The accounting field is a good choice for many business students and professionals these days. US News and World Report states that the job of an accountant is going to see 11% job growth through 2024, with just a 2.5% unemployment rate. The highest level and best paying accounting jobs go to accountants who have their master’s degrees in the field. But is it better to get a master’s in accounting (MACC) or an MBA in accounting? As with many things, it depends!
Below is more information to help you decide which accounting master’s degree is the best fit for your career goals.
Master’s of Accounting
A master’s program in accounting is a highly focused graduate degree for students who generally want to become accountants, internal auditors, external auditors, management accountants, government accountants, or Certified Public Accountants. While the program will likely have some classes that are focused on business management principles, you will be taking courses that drill down to a high degree in accounting. There usually are various MBA concentrations available in MACC programs, such as taxation, forensic accounting, and quality assurance.
This means that a professional with a master’s in accounting will get a very deep knowledge of accounting theory and practice than someone with a more general MBA degree in accounting. You will have more specialized accounting skills that will make you more suited for specific accounting occupations, such as tax accountant or public accountant.
Another advantage of a master’s program in accounting is that you will be qualified to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination. CPAs are among the highest compensated accountants and are eligible for many of the most prestigious positions in the accounting profession. CPAs have a license through the Board of Accountancy in their state. You must pass a rigorous examination to become a CPA, and only after you have completed 150 semester hours in an accounting program. This means you need to have completed essentially five years of study in accounting, which is beyond what you get with a bachelor’s degree. An online master’s degree in accounting will provide you with more than the minimum number of hours you need to sit for the CPA exam.
There also are specialized accounting certifications that you may earn to enhance your career prospects. These certifications generally require a high level of education in accounting, which a master’s degree in accounting provides. These credentials are best suited for professionals who want to work specifically in accounting roles rather than in general business roles with some exposure to accounting. These certifications include:
- Certified Management Accountant (CMA): This certification is provided by the Institute of Management Accountants and requires you to have two years of experience in management accounting. The examination covers topics such as working capital policy, financial statement analysis, capital structure, valuation issues and risk management.
- Certified Internal Auditor (CIA): This certification requires you to have two years of work experience as an internal auditor and to pass an exam with four parts.
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA): This certification requires five years of work experience auditing information systems and the passing of a five part exam.
Professionals with a master’s degree and a CPA designation also can earn other credentials such as Accredited Business Valuation (ABV), Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) or Personal Financial Specialist (PFS).
Is a master’s in accounting for you? To get a better idea, here is the required curriculum for the MACC degree at the University of Michigan:
- Corporate Financial Research and Reporting
- Federal Taxation
- Financial Instruments and Structured Finance
- Information Systems Design
- Advanced Financial Accounting
- Auditing & Assurance
- Accounting and Public Policy Symposium
Depending upon your career interests, you also can take electives in such specialties in accounting as:
- Cost Systems/Advanced Management Accounting
- Federal Taxation II
- Financial Statement Analysis I
- Financial Statement Analysis II
- Managing the Maize and Blue Fund
- Ethics and Negotiations for Accountants
- International Tax
- Partnership Tax
- Tax of Financial Instruments
- Taxation of Individual Income
- Corporate Taxation
A MACC degree is for students who want to be accountants first and foremost. Students who are interested in more of a business management career and desire some exposure to accounting to enhance their career prospects may find an MBA in accounting is a better fit.
MBA in Accounting
An MBA in accounting will provide you with a broad array of business management skills that you can transfer into other business areas. Most MBA programs are designed for students who have at least three years of business work experience.
The MBA in accounting has a broad curriculum that provides you with a good foundation in business management principles, as well as a ‘minor’ concentration in accounting that will give you a good background to understand what the accountants in the organization are doing. Having this type of accounting understanding can be very helpful for more experienced managers to move into high paying executive positions, such as Chief Financial Officer.
Another factor with MBA programs is that most universities want the student to have at least a few years of business work experience. Students who opt for a master’s in accounting typically are not required to have significant work experience.
At the University of Houston, below are the basic MBA course requirements. This degree will provide the student with an excellent grounding in major business management principles:
- Management of Organizational Behavior
- Managerial Decision Making
- Managerial Accounting and Budgeting
- Marketing Management
- Managerial Finance
- Management of the Supply Chain
- Management of Information Systems
- Managerial Economics
- Strategic Management
The accounting courses required are as follows:
- Advanced Taxation
- Accounting Research & Writing
- Advanced Auditing
- Advanced Accounting Topics
- Professionalism for Accountants
- Industry-Specific Topics in Accounting
Some business and accounting experts note that it is possible to earn your MBA in accounting and then sit for the CPA exam. If you do so, it is a good idea to earn your bachelor’s in finance or accounting, and then work for three years for an accounting firm. Then, earn your MBA in accounting and sit for the CPA examination.
A master’s in accounting is an excellent choice for the professional focused specifically on a dynamic accounting career. Meanwhile, the MBA in accounting will provide you with an excellent business management background and accounting understanding to be a highly paid upper-level manager or executive.
Some professional accountants also decide to earn their master’s in accounting earlier in their career, and then after a few years of work experience, get their MBA in accounting. Earning the MBA can provide you with more options to move up the career ladder in a company than just the MACC degree by itself.
Whether you decide to earn the MBA or MACC, or both, you will almost certainly have a plethora of excellent career opportunities in accounting and/or business management with both degrees.
- Best Business Jobs. (2015). Retrieved from https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/accountant
- Accountants and Auditors. (2015, Dec. 18). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm#tab-4
- CPA or MBA? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/cpa-or-mba