Earning a Masters in Accounting Versus an MBA in Finance

Business professionals reach a point in their careers where an advanced degree becomes necessary to go forward, and at this crossroads, you may be wondering if you should earn a Masters in Accounting or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance. Both programs enhance your skills, but the strongest choice boils down to your own objectives and goals.

The General Differences Between a Masters in Accounting and an MBA in Finance

Before covering the finer points, let’s look at the roles accountants and financial professionals play in the workplace. Finance analysts and managers evaluate profits and investments and determine how funds should be allocated throughout an organization. Accountants, however, are often perceived as the company’s number-crunchers, but they’re in charge of recording all transactions, creating and filing financial reports and maintaining all related records. Coursework for Masters programs, in turn, factor in these differences, with the goal of increasing a professional’s skill set. As well, professionals or recent graduates starting either endeavor should have a strong math and analytical background.

From here, the similarities end, and the two paths diverge down completely different yet nonetheless rewarding routes. A Masters in Accounting, for starters, is a more focused course of study, one that focuses on a comprehensive business education while strengthening a candidate’s analytical mindset and knowledge of financial transactions, particularly recording and reporting practices. Often, these concepts build off a Bachelor’s in Accounting degree and, especially for becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), serve as a necessary extension.

Although individuals with a Bachelor’s in Accounting often have no trouble finding work, becoming a CPA—which requires passing the Uniform CPA Exam and meeting state licensing requirements—launches their career into an entirely new echelon, complete with more responsibilities, respect, and earning potential. To reach this goal, a typical Bachelor’s in Accounting program fulfills 120 of the 150 credit hours required to sit for the CPA Exam. The Masters in Accounting assists with meeting these requirements and further enhances a candidate’s management skills and knowledge of auditing, taxation, and cost accounting practices.

As such, individuals who pass the CPA Exam are significantly more marketable than those with a Bachelor’s in Accounting. Based on this format, schools design many Masters in Accounting programs for recent bachelor’s graduates who want to eventually become a licensed CPA.

Between the Masters in Accounting and a graduate finance program, gaining the credits needed to take the CPA Exam is the greatest divider. Candidates who work toward an MBA in Finance won’t have the credits to sit for the exam and become licensed. Yet, this pathway—a blend of the MBA’s functional business courses and management skills with an advanced understanding of finance—takes candidates in several other directions, including financial analysis, markets and capital, banking, investments, and wealth management.

While a Masters in Accounting zeroes-in on advanced practices, an MBA in Finance degree provides a broader look at corporate finance, including modeling, risk management, valuation, econometrics, and derivatives. As a result, because schools frequently design their MBA programs for experienced professionals, students are advised to have spent a few years in the workforce and to have clear career goals. As one objective, the program’s coursework prepares students to become a certified Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).

Program Length

Traditionally, a Masters in Accounting program lasts two to three semesters. Wake Forest University’s Master of Science in Accountancy, for instance, is structured as a two-semester program with an optional experience-building third term.

A graduate finance degree, by contrast, is based on the MBA’s structure. Typically, these programs take two years, but because they’re designed for advanced professionals, you can earn your credential on a part-time basis. Wake Forest offers evening and weekend MBA courses and lets students select a concentration in finance.

Masters in Accounting Versus MBA in Finance Course Content

In line with program goals, the Masters in Accounting and MBA in Finance programs overlap where functional business concepts are concerned. The Masters in Accounting aims narrower, however, spending more time on the techniques for managing financial reports and records. A Finance concentration devotes more courses toward analysis and financial strategy topics.

Within this framework, a Masters in Accounting examines theory and practices concerning accounting, taxes, and analysis. Electives then allow students to explore specific areas within the field, including auditing, taxation, and forensic accounting. The program, as a whole, goes over:

  • standard accounting practices and principles;
  • auditing methods;
  • cost analysis in the corporate decision-making process;
  • technologies for evaluating financial records;
  • common business financial regulations; and
  • the differences between individual and corporate tax preparation.

For business finance students, the program begins with a standard MBA core. However, concentration courses and electives offer insight into corporate analysis, risk management, data analytics within the context of finance, and commercial banking practices.

Career Outlook and Goals

Based upon figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), finance occupations are expected to see 7% growth between 2018 and 2028. With 6% growth predicted, demand for accountants and auditors falls in line with this trend.

The Masters in Accounting not only prepares candidates to take the CPA Exam but offers the advanced skill set needed for a position in corporate accounting, financial analysis, forensic accounting, management, or consulting. The degree’s specialization further opens up opportunities to be:

  • an accounting controller;
  • a certified internal auditor;
  • a public accountant;
  • a Fraud examiner;
  • a financial analyst;
  • an external auditor;
  • a management accountant;
  • a government accountant; or
  • an IT auditor.

On a day-to-day basis, these professionals evaluate and analyze a business’s finances, often overseeing bookkeeping, balance sheets, income statements, past records, and current reports. Higher-level accounting professionals take on more planning and controlling, have a role in company decision-making, and, if a CPA, can file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The MBA in Finance aims to elevate a candidate’s quantitative and analytical skills, and this versatile foundation proves to be an asset in:

  • corporate and project finance;
  • investment analysis;
  • equity and financial analysis;
  • financial management;
  • risk management;
  • valuation;
  • banking;
  • financial consulting;
  • entrepreneurship;
  • wealth management;
  • financial advising;
  • economics; and
  • actuarial science.

The BLS reports that Financial Managers will see 16% greater demand between 2018 and 2028, while Financial Analysts will experience 6% more growth.

Advance Your Career with a Masters in Accountancy or an MBA with a  finance concentration from Wake Forest University

Wake Forest’s Master of Science in Accountancy is known for its high CPA Exam pass rate, and according to US News & World Report, our MBA, with a Finance concentration is North Carolina’s strongest part-time program. To take the next step, request more information today.