An MBA in accounting opens graduates to a job market with ample opportunity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants nationwide earn an average median salary of $70,500. Accounting students can choose from various areas of focus, like personal accounting, corporate accounting, or forensic accounting.
On this page, readers can learn more about what to expect from a master’s in accounting, including career possibilities, salary data, and professional organizations for accounting professionals.
What Is an MBA in Accounting?
MBA in accounting programs focus on business fundamentals and financial skills. Many states require 150 college credits to qualify for certified public accountant (CPA) licensure, and most bachelor’s programs require 120 credits for graduation. Aspiring CPAs can pursue a master’s degree to meet licensure requirements.
Online MBA in accounting programs include courses like managerial economics, financial statement analysis, fraud examination, and accounting for management. Graduates can work as accountants, financial managers, business consultants, and chief executive officers.
By pursuing an online MBA in accounting, students can access top programs on a flexible schedule. Some online degree programs allow all students to pay in-state or otherwise reduced tuition, making an online MBA a financially sound choice for many students.
With an MBA in accounting, students hone more than their financial skills. By studying important business fundamentals, learners set themselves up for managerial positions in diverse industries. A student with a business background can reinforce highly valued accounting knowledge. Many top-level executives boast accounting experience as employers seek upper-level managers with in-depth financial knowledge.
Grow your career, leadership, and business acumen with an accredited online MBA program.
What Can You Do With an MBA in Accounting?
Accountants analyze financial data, prepare tax documents, perform audits, and consult on financial matters. They ensure that their clients adhere to tax-related regulations and take advantage of all possible tax advantages. They work with corporations, nonprofit organizations, government offices, and individuals. Employers expect accountants to excel in analysis, math, organization, and communication. The BLS projects 6% growth in the profession between 2018 and 2028. In 2018, accountants across the country earned a median annual salary of $70,500.
Controllers oversee finance departments in an organization. They analyze data to prepare reports for executive management, monitor an organization’s overall financial health, and make best-practice recommendations. Controllers must excel at both written and oral communication. They also need strong math, problem-solving, management, and analytical skills. According to PayScale, financial controllers earn an average annual salary of $82,921.
Budget analysts study how their organizations use funds, both on a short- and long-term basis. They seek to improve cost efficiency by analyzing each department’s budget. Executives rely on budget analysts to break down the use of funds across the company. These professionals recommend cost-saving measures and help determine budgets for the fiscal year. Crucial skills include budget management, financial analysis, financial reporting, and forecasting. PayScale reports that budget analysts earn an average annual salary of $60,525.
Typically experts in a specific industry, such as construction or manufacturing, cost estimators project expenditures for specific projects. They work closely with architects and engineers to calculate expenses related to labor and materials, helping prepare bids for clients. Employers expect cost estimators to demonstrate excellent math, analytical, and time-management skills. The BLS projects 9% growth in the profession between 2018 and 2028, ahead of the national average for all occupations. In 2018, cost estimators nationwide earned a median annual salary of $64,040.
Financial managers oversee a company’s financial activities. They supervise budget-related departments, research investment opportunities, study market trends, and ensure their organization’s financial regulatory compliance. Financial managers hold titles like controller, treasurer, and risk manager. Crucial skills include attention to detail, communication, math, and organization. The BLS projects 16% growth in the profession between 2018 and 2028, well ahead of the national average for all occupations. In 2018, financial managers nationwide earned a median salary of $127,990.
Should I get a CPA license or an MBA in accounting? What are the differences between the two credentials?
Students hoping to practice general accounting, either for individuals or organizations, should pursue CPA licensure. Those hoping to gain CPA credentials and advance to higher leadership positions may wish to pursue both, as the credits earned through an MBA in accounting can help students qualify and prepare for the Uniform CPA Exam.
Do I need an MBA if I have a CPA license?
Students may wish to pursue MBA studies even if they already hold CPA licensure. With an MBA, students gain solid foundations in business strategy and management. Accountants aspiring to become managers for larger organizations benefit from a strong business background.
Is an MBA in accounting a better choice than a MS in accounting?
It depends on the individual’s career goals. An MBA focuses on business topics like organizational structure, management, and human resources. An MS in accounting focuses more on organizational and individual tax matters.
What are the differences between an MBA in accounting and an MBA in finance?
Typically, an MBA in accounting focuses on areas like taxation, financial statement analysis, and fraud examination. An MBA in accounting may also prepare students for the CPA exam. While similar, an MBA in finance focuses more on entrepreneurship, international finance, investments, and financial management.
Interview With an Expert
Jonathan Gorski is a partner at Edelstein & Company, LLP, a regional CPA firm located in Boston’s financial district. Jonathan has over 20 years of experience advising owners, CEOs, CFOs, controllers, and managers of privately owned businesses of all sizes and in all phases of development. He helps them maximize operational and financial efficiencies, which translate directly to the bottom line.
Over the past several years, Jonathan has developed expertise in the healthcare sector, helping physician practices and other healthcare organizations manage their business and financial operations, along with tackling the specific challenges facing healthcare practices today. Jonathan has a bachelor of science in business administration with a concentration in accounting from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and a master of business administration from Suffolk University.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in accounting? Is it something that has always interested you?
I have always been interested in accounting. I was fortunate enough to know in high school that I wanted to pursue an accounting degree. In my junior year, we had a project where we were the controller for a fictitious company for the entire year, and I really enjoyed the challenges it raised.
Why did you decide to pursue your MBA in addition to your accounting degree?
As I began my career in public accounting, I quickly realized how communicating with clients and other business partners was just as important as understanding the financial figures. I wanted to supplement my accounting degree and CPA certificate with an MBA to enhance the qualitative-thinking portion of my skill set. Also, I am part of a firm that has incredible technical depth and realized that it would be more efficient to utilize those knowledge banks and grow my own in different areas.
How has earning your MBA advanced your career path?
A significant portion of my workload each day involves negotiating disputes, leading board meetings, developing staff, and all other aspects of communications surrounding business matters. My MBA has helped me excel in those areas and truly add value to my firm, my partners, and my clients. I always say that my MBA helped me to “think better!”
How can students set themselves apart from fellow accounting and MBA graduates?
There are quite a few ways — too many to mention them all — but I will highlight two. First, be comfortable with continuing to learn. Tax laws change, business laws and industries change, clients change, business strategies change, etc. In this profession, learning never stops, and it is vital to continue to grow to maximize value to clients.
Second, be well rounded. Most successful people have multiple skill sets: strong technical skills, excellent management skills, great people skills, etc. You need them all, and not everyone works on them consistently. These skills can all be improved if needed — you are not “born” with all of them.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects about working in accounting? Some of the most challenging aspects?
By far, the two most rewarding aspects of working in accounting for me are the variety and the amount of communication needed. My workload is very different every day and I love that. I can truly say that there isn’t a day where I am not excited about going to work. Also, I am a people person.
The amount of communication (written and verbal) required in accounting may be one of the most underrated aspects of the profession. It is a huge part of the job. One of the most challenging aspects for me has been maintaining strength in areas other than accounting. For example, the ability to market the firm’s services or public speaking were not things I initially envisioned would be part of my career on a routine basis.
What advice would you give to students considering pursuing an MBA and a career in accounting?
I think it is an excellent idea to combine the two. An MBA is very suited to an accounting career due to the amount of consulting work that comes with the accounting career. If possible, I would also work a bit before pursuing an MBA. I found that a couple of years of work experience helped me to get the most from my classes and fellow MBA students.
Professional Organizations for Accounting
By participating in professional organizations, students and graduates can take advantage of a wealth of benefits, such as networking opportunities, training sessions, career services, and professional publications. Student chapters and scholarship opportunities can help aspiring accountants reach their career goals. The list below offers a few examples of organizations for accounting professionals.
The AICPA sets professional standards for auditing practices. It provides educational resources and CPA practice materials. The organization also offers several professional credentials in areas like financial forensics and valuation of financial instruments.
The IFAC works to establish international standards for accounting professionals. With a membership of accounting organizations, the organization offers representation for the field and works with regional organizations to improve accounting on a global scale.