What’s the Difference Between a Master of Accounting and a MBA with a Concentration in Accounting?

Managing a business—or a household, for that matter—is getting more and more complex. There is more to keep track of in terms of routine expenses, capital outlays, benefits contributions and, of course, receivables. Because of this reality, keeping track of the financial minutiae is crucial to safeguarding the corporate bottom line. Central to this task is retaining honest and competent accountants that closely monitor profits and losses while keeping the books transparent for the tax man and other government regulators. Training for this work varies by institution and prospect preference. Some candidates will possess a Master of Accounting degree while others have earned a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in accounting. Employers should know the difference.

Work Experience

U.S. News and World Report states that the appeal of the Master of Accounting (M.Acc.) degree is to people with limited full-time work experience. In fact, students often enter this program having just completed undergraduate studies. On the other hand, Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) programs actively look for applicants with at least two years of regular employment under their belts. So the pool of M.B.A. graduates will tend to be more mature and experienced when they seek their first positions right out of business school. This fact goes to the nature of each program.

From Enrollment to Graduation

The M.Acc. student will—if attending full-time—graduate from this program in two-thirds the time of an M.B.A. carrying a full course load. The typical duration for completion of the former is 12 to 16 months whereas the latter will require at least two years. Given the fact that M.B.A. students tend to be older, those eager to get into the profession quickly might prefer the streamlined curriculum of a specialized degree like the M.Acc. At the same time, as with choosing between a microwave and a slow cooker, the offsetting benefits of the M.B.A. could be worth the wait.

Breadth versus Depth

Indeed, it is the respective length of these two programs that reveals their content. The M.Acc puts the student on track to becoming a Certified Public Accountant and bestows expertise in the field of accounting. Courses can include Corporate Financials and Reporting, Federal Taxation, Advanced Financial Accounting and Auditing. Each goes to the heart of what the accountant does. On the other hand, an M.B.A. curriculum—while including the above—will also offer classes in Entrepreneurship, Corporate Governance, Financial Management and Operations Analysis. While one degree gives a laser focus on accounting, the other views accounting in the context of overall business management or, shall we say, administration.

Defining Goals

It all comes down to purpose. If a prospective accountant wants to focus on the nuts and bolts of the profession—as either a C.P.A. or a good utility accountant in a corporate setting, the M.Acc. is a relatively fast and effective way to get there. If, conversely, the aim is to oversee a team of accountants, or even rise to upper management, the longer, broader path of the M.B.A. with a concentration in accounting shows greater promise.

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