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MBA in Accounting Vs. MS in Accounting

Learn the key difference between MBA in Accounting and MS in Accounting programs in terms of required courses and focus. Then, look at the different careers these master's in accounting programs may prepare you for.

Comparing Accounting Master's Degrees

MBA in Accounting

Generally, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program is designed for students who are interested in developing their business knowledge and skills. Common course topics include strategic decision-making, economics, marketing, finance, leadership, and human resources (HR). An MBA in Accounting allows you to further specialize in the field, requiring that you take certain concentration courses, such as financial reporting, managerial accounting, income tax, and cost analysis, along with your core MBA courses. An MBA in Accounting degree can prepare you for a range of business careers, but may also prepare you to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam and become an accountant. The length of an MBA in Accounting program can vary, with some accelerated programs designed to be completed in as little as a year and others taking up to 3 years.

MS in Accounting

When compared to MBA in Accounting programs, Master of Science (MS) in Accounting degree programs have a larger focus on accounting and taxation topics. In these programs, you commonly take courses that touch on federal taxation, auditing, finance, business taxation, and forensic accounting. You might also be required to take a limited number of organizational behavior, leadership, and management courses that are more generally business-focused. A vast majority of MS in Accounting programs also design their curriculum around aiding students in preparing for the CPA exam. MS in Accounting programs take about 1 year to complete, although the exact length depends on your specific program and if you attend part- or full-time.

Degree Program Program Length Program Requirement Related Careers
MBA in Accounting 1 to 3 years, depending on the program and if you attend full- or part-time Undergraduate degree Top Executive, Accountant
MS in Accounting 1 year, depending on the program and if you attend full- or part-time Undergraduate degree Accountant, Financial Manager

Admissions Requirements for Accounting Master's Degrees

To apply to either an MBA in Accounting or an MS in Accounting program, you must already hold an undergraduate degree. Further, MBA in Accounting programs vary when it comes to admission standards, with some requiring the GMAT and/or professional experience and others not requiring either. Additionally, some, but not all, MS in Accounting programs may require some prerequisite coursework in accounting subjects (usually, these courses can be waived if you already took them as a part of your undergraduate degree). Like MBA programs, some MS in Accounting programs require the GMAT as well, while others don't. Other application materials could include transcripts, a resume, a personal statement, and references.

Accounting and Business Career Outlook

Top Executive

A top executive is someone who is in charge of a business organization and is responsible for:

  • Overseeing budgets and financials
  • Managing employees and staff
  • Making some hiring decisions
  • Creating an overall business strategy
  • Negotiating agreements or contracts

Top executives can work for small companies where they manage the day-to-day business or can work for large corporations where they could be a CEO or operations manager. A bachelor's degree is usually the minimum educational requirement for this career; however, most top executives, especially those in bigger corporations, are required to have an advanced degree, such as an MBA.

Accountant

There are several types of accountants who specialize in different areas. Some are public accountants who can work for themselves or within a business to complete tax and accounting tasks. Others might be management accountants who focus on budgets and evaluating a business's performance. All accountants generally work with financial statements, on taxes, and help make financial decisions. An accountant needs at least a bachelor's degree in the field of accounting, yet many employers look for job candidates who have earned a master's degree in accounting, either the MBA or MS, and who have also earned the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential.

Financial Manager

Financial managers are responsible for the finances of their employer. They have a range of duties that could include:

  • Creating financial statements and reports
  • Overseeing budgets
  • Helping to make financial decisions
  • Ensuring adherence to laws and regulations

To become a financial manager, you need a bachelor's degree, but employers often prefer those with an advanced master's degrees in business, accounting, or finance.

Job Title Median Annual Salary (2019) Estimated Job Growth (2019-2029)
Top Executive$104,690 4%
Accountant $71,550 4%
Financial Manager$129,890 15%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

MBA in Accounting and MS in Accounting programs are similar in the way they both focus on the field of accounting; however, MBA programs have a broader business focus, while MS programs focus more on accounting topics. These programs prepare you for similar careers, yet the MS in Accounting may be a better option for those who want to become a CPA.