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Master of Accounting vs. MBA: Do You Know the Difference?

There are many educational paths available to students who are looking to complete a master’s degree in a business-related field. There are specialized degrees in areas such as accounting, finance, management and even leadership. There is also the general and well-known Master of Business Administration (MBA). Students who have an interest in pursuing a career in the financial industry may wonder whether they should earn their master’s degree in accounting vs an MBA. Both programs focus heavily on financial knowledge and can lead to many similar careers, including roles in the C-suite. Accounting is a more specific degree, with a strong focus on preparing students for the CPA exam, where an MBA usually instead offers the choice of multiple different concentrations.

To better understand the differences between the MBA and master’s of accounting degree paths, the following is an outline of what each educational track covers. Also included is an overview of several common career choices, median salaries, and some of the main similarities and differences between finance and accounting careers.

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Master of Accounting

A master’s degree in accounting helps students develop the practical and advanced accounting skills, business strategies and financial savvy required to succeed in their chosen accounting/financial career. This degree program focuses on preparing students for the CPA exam, in addition to providing some general industry knowledge in the areas of business law and economics.

What do master of accounting graduates do?

Most graduates will go on to become accountants or Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). Responsibilities of an accountant encompass the regular collection and review of clients’ financial records. They also estimate the costs of business operation and ensure that taxes are paid, processes are optimized and that an organization understands the impact of its financial transactions.

Types of careers: Accountant, auditor, budget analyst, revenue agent.

Median salary: $68,150 (accountant) • $181,210 (chief financial officer)

Master’s in Business Administration

A master’s in business administration can help to prepare students for a high-level career in a chosen business specialty. Common career concentrations for MBA students include accounting, financial services, information technology, management or human resources.

What do MBA graduates do?

Achieving an MBA opens the door to many careers in a variety of industries. The degree not only provides students with a broad perspective on the business world, but aids in internal career progression or transition into a new industry. MBA graduates often go on to become financial managers, top executives and operations managers.

Types of careers: Accountant, senior executive, investment banker, management consultant.

Median salary: $68,150 (accountant) • $181,210 (senior executive)

Master of Accounting versus MBA: Similarities*

Both degrees focus on finances and include a significant amount of learning about the financial industry, including accounting and statistics.
MBA degree holders and accountants can become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) — professionals who can represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and file audited financial reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that are required for every company.
Both degrees can lead to top executive-level jobs.

*These comparisons are meant to be a guide and are not universally applicable to, and uniform among, all jobs and regions.

Master of Accounting versus MBA: Differences*

An accounting degree focuses primarily on the field of accounting, while students in an MBA program can choose from a variety of concentrations within and outside of the financial industry.

Students without a professional accounting background can often enroll in a master of accounting program, while many MBA programs prefer applicants that have prior business experience. This difference means that students pursuing a master of accounting program can emerge with an advanced degree without having prior longtime work experience.

It may take less time to complete a master’s degree in accounting compared to an MBA.

An MBA program is designed to produce a more well-rounded business professional, which can lead to improved salary prospects and broader career options. However, gaining a master’s degree in accounting can significantly increase the chance of better pay within the accounting field. Accounting professionals in the field who hold a master’s degree earn an average of 37 percent more than their counterparts who have a bachelor’s degree.

A master’s degree in accounting is meant to prepare students for a higher-level or management position within accounting, while an MBA offers the same preparation for a variety of fields depending on a student’s chosen concentration.

*These comparisons are meant to be a guide and are not universally applicable to, and uniform among, all jobs and regions.

Students who are interested in pursuing a career in the financial industry have many educational options. Both an MBA and a master’s degree in accounting can provide aspiring professionals with a solid basis from which to develop their careers in finance.

If students are looking for broader career options that might extend beyond finance, an MBA may be a wise path to choose.

For those who want to focus their education more specifically on accounting and its related disciplines, a master’s degree in that field can help an aspiring professional gain a solid grasp of the concepts and skills needed to pursue an accounting career. For students who are interested in this career path, consider exploring Maryville’s online Master of Accounting degree or Maryville’s online Master of Business Administration degree.

Now that you more fully appreciate what distinguishes a master’s degree in accounting vs an MBA, you are better prepared to discover more of the career options available to accounting graduates.