If you’re contemplating graduate school for accounting, you have a decision to make. Do you pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a concentration in accounting, or do you instead earn a Master of Accountancy (M.Acc.) or similar degree? Both educational paths have their advantages, but students should know that there are big differences between these degree programs. There are differences in the coursework, focus and career outcomes of pursuing MBA vs. M.Acc. degrees.
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General and Specialized Graduate Degrees
The most significant difference between MBA degrees and master’s degrees in accounting is the breadth and depth of the curricula. An MBA degree has a more general focus than a M.Acc. degree. Even when the MBA degree includes an accounting concentration, the purpose of the program is to equip students with a breadth of graduate-level business administration skills. The specialized studies needed to complete an accounting concentration may be as few as three courses. The bulk of the curriculum will most likely cover more general studies in business subjects such as business economics, corporate finance, international business, human resources management, leadership and marketing.
On the other hand, the Master of Accountancy degree, also called a Master of Science in Accountancy (M.S.Acy.) or Master of Professional Accountancy (M.P.Acy.) degree, has a narrower focus. Not only are these programs more closely related to the field of accounting than to general business skills, but they may also offer specialized studies within an accounting concentration. Some popular specializations in master’s in accounting degrees include forensic accounting, taxation, audit and financial reporting, financial services, leadership and business. Students in a Master of Accounting program typically complete required complex coursework in topics such as advanced auditing, advanced financial reporting, corporate financial management, fraud examination, tax research methodology, accounting information systems auditing and an accounting capstone course.
Some business schools offer a Master of Business Administration and Master of Professional Accounting dual degree program for students who want the breadth of an MBA but the depth of an A.P.Acy.
Career Opportunities With Master’s Degrees in Business and Accounting
Another major difference between an MBA degree and a Master of Science in Accounting degree is what career prospects await graduates. Students who earn their MBA may fill many different roles. The benefit of such a flexible degree is that many paths are open to you, but one drawback is that you may not have enough depth of knowledge in a given subject – like accounting – to accomplish certain goals. Students who pursue their MBA in accounting rather than their Master of Accountancy degree might struggle to earn a passing score on certification exams, get hired into a niche role like forensic accountant or attain a job with one of the prestigious “Big 4” accounting firms. MBA graduates often work as operations research analysts, financial analysts, management analysts, management consultants, information technology directors, marketing managers or self-employed entrepreneurs. Specifically, MBA in accounting jobs can include senior-level roles such as chief financial officer, chief executive officer, chief operating officer and business development manager.
Jobs with a Master of Accounting degree are more likely to highlight specialized knowledge and skills than leadership skills, though there are certainly management opportunities in accounting. Auditor, appraisal and valuation specialist, compliance manager, risk analyst, budget analyst, forensic accountant, treasurer, tax examiner and revenue agent are career paths you might take with your M.Accy. degree.
One reason why so many accounting students choose to go to graduate school in the first place is to have enough college credits to become a certified public accountant (CPA). Nearly every state in the U.S. requires aspiring CPAs to complete at least 150 semester hours of college, rather than the 120 semester hours required to earn a traditional bachelor’s degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A master’s degree is not a requirement to become a CPA, but many students who intend to become CPAs choose to use that extra year of studies to earn a graduate degree. In fact, many schools now offer dual degree programs that allow accounting students to earn both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees – and complete the 150-hour CPA requirement – in five years, the BLS reported.
CPA is a special role in the field of accounting that is associated with higher salaries and more opportunities for promotion to prestigious senior-level roles.