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CPA vs MBA: Which Path Is for You?

By Steve Smith

The information presented here is true and accurate as of the date of publication. DeVry’s programmatic offerings and their accreditations are subject to change. Please refer to the current academic catalog for details.


September 13, 2023
6 min read

Accounting professionals can be found in every industry and in organizations of all sizes, from multinational companies to small businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. They perform a broad variety of tasks related to financial reporting, budgeting, compliance with federal or state regulations, and depending on their role, they may be responsible for recording and analyzing an organizations’ financial information, auditing, tax reporting, consulting, risk assessment and more.  


While some accounting career paths are more straightforward, others may require additional education or licensing, which is exactly the case for those evaluating the differences and similarities of a CPA vs. MBA and how can each contribute to their career goals.   


In this article, we’ll compare both by looking at what they have in common, how they are different and which path may be right for you depending on your personal and professional goals. 

What Is a CPA?

The CPA, or Certified Public Accountant designation, is the most common certification in accounting and one of several other accounting certifications you should explore

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), completing certification in a specific field of accounting, such as becoming a CPA, may help improve job prospects. The BLS further notes that accountants and auditors typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field to enter this occupation, and there are a few instances where CPA licensure is required. For example, an accountant must be a CPA to file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

There are two components to becoming a CPA: certification and licensure. In each state, people who hold the CPA title are licensed by their state Board of Accountancy. To become a CPA you must pass the 4-part national exam and meet other state requirements. All states require CPA candidates to complete 150 semester-hours of college coursework to be licensed, which can be earned in accounting-related programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and to take continuing education courses, which can sometimes include things like ethics courses, to retain their licenses.

The Uniform CPA Examination from the AICPA includes 4 parts, or sections, that require a total of 16 hours of testing:

  • Auditing & Attestation (AUD)

  • Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR)

  • Regulation (REG)

  • Business Environments & Concepts (BEC)

Each section can be completed at a different time and in no particular order, but to pass, all sections have to be completed within 18 months of passing the first section.

What is an MBA in Accounting?

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) in accounting is a graduate degree that is intended to help you build a thorough background in the theory and application of managerial and financial accounting. An MBA in accounting can help you build a medley of business administration skills while helping you earn some of the credit hours needed to qualify as a CPA candidate.

At DeVry and our Keller Graduate School of Management, our MBA with a Specialization in Accounting explores management theory and practices, collaboration and problem-solving and the application of tools and technology to analyze the needs of organizations and their stakeholders. Coursework covers accounting theory and practice as it relates to financial reporting and managerial decision-making, generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), IRS regulations and other financial measurement tools.

CPA vs MBA Similarities

The CPA and the MBA, while serving different purposes on the way toward a career in accounting, do have some commonalities and can both be beneficial when it comes to career advancement.

In terms of education, both require studies that go beyond the typical 4-year bachelor’s degree. Although a master’s degree or MBA is not strictly a CPA requirement, earning an MBA is one way for you to gain the additional semester-credit hours needed to qualify as a CPA candidate. 

In terms of career advancement, people who hold the CPA designation and an MBA degree may stand out to employers. New career seekers and experienced accounting professionals alike can pursue either one at any point in their careers.

CPA vs MBA Differences

Now let’s take a look at the other side of the MBA vs. CPA comparison. While each is beneficial in its own way, they are two different tools that serve different functions. 

The CPA is a designation earned through a standardized and widely recognized certification exam and licensure program. Achieving licensure allows accounting professionals to demonstrate their knowledge in auditing, tax law, financial reporting and other aspects of public accounting to become a CPA.

The MBA, however, is an academic credential, not a job title It’s a type of master’s degree program with an emphasis on the principles of business administration. MBA degrees like the program offered by Keller can be customized with specializations in a number of different areas, including accounting. 

With its focus on the theory and practice of business administration, an MBA in accounting offers a combination of well-rounded coursework in several aspects of business administration and a concentration on modern accounting principles.

What are Your Overall Goals?

When considering which will serve you best, it’s important to consider your personal and professional goals. Do you plan to work for an accounting firm and ultimately open your own practice? Are you more interested in a business management career? Taking the time to answer these questions can help you narrow down which option will serve you best as you head down your chosen career path.

If you plan to work at a larger company or pursue a management role rather than as a tax preparer or a public accountant in private practice, an MBA in accounting may be a good choice. Keller’s MBA Accounting Specialization can help you gain practical communication and presentation abilities to help you gain familiarity with the ins and outs of financial reporting and advance your skills in corporate management.

But do you really have to choose between pursuing CPA licensure and earning an MBA? It is possible to do both. After earning a bachelor’s degree, an MBA degree can help you earn the rest of the requisite 150 semester-credit hours to qualify as a CPA candidate. After studying for and passing the CPA Exam, you can then apply for licensure in the state in which you intend to practice. 

Prepare to Pursue a Career in Accounting at DeVry and Keller

Start your journey toward a new career or work to advance your ambition in the one you’re currently on with an MBA from DeVry’s Keller Graduate School of Management. Our online MBA with a Specialization in Accounting can be earned in as little as 1 year and 4 months on an accelerated schedule, or 2 years and 8 months on a normal one.*

*Accelerated time to complete requires at least 9 credit hours of Prior Learning Credit. Per 12-month period, assumes enrollment in an average of 10 credit hours per semester and continuous, full-time year-round enrollment with no breaks. Normal schedule assumes enrollment in an average 6 CH per Semester. Assumes continuous year round enrollment.

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