Pursuing an MBA at a university or college is an expensive and time-consuming process. Even the time you spend trying to search for the best private or public school with online or traditional campus graduate programs, requesting info on student support or their resource center, researching faculty and coursework or academics, getting the facts on possible access to alumni, credit hours, financial aid and finally working up the courage to apply can take what seems like forever before you even start your classes. However, graduates find the payoff, in the form of success in your professional life can be great, especially if you choose a major in the right field.
In the context of an accounting program, many people might not consider an MBA right off the bat. There are other options like going for a master’s accounting degree and pursuing a CPA license. But, an MBA with an accounting concentration can be a great way to boost your earnings potential, as well and get you the corporate career you're looking for. And, it could come with a broader range of employment opportunities, putting you ahead of other professionals in the field.
Why Should You Get an Accounting MBA
Accounting salaries vary considerably at all levels. Going into financial services accounting can allow you to earn higher wages than working for a small firm. On average, gaining admission to and completing an advanced graduate degree - an MBA or a master’s in accounting - can increase wages by 5-15%, on average.
That said, here’s a look at the median salaries by education and experience level:
What is an MBA in Accounting?
An accounting manager blends people skills, analytical skills, and accounting skills to provide a professionally run department. Duties include overseeing payroll, accounts payable, receivables, tax, internal and external auditing, finding analyst or auditor services when needed, overseeing staff accountants and technology needs, answering any data request from management, and general ledger entries. In addition, they help to develop and implement finance procedures in their company's day-to-day operations. When cash flow and financial analysis reports are needed, the accounting manager pulls them together as well as assists auditors in gathering necessary information for audits. People skills are needed as accounting managers supervise accounting and payroll clerks in their duties. To become an accounting manager, a combination of work experience and an education from an accredited university is required. This will mean a return to school and thousands of dollars spent on tuition as a student takes time out of their schedule to study and ace each exam, but once students earn their degrees and improve their knowledge in various areas, such as taxation, their salary increases accordingly.
What Can You Do With an MBA in Accounting?
The beauty of getting an MBA in accounting is, it provides graduates with access to a variety of career paths. As long as companies exist, there will be a demand for accounting managers. Whether the company is in manufacturing, retail merchandising, the service industry, public sector, professional sports, or any other industry, there will be a need to manage the accounting aspect of day-today operations and if the company has separate accounts payable, receivable, and payroll departments, it is even more reason to hire a manager to supervise them all. According to Dmdatabase.com, the US has more than 28 million businesses listed. While approximately six million of them show no activity, there are still 22 million active businesses. The demand for accounting managers is without question. The possibility of job growth for accounting managers is impressive. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects a 19% job growth for this career by 2026, which is significantly above the norm. Using this position as a springboard to even better paying positions is not uncommon. Almost every industry out there has the need for accounting managers, if the company is large enough to sustain the position. Very large companies can have a large accounting clerk staff that the manager will supervise.
Examples of fields that use accounting managers include:
- Retail Sales
- Food Services
- Service Industry
An accounting manager can oversee several accounting departments, or run the show independently, doing all accounts payable, receivables and payroll functions as well as providing audit assistance.
The beauty of getting an MBA in accounting is, it provides graduates with access to a variety of career paths. Here are some examples along with different MBA accounting salary averages:
Where you can work: CPAs can work anywhere from startups to Fortune 500 companies and government organizations. Some CPAs work as tax preparers or private financial advisors.
An MBA in accounting holder may sit for the CPA exam and become certified. That dual designation may set them apart from other job applicants as it demonstrates competency in leadership and management, as well as high-level technical accounting.
CPAs are in charge of maintaining and monitoring financial records. They must be able to read through financial records and understand what they mean and comply with federal and state regulations.
Where you can work: Finance, insurance, or as a private consultant.
Demand for financial advisors is expected to rise due to an aging population planning for retirement.
Financial planners or financial advisors are responsible for helping clients and companies examine their economic status.
They’ll look at the financial picture and help figure out the best way to save, invest, and spend income and other assets.
In this role, you’ll prepare by doing research and analyzing the situation. You’ll look at market trends and budgets to forecast the future financial condition and come up with a plan that mitigates risk and maximizes rewards.
Additionally, the financial advisor serves as something of a coach. They’ll help clients understand the ins and outs of loans, grants, debt consolidation.
While you can become a financial advisor with only a bachelor’s degree, an MBA in accounting can sweeten job prospects, presenting more opportunity for higher income and promotions.
Where you can work: Government agencies or the private sector—some companies hire internal auditors.
An auditor works to make sure that a company’s accounting practices are valid, looking at income, expenses, and vital financial records.
This person will advise management on how to comply with regulations and prepare a plan of attack. They may also take on the role of advisor, helping clients avoid risk.
Day to day, you’ll prepare reports, analyze trends, and study new and existing financial legislation. Most firms require some certification, and many prefer an MBA.
In addition to obtaining these educational qualifications, you’ll also need to build up career experience. Most companies prefer that you have a background in finance or accounting.
Where you can work: Government agencies, as a consultant, or independently.
A tax analyst prepares all documents related to taxes on behalf of the businesses they work for. Additionally, the analyst will audit and manage financial documents and procedures.
This person will also work as a liaison between external auditors and an organization’s managers. They also examine company data to uncover opportunities for tax write-offs and ensure compliance. Finally, they’ll recommend ways for organizations to become more compliant—developing strategies that provide everyone follows the correct financial guidelines.
This role requires a bachelor’s degree and potentially some additional training, as you’ll need to have inside knowledge of tax laws. An MBA can help you secure a role as a tax manager and may pave the way for improved prospects down the road.
Chief Financial Officer
Salary: 200k+ Salary depends on company earnings, so it varies quite a bit.
Where you can work: Private companies in any industry, finance, government organizations
A CFO is responsible for managing the full picture of an organization's finances.
This person is the senior executive responsible for tracking cash flow and managing the financial planning aspects of a company. It's an analytical role that requires looking at an organization’s strengths and weaknesses and coming up with solutions that improve the financial outcome.
Additionally, the CFO needs to be able to provide accurate reporting and maintain financial activities according to the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).
For the most part, a CFO is a strategic partner to the CEO and COO, there to ensure all company activity aligns with the overall budget. In other cases, a government organization might bring in a CFO to deal with tax issues. A CFO in this capacity would set financial policies and act as a bridge between elected officials and residents.
Types of Accounting MBA Degrees
MBA in Accounting
Average Salary: $63,000
Length: 1-2 years
An MBA in accounting can open the door to more opportunities. Accounting students will focus on core MBA courses that include finance, marketing, statistics, and human resources, on top of accounting principles. For the development of specialized skill sets students will focus on learning about taxation, risk assessment, financial reporting, international accounting, and management accounting.
MBA in Finance
Average Salary: $109,000
Length: 1-2 years
Finance, of course, is a different specialization, but there’s some overlap with accounting, at least as far as job prospects are concerned. The finance MBA required courses focus more on leadership and portfolio management, as well as economics and equity. If you already have a background in accounting and want to transition into a management role, this could be a potential path your studies can lead you toward.
Average Salary: $66,000
Length: 2 years
Not an MBA program, but a common alternative to MBAs in accounting, Master of Accountancy degree programs prepare students for work as tax advisors, actuaries, forensic accountants, or CPAs. This degree is designed for career accountants. Unlike an MBA, MAcc candidates won’t receive the general management, marketing, and leadership skills you’d get in an MBA.
Sample Curriculum & Courses for Accounting
Accounting MBAs will cover a range of topics related to accounting for mergers and acquisitions, which includes tax planning, auditing, analysis, and general business strategy. While programs vary at different colleges, expect to get a mix of business management education and specific accounting technical skills.
- Financial Accounting:
Covers basic financial accounting systems. Students will study cash accounting, cash flow, balance sheets—designed for preparing financial reports for internal stakeholders and will work in an office setting.
- Fundamentals in Managerial Accounting:
Covers the use of accounting information as the basis of decision making.
Here, you’ll learn about federal and state laws, providing a background on how to report taxes each year and categorize them.
This class helps tudents develop an understanding of the auditing process. Course covers risk assessment, evaluation of internal procedures, and reporting.
- Business strategy:
A core program for all MBA students, this course focuses on teamwork, leadership, and management.
- Financial Planning and Analysis:
This course is designed to introduce accounting performance measures used to determine profitability, ROI, costing, and pricing.
Who Should Consider an Accounting MBA?
One common misconception about MBAs is that these degrees are about the same as an MA or an MS in accounting. That’s not exactly true. A master’s in accounting will give a burgeoning CPA a leg up when it comes to base pay and opportunities.
However, these programs are focused more on the technicalities of the accounting profession rather than preparation for management and strategic roles at the top of the pyramid.
So, the main difference between an MBA and an MS is that an MBA will give you a broader view of business management, in general, where a Master’s in Accounting will hone in specifically on accounting. So, the accounting track master’s program works best for someone who knows they want to become an expert in accounting.
An MBA, on the other hand, presents you with more career options down the road, but less expertise. So, if you already have an undergrad in accounting, but want to keep your career path open, a general MBA is a good choice.
That said if you want to be a CPA, then getting a master’s in accounting might be your best bet. Still, an MBA brings some serious benefits to the table. You’ll still cover accounting topics, but also learn more about how to be a leader. You’ll look at technology and marketing, finance, and at the end of the day, you’ll have a degree with universal clout in the business world.
An MBA makes the most sense for people who want to pursue business ownership, management, or executive positions. Many MBA candidates start their program after gaining some experience out in the field. While others will head straight into a program after undergrad.
Both options offer some advantages. If you attend an MBA program right away, you’ll likely kick off your career with better opportunities than your peers starting with only an accounting bachelor’s degree. You’ll have the advantage of being used to being a full-time student and a fast-tracked career.
Still, being a student is a lot different than working full-time. Some MBA programs advise waiting until you’ve built up some work experience. The advantage here is, you likely have a career path firmed up and from there can decide whether the educational pursuit is worth the investment.
Earning an MBA in accounting opens doors for students looking to become financial planners, CFOs, CEOs, analysts, and more. What’s more is, you’re still able to parlay that education into a CPA certification.
What to look for in an Accounting MBA?
How is the Reputation?
The best schools for accounting or finance come with accreditation, a good reputation, and alumni happy with the choice they made.
Is the Program Affordable?
At the low-end, tuition can cost about $15k for a program, while more prestigious institutions can charge well into the six-figure range.
What Concentrations Are Offered at the School?
Much like law school or medical school, an MBA program offers similar content across the board. That said, some schools provide different areas of concentration than others. Think e-commerce or marketing, finance, management, and a whole host of others, including accounting.
Have You Weighed the Pros and Cons of Selecting a Concentration?
A general MBA will prepare you for a leadership role in a range of industries, so you'll need to be proactive in finding out where you might want to work after graduation. Electives and internships should help you fill in the blanks.
Alternatively, an MBA in accounting, finance, or entrepreneurship will better prepare you for work opportunities once you graduate.
What is Your Work Background?
General MBA programs often accept students who pass the GMAT and meet other requirements right out of undergrad.
By contrast, those entering an MBA in accounting should have some work experience under their belt. Specialized MBAs are often shorter than the standard track and focus in on the skills relevant to your craft.
Are You Changing Career Paths?
An MBA is best suited for someone who wants to dive deeper into their existing skillset. It's not necessarily the best choice for someone who wants to try something entirely new. That said, if you're a general accountant and you'd like to become a CPA or an executive, an MBA can help you switch gears in a way that's relevant to your experience.
Do You Want to Be an Entrepreneur?
Most MBA programs will tell you outright that they don't teach the drive that goes along with being an entrepreneur. While gaining some formal training in how to run a business will help your entrepreneurial pursuits, you'll need to be prepared to put in the work and promote your ideas. Not everyone can do this.
Make Sure You Look at the Quality of the Program
Finally, don’t settle for a low-quality MBA program. Some students opt for non-competitive MBA programs because they think it will be easier to get in. Instead, be selective and scope out a program that offers the qualities you’re looking for—whether that’s a program with practical work opportunities, a rigorous curriculum, or networking potential.
Accounting MBA Scholarships
- Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship Program – Amount: Up to $10,000
This scholarship is available to full-time students pursuing a career in fraud examination or a similar profession.
- Golden Key International Honor Society Graduate Scholar Award -- $10,000
The candidate more a current graduate student, as well as a Golden Key Honor Society member with demonstrated academic achievement and community service.
- Paul Hagelbarger Memorial Scholarship Fund -- $2,000
A scholarship sponsored by the Alaska Society of CPAs, funds are rewarded to students based on a mix of achievement, need and the intent to work in Alaska post-graduation.
- QS Leadership Scholarship – $10,000
This scholarship is available to students who attend the QS World Grad School Tour and complete an applicant survey and a 750-word essay on a designated topic.
- Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Minorities in Government Finance Scholarship -- $8,000
For juniors, seniors, and graduate students, the GFOA Minorities in government finance scholarship covers a range of finance-related concentrations.