraud or other wrongdoing. Forensic accountants are thus often hired by companies performing internal investigations; by parties involved in financial dealings that might suspect other parties involved in the same dealings of some kind of wrongdoing; by law enforcement agencies; and by companies or organizations in many other situations.

Earning a master's in forensic accounting

Earning a forensic accounting degree would be the best pathway into this rather niche profession of accountancy. This particular branch of accountancy is obviously much smaller than the whole of the profession of accountancy, but for someone interested in pursuing forensic accounting, a master's in forensic accounting would be a tremendous career boon.

A forensic accounting degree would enable an individual to pursue both litigation support, in which the forensic accountant would provide assistant to one of the parties in a pending litigation, or investigative accounting, in which a forensic accountant would outright pursue an investigation of potential wrongdoing, be it in terms of employee theft, securities fraud, or some other form of theft.

The pursuit of a master's in forensic accounting would likely take you up to 3 years in study, though it might take less time, depending upon the exact program which you pursue. This is above and beyond any time you would need to spend in obtaining a bachelor's degree prior to pursuing the master's level forensic accounting degree. Your bachelor's degree would not necessarily have to be in forensic accounting, depending upon the program you pursue.

In a forensic accounting degree program, you would study such subjects as might also be covered in an accounting program, as well as additional specific courses focusing on the elements of significance for the investigative practices of a forensic accountant.

How to become a forensic accountant

A master's in forensic accounting will obviously not be the only requirement necessary for an individual to enter into work as a forensic accountant. While it might be of significant help, an individual is also likely to need additional qualifications and/or certifications in order to be hired as an expert forensic accountant.

You will very likely have to be a certified public accountant (CPA) before being able to make the transition into being a full forensic accountant, despite having a master's in forensic accounting already. Inquiries into becoming a fully fledged forensic accountant can likely be made with individual state agencies meant for the certification of forensic accountants.

Any undergraduate forensic accounting degree programs are unlikely to provide all of the information and expertise necessary in order to allow an individual to pursue a successful career as a forensic accountant. This is why pursuing a forensic accounting degree at the graduate level is often a better idea.

Pursuing a forensic accountant degree does not mean pursuing any kind of law enforcement degree, and this is an important distinction to be aware of and understand. A forensic accountant is not a law enforcement officer, although a forensic accountant might assist a law enforcement officer to perform his or her duties through additional research. A forensic accountant is instead likely to be an adviser, either to law enforcement agencies, or to other companies.

Forensic Accounting Programs
About the Author

Brendan Conway is the Web Content Editor for Peterson's Interactive and is well-versed in the world of higher education and admissions. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, and has been working in admissions advice, test-prep advice, career planning advice, and similar fields for the majority of his career since graduation. Brendan endeavors to provide the most relevant, useful, and interesting information via Peterson's Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds. Brendan enjoys lexicological oddities and voraciously reading in his free time.

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