Masters’ Degrees Defined

After achieving a degree in accounting and now working full time, would you have the time and energy to go back to school? In today’s job market and in the real world, what kinds of benefits will a master’s degree bring and what kind of degree should you get, a master’s degree in accounting or a master’s degree in business administration (MBA)?

Does a Graduate Degree Help You Find a Job?
At the very minimum, a master’s degree in accounting ensures you meet the education requirements needed to obtain your CPA credential sooner rather than later. According to Karen Mattull, SPHR, Director of Human Resources at BeachFleischman PC in Tucson, Arizona, there are no cons to graduating with a master’s degree in accounting.

“In our firm, advanced degreed students right out of school are more attractive to us,” she says. “We know they come in ready to go straight to work, and have more experience and education in tax and audit. They already meet upper division requirements and are ready to take the CPA exam.”

Although the firm does hire students who only have a bachelor’s degree, Mattull often prefers the advanced degree because of the time needed to take upper division courses required for the CPA exam. She says BeachFleischman looks for education and cultural fit when hiring new employees; candidates who are CPA exam-ready are often chosen for interviews.

Understand Your Career Goals
Before you can determine whether to get a post-graduate degree, examine your short- and long-term career goals, and create a plan to achieve them. Be as specific as you can without being rigid. This will also help you determine what type of degree to get.

Scott Moore, Director of Student and Professional Pathways for the AICPA, says the question he usually gets is whether to pursue a master’s degree in accounting or an MBA. Bottom line? He believes there is no answer to the question and it really depends on your career goals.

“The master’s degree in accounting provides robust technical knowledge that is helpful at the beginning of your career, to pass the CPA exam, and in the first couple of positions you have,” says Moore. “On the other hand, the MBA has a broader business focus that helps later in your career when you are involved in strategic initiatives, management, and in the C-level suite where technical skills are not as important as leadership, management, and vision.”

Determining Your Career Goals
Here is a quick self-assessment with five questions to determine your goals:

“With an MBA, you can choose to focus on accounting, which will give you graduate level accounting classes,” says Moore. “You will not have as many as you would have in a master’s of accounting program, but they will be useful in preparing for the CPA exam if you haven’t already taken it.”

  1. Am I interested in a leadership role? Do I have the skills and personality for it?
  2. What type of expertise do I have? How do I expand upon it and showcase it to others?
  3. How much money do I need to earn?
  4. Do I want to be client-facing?
  5. How important is flexibility to me?

Does the School Matter?
When determining where to attend graduate school, think about where you want to live. A lot of firms and corporations recruit from schools near their location.

“We are very familiar with the professors at the schools we recruit from,” says Mattull, whose firm is located near in proximity to the University of Arizona and just a short drive from Arizona State University. “We meet with them regularly and know what they are teaching at the master’s level. We also know they are teaching up-to-date tax material that is similar to our workload.”

Other Factors
Many schools will not accept a recent undergrad into an MBA program. In fact, many universities require at least two years’ work experience before admitting students. At this point in your career, you may be married and have started a family, which means you may decide to take one class at a time to get the MBA.

“I’m an advocate for a part-time MBA program,” says Moore. “That’s what I did, and it allowed me to apply my knowledge immediately when I was at work. I was able to talk to my student peers, apply it to what I was doing daily, and to really reinforce what I was learning in the program.”

Worthwhile Degree
Determining whether to pursue a master’s degree and how to go about it really depends on the type of career you desire. Today, it’s almost a prerequisite to have a 5-year master’s degree in accounting to join a CPA firm—and if you want to be a consultant. Conversely, depending on your career goals, budget, and the amount of time you want to devote to your education, getting an MBA can have a real benefit in preparing for a strategic or leadership position.