Both a Master of Science (MS) in accounting and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting prepare you for careers in the accounting field, but these degree programs are not one in the same. Earning an MS in accounting is typically the shortest, most direct route to meeting the requirements to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, as the degree focuses on just the courses needed to become a CPA. On the other hand, an MBA degree is a broadly recognized general management credential that provides graduates with more flexibility in their future careers. Explore the difference between MS in accounting vs. MBA programs to decide which educational path is appropriate for meeting your professional goals.
Accounting MS and MBA Requirements
As of 2012, 46 states and the District of Columbia require CPA candidates to complete 150 hours of college coursework, which is 30 hours more than the standard four-year bachelor’s degree. Both MBA and MS programs enable students to fulfill the 150-hour requirement, making them eligible to sit for the CPA exam.
To be considered for admission to either an accounting master’s program or MBA program, students typically need to have a four-year degree, a minimum required GPA, and GMAT scores. You do not necessarily need to major in accounting or business in order to qualify for an accounting master’s degree or MBA program. However, some institutions require students to complete certain prerequisite courses prior to admission, such as core business courses and intermediate accounting courses.
Both MS and MBA programs take anywhere from one to two years to complete, and many institutions offer the programs in an online format, enabling students with busy schedules to tailor their coursework around their jobs and other commitments.
MS in Accounting vs. MBA Program Differences
The MS in accounting is technical in nature and equips students with hard accounting skills. Some MS programs are available as integrated programs, which means that students can earn both their bachelor’s and master’s in accounting in five years. Courses that students may be required to take include the following:
- Advanced accounting
- Principles of auditing
- Advanced federal taxation
- Taxation of real estate transactions
- Technology for accountants
- International financial reporting standards
- International taxation
An MBA in accounting is more focused on broad business skills, like strategic management, finance, marketing, and human resources, but the degree also exposes students to the technical accounting skills they’ll need as CPAs. The MBA curriculum might include courses in:
- Operations management
- Marketing management
- Regression analysis for managers
- Financial management
- Management theory and practice
- Economic and business statistics
The MS in accounting consist of around 30-36 credit hours, while MBA programs can vary from 36 to 60 credit hours and generally require more credit hours than MS programs.
Factoring in Your Career Goals
Because you need to meet the 150-hour requirement in order to become a CPA, it makes sense to jump right into an accounting master’s program after graduating with your bachelor’s degree. Most experts agree that an MBA is ideal for those who already have some work experience under their belts. Therefore, aspiring CPAs may be better off earning an accounting master’s degree, becoming CPAs, and gaining some work experience before pursuing an MBA later in their career.
Careers that a MS in accounting may qualify you for include corporate accounting, management consulting, auditing and risk management, and taxation practices. An MBA in accounting qualifies you for similar positions, but because the degree provides more breadth and covers more areas of management, it may open doors to high-level management positions. In fact, many top executives in the corporate sector have a background in accounting.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that accountants and auditors earned a median annual wage of $63,550 in 2012. Due to the recovering economy and compliance with new regulations from corporate scandals, employment in accounting is expected to grow 16% from 2010 to 2020.
If you wish to master the “language of business” and pursue a rewarding career in accounting, consider enrolling in an accounting master’s program. The most lucrative jobs with the highest level of responsibility are available to those with advanced degrees. Pursue an MBA or MS in accounting today to get one step closer to your career goals.