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MAc, MSF, MBA - Which program is right for me?

When it comes time to choose the specific path for an advanced degree, making the decision can be difficult. There are many options, even when working professionals know they want to focus on a business-centered degree related to how a company uses, manages and tracks its money.

Want to gain a better understanding of the differences between three degrees that seem similar on the surface, but are ultimately very distinct and lead to different career paths? Consider the following guidance to help you distinguish between the focuses of Master of Accounting (MAc), Master of Science in Finance (MSF) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) with an accounting/finance concentration degrees.

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Master of Science in Finance

An MSF degree is focused on a career in the world of finance. In basic terms, that means a concentration in investments, risks, rate of return, assets, liabilities and similar concepts. Many students who seek out this degree path are interested in becoming a professional in the world of financial management, US News & World Report said, although that’s not the only reason an MSF is sought out.

Some skills that can be developed or improved while working toward an MSF diploma include analyzing risk, the use and evaluation of financial instruments and other, similar tools, proposal development and the use of derivatives.

Common undergraduate degrees, held before an MSF is considered, include a variety of business degrees, but can also include bachelor’s degrees in fields ranging from engineering to math and science.

The MSF degree can help its holders advance in some related but separate career fields, with the focus generally falling on financial management or investment management, as PayScale noted. Financial modeling is one option for degree-seekers to pursue after their studies are complete. Management of investments is another possibility, as are several related fields.

As compared to an MBA degree, students receive more in-depth, theoretical and practical financial education but less focus on the general concepts of business management, according to US News & World Report. In relation to a MAc, MSF students will touch on accounting practices and explore some in more depth, but generally in the context of finance. Learners put the majority of their efforts toward the many complicated aspects of making and managing investments. The MSF is the right choice for professionals who know they want to focus on finance as opposed to general business management or accounting.

Master of Business Administration

The MBA degree is the most general of the three degrees involved in the comparison. It offers exposure to elements of accounting and finance, but tends to focus on the many different aspects that go into successful business management, US News & World Report said. However, an MBA student could potentially have a degree concentration in finance or accounting. That means more in-depth exposure, although still from a business management perspective and not as specifically focused on those disciplines as an MSF or MAc.

Common undergraduate diplomas held by those seeking an MBA include many different business degrees, but are highly variable and can include a variety of other non-business majors as well.

The more general nature of the degree means attention is paid to other elements of successful business operation as well, potentially ranging from marketing and sales to human resources and supply chain concerns, depending on the courses taken and the individual program’s structure, US News & World Report said.

The versatility of the MBA degree stems in part from the general nature of its basic components. Because the courseload focuses on general business management principles instead of a more specialized area — like finance or accounting — there’s more room for learners to take advantage of concentrations and dual-degree programs that align with their specific career and business goals. MBA programs can also include a number of elective courses, which can help students further specialize their degrees.

Common concentrations for MBAs include but aren’t limited to finance, accounting, management information systems, health services and marketing. Combining the degree with another advanced course of study can yield combined diplomas ranging from a Doctor of Medical Dentistry and MBA dual degree — used by dentists to better understand specific aspects of business as well as better manage their own practices — to an Advanced Safety Engineering Management program and MBA dual degree, used by health and safety professionals.

To put it simply, the MBA is a flexible and versatile degree that focuses on the business management aspects of the concentrations selected by students and the various topics discussed in required and elective classes.

Master of Accounting

The MAc degree is focused on accounting, the measurement and recording of financial information related to a business and its operations. The MAc degree is often the next step for professionals who already hold a Bachelor of Science in Accounting diploma and have put in some years in the professional world.

However, some students begin work on the MAc directly following the completion of their undergraduate work. Others come from different backgrounds, motivated by an aptitude and passion for numbers and math and work into MAc degree paths through bridge programs and similar efforts.

The MAc diploma is squarely focused on accounting, giving students the chance to advance to the next level in terms of their skills in that discipline. The resulting degree can be applied to a number of different economic sectors. A degree can prepare graduates for work with a variety of levels of government, private businesses, non-profits and with individuals. The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification is a popular next step for such students. While qualifications vary from state to state, a MAc degree gives students many of the qualifications they need to take the exam soon after graduating.

A position requiring a CPA isn’t the only path students who obtain a MAc diploma can follow. A variety of career options abound. They include Senior Accountant, Staff Accountant Financial Controller and Accounting Manager, among many others, according to PayScale. The more senior positions attainable with a MAc degree include Chief Financial Officer, generally regarded as an executive position in the highest echelons of business. As noted, career paths in the public sector and working with individuals, often as a CPA for taxes and estate management, are also possible.

For professionals who know they want to concentrate on accounting and grow and develop their skill sets in that field, the MAc degree is unequivocally the best choice.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Master of Accounting Program

UAB’s MAc program is geared toward working professionals who want to maintain a balance with their careers and advanced education. With a 100 percent online accounting degree option, professionals can manage both work and education with ease. The high qualifications of the program, such as Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation and competitive placement on the US News & World Report list of best online graduate business programs, mean students get a top-notch education.

To take the next step in your path toward a Master of Accounting degree and to learn more about UAB’s online program, contact an advisor today.

Recommended Readings:
Career Outlooks: A Pulse on the Current Job Market
Interested in Accounting? Consider Pursuing These 4 Management Roles


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