If you’re good with numbers and like solving mysteries, forensic accounting might be your calling. Forensic accounting specialists combine investigative techniques and financial analysis to detect, prosecute, and prevent financial crimes. Before setting up shop as Sherlock Holmes with a spreadsheet, though, you’ll need to learn the tricks of the trade. Online forensic accounting programs, your first step into the world of financial justice, offer flexible and affordable opportunities to break into the industry.
We’ve identified the best forensic accounting programs nationwide to get you started on your school search. Check back for our full rankings later in 2023, but start investigating now with our top three picks as well as use this guide to learn all the ins and outs of a forensic accounting degree.
Franklin University prides itself on its relationship with industry professionals and its practical curricula. The program incorporates real-world scenarios, modern technology, and industry standards to offer a dynamic and well-rounded course catalog that prepares students for the job market and their CFE exams. Graduates from the school’s BS in Forensic Accounting program confirm that everything they learned in the program directly relates to their job responsibilities.
In addition to top-tier academics, Franklin also offers a flexible education. Returning or transfer students can apply previous coursework to the program, and many students transfer 50% of their credits from previous institutions. Franklin is affordable, too, at $398/credit plus a tuition guarantee that ensures affordable pricing and the ability to budget effectively.
- BS Forensic Accounting
- Credits: 124
- Length: 4 Years
- Cost: $398 credit in-state | $398 credit out-of-state
- Mode: Fully online
- Accreditation: HLC (Institutional); IACBE (Programmatic)
The curriculum for Davenport University’s Bachelor’s in Accounting Fraud Investigation program is a rare combination of professional development and specific coursework. The program’s first years combine accounting classes with courses in presentation, communication, and composition. This unique mix ensures students have the hard and soft skills required for future studies and workplace success. The program’s second half builds on this foundation by exposing students to the nuances of various types of audits, technology, and legal principles. The program doesn’t skimp on real-world experience, either, and instructors work with industry professionals to develop relevant coursework. Students complete their degrees by participating in an accounting internship or field experience.
Davenport also operates on an unconventional schedule. Classes are seven-week accelerated units rather than semester-long courses. This structure provides an opportunity for immersive learning experiences and offers flexibility for part-time or working students.
- Bachelors in Accounting Fraud Investigation
- Credits: 122
- Length: 4 Years
- Cost: $885 credit in-state | $598 credit out-of-state
- Mode: Fully online | Hybrid
- Accreditation: HLC (Institutional); IACBE (Programmatic)
Southern New Hampshire University
Southern New Hampshire University celebrates the interdisciplinary nature – a combination of criminal investigation and legal justice elements – of forensic accounting in its Forensic Accounting Degree Online program. The program highlights the investigatory skills and procedures used to detect and prosecute accounting fraud. Because Southern New Hampshire University understands the importance of technology in modern accounting, all its forensic accounting courses incorporate the latest tech and methods to give graduates a competitive edge.
Southern New Hampshire University also stands behind its online students by giving them access to various student services. From tutoring and a virtual writing center to online clubs, career services, and networking events, online students at SNU don’t have to feel lonely while obtaining their degrees.
Students select one specialization to focus their studies, which includes:
- BS in Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination
- Credits: 120
- Length: 4 Years
- Cost: $320 credit in-state | $320 credit out-of-state
- Mode: Fully online
- Accreditation: NECHE (Institutional); ACBSP (Programmatic)
What You’ll Learn in an Online Forensic Accounting Degree Program
A quality forensic accounting bachelor’s degree program should accomplish two things. First, it should equip you with a broad base of skills and knowledge to succeed in entry-level and mid-level accounting jobs in a range of specialties right after graduation. Second, it should prepare you to ace your professional certification exams. Many forensic accounting graduates choose to sit for their Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) or Certified Forensic Accounting Expert (CFAE) credential, and those hoping to excel in these difficult exams benefit from the specialized curriculum of a forensic accounting program.
As you research potential colleges, you’ll see a wide range of courses and requirements across programs that aim to accomplish both of these goals. Some of the common topics that emerge among the most popular forensic accounting programs are described below along with what to expect as you progress through the program.
Main Topics Covered
- Accounting fundamentals
- Investigative techniques
- Fraud laws and ethics
- Fraud prevention and deterrence
- Auditing and fraud detection
Lower Division Curriculum (Years 1 and 2)
During your first two years in a forensic accounting online degree program, classes are a mix of general education, business, and accounting-specific courses. Lower division classes ensure you are a well-rounded student with a solid foundation in business and accounting principles. Although your classes include courses like professional writing or statistics, you can also take some degree-specific classes like the common courses described below.
Courses You Can Expect to Take
- Financial Accounting: Courses in financial accounting introduce you to the essential components of accounting and reporting practices in the financial sector. A firm understanding of these is crucial for later coursework.
- Business Law: Lower division business law courses introduce you to the legal principles that guide auditing, investigation, and acceptable accounting and reporting practices. Many programs build upon this course with in-depth classes in their upper-division offerings.
- InvestigativeTechnologies: As a forensic accountant, you have access to technology that can analyze records and compare data to help you with your work. This course introduces you to these technologies and their uses.
- Detection and Prevention of Fraudulent Statements: Evaluating financial reports is a critical skill for forensic accountants. These classes ensure you have the background to assess statements for their veracity and introduce you to common red flags for fraud.
- Interview Techniques: Although records are an essential source of evidence, forensic accountants also interact directly with clients and investigation subjects. Interview technique classes equip you with the skills to effectively engage with interviewees of all types to get the necessary information.
Upper Division Curriculum (Years 3 and 4)
Once you’ve completed your lower-division courses, it’s time to specialize. Most of your time during the third and fourth years of classes is dedicated to advanced topics in forensic accounting. These classes tend to be more rigorous and rely heavily on the foundational knowledge you developed earlier in your studies. Additionally, upper-division courses deal directly with information covered in your Certified Fraud Examiner examination.
- Public Accounting: Courses in public accounting deal specifically with government accounting practices. Some public accounting courses include content on non-profit accounting. This class familiarizes students with best practices, reporting, and legislation within one or both of these fields.
- Auditing: Performing audits or preventing them is an essential role for a forensic accountant. Course content in auditing classes covers how audits work, considerations when performing audits, and specific practices for auditing based on the sector or circumstances. Many programs also use this course as a prerequisite for electives that dive deeper into specific topics in auditing.
- Accounting Research: Accounting research classes help students synthesize their previous coursework on various topics, including auditing, fraud detection, investigative technology, and business law. Accounting research classes aim to help students understand how an accounting investigation operates from start to finish, what information to look for, and what information sources are available.
- White Collar Crime: Since white-collar crime is one of the most common types of forensic accounting investigations, many schools offer a whole course on the subject. These classes usually cover common workplace fraud schemes, fraud in financial accounting, and inventory or revenue fraud.
- Evidence and Procedural Laws: As a forensic accountant, you may have to present evidence in a fraud case. To effectively aid in an investigation, you must collect the correct evidence and comply with investigative laws and procedures. This course introduces the legislation, practices, and documentation you’ll need to effectively collaborate with your clients and law enforcement.
Admissions: Getting into a Top Online Forensic Accounting Program
Fortunately, you can apply to top forensic accounting programs online without jumping through a ton of hoops. Although different programs hold applicants to different standards, most require the same basic components.
- Application: Your application is an opportunity to stand out. Most schools require an essay or series of short essay questions to help get a feel for who you are as a person and your potential as a student. Use this space to highlight your achievements and the skills you bring to the program. Some applications also ask for financial information or a diversity statement. While this information is personal, schools use it to help them build financial aid and scholarship packages for applicants.
- GPA: Many schools state a minimum required GPA. For example, future accountants at The University of Toledo must demonstrate a GPA of at least 2.8. Other schools, including prestigious ones like Northeastern University and Davenport University, evaluate students holistically and don’t have rigid GPA standards.
- Academic Records: Without exception, every school requires an official transcript from your high school and any college you’ve attended. For accounting programs, admissions staff are particularly interested in your mathematics and related course grades. Transcripts are easy to send but expect to pay a fee for every school you send them to.
- Application Fees: Many schools require a fee to consider your application and to cover the cost of staffing an admissions committee. These fees can add up, but some schools offer admission fee waivers to low-income or in-state students. Other schools, like Southern New Hampshire University, have done away with their application fees to make the admissions process more inclusive.
Some programs also ask for standardized test scores or letters of recommendation. These application components used to be staples in the application process but have become significantly less popular recently.
Online Forensic Accounting Degree Costs and Financial Aid
As a future accountant, your tuition budget has probably already crossed your mind. Before you commit to a program, you know it’s essential to understand what you can afford and the total cost of your program, including fees and extra expenses. Remember that a more expensive program doesn’t necessarily mean better quality education. As long as you attend a properly accredited school, you can expect high academic standards. However, more expensive schools may offer better student support, smaller class sizes, and more opportunities to specialize.
The type of school you attend can also affect tuition prices. Public universities, which are funded using taxpayer dollars, are not-for-profit with tuition only reflecting the cost of running the school. Most public universities also offer lower in-state tuition to residents, and some schools extend the in-state price to all students. Private universities may or may not be for-profit organizations, and they are often more expensive than their public counterparts. However, with private non-profits, you can be sure that the bulk of your tuition is being reinvested into the quality of your education.
To give you a feel for the cost of your forensic accounting degree, we’ve compiled tuition data from some high-quality online programs into the table below.
|Pennsylvania College of Technology
|Athens State University
If you’re feeling some sticker shock, don’t panic just yet. There are scholarships and other financial aid available to make your tuition more affordable. Generally, school-based assistance is need-based or merit-based. Some schools require that you apply for scholarships, while others consider you automatically upon acceptance. The tuition and financial aid program at Concordia St. Paul is a good representation of the funding structures at most institutions.
You can also look to external sources for tuition money. Industry organizations like the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, for example, fund scholarships for up-and-coming accountants like yourself. Our comprehensive guide to guide to financial aid has the information you need to get started on funding your education.
FAQs About Getting Your Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Accounting Online
Are online forensic accounting degree programs offered completely online or are campus visits required?
There are plenty of excellent forensic accounting programs with entirely online coursework. For the most part, online classes are asynchronous. This means you’ll still have deadlines to keep track of, but you won’t have to log in at a specific time to attend lectures. If you’re located near campus, though, you may be able to also attend classes in person through a hybrid program that allows you to mix and match class formats. Be sure to understand your school’s expectations for its hybrid program since some schools require that certain classes be taken on campus while others offer more freedom.
What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in forensic accounting?
Most forensic accounting students aspire to investigative accounting roles. After completing their professional certification, these students gravitate toward working in public accounting and consulting firms or governmental agencies. However, a bachelor’s in forensic accounting also often prepares you for a wide range of other accounting careers as well as for CPA exams. You can always seek additional preparation to pursue other certifications as well. Some of the job positions you’ll qualify for with a bachelor’s in forensic accounting include:
- Forensic Accountant
- Risk Analyst
- Financial Analyst
- Tax Examiner
Is earning a forensic accounting degree worth it?
If you’re interested in pursuing specialized accounting work and professional certifications, a specialty bachelor’s like one in forensic accounting is a great place to start because it prepares you for the workforce and your professional exams and makes sure you can hit the ground running when you graduate. In addition, your relevant background means you can jump right into mid-level careers related to auditing and research without having to work your way up the ladder. This means your work can be engaging and suit your interests right off the bat. A degree in forensic accounting also pays off in the literal sense since, nationally, auditors are in high demand and often obtain well-paid positions soon after graduation.
What type of accreditation should an online forensic accounting degree have?
Whatever school you attend must be certified by a Department of Education-backed accrediting organization. When a school is accredited, it means that an independent body has reviewed its curriculum, policies, and student services to ensure that they meet a standard of excellence. Attending an accredited school ensures that you receive a high-quality education that will be recognized by employers.
As an aspiring accountant, there are program-level accreditations you should look for as well. These secondary certifications help maintain standards and curricula between accounting and business programs nationwide. The two most common program-level accreditors are the IACBE, which focuses on business schools more broadly, and the AACSB, which focuses specifically on accounting programs. Attending a program with one of these certifications ensures that you’ll be well-prepared for your professional certification exams and the job market.
How long does it take to earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic accounting?
Typically, a bachelor’s degree takes four years of full-time study. However, the timeline varies depending on the program and your availability. For example, if you intend to work full-time while earning your degree, you might not take on a full courseload each semester. In this case, it will take longer. On the other hand, some programs offer accelerated degrees with shorter semesters and year-round course availability. Students in these programs can graduate in as little as a year and a half.
Job and Salary Outlook with a Forensic Accounting Degree
Forensic accounting is an in-demand specialty. This means that once you enter the field, you can expect competitive salaries and high levels of job security. To gauge the employment outlook for forensic accountants, we’ve compiled the wage and job growth data for common job titles held by forensic accountants. The forecast is sunny overall, and, in some states, demand for forensic accountants far outpaces the national average.
|Median Annual Earnings (2021)
|Job Growth (2020-2030)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics