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Two years ago, Melissa Robertson graduated from the University of Guelph's undergraduate accounting program, but like a lot of new graduates, she struggled to find a clear path for what to do next.

Should she pursue her Chartered Professional Accountants designation? Should she tackle a master of business administration? Did she take the necessary courses at Guelph for either of these routes?

After some research, the 25-year-old decided the new master of accounting program (MAcc) at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business fit her needs and allowed her to work at an accounting firm while attending the program.

"One of the reasons why I turned toward the MAcc instead of the MBA was that the master in accounting is, I want to say, applied," she explains. "The stuff that you do and what you learn is not a lot of theory, it's very technical."

Sprott's MAcc program is one example of the graduate level offerings by Canadian business schools, which allow students to explore more technical or focused business skills and, for some, act as an alternative to an MBA.

Academics agree they are answering the demand from employers for more specialized skills among business people as well as the call from prospective students for business schools to provide whole graduate degrees, not just a few courses, in sought-after professions, such as accounting and finance.

Jacques Maurice, director of the MAcc program at Sprott in Ottawa, explains that the traditional route for those seeking a CPA is still a viable option, but many now see the benefit of marrying the designation with a graduate degree.

"What students would do here, historically, is they would do an undergrad with a business degree in accounting and graduate and, typically, then they would turn to their professions to take them to the next step," says Dr. Maurice. "That's still available."

But there are those who want a master degree, for a variety of reasons, and an MBA is not suitable to this type of niche as future CPAs would still need to take specific courses to be able to qualify for the designation exam. But the MAcc graduate program will satisfy both needs.

"Once the students come out of the program, they go directly to the common final examination of the CPA education requirements," explains Dr. Maurice. "So they basically bypass the requirements and they write the very final exam with everybody else."

With a new focus on economic risk management since the 2008 global financial crisis, and with high demand for those who can define, assess and potentially avoid these risks, courses such as the master of financial risk management (MFRM) at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management strive to fill a gap in the market.

With more than 200 applicants for less than 40 spots and a start date of September of 2016, "the market response for this program has been unbelievable," explains Susan Christoffersen, vice-dean of undergraduate and pre-experience programs at Rotman.

"This is about gaining skills that are very focused for a certain aspect of what's needed within the financial industry," she adds. "There's an increasing number of jobs in this [field] and it doesn't look like it's abating. You're going to need people that understand how to measure risk, how to understand the models that are used to help measure that risk, and some of those models are complicated."

The program stresses the need for technical know-how in the financial sector, but its developers – whom Dr. Christoffersen describes as "a microcosm of people who are experts within risk management" – are clear that this is not the main feature of a successful applicant.

"Communication skills are at the forefront of what we're looking for," explains Dr. Christoffersen, as she details the face-to-face interviews and video question-and-answer sessions each applicant must undergo. "They don't know what to expect in interviews, so we're really trying to [get them to] communicate somewhat complicated ideas in a meaningful way."

The demand for more specialized graduate level programming from Canada's business schools is also not confined to the nation's borders.

This May will mark the fifth cohort of the master of financial management offered by the University of Alberta's business school through a partnership with Xi'an Jiaotong University in Shenzhen, China.

"From the school's point of view, I think it's also been a good way to help expand or grow, not just our reputation in China, but also a way to help build and connect and stay connected with our alumni that we've had in China from degrees before and grow out an alumni base there as well," says Chris Lynch, senior director of recruitment, admissions and marketing at the school.

"It's really for somebody that's … had some success within the finance field already and they're looking to strengthen their knowledge and gain a different perspective," he says. "They don't necessarily see all the added benefits of an MBA as being the most relevant to them."

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