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Master's in Finance Vs Master's in Accounting: Program & Career Guide

How does a master's in accounting differ from a master's in finance, and which one should you get? Learn about the different uses each degree has, the kinds of courses required, careers these degrees can lead to, and more by reading on.

What Is the Difference Between a Master's in Accounting and a Master's in Finance?

For individuals who wish to have careers dealing directly with money, there are a surprising number of options within the field of business. Accounting careers are primarily concerned with the present, handling the flow of money in and out of a business every day. Finance careers, on the other hand, concern themselves with the future of an organization's monetary position, ensuring that expenses are covered and that profits are invested wisely to ensure continued growth.

At the graduate level, degrees in accounting and finance can both lead to lucrative positions handling an organization's funds. A master's degree program in accounting is usually geared towards qualifying students for certification as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), although other roles within accounting, such as tax associate, could also be well served by the degree. Master's degree programs in finance aren't usually tailored towards certifications, although they do exist, and can prepare graduates for a number of jobs in areas of finance like corporate finance or financial engineering. Both programs are open to applicants with any type of undergraduate degree, although some indication of interest in the field may be beneficial, and mathematical skills are a must. Both programs can also typically be completed in 12 to 18 months, are available online, and may involve internships.

Master's in Accounting Master's in Finance
Program Length 12-16 months 12-18 months
Program Content Tax law, data analytics, and financial accounting Investment banking, risk management, and financial analysis
Degree Type Master of Science (MS), Master of Accounting (MAC) Master of Science (MS), Master of Finance (MFin)
Career Options Public accountant Financial analyst

Master's in Accounting Degree Overview

Accountants are responsible for handling the data surrounding a company's income and expenses and converting it into an intelligible format through the use of spreadsheets, graphs, and tables, so courses on the use of tools such as spreadsheet modeling are commonly included in accounting master's degree programs. Because the flow of money must be so tightly regulated to prevent fraud and abuse, the curriculum also helps prospective accountants understand the laws affecting their clients or companies and ensure that they are aware of potential violations. Accountants must also hold themselves to high ethical standards, as a consequence of their close work with large amounts of funds. For this reason, programs also commonly include ethics classes. Coursework in finance may be included as well.

Some MS in Accounting programs will also offer concentration options, which can allow graduates to branch out into related areas, such as risk management, tax preparation, and auditing, although most focus squarely on preparing to earn the CPA certification. This certification is necessary for accountants who file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission and can be valuable for those who wish to open their own businesses or work in the corporate world.

Master's in Finance Degree Overview

Master's degree programs in finance include courses that examine topics such as the functioning of markets, how to analyze risk, investing, and how finance differs when it comes to corporations and individuals. Risk management courses, for example, examine methods for analyzing outcomes of situations, allowing for informed decision making when it comes to profit and expenses. Microeconomics is another common course, looking at the operations of small-scale economic systems within a particular industry or in a particular geographic area.

Students in finance master's degree programs may also have the option to develop specialties through concentrations, such as real estate or investment banking. While finance programs are less concerned with obtaining certification than accounting, it can still be beneficial to work towards one while studying. The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is the primary certification for financial analysts, which can be obtained without a master's degree, provided the individual can pass three exams.

Related Fields of Study

Students who are interested in earning a master's degree in either accounting or finance may also find alternative degree programs in these other related fields, performing similar work.

Economics

Economics is the science of how markets work and how best to distribute resources. It is a much more academic field than either accounting or finance but shares a focus on the flow of money and resources. Some economics courses are typically included in finance and accounting degree programs, which help to provide individuals with an understanding of the underlying tenets of business.

Business Analytics

Business analytics takes the statistical, data-driven approaches used in finance and uses these tools to examine progress in aspects of business beyond money. In the same way that financial analysts provide information to executives to help them make decisions, business analysts compile information on worker performance, market share, and market research to better assist in decision making on these issues.