CPA vs MBA

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: February 22, 2022  •  6 min read  •  Financial
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When you get a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field, you might be choosing between getting a CPA or an MBA. These are two very good paths if you want to advance your career. However, they are also very different.

Before you decide which is right between a CPA and an MBA, there are many things to consider. Let’s look at what both are and some of the factors you should consider before choosing.

CPA vs MBA

What is a CPA?

CPA or Certified Public Accountant offers an option for those looking to go into the field of accounting. If you want to classify yourself as an accountant, you will need to earn a CPA.

The CPA is a long exam that will need to be completed and passed with a minimum test score. CPA programs will include many courses designed to prepare you for this very detailed and difficult exam.

Often, you will take financial accounting, auditing, forensic accounting, and income tax courses in this type of program. A CPA program will be equivalent to one year of study or two semesters.

Before you can enter into a CPA program, you will need to complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or business. It’s also necessary to gain at least one year of work experience in a relevant field. Once you have met the requirements, you can sit for the CPA exam.

What is an MBA?

An MBA or Master of Business Administration is a longer program covering a wider range of courses. It will provide you with a broad-based of financial knowledge, but will also provide even more. Typically, you will choose a specialty within your MBA program.

Most MBA programs will require multiple years of study. Within this type of program, you won’t just study accounting, however. Instead, you will gain knowledge in many different areas of business.

You will need a bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA to enter into an MBA program. It’s also necessary to achieve an acceptable GRE or GMAT test score. Many MBA programs will also look for letters of recommendation and some work experience in a relevant field.

It’s possible to complete an MBA program in one year, but most will last two or three years.

Key Differences Between a CPA and an MBA

  1. A CPA is strictly for those going into accounting, while an MBA fits for many different areas of business.
  2. A CPA program will take around one year to 18 months to complete, while most MBA programs will take two or three years to complete.
  3. A CPA program will cost significantly less than an MBA program.
  4. An MBA program is considered to be easier to complete than the CPA program due to the difficulty of the CPA exam.
  5. The average starting salary, according to ZipRecruiter.com for an MBA is about $9K higher per year compared to a CPA.

CPA vs. MBA: Top Factors to Consider Before Choosing

Before you make your decision between a CPA and an MBA, it’s important to look at the factors listed below.

The Career You Want

If you plan to go into accounting, it makes quite a bit of sense to get your CPA. However, if accounting isn’t the career you prefer, an MBA makes more sense. It’s possible to get a financially-focused MBA, but you cannot become an accountant without earning your CPA.

With a CPA, you will likely become a public accountant, internal auditor, forensic accountant, or financial analyst. If you choose to get your MBA, you will qualify to become an operations manager, human resource manager, financial analyst, financial advisor, or marketing manager.

How Much Time Do You Want to Invest?

While you can complete an MBA in one year, in some cases, it’s more common to spend two or three years in this type of program. A CPA will often take 18 months, but can often be completed in just one year, as well.

Both programs will require you to get a bachelor’s degree first. Think about how much time you want to invest before you choose which path is right for you.

The Cost of a CPA vs MBA

The overall cost of a CPA and an MBA can vary quite a bit. Typically, you will spend about the same on your undergraduate tuition for the first four-year degree. However, a CPA program will require an additional two semesters of undergraduate work, which will cost more. You won’t need this additional time with an MBA.

When you choose to get an MBA, you will need to spend a considerable amount on your graduate studies, however. With a CPA, you won’t need the graduate studies, but you will need to spend around $3,000 to $4,000 on exam fees and prep course fees.

Overall, a CPA is less expensive than an MBA.

Earning Potential

While the salary of someone with a CPA or an MBA will vary quite a bit, the average MBA graduate will have a higher starting salary than a CPA. However, an MBA costs more to earn.

CPA vs MBA: Why Not Get Both?

In some cases, it might make sense to get both a CPA and an MBA. If you plan to go into an upper management position, having both can be very helpful. Students planning on getting a finance-focused MBA often get the most out of also earning their CPA.

It’s even possible to fulfill some of the credit hour requirements for your CPA while earning your MBA. Some schools are even offering programs that combine both an MBA and a CPA into one.

Both a CPA and an MBA will qualify you for a higher-than-average entry-level salary. When you choose one of these two paths or both, you will be able to enter the job market with a very desirable qualification. Employers are looking for both CPAs and MBAs to fill important roles in their companies.

Your final decision between a CPA and an MBA will likely come down to the career you want to go into. Consider your options before you make your decision.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.