MBA vs. Master’s in Accounting: Which Degree Should You Pursue?

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Advanced degree programs can be important steps on the career path of any professional interested in a leadership role in a specialized discipline such as accounting. Pursuing a master’s-level education online while also working full time is an efficient way to build expertise and experience. Before a prospective student can embark on this course, however, it’s important to select the master’s program best suited to the individual’s interests and career goals.

An accountant studies figures on a graph

Among professionals aiming for positions in accounting and auditing, there are a few likely degree types to choose from. For instance, prospective students should learn the differences between a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a focus in accounting and a Master of Accounting degree. A third option, a Master of Science in Finance, is likely not suited to these students, as the financial management and investment focus of an MSF is outside of the scope of accounting work.

After narrowing down their selections to a specialized MBA and a Master of Accounting, applicants have a choice to make based on their future goals. The separate focuses of these programs enable individuals interested in corporate accounting to choose courses that will put them on a path to their envisioned next steps, whether those entail Certified Public Accountant licensure, departmental leadership, or both.

MBA vs. Master’s in Accounting: Coursework and Learning Focus

Due to the variety of duties associated with accountancy work, there are room for both MBA and MAc graduates in corporate accounting and auditing teams. The exact roles of individuals in these departments may be determined, at least in part, by the degrees they pursue for their master’s-level education. That difference will manifest itself in the following ways.

Earning an MBA

An MBA is focused on the soft skills associated with leadership, along with the hard knowledge required to succeed in the corporate world. The administrative aspects of this degree program make the credential distinct, and students may emerge from these programs with a developed understanding of leadership styles, as well as the best ways to implement those practices in everyday situations.

It’s usual for MBA graduates to pursue a specialization, rather than receiving a general MBA. Some colleges and universities offer accounting as a focus, meaning professionals interested in becoming accountancy department leaders can gain some of the essential knowledge they’ll need to understand the heavily regulated world of modern accounting.

Due to the fact that managers in today’s corporations need to have a firm grasp on budgeting and money management, MBA students may learn accounting practices as part of their core curriculum. Individuals who are aiming for accounting roles will find this focus lacking compared to what they’d encounter in a MAc program. Those who are interested in jobs more tangentially connected to accountancy and auditing could find this is enough.

Other general concepts covered in MBA programs today include analytical practices, leadership techniques, economics, information technology mastery, supply chain management, and marketing. One important point to remember is that MBA programs aren’t designed to prepare students to earn specialized professional credentials. Prospective accountants largely concerned with getting ready for the Certified Public Accountant exam, for example, will likely be better served with a MAc program.

Earning a MAc

Online MAc programs stand out from more generalized degrees such as the MBA with their focus on accountancy topics. Every subject is handled through the lens of accounting and auditing, with concepts such as business law, corporate governance, taxation, and information systems customized to give students the most relevant details for ongoing work as accountants.

With multiple classes dedicated to the core principles of accounting and single courses targeting ideas such as nonprofit accountancy and auditing, graduates with MAc degrees gain the perspective they need to take the CPA exam and apply their knowledge in professional accounting roles. Understanding complex topics such as the governmental structures behind taxation is important for leading accountants — this is the kind of information imparted in MAc courses.

Despite the advanced and specialized nature of MAc coursework, there are ways for students who focused on other subjects at the bachelor’s level to enter these programs. The accounting bridge program offered by the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business, for example, acts as quick and focused refresher for professionals pondering a switch into accountancy or auditing starting from the master’s level.

While CPA certification isn’t a requirement for employment at all accounting firms, the credential is recognized around the industry and represents a potentially valuable starting point for job candidates. MAc programs that prepare individuals to sit for the CPA exam are therefore tailored to the specific needs of these professionals. This may be the determining factor in choosing the MAc path over an MBA with a specialty in accounting.

MBA vs. Master’s in Accounting: Professional Outcomes and Next Steps

Moving into an accounting role is possible with several academic and professional backgrounds, but there are a few paths that may improve applicants’ chances of securing top positions in accounting firms or corporate finance departments. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that companies typically hire people with bachelor’s degrees in accounting or a similar topic, and that candidates seeking to improve their chances of being hired can seek CPA credentials and other forms of industry recognition.

Master’s degrees are preferred by some employers, according to the BLS, and this level of education may prove to be a differentiator when applicants are seeking high-demand roles amid strong competition. The MAc is one of the most common degree options for these professionals, though the agency notes that an MBA degree with a specialty in accounting is another option.

Once hired as accountants, employees have many options for advancement and promotion over time, based on their performance. The BLS notes that individuals on the public accountant career path typically move up from junior to senior roles. The most successful professionals either open their own firms or become top executives. On the management accountant side, entry-level positions include cost accounting roles and junior internal auditing.

There is flexibility in the accounting field, though career changes typically move in one direction: The BLS reports that it’s more common for public accountants to enter management accounting roles or become auditors at companies, but the inverse is rarely true. Corporate accountants don’t often leave their internal roles to join public accountancy firms. Individuals who move beyond accounting via promotion can take on more general finance roles such as chief financial officer if they’ve established their leadership skills.

Learn More About the UAB MAc Program

Prospective applicants who have made up their minds about seeking a degree in accounting can explore the 100% online curriculum of the UAB Master of Accounting program to learn more about the concepts they’ll learn on the path to graduation. Since the degree program is designed with the CPA exam in mind, the courses are dedicated to preparing students for that important test, giving them the accounting skills and up-to-date industry knowledge that they can use on the exam and in a wide variety of professional roles after graduation.

Classes are scheduled asynchronously, meaning full-time workers can take their courses at times that make sense to them. Collaboration with classmates and lectures from experienced, well-connected faculty members take place entirely through online systems. Online students get the full MAc experience, wherever they’re studying from. Students can network with peers and instructors to deepen their connections in the accounting field.

Once professionals have definitively answered the question of Master of Accounting vs. MBA and committed to a MAc education, they are opting for a path that may take them to CPA credentials and the rewarding work that can follow. Whether an individual’s primary interest is in a corporate auditing role, a tax-focused public accountant job, or anything in between, MAc courses are useful places to pick up the necessary knowledge and expertise.

Recommended Reading:

Finding work-life balance in accounting

Issues and rewards in nonprofit accounting

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Accountants and Auditors