The Differences Between a Master of Accountancy and an MBA

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When choosing whether to pursue a Master of Accountancy (MAcc) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with an accounting concentration, students should consider what they want to do after they graduate.

Master’s degrees like the MAcc tend to focus on a particular discipline in-depth, touching very little on other subjects. However, MBA degrees are designed to impart a broad understanding of business in general while also focusing on a specific concentration.

Students interested in crunching numbers, preparing tax forms, and keeping books might be better off pursuing a master’s in accounting. Those who aspire to manage accountants and interact regularly with other business departments may find an MBA with an accounting concentration is a better fit. Because career paths and professional qualifications differ substantially between Master of Accounting vs. MBA in accounting degree holders, students should consider all the variables before choosing a program.

Master of Accountancy

A MAcc program’s primary goal is to prepare students for the CPA exam, as most accounting firms require their accountants to have CPA licenses. Most CPAs work for accounting or business firms as bookkeepers, preparing tax documents for individuals, private companies, and corporations. Working full time in an office environment is common, although overtime hours may be needed at certain times of the year, such as during tax season or at the end of the fiscal year.

CPAs also tend to serve as consultants of sorts, offering advice on the financial issues that their clients face in their daily lives and business practices. CPAs who are also proficient in information technology and computers, in general, are often called upon to help with computerized accounting and bookkeeping software.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes CPAs as accountants and auditors and reports that the median annual salary for accountants and auditors was $70,500 in 2018. Earners in the top 10th percentile, however, reported annual earnings in excess of $122,840.

Master of Business Administration with an Accounting Concentration

MBA degrees differ from traditional master’s degrees in that they are not research-based. Rather, MBA graduates are expected to have a working knowledge of all facets of business management with a slightly deeper understanding of a particular discipline. The thesis usually required in master’s programs is replaced by capstone coursework and internships under the guidance of veteran business administrators working in an industry related to an MBA candidate’s concentration.

Students who enroll in an MBA program with an accounting concentration are exposed to coursework in accounting theory, compensation planning, and management using accounting concepts. They’re also taught how to measure and report on various accounting components, such as expenses, revenues, investments, and liabilities.

With the aim of applying accounting principles to big-picture business operations, the MBA in accounting curriculum typically covers the conceptual framework of accounting, legal standards, special programs associated with revenue recognition, and reporting standards for stockholders’ equity. Advanced accounting principles, from accounting information systems to forensic accounting, are covered from management’s point of view. Those with an MBA in accounting can also pursue CPA licensure if they choose.

Those who hold an MBA in accounting can look forward to lucrative careers as senior accountants, accounting managers, corporate controllers, finance managers, or even chief financial officers (CFOs). PayScale data from December 2019 shows that the median annual salary for MBA degree holders is around $87,000, although annual earnings vary greatly based on the position. For example, PayScale further reports that the median annual salary for a CFO is about $149,000, whereas the median annual salary for a finance manager is about $100,000.

Master of Accounting vs. MBA: Similarities

Professionals who possess either a Master of Business Administration or a Master of Accountancy degree are recognized for prioritizing the development of their knowledge and professional skills. Both degrees indicate drive and aptitude, and possessing either degree will give job candidates an edge over less-qualified competitors.

A second similarity between MBA and MAcc programs is the availability of multiple professional trajectories of each degree. For example, Ohio University’s Online MAcc program offers a course load that prepares students for different roles in the accounting career spectrum. These positions could include accountant, accountant director, CFO, financial controller, accounting manager, or CPA. The degree affords one of the opportunities to develop the skill sets required for a variety of accounting positions in the workplace. Similarly, an MBA degree affords greater opportunities across a number of career paths.

Master of Accounting vs MBA: Differences

One major difference between these study tracks is the nature of the skills acquired upon completion of either program. Whereas MBA students gain a broad skill set that can be applied to a wide variety of positions, MAcc students are prepared for careers that are more tightly focused in accounting and finance and are provided with a more specialized skill set. In short, an MBA is wide, while a Master of Accountancy is deep.

Another difference between the two degrees is the length of time required to complete them. Specialized degrees, such as a MAcc, can be completed in less time than that required by most MBA programs. While the average time you might spend in obtaining your MBA is two years, many specialized programs can be completed in 12 to 16 months.

Networking opportunities exist in both types of programs. Another way an MBA may differ from a specialized degree is the nature of those opportunities. Students enrolled in an MBA program will be surrounded by a host of varying interests across many avenues of business. They may interact with people who are similar or vastly different with regard to skill sets, experience, and prospective career paths. Specialized programs, however, naturally attract those whose interests, skills, and career paths are more closely aligned.

Types of Careers Available with a MAcc

Earning a Master of Accountancy degree is meant to provide in-depth preparation for accounting and finance positions, and jobs can vary widely within these careers. For example, one potential career path a MAcc degree would follow could be that of an accountant.

Accountants manage the financial duties of a business and are typically charged with maintaining financial records, reporting financial information, analyzing assets and risk management. Work settings could include international corporations, start-up companies, or anything in between. Accountants can be employed by large external firms, or they might work in the finance and accounting function within a company. These roles can ultimately develop into the company’s future CFOs and CEOs.

Another career choice in the accounting field is that of an auditor. Auditors are responsible for verifying the accuracy of an organization’s financial records, internal processes and tax submissions. While accounting is an ongoing process, audits are conducted periodically. Most larger companies employ internal auditors while other auditors work for independent firms or government agencies and evaluate multiple clients.

Types of Careers Available with an MBA

MBA degrees are designed to be versatile and thus prepare students for a broad range of career paths. Many MBA students aspire to management or ownership positions. The BLS projects employment of management occupations to grow by 7% between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than its projection for all other occupations.

The BLS also indicates that the median annual wage for management occupations was $104,240 in 2018; however, annual earning potential will vary based on a manager’s years of experience and where the position is located. For example, managers who work in cities that have a higher cost of living, such as San Francisco, are likely to earn a higher annual salary than managers who live in cities that have a lower cost of living, such as Brownsville, Texas.

An example of the type of management position more accessible to those with an MBA is business operations manager. Business operations managers must be versatile communicators and detail-oriented facilitators, as they coordinate operations among all factions of the company or organization. They must not only be able to manage the functional, everyday properties of the operation but also contribute to the development of its long-term strategy.

Another example of a position that could be attained or enhanced by completing an MBA would be a marketing manager. Marketing managers oversee operations within the marketing arm of a business. Though the role could vary widely based on the organization’s type, size, and structure, marketing managers play a significant role in conceptualizing marketing campaigns for the company and then managing their creation, execution, and evaluation.

Learn More at Ohio University

Numbers are at the foundation of any business — and no one knows numbers better than accounting and finance professionals. To succeed as a professional in today’s competitive landscape, you need more than numerical know-how, however; you need the expertise to conduct analysis and leverage data to drive business decisions. That’s exactly what the Online Master of Accountancy from Ohio University prepares you to do.

Discover how completing the Online Master of Accountancy from Ohio University can help you take your career to the next level.

Recommended Reading:

Ohio University Blog, “Cost-Effectiveness: Comparing Financial Accounting vs. Managerial Accounting”
Ohio University Blog, “Finance vs. Accounting: How Different Are They?”
Ohio University Blog, ‘Accounting for Business Executives”

Sources: 

AccountingTools, Controller Job Description
PayScale, Master of Business Administration (MBA) Degree
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accountants and Auditors
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Management Occupations
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Financial Managers
U.S. News & World Report,  Business Operations Manager Overview
U.S. News & World Report, “What an MBA Degree Is and What You Need to Know”
U.S. News & World Report, “Workers in the U.S. City With the Highest Salaries Earn an Average $77,180 a Year—Here Are the Other 9”
Workest, “20 U.S. Cities with the Lowest Average Salaries”