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Master’s in Accounting vs. MBA: 5 Big Differences to Know

You’re a finance professional who wants to get a master’s degree to take your career to the next level. But how do you decide which master’s degree to pursue?

For many finance professionals, two common degrees they compare are a master’s in accounting and an MBA. We’re here to help you identify some of the pros and cons of each degree and help you to decide which degree may be right for you based on your educational and career goals.  

Difference 1: An MBA Offers Breadth of Knowledge. An M.S. in Accounting Offers Depth of Knowledge.

The biggest difference between an MBA and an M.S. in Accounting is the scope of the curriculum.

  • MBA focuses on breadth of skills that can be applied to a large variety of management scenarios and business challenges. You’ll take classes in marketing, finance, operations and management.
  • M.S. in Accounting develops deep expertise in the field of accounting, giving you specialized skills in areas like taxation, data mining and auditing, forensic accounting, and organizational risk management.

To decide if you want to pursue a broad business education in an MBA program or a specialized M.S. in Accounting, you should ask yourself questions such as:

  • What are my long-term career goals?
  • Where do I want to work?
  • What is my educational background?
  • How much professional experience do I have?

The table below can act as a guide for considering the degree paths that align to your background and career aspirations. These aren’t definitive answers, but give you a good starting place to understand which degree may be a better fit.

Difference 2: Getting into MBA Programs Requires Work Experience. Getting into M.S. in Accounting Programs Requires Specific Coursework.

When deciding whether to pursue an MBA or master’s in accounting you need to understand if you have the prerequisites required to get into the program (or are willing to take classes if you don’t meet the requirements).

MBA Prerequisites

MBA programs rarely include coursework requirements. People from all educational backgrounds who have successfully completed a bachelor’s degree can qualify for MBA programs. Instead, MBA program admission is typically evaluated on:

  • Previous work experience. Some programs require you to have a specific number of years of professional experience before you can apply.
  • GPA and/or Entrance Exams. Some programs require you to take the GMAT or GRE, while others may waive this requirement if you meet specific GPA standards.

Master’s in Accounting Prerequisites

An M.S. in Accounting, however, does require significant accounting coursework at the undergraduate level before applying to the program.

For example, to apply to the Franklin University M.S. in Accounting, you must have passed the following coursework (or its equivalent at another accredited school) with a C or better:

  • Financial Accounting
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Intermediate Accounting I
  • Intermediate Accounting II
  • Auditing (required for students pursuing coursework in Advanced Auditing and Data Analytics)

Undergraduate GPA and/or entrance exams are also relevant admission criteria for master’s in accounting programs.  


What matters most when choosing a master’s program? Compare features, benefits and cost to find the right school for you.


Difference 3: One Degree May Be Faster—But It Depends On Where You Study.

When pursuing an advanced degree, most students — especially working professionals — consider time to degree as a key factor. While 1-2 years is typical for most MBA and M.S. in Accounting programs, the number of course credits required to get a master’s degree varies by institution and state.

Want to graduate faster? Consider an online program. Most full-time, online programs can be completed 6 months faster than traditional, on-site programs.

graphic showing the difference between traditional and online universities

Difference 4: An MBA Can Qualify You for the CPA Exam. An M.S. in Accounting Gives You the Knowledge to Pass It.

If you’re interested in becoming a CPA, you need to earn the required number of course credits to sit for the CPA exam. Both an MBA and an M.S. in Accounting can help you reach the 150 semester hours required. But when it comes to passing it? The curriculum of an M.S. in Accounting program is much more tailored to the four topics covered by the CPA exam:

  • Auditing & Attestation
  • Financial Accounting & Reporting
  • Regulation
  • Business Environment & Concepts

The M.S. in Accounting provides the in-depth and specialized knowledge to prepare you to take one of the most challenging professional examinations.

Difference 5: An MBA Prepares You For Broad Careers in Business. An M.S. in Accounting Prepares You to Specialize and Form Expertise in Accounting

While both an MBA and a master’s in accounting will equip you for leadership positions in organizations, the expertise and skills you will gain will prepare you for different roles.

What will the job market look like when you graduate? Compare in-demand jobs for both degrees.

5 Top Jobs for MBA Graduates

The broad base of knowledge and skills you gain in an MBA program prepares you to solve business challenges at the highest levels across numerous specialties.

Marketing Manager
Median Salary: $132,620 (BLS)

Marketing managers plan campaigns that generate interest in products or services. They work with creative directors, sales team members and financial professionals to reach consumers in an engaging and cost effective way.

Financial Manager
Median Salary: $127,990 (BLS)

Financial managers are responsible for the overall financial health of an organization. They create financial reports, inform investment decisions, and develop strategies for long-term financial goals.

Medical and Health Services Manager
Median Salary: $99,730 (BLS)

A highly growing career field, these professionals plan, direct, and coordinate medical and health services for healthcare facilities, specific clinical areas or departments, or a medical practice for a group of physicians. They must direct changes that conform to evolving healthcare laws, regulations and technology.

Management Analyst
Median Salary: $83,610 (BLS)

Management analysts, often called management consultants, suggest improvements to increase operational efficiency. They advise managers on how to reduce costs and increase revenue to make companies more profitable.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Median Salary: $189,600 (BLS)

CEOs develop strategies and policies to ensure the company meets its goals. They also plan, direct, and coordinate operational activities in support of these strategies.

5 Top Jobs for M.S. in Accounting Graduates

While the skills you gain in an M.S. in Accounting are specialized, there are a wide variety of careers you can choose from within the accounting industry.

Senior General Accountant
Median Salary: $77,750 (Robert Half)

General accountants are experts in analyzing and preparing financial documents and reports, such as tax returns, income statements and balance sheets. A senior level accountant will have significant experience and a CPA license.

Forensic Accountant
Median Salary: $92,000 (Robert Half)

A forensic accountant is a CPA who is able to examine financial records and accounts that could be used as evidence. They typically help prove or disprove insurance claims and personal injury claims.

Management-Level Auditor
Median Salary: $90,000 (Robert Half)

Auditors are specialists who review company and organization accounts to ensure financial records are both accurate and legal. They can also act in a consulting role to advise on risk management and cost savings.

Median Salary: $118,250 (Robert Half)

The controller is responsible for the accounting operations of a company. These responsibilities include: periodic financial reports, maintenance of accounting record systems, and a comprehensive plan for mitigating risk, enhancing accuracy of financial results, and ensuring results comply with financial reporting standards.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Median Salary: $196,750 (Robert Half)

CFOs oversee the planning, implementation, managing and running of all the finance activities of a company. Their responsibilities include long-term business planning, budgeting, financial forecasting and negotiations.

Choose The Degree That Best Fits Your Career Goals

Choosing an advanced degree isn’t just about preparing for your next job, it’s about laying the foundation for your lifelong career goals. We strongly encourage you to reach out to professionals in your field, talk to career counselors and do in-depth research into the programs and institutions you’re interested in.

Explore Franklin University’s M.S. in Accounting and MBA to see the differences in our curriculum and career outcomes. No matter which degree you pursue, our flexible, online curriculum, instructors with real-world experience and applied curriculum will help you advance using industry best practices.

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