Guide to Master’s in Taxation in 2020

You may have interacted with a tax expert when it came time for you to file your tax returns. That person likely guided you through the process, asking careful questions pertaining to deductibles, exemptions, and more. The scope of work for tax professionals however goes beyond tax season.

In matters of sales taxes, business taxes, property taxes, and payroll, the tax expert leads the charge in solving any issues that may arise and making sure that all stakeholders comply with the Internal Revenue Service’s regulations.

Understanding the ins and outs of tax laws is key to a profession in taxation, especially if you’re considering a career as a tax attorney. One way to acquire an in-depth understanding of those laws is to earn a master’s degree in taxation, although not often required. Through a comprehensive curriculum, you’ll build a foundation to launch a career in a high-demand accounting specialty: the U.S. is projected to add 4,300 financial examiner jobs between 2018 and 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Many more accountants and auditors are expected to join the workforce during the same time period, precisely 90,700 of them.

When deciding whether to pursue your master’s in taxation or master’s in tax law, it’s important to not only consider job outlook, but also program cost, program requirements, study environment and earning potential. Each of these factors can help you determine if earning your advanced degree is an educational investment you want to make.

Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Taxation

The Master of Laws or LL.M. in taxation is a rigorous academic program for students who have completed their Juris Doctor (J.D.) and want to specialize further. The more specific areas of study include estate planning, international taxation and state and local taxation. Acquiring this degree may offer you an edge in potential early-to-mid level career paths.

Typical Curriculum and Courses Outcomes

Think of this program as one that is designed to make you an expert in all things tax-law so you can interpret and properly enforce IRS standards. The curriculum typically covers general tax practice, business taxation and international taxation. Some programs offer courses in estate planning and policy as well. Depending on your specialization, you’ll have an array of electives to choose from like Advanced Income Tax and Personal Financial Planning, Partnership Taxation, and Private Wealth Planning.

With your degree, you can work in a variety of roles. Some of them are tax analyst, tax consultant, tax attorney, senior tax manager and more.

Master of Legal Studies (MLS) in Taxation

A Master of Legal Studies, or MLS, differs from an LL.M. in that it is not specifically meant for lawyers. The MLS is meant to prepare individuals who may work closely with other lawyers or the law itself to better understand it but does not qualify them to be a practicing attorney.

Typical Curriculum and Courses Outcomes

The curriculum for this program may be similar to other tax law degrees but tends to be more general covering subjects such as Introduction to United States Law and Methods, Federal Income Taxation, Corporate Taxation, Federal Taxation of Partnerships, Income Tax Accounting and more.

This educational path could potentially help practicing accountants or financial professionals to qualify for senior positions in their workplace or give them a leg up over other financial professionals. Jobs for an MLS in taxation graduate include senior compliance officer, senior contract negotiator, tax specialist, state and local tax professional or government contractor.

Masters in Taxation Accounting

A Master of Science in Taxation or MST differs from other tax degrees. While an LL.M. and MLS prepare students for a career in the legal sector, this one prepares a student for a career in business and to take the Certified Public Accountant exam. Sometimes these degrees are offered through a college or university’s business school rather than law school.

Typical Curriculum and Courses Outcomes

Courses for an MST program focus less on government entities and more on tax research, practice, state and local entities, individual taxes and estate taxation. Your training will teach you how to apply advanced knowledge of accounting and taxation to organizational issues, implement ethical decision-making processes and manage teams and help them to reach set goals.

Job prospects include tax consultant, tax advisor and accounting roles where employers are looking for CPA holders to fill.

Online Master’s Degree in Taxation

As accredited online degree programs grow in number and popularity, you have the option to take your courses for a master’s degree in taxation from the comfort of your home. If you’re a self-starter with an established career or practice, taking online courses could be the right path for you.

Taking classes on-campus however has its advantages like easy-access to professors and resources, as well as networking opportunities. Be sure to pay close attention to application deadlines and admissions requirements as they vary from program to program.

Which Taxation Program is Right for Me?

Comparing the many types of degree offerings, courses and career paths related to tax law can be overwhelming, especially when each path tends to take about 2 to 4 years from start to finish. But choosing the right program doesn’t have to be stressful. When you take a look at a program’s admissions requirements, your desired job title, whether you want to take your courses online or on-campus, your budget and perhaps how your previous education and work experience could help you in the classroom, you may find it easier to narrow down the path that’s right for you.

Perhaps you have a Juris Doctor and want to specialize in a single aspect of taxation to better serve their constituents. You might opt for an LL.M. in taxation. If you wish to obtain your CPA, then a master’s in taxation accounting offered by a business school could be the degree to aim for.

For working professionals or those hoping to switch career paths say from legislation representation to tax management, online programs can be a great fit. Some online programs are asynchronous, meaning they offer more flexibility when it comes to deadlines. Distance learning also gives students the chance to enroll in part-time study, but it is important to note that these types of programs require a self-starting attitude and the ability to learn independently.

Regardless of the degree you choose to get, closely inspect program details. Admissions can be particularly rigorous if the school you want to attend has a good reputation. Typically, schools will require the following:

  • A completed application form – This form is provided by the school and will require you to list personal details such as your date of birth.
  • Application fee – Prepare to budget anywhere from $35 upwards per application
  • Transcripts – Expect a small fee to have your alma mater send your transcripts to your preferred/safety programs. Your transcripts will show if you meet the program’s minimum GPA requirement.
  • GMAT or GRE test scores – This can sometimes be waived depending on previous experience or professional accomplishments in your field
  • Letters of Recommendation – Be sure to give a month notice in advance at least and send thank you notes once you those letters have been sent to you or the institution.
  • Subject prerequisites – Some programs require prerequisites other than a degree. For example, an MS in Taxation may ask that on top of your bachelor’s degree in business, accounting or administration, you have completed certain courses such as Intermediate Accounting and Business Finance
  • Personal Essay – Your essay or personal statement will tell the admissions team why you want to enroll in a program and what you bring to the table

Before sending your applications, check average acceptance rates to see how you measure up to program standards. Always have preferred schools and a few safety schools on your list to increase your chance of being accepted to a program you are comfortable with.

Lastly, be sure you apply to a program or school that is accredited. For those obtaining a law degree, the American Bar Association (ABA) is the accrediting board to look out for. If your degree is offered through a business school, it will either be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). Unsure of what type of accreditation your program has, regional or national? Use the Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to find out.

Salary Outlook with a Degree in Tax Law

Your degree in tax law may open up the door for you to work in a range of positions as previously discussed. Salary will not be the same across the board. Your location, years of experience, level of education, employer and specific job title could affect how much you earn.

In 2018, the median annual salary for accountants and auditors was $70,500, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10% of this working group earned more than $122,840. By contrast, median annual wages for financial examiners came to $80,180, still exceeding the national average for all occupations.

If you want to work as a tax attorney or lawyer, you should know how much lawyers are making. The median salary for lawyers in the U.S. is $120,910, according to 2018 BLS data. The BLS also found that salary changes from industry to industry.

Median Annual Wage per Industry
Industry Median, annual wage, May 2018
Federal Government $415,160
Legal Services $122,150
Local Government (excluding education and hospitals) $94,490
State Government (excluding education and hospitals) $86,900

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - Lawyers

Frequently Asked Questions about Tax Law Degree

Before you begin the journey of pursuing a master’s in taxation, make sure you have conducted extensive research not only on your desired program but also on the accounting and taxation fields. The following questions and answers can help you with this process.

How long does it take to complete an online masters in taxation?

An online Master of Taxation tends to take anywhere from 1-4 years to complete depending on whether you are a full or part-time student and how rigorous the program you choose is.

What background do I need to enroll in a masters in tax law?

To obtain a Master’s in Tax Law, or LL.M., you’ll need to have previously completed your Juris Doctor or J.D. from an ABA-accredited university. Another detail to keep in mind is that the U.S. Department of Education recognizes all regional accreditation but not all national.

Is a Master of Taxation degree in the arts or science?

A Master of Taxation degree is an MS or Master of Science. This program is generally offered through a college or a university’s business school, and it prepares students to take their Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.

Is tax law a good career option?

As long as taxes exist, there will be a demand for financial professionals who can accurately explain and navigate tax laws. If you love problem-solving, being an expert in your field, and are naturally curious, you may find a career as a tax lawyer rewarding. There are also plenty of other job options within taxation, though it is a specialty area in itself.

Your advanced degree in tax law may make you an attractive candidate to employers and increase your chances of career growth and earning potential.

How do I become a tax lawyer?

To become a tax lawyer, you must first complete a Juris Doctor program. Once you decide whether you prefer to take classes online or on-campus, you can begin to explore the different degree options. Each master’s program tends to take 2 to 4 years depending on your enrollment status and desired career path.

How much do tax lawyers make?

Because of the many types of jobs tax lawyers can do, salary can be hard to pinpoint. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for lawyers in 2018 was $144,230.