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CPA Vs MBA: Salary & Difference

Both the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) credentials are highly desired qualifications for an accounting career. Learn the differences between the two programs and compare the career prospects.

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Accounting professionals complete several financial duties including filing reports for a corporation or organization, bookkeeping, preparing financial statements, managing income taxes, and analyzing financial operations. The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification is one of the most respected accounting qualifications in the industry. However, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is also an important degree that can open the door for a career in accounting. It is possible, and often recommended, to acquire both, but if you prefer to choose one it is important to understand the differences.

Comparison of the CPA and MBA

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

The CPA certification is the standard requirement for a career in accounting. In many states, you must have a CPA to classify yourself as an accountant. The CPA itself is a long, detailed exam that must be completed with a minimum test score. Most CPA programs involve a selection of courses designed to prepare the student for this exam. Typical courses include financial accounting, income tax, auditing, and forensic accounting. Programs are normally equivalent to a full year of study (two semesters), although this can vary by school. The median salary for a Certified Public Accountant is $63,427, according to PayScale.com in 2018.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Unlike CPA programs, MBA programs cover a wide range of topics and courses, providing a broad base of financial knowledge. However, within the MBA program the student can choose to specialize in a single area, weighing their coursework accordingly. Most MBA programs require several years of study and will typically be much more expensive than the cost of a CPA program. According to PayScale.com in 2018, employees with an MBA working as a Senior Accountant receive a median salary of $63,918, which is very similar to the salary for a CPA.

Admittance Requirements

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Requirements for admission to CPA preparation programs vary, but generally include an application, post-secondary transcripts, and resume. To sit for the CPA exam, you must have completed a bachelor's degree program with a minimum number of credits in accounting, business, finance, or tax courses. The certification requires at least one year of relevant work experience, although this can be completed following the exam if necessary. Once certified, there is an annual continuing professional education requirement that must be met.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

A bachelor's degree is typically required for admission into an MBA program, with a minimum GPA provision. You will need to provide transcripts, acceptable GRE (Graduate Record Examination) or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) results, relevant work experience, and letters of recommendation. Some MBA programs can be completed in as little as one year, but two to three years is more common. An MBA program will include a wide range of financial topics such as corporate finance, behavioral finance, equity markets, and investment banking.

While the salary levels are similar for both a CPA and MBA, the MBA provides a more diverse base of financial knowledge and will qualify you for several different business careers. However, many accounting positions will require a CPA certification even if you already possess an MBA, so the latter may not be sufficient on its own. Therefore, the MBA is only the better accounting choice if you want to maximize your financial expertise and keep your career options open down the road. The CPA will normally take less time to complete, cost less, and more specifically prepare you for a position in accounting.

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