Which is Worth More – a CPA License or a Master’s Degree in Accounting?

Accountants in today’s business world have a lot of options to choose from when preparing for the specialty they wish to practice. Even without an undergraduate degree in accounting there are several avenues that candidates can take to reach their career goals. Among the decisions aspiring accountants need to make are determining whether to earn a master’s degree in accounting, commonly known as an MAcc, or a CPA license.

CPA vs. MAcc?

Before a candidate determines what course they wish their career to take, it is important to first define the difference between what earning these two distinctions consists of and what their purposes are.

A MAcc is an academic degree that is granted by an educational institution such as a college or a university. It is important to understand completely that for an MAcc degree, students learn strictly accounting, nothing else. With an MAcc degree students learn accounting to a level far beyond that required for a Bachelor’s degree, but even in this case, MAcc degrees do not require that candidates take the coursework of a more general business nature such as marketing, business law and others.

A CPA is a professional license that is granted by the state in which an accountant wishes to practice. A CPA license is granted after a candidate has completed a prescribed 150 hours of certain courses in accounting such as basic, intermediate, and advanced accounting, cost accounting, finance, and other courses. In most states a CPA candidate must also complete a one-year internship at a CPA firm. After all of this is completed, they must pass a three-part test, which consists of three “legs.” These legs consist of accounting theory, accounting practice, and business law. Once a candidate completes all of these requirements, they are awarded the license as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), which entitles them to offer their services to the public in this capacity.

Once an accountant has earned a CPA license he is granted the right to practice in a capacity which allows him to audit accounting books of members of the public and attest to the accuracy of the methods used to complete those documents. Another important distinction between a CPA and those who hold other academic degrees, including an MAcc, is that a CPA is one of only three professionals–the other two being attorneys and Enrolled Agents–who are allowed to represent their clients before the IRS.

Viva la Difference!

Although it is true that both an MAcc degree and CPA license have accounting in common, this is basically where the commonality ends. In fact, although the MAcc degree teaches accounting in far more depth than students would have been previously exposed to, once they complete their degree, that is what they have. Many accountants who wish to become CPAs will complete an MAcc degree to fulfill the 150 hours of accounting coursework requirement for a license. Despite this, those who earn an MAcc degree must complete the additional requirements to receive a CPA license.

There are a lot of options for aspiring accountants wishing to advance in their careers.  With a little research, you are sure to find the perfect fit for your continuing education.

Additional Resource: Beyond the Bachelor’s Degree: MAcc vs. MBA

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