more-arw search

Q&A Forum

Is a Masters of Accounting worth it (vs a CPA)?

I graduated from undergrad in the late 90's but never took the CPA exam. As I prepare to study for it now, both due to the time I've been out of school as well as changes to GAAP over the last 15+ years, I am feeling vastly under prepared. At this point in time, I don't feel as if there is an adequate CPA prep class that can assist me so I'm considering going back to school for a Masters in Accounting. My thought is that I can potentially have a win-win by getting both an intensive refresher and also a grad degree. (I currently have enough credits to take the exam, so the degree isn't necessary). But on the flip side, it's probably 2 more years and some $. Has anyone been in this situation where a significant amount of time has passed since graduation and CPA prep? If so, what program did they find most beneficial for studying? Also - for anyone that has a Masters in Accounting, what reasons did they choose to pursue that degree over a general MBA? Thanks


(Financial Controller) |

I think you will get the most out of doing both at the same time. There are a lot of programs that are geared towards passing the CPA exam, some even with practice tests. I could not go that route because I didn't have the undergrad accounting hours for a MSA/MACC, but I would have if I could have. I also figured that just getting my CPA would suffice, although I still look back into it every now and then.

Wendy White
Title: Controller
Company: Non-Profit
(Controller, Non-Profit) |

I was in your situation a few years ago. I had finished college with my MBA in 1997 and had not really worked for more than 3 years in accounting since that time. In 2012, I bought a new intermediate accounting text book and the related workbook (workbook has answers so you can check your work) and read through & worked my way through that book first. After that, I did a self-study program and using the recommended number of study hours I spaced my tests out about 2 months apart (ish) and passed all four successfully on the first go. I studied for one test - then took it & moved on to the next. The key for me (after the initial intermediate accounting book) was to use the Wiley test bank to track my progress in all the different subject areas in a test-like scenario to know when I was ready.

Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" (It is a question in jest but pertinent) I think that is a good question to ask oneself. It is hard to recommend without knowing your motivations or rationale/reasoning for each path and most importantly, your ultimate goal/s. And with that said, I think when you flesh out the answers, you will find the right path for yourself.

Terry Whaples
Title: Accounting and Compliance mgr
Company: Lighthouse Central Fl/Works
(Accounting and Compliance mgr, Lighthouse Central Fl/Works) |

I graduated college in 1973 sat for the CPA in 1974-fortunate to pass 1st time. I allowed my CPA to lapse when I went to work as CFO for an audit client. However, in 2003, I went back for a MBA- and had sufficient credits in the MBA program to make up the CPA credits needed. Thus I reactivated my CPA license. Your Masters program in Accounting- probably has sufficient knowledge base classes to allow you to take the exam . Reviewing pass CPA exams will help you determine what classes to take in the Masters program. Having a CPA license speaks volume on a resume. In reality, most CPA's in practice know little about business from a CFO/CEO perspective (in my opinion).

Mark Sutherland
Title: CFO
Company: Profit By Design CFO & Controller Servic..
(CFO, Profit By Design CFO & Controller Services) |

If your undergrad is in Accounting, I don't think you need to spend two more years "refreshing" your knowledge. Too much time and money. At most, I'd maybe by some used textbooks that cover the undergrad accounting content. My guess is you'll fly through it. I can't recommend a CPA prep course, but others can. Your local college accounting dept certainly could. If you want to spend 2 years back at college, I'd get the MBA. The MBA will be more valued by others (in general) than getting in a masters in the same subject as your undergrad. I went back for my Masters in accounting at age 46, 25 years after getting my Bachelors in Business with emphasis in Finance. I was working as a CFO at a small company, but wanted a much deeper understanding of accounting so that I could be more effective at larger companies. I took a couple corporate finance courses as well. Smartest thing I ever did. I'm now an independent CFO at two companies and I teach managerial accounting at the local college. My masters work in accounting now allows me to lead Controllers and their accounting departments effectively, and resolve difficult accounting issues with confidence. For me, I never wanted my CPA (though some CEO's value that label). I rely on outside CPA's for tax stuff, which works out seamlessly for me. Working as a CFO and having to constantly maintain my tax law competence seems practically impossible to me. I have too many other things to focus my time on in the CFO role. My CPA/Tax resources are always just a phone call away. Hope this helps.

(CFO) |

You do not mention which State you are from or what your goals are, I think the answer partly depends on that. However, I have both a CPA license and Masters Degree in Accounting and in my opinion you should concentrate on the CPA license first (it is more marketable). Also, I don't think that the Master's will prepare you for the exam. I took the Becker review course and passed all four parts at the same time the first time (back in 1987). I did this fresh out of college (at a time where you had to sit for all parts) when I had zero experience in the world. I frankly just remember reading index cards while I was popping out my first baby and later regurgitating a bunch of mnemonics during the exam (and not combing my hair for two weeks). If you are disciplined enough (I am not) you may be able to do it on your own. When you pass the exam, celebrate, file your forms, and pay your fees then.....I recommend you:
1) Enroll part time on a one year Masters Program- I did the MAcc and loved the experience of going back to school (2005-2010). I was working and was a single mother of young children (yes more kids!) so I had to go slow. However, once you are a CPA you will need CPE hours and each class counts approx as 45 credits. You can get your Masters degree while at the same time meeting CPE requirements!.
2) Don't ever let your CPA license expire. It cost me over $6K (not counting the Masters) to get it back. Certain States do not allow you to have an "inactive status" (darn it Texas..).
3) As far as MBA vs Macc - My experience has been that having a Masters is better than having none (but just marginally). I don't think MBA over Macc would have translated in more $$ for me. From a life learning perspective, pick what interests you more, from a financial perspective, choose what is shorter/cheaper/more convenient. I chose the MAcc for financial reasons.

I think that having experience is diverse industries and succeeding in different roles is what makes you more marketable. My diverse experience is what has opened doors for me and the CPA letters have really helped as well. Good luck!

(CFO) |

A Masters of Accounting without a CPA would put you in some sort of limbo/purgatory/twilight zone. You are geared towards technical accounting but then again, you don't have a CPA license.

Jeff Durbin
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.
(Chief Financial Officer, F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.) |

I graduated with my MBA in 1988 and looked at the CMA at the time (because I didn't have enough accounting credits to sit for the CPA exam nor did I have the required work experience.) I passed at the time because the CMA looked like too much of a joke.

Flash forward almost 20 years and I was working as a consultant and the majority of my assignments were accounting-related. At the time (2005), the CMA was much more credible and it was more focused on industry as opposed to auditing. I decided to go that route and it was the right choice for me.

The CPA is probably the gold standard in terms of certifications (as well as a few years working in public accounting but we cannot change our past decisions.) But fewer and fewer CFOs come up through the controller track these days. The CMA is a better certification for someone who works in industry.

It MIGHT be worth consideration.

As for the MBA, I earned my MBA in finance from one of the best finance programs in the world but to be honest the day-to-day stuff I do was all learned in undergrad.

Think LONG and hard before you jump into any type of advanced degree to ensure it will really have a positive ROI for you.

(Professional Development on US and Canadian Sales Tax) |

I would recommend against doing the MAcctg - an MBA is better, but only marginally. The CPA is what makes employers pay attention. It is the only fully respected designation and speaks more to your skills than anything else. Then consider sprucing up your Business Analytics or other related IT skills. You need to have more than accounting to make you stand out. I'd say fewer than 40% of my colleagues who got an MBA actually were better at their jobs than before. Only go that route if you are passionately interested in studying this area. It is not a path to more money or a better job.Getting a broader skill set is more valuable - do ITIL, PMBOK or BABOK or something else you are interested in - or specialize in tax, governance etc.

tony Heyward
Title: grants administrator
Company: New York University
(grants administrator, New York University) |

I received my ugrad degree in Business Adm back in 1980 and now I'm in a MS in Accounting program to either sit for my CPA, CIA or CMA. I already have a CFE, so I thought at this late stage in my career-I may be able to get by with just acquiring my masters however most jobs I see currently are looking for a CPA person. I am thinking like you in reference to a win-win situation and feel I can end my career with either both the masters and CPA or just the masters. Also I chose the MS in Accounting because I already had a Bachelors in Bus. Adm. and thought that this will complement each other.


Get Free Membership

By signing up, you will receive emails from Proformative regarding Proformative programs, events, community news and activity. You can withdraw your consent at any time. Contact Us.

Business Exchange

Browse the Business Exchange to find information, resources and peer reviews to help you select the right solution for your business.

Learn more

Contribute to Community

If you’re interested in learning more about contributing to your Proformative community, we have many ways for you to get involved. Please email to learn more about becoming a speaker or contributing to the blogs/Q&A Forum.