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CPA or MBA: Which one is right for you?

12 Apr
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The choice between earning a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation or an MBA is one that many struggle with, especially if they’re considering a career on the financial side of business. The choice that’s right for you depends on your interests, likes and dislikes, and the trajectory of your career. Understanding the difference between a CPA and an MBA, how each affects your career path and the amount of time and money involved with each choice can help you choose which one is best for you.

The Differences Between a CPA and an MBA


Should you get a CPA or MBA? The biggest difference between a CPA and an MBA is that a CPA is a credential, while an MBA is a degree. The organizing body that issues the CPA designation is called the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). A Master of Accounting degree program ensures that the curriculum and credit hours will meet the requirements needed to sit for the CPA exam. With an MBA, on the other hand, you are earning a master’s degree, and the coursework and requirements are decided by the university you choose to attend.

Skillset: An MBA Offers a Broader Scope of Knowledge


A CPA is a certification/licensure that ensures professionals have a strong grasp of accounting principles and other business concepts that tie into accounting. While this results in an education that covers more than basic bookkeeping, the education you get with an MBA is far more comprehensive. In addition to electives that focus on specialized areas of business, an MBA’s curriculum can cover the following:

  • Operation research
  • Business statistics
  • Accounting
  • Human resources management
  • Marketing
  • Business ethics
  • Financial management

Career opportunity: An MBA Offers More Career Choices


With an MBA, you can earn a living in various business arenas, a few of these include:

  • Financial analyst.
  • Corporate CEO
  • Operations manager
  • CTO
  • CIO
  • Human resources manager
  • Financial advisor
  • Investment banker
  • Fund manager

Also, because an MBA covers so many core business principles, you are better able to run your own company after getting your degree. You are equipped to handle everything from budgeting and obtaining seed money for start-ups to marketing and product or service roll-out. In addition, as you encounter various obstacles in your business journey, an MBA can help you to adapt to your changing circumstances. This is because as you earn an MBA, you learn how to think creatively and critically. Critical thinking involves examining a situation from multiple perspectives, ascertaining solutions, and evaluating the pros and cons of each. Regardless of the business challenge you face, as an employee or an entrepreneur, the critical thinking skills that come with an MBA can give you an edge over your competition.

With a CPA, employment opportunities can include:

  • Public accountant
  • Internal auditor
  • Forensic accountant
  • Financial analyst

This isn’t to say that a CPA isn’t without its benefits. A CPA can still be an asset for a wide variety of companies that require an accountant or financial analysis. As a CPA, you also have the option to work as a consultant, serving the needs of several employers as issues arise.

Speed: An MBA Sometimes Takes Longer to Earn


An MBA may take you as long as two years to earn, while earning a Master of Accounting degree to prepare for the CPA can be attained in 12 months.1 Regardless of whether you choose to pursue your MBA or CPA, the time you dedicate to your studies and working with your classmates can provide you with opportunities that pay significant dividends.

An Online MBA Can Be Earned on Your Schedule


When considering a CPA or MBA, one advantage of an online MBA program is its flexibility. Particularly with an online MBA, you can complete your coursework at times that fit into your daily life. In many cases, the work you have to do can be slotted for when you are free, such as at night, on weekends, and when you have partial workdays. This flexibility makes an online MBA a more realistic option for people who don’t have several hours every day to commit to a more traditional program.

Salary outcomes: You Can Make More with an MBA


While the range of salaries for both those with an MBA and those with a CPA ranges greatly, the average salary of people with MBAs is higher than that of people with CPAs. According to a study performed by U.S. News, the average salary for an MBA in 2020 across all business sectors was around $100,600.3 In contrast; the average CPA earned $70,500 in 2020.4

Another factor to consider when it comes to cost is the earnings potential that comes with an MBA. Because you can assume a wide array of roles, many of which earn salaries high in the pay scale, the ceiling for professionals with an MBA is high. Depending on your tuition cost and the role you take, the growth in salary may result in recouping the cost of earning an MBA within a few years.

In addition, an MBA can also equip you to be an entrepreneur, you have the potential build and expand your own company. As your company grows, so can your income.

With a CPA, one way to increase your return on investment is to either apply for jobs with companies that offer substantial bonuses for CPAs, or to focus on ways to progress from more common CPA roles to the C-suite. However, even as a CPA, to attain the requisite skills to be a C-level executive, you may have to do some MBA coursework along the way.

Earn Your MBA with the KU Online MBA Program


Since 1924, the University of Kansas has been preparing students for the world of business. As the flagship university of the state of Kansas, KU has produced Jayhawks that have innovated, led, and inspired businesses and leaders for many decades. If you’re ready to become a well-rounded business professional, the highly ranked and affordable KU online MBA program can help you do just that. Reach out to an admissions advisor today for more information.

Earn Your CPA with the KU Master of Accounting Program


The AACSB-accredited Master of Accounting program at the University of Kansas School of Business is designed to fully prepare students to enter the accounting profession and to meet the educational requirements for CPA certification in most states. Learn more at macc.ku.edu.


1. Retrieved on March 5, 2021, from wallstreetmojo.com/cpa-vs-mba/
2. Retrieved on March 5, 2021, from mncpa.org/becoming-a-cpa/cpa-exam/exam-facts/costs-to-become-a-cpa/
3. Retrieved on March 5, 2021, from usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/articles/mba-salary-jobs#:~:text=Highest%20Average%20MBA%20Salary&text=At%20the%2010%20MBA%20programs,bonus%20was%20a%20whopping%20%24173%2C860.
4. Retrieved on March 5, 2021, from accountingtoday.com/opinion/how-much-do-accountants-and-cpas-really-earn