Woman using calculator in an accounting degree program

MBA in Accounting vs. MS in Accounting: What's the Difference?

If you're an accounting professional looking to take the next step in your career, considering a master's degree is a smart place to start. Those with a master's degree can, in general, earn an average of $400,000 more over their lifetimes than those with just a bachelor's degree. Additionally, having a master's degree (especially in a competitive field such as accounting) can help you qualify for more jobs, particularly those with more seniority and higher pay. In fact, many of today's upper-level accounting jobs require a master's degree.

Beyond that, having a master's degree is a necessity if you are planning on, or considering, sitting for the CPA exam. As of 2014, accounting students preparing for the CPA must earn 150 credit hours of education, which is 30 credit hours beyond a bachelor's degree. Getting a master's degree is the best way to not only further your accounting knowledge but also qualify you to sit for the exam, which will then allow you to practice public accounting.

When looking into graduate-level accounting programs, you have probably noticed that the majority fall into two categories: a master's degree in accounting, or an MBA in accounting. While the differences between these two programs might not be immediately clear, there are actually some significant distinctions that are important to take into consideration when deciding which one is right for you. 

MBA in Accounting vs. Master's in Accounting

To best understand the differences between these two types of programs, we'll explore each of them in depth.

MBA in Accounting

An MBA is one of the most popular degrees in today's higher education landscape and often incorporates basic accounting knowledge into the curriculum. As an accounting professional with advanced knowledge of the field, you might be wondering if this is applicable to you, and the answer is yes - if you pursue an MBA accounting concentration.

So what is an MBA in accounting? This program will deliver the technical skills and business concepts (and review the accounting essentials) you'd get in a traditional MBA, but adds an emphasis on leveraging financial analysis to help decision-making at a strategic level. You'll get the name-recognition of an in-demand degree as well as a credential that highlights your accounting specialization - in short, you get both the breadth to build a well-rounded business skillset and the depth to truly become an accounting expert.

An MBA in Accounting program will help you develop the competencies required in today's business professionals, including managing risk, leadership, understanding the impact of globalization, financial decision-making, business analysis and performance measurement, understanding customers and markets, and process integration and performance. From there, you'll dive into your accounting-specific coursework, which will cover the essential accounting knowledge you'll need as a professional in this field.

Master's in Accounting

A Master's in Accounting is a deep immersion into the field of accounting. You will complete many of the same core accounting courses that you would in an MBA in Accounting program, and then build on them with highly-focused courses that take your understanding of the field to the next level.

For example, in Champlain's Master's in Accounting program, you have the option to complete an embedded graduate certificate in the subject area of your choice, so you could obtain many of the same general business skills with an advanced management or business management graduate certificate. However, if you are interested in building skills in a different subject area, this would be a great option for you to pursue (for example, if you've always had an interest in conflict management, or you think that employment law sounds intriguing, you could pursue a certificate in one of those areas instead).

All in all, a Master's in Accounting prepares students to meet the evolving needs of today's businesses of all sizes, and they will emerge from the program able to address challenges in fast-paced, modern work environments using an integrated, financially-focused approach.

The Skills You'll Build in a Graduate Accounting Program

Now that we've highlighted some of the differences between the two programs, it's important to highlight some of the similarities - namely, that both degrees will prepare you for success in the accounting field. Both degrees will equip you with the essential skills required of advanced accounting professionals today, including:

  • Business analysis using financial statements
  • Risk and performance management
  • The international dimensions of accounting
  • Advanced accounting information systems


You'll leave the program able to communicate effectively, identify problems and formulate solutions with a systems thinking approach, evaluate risk in business scenarios, generate innovative approaches to leadership, balance quantitative analyses with qualitative factors, and create a strategic vision; in addition, you'll be able to integrate financial information and a strategic perspective for decision-making, evaluate a complex accounting system, convey financial analysis and information to stakeholders, and evaluate an organization's progress toward meeting goals.

When it comes to the value of each degree, both are well-respected by employers, and offer great job prospects to those looking to advance in their careers. In addition to being eligible to work in public accounting, graduates of either program could go on to work in roles such as financial analyst, senior accountant, chief financial officer, business manager, or director of operations and finance, among many others.

Additionally, both programs can typically be completed in the same time frame (between 10 months and two years, depending on course load).

How to Decide Between an MBA in Accounting and a Master's in Accounting

Ultimately, the choice between these two programs comes down to your goals and preferences. If you are looking for a more broadly-applicable degree, an MBA might be the way to go. If you are looking for a more focused experience, with the ability to gain skills in another subject area of your choosing, an M.S. in accounting might be the right choice.

One thing's for certain - both would be an excellent way to take the next step toward advancement in your accounting career.

Interested in learning more about the differences between these two programs? Learn more about Champlain's 100% online MBA in accounting and master's in accounting - or contact us to have a conversation with an admissions representative about which program would be right for you!