Masters Degree vs CPA: Which is Better for My Career Prospect?

masters degree vs cpaReaders often ask me the benefits of getting a masters degree vs CPA. The answer is actually quite complex. The following video summarizes my thoughts:

Don’t like videos? Here is the text version:

Masters Degree vs CPA

By Masters degree, I refer to the advanced degree for accountants, such as Masters in accounting and/or taxation, and to a lesser extent, a Master’s degree in finance and/or business administration (MBA).

By CPA we refer to the US CPA designation.

What’s Great about Getting a Master’s Degree

1. A More Well-Rounded Education

It typically takes two years to complete a Masters degree in accounting and taxation. What you learn in these two years is wider and deeper than the CPA exam.

The obvious benefit is gaining knowledge relevant to the rest of your career. On a practical standpoint, some employers acknowledge this difference and are willing to give you a higher salary from the start.

2. More Networking Opportunities

This is applicable if you take classes on campus. The fact that you are surrounded by fellow students in the same field can be very valuable. They can be future colleagues, business partners, and industry experts in your field.

Those who take a step further to build relationships with the professors can lead to many exciting and “insider” opportunities. This is especially the case for niche areas where firms specifically ask for recommendations from professors when they select potential employees.

If you are taking the MBA, the impact from networking is even greater.

3. No Maintenance Fee after Getting the Degree

Unlike the CPA in which you keep the license active with fees and 40 hours of CPE courses every year, there isn’t mandatory cost to maintain your Master’s degree. People join alumni clubs and social activities after graduation, but it is free and likely an enjoyable thing to do.

Why Becoming a CPA Could be Better

1. It is Fast and can be Done with a Full Time Job

Most candidates manage to take and pass the CPA exam with a demanding full time job. Also, if you are committed, it is possible to complete the whole process within 6-12 months.

Although the CPA exam is notorious of its wide coverage, it only touches upon the “surface” of each topic. In other words, the exam content is very wide but not deep. The time you need to spend on studying is a lot less than what it takes in a Master’s program.

2. It is More Cost Effective

Taking the CPA exam is never cheap, but the cost (around $3,000) is substantially less than any Master’s program — a much better ROI for many accounting professionals.

3. Getting a CPA License is a Must in Certain Industries

For most industries, getting the Master’s degree is not a must. For CPA, you’ve got to get licensed if you move up beyond the manager level in any reputable CPA firm. A CPA license becomes also almost a necessity once you move to senior finance positions in big companies.

Should I Do Both?

If you can afford the time and money, yes!

As state boards move towards the 150 credit hour rule under the Uniform Accountancy Act, getting a masters degree in accounting is now a prerequisite for many candidates.

In the meantime, however, most state boards still give you the flexibility — you can have a bachelor’s degree and fulfill the remaining 30 credit hours by ad hoc, non-degree courses.

In light of this, the second question is, should I get random courses solely to fulfill the 150 credit hours requirement, or go full force to take a 1 or 2 year master’s degree?

It depends on how you’d like to plan your long term career.

sumit-profileSumit Decided to Do Both

Our blogger Sumit has a master’s degree (MBA) and he is now going for the CPA title. See how his thoughts on why getting this additional qualification after having an advanced degree and a good job.

Is Master’s Degree Better for Your Long Time Career?

For example, if you never want to work in public accounting, getting the CPA license is a less attractive option. Also, if you work in a niche industry where CPA designation is not common among the experts in the field, it is better to work towards a master’s degree that fits your niche perfectly.

On the flip side, if getting the Masters doesn’t have value-add in your long term career, I suggest you go for the CPA exam, and take enough non-degree courses to get the 150 credit hours required for the exam.

I Prefer CPA, but I Don’t Have 150 Credit Hours. What Should I Do?

Here are my suggestions. If you…

  • Have 4-year bachelor but lack accounting credits: take non-degree courses online or in nearby community colleges
  • Live outside of US and lack a very specific course (e.g. US GAAS) required by the state board: take the course offered by University of North Alabama (UNA) as it is designed for CPA exam candidates in mind.
  • Have 3-year bachelor only: sorry, it won’t work. In this case you do need to take a master’s degree in accounting / commerce / tax.

You can get a detailed explanation on the above here.

The decision of getting a masters degree vs CPA is never easy. Feel free to drop a note below or on my facebook page. I’d be happy to discuss further with you.

For Your Further Reading

Comparison

General

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites

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  • Nora says:

    Hi, I am looking for guidance on how to get back to my accounting career. I have a BS in accounting graduation date 200. I failed the cpa exam in 2002. I had an internship with one of the big accounting firms in 2001. 2 years experience in finance department in 2005, because of my family I have been sustitute teaching for the past years but would like to get back to my accounting career and I’ve tried but haven’t been able to get interviews. I think because of my lack of recent experience. I wondered what would be the best Pathway to take. If I’m even eligible to take the exam because my education is from 2001.

    • Nora says:

      Grad date is December 2001. Thanks in advance.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Nora, graduating in 2001 isn’t an issue at all, but since then the state boards have moved towards the 150 credit hour rule, which means that they are now looking for 1 extra year of coursework. It can be anything and non-degree courses. You might want to consider whether it’s worth taking these courses for the CPA exam…
      It’s hard to get back to accounting without relevant experience for a while, but the market is picking up. Might want to look for recruiters in linkedin. It’s a very different world nowadays.

      I will have more tips on my new site, http://accountingresume.net, but I am still building up the content ๐Ÿ™‚

      Cheers, Stephanie

  • Nikita goel says:

    Hi
    I’m really confused. I m from India and soon would be getting married to a guy from us.so I m from accounting field. done with my graduation from India. I want to study further. should I opt for cpa or masters in accounting.can I do my masters with my 3years graduation.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Nikita, yes I believe you can as long as you can demonstrate that you are a good enough candidate for the master’s program. Assuming that you have a typical 3 year degree from India, you can’t get qualified for the exam, so taking the master’s will help you achieve that, together with a much better chance in landing an accounting job. If money isn’t an issue, go for it. Regards, Stephanie

  • Ritu C says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I have done my graduation in commerce from India from a well recognized university . I wish to pursue CPA in the US plus do my Masters in either accounting or taxation. Which of the two is better given that I have a liking towards both the fields i.e. accounting and taxation? Which has a better growth prospect?
    Regards,
    Ritu

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Ritu, both are good career paths, but for taxation, the mobility is lower in my opinion because it would be US taxation in most cases if you study in the US, but for accounting, while it is also US GAAP, it is more transferable. For example, if you want to return to India, it is probably easier as an expert in accounting / USGAAP where you can work in various US companies based in India, than a US tax accountant. Regards, Stephanie

  • Kinni says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I got my bachelor degree in Textiles and Apparel and I also got a certificate in non business foundation which I have taken several business classes. Also, I have more than 150 hrs. I’m hesitating if I should try for a masters in accounting or a CPA. As for a job, I’m thinking of filing taxes or auditing. In my case, which plan do you think works better for me? Thanks

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Kinni, not sure if I am correct but you may not have enough accounting classes? If you are interested in auditing, I do think taking a fair amount of accounting course is necessary, not only for the CPA exam, but also for your job.

      As for tax, it is probably easier as a non-accounting major. You can certainly get the CPA for that too, but to get qualified, you need more accounting classes.

      If this isn’t an option, the EA (Enrolled agent) qualification is also a choice. It isn’t as versatile and arguably not as prestigious as CPA though. Regards, Stephanie

  • Abhinav says:

    Hello ..i am extremly confused as i am shifting to california from india in next 5 months ..i was studying for CPA have completed with Aud and half FAR is done as i was preparing for it from india ..
    I am getting student visa for which my classes starts in May ..Now what is confusing me is that i will get admission in bristol university anaheim california in business and administration ..
    Thing what u want to ask is CPA and management degree together will help me in something or is it completely different from each other
    And if yes then should i change my masters subject from business and administration to something that helps me in CPA as well
    Please help

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Abhinav, I am not sure if I understand what you said fully, but MBA + CPA combination can be very helpful but it depends on whether your MBA degree is well recognized, and also on which career path you take.

      If you aren’t sure which career you are interested in, the MBA gives you more choices. If you are quite sure that you want to stay long-term in accounting (vs finance, business etc), and aspire to be the controller, the CFO, the partner in public accounting, and owner of CPA firm, then a Master’s in accounting would be the way to go.

      Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • Tahmina Mannan says:

    Hi. I have completed my BBA and MBA in Accounting Information Systems from Bangladesh. I have recently moved to USA. N now thinking about whether I should do another MBA here or CPA. I am quite interested about CPA n I have about 160credit hours . Can you pls suggest me what I have to do for CPA. What are the qualifications to do CPA? what is the time duration it takes? N what is the process actually. Thanks in advance.

  • Shruti says:

    Hi,

    I am from India. I am a Chartered Accountant and have done my B.com from correspondence and pursuing M.com from correspondence only. I have 4 year work experience (including 3 year of internship) with a Big 4. I want to pursue CPA. Please guide me.

  • Allie says:

    Hi,

    I graduated with a 4 year bachelor degree in Hospitality in 2006. I have been working as a real estate accountant for 8 years. I know that I will need additional accounting courses since my degree was not in accounting. Would I need to get my masters before I am able to sit for the CPA exam?

    Thanks
    Allie

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Allie, a few states request an accounting major, but most are fine without as long as you have enough accounting credits. You may want to take non-degree courses in accounting for that (but please double check with your state board) If you are looking for firm/career changes, then the master’s degree is helpful in finding the next job. So it depends on your needs as well. Regards, Stephanie

  • Neha D says:

    Hi,

    I am a Chartered Accountant from India and have also completed Uniform CPA exam in year 2014.
    However, due to dependent visa status, till now I am not able to get any work experience in US. I have a couple of questions. My question is ‘Is Masters In accounting at this stage a good option to make an entry in US job market’?

  • Eileen manabat says:

    Gud pm .i graduated with a degree in accountancy in 1995 but failed the exam in oct 1995.i want to take the exam again.am i still qualified to take the exam?what shall i do?ty

  • Ligia says:

    Hello,

    I am CPA licensed in the state of Colorado, and I am currently working in real estate accounting, I am at the beginning of my career. I am not thinking of ever going to a different field than accounting. Will it be a significant plus if I pursue a Masters in Accounting? (right now I only have BA in accounting from a US university). Thank you.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Ligia, in my opinion you are totally fine with your CPA if you are to stay in accounting. Master’s in accounting helps sometimes to get a higher salary level when you join a firm, but you can get good promotion by working hard and doing a good job. When it comes the time when you want to specialize in a particular niche within accounting, it would be a good time to consider the master’s. Cheers, Stephanie

  • Camille says:

    Hi, I am currently taking Bachelor of Science in Business Management Major in Finance and planning to take A Master’s Degree in Finance. Someone told me that it is possible to take CPA Board Examination even if you didnt took BS in Accountancy. They told me that I should take Major in Finance and get a masteral and then add some units or courses which Accountancy Students took. My question is, is it possible for me to take CPA Board Examination? I really want to be a CPA though I can be CFA as well but being CPA is way very different. I did research for months and found some infos which give me hope that it is possible. If you are interested I can send it to you.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Yes, Camille, for most state boards, you don’t need to be an accounting major as long as you fulfill the minimum accounting courses / credit hours.

  • Jeffrey says:

    I’m passing my 4 years BBA and my interested to take CPA. Much appreciate your advice how go about this. Its come to my mind ACCA vs ICAEW.

  • Javeria says:

    Hy i have a Bcs of 4 years and i am also an acca finalist now i am confused to study Cpa or Masters in accounting and if i proceed with Masters of accounting can i get any exemptions because of my acca what would u suggest me CPA or MASTERS IN ACCOUNTING.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Javeria, I would decide based on where you’d like to work in the long term. If you are able to get into a good master’s program, that’s great and is probably more versatile. And you can always get the CPA title down the road. But the flip side is that it could be expensive and takes a longer time, and you have to stop working for 1-2 years.

      For CPA (US), it is most useful if you work in the states, but if you work in multi-national companies around the world it’s helpful too. But let’s say if you work in a small private local company, maybe a local qualification is better. Hope it helps, Stephanie

  • Pooja says:

    Hey, I have completed my Bcom and even mcom part 1 and i wish to study in US. I want to pursue ms in accountancy. Can i get good job with master degree in accountancy or cpa with Masters be beneficial ? And can you specify the difference between US GAAP and indian Accountancy please.

    Thanks.

  • Bibi says:

    Hello, I am from Nigeria. I graduated from a Nigerian University in 2014 with after a 4 year Bsc degree in accounting. Presently I am trying to get into one of the big 4 accounting companies while also taking ACCA exams. I would like to know how I can take the CPA exam and the requuirements I would need.

  • ritesh says:

    Hello. I have completed b.com hons. From delhi university this year..i wanna do m.com through distance education…my question is am i eligible for us cpa if i do m.com from distance learning or should i do m.com from regular college…is the credit from distance learning or regular same or not???

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Ritesh, I can’t give you a general answer because each state has different rules, but most states should be fine with that. If you have a few states in mind, you can check with them individually first by emailing the state boards. Good luck!

  • shivateja says:

    I am from india.I have completed my bcom degree. I want to do ms accounts in Australia.is it as tough as chartered accountancy course.

  • Faith says:

    I am from Kenya and I have done masters degree and undergraduate degree in different field of study so I wanted to change my carrier to accounting in masters in US so what I wasn’t sure about is the difference between masters in accounting and masters in advanced accounting since I have been told that since I have a different field of study I can’t go for professional accounting. Could you please advise me if masters in advanced accounting is any different from any other accounting course and does it impact my future carrier.
    Thank you.
    Faith

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Faith, never heard of masters in advanced accounting… but when I googled this, it seems like there is such a thing in Australia. Are you going for the US CPA or the Australian CPA qualification?

      If in the US, I would pick try to pick the best master’s in accounting program that you can get in and/or afford because it also helps a lot in landing you a good job. Good luck!

  • Valentina says:

    Hi, I’m from Europe and I graduated and got Masters Degree in Economics in Europe, and now I opt for CPA as I started to live in USA. My question is – What is the path for that and basically first step to take?
    Should I first evaluate my diplomas? And where can I find certified evaluators to evaluate my credentials for CPA purpose or employment (because I read somewhere that candidate should have work experience, for IL it is 1 year)?
    What is the procedure for someone who completed studies outside of the USA and would like to work in the USA or pursue CPA?

    Thank you very much in advance!

  • AGNELLA MASAGA says:

    Hie

    I did my first degree in accounting and masters of accounting degree ,both with the University of Zimbabwe . I want to do CPA Australia , how many subjects am I going to write

    Reply

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Agnella,
      I am afraid I only cover the US CPA exam on this site. I hope you’ll be able to find what you are looking for!
      Regards, Stephanie

  • Ines chelsy says:

    Hi stefani,
    i stopped going to school since 2012 without having been graduated but since october 2016 i went back to study in the way of achieving my bachelor degree. Now i live in qatar where i’m working, rigth now i’m willing to join rather ACCA OR CMA after my graduation by 2017 ending. Which one suit me best. I have to mention here that, my field of sutdy is Economic and Management study with option in Hotel and Tourism Management. But the school and the degree is from France , i do speak french that is my first language but english also is not an obstacle for me . But the point here is which on is it best for me, since i still live in the middle east?
    Thank You

  • Raul Belloso says:

    Thanks for your insight. Here is my situation. I am right now on my path to taking the CPA exam in a couple of years. If all goes well, I should be finishing up the classes in 2017 and in 2018 start the review courses. In the back of my mind I’ve always thought about the master’s program, however. I don’t have a Bachelors Degree in Accounting, it’s in Sociology, but do have the Accounting experience and almost all of the classes under my belt. All that is left for me to take is business law, cost, and advanced accounting. The reason I have it in the back of my mind is because of the following reason: If I wouldn’t pass the CPA exam after multiple times, what would be my backup? Not having that Accounting degree kind of has me a bit pressured even though up to this point I’ve done very well in all the classes I have taken to sit for the CPA exam and do feel motivated and eager to keep going. I’ve been advised by people to keep going the route that I am in and that going the Master’s route is pointless because of the money and employers don’t really care for it that much. I have been told that if I want to get a Master’s degree it should be in Taxation instead because it’s more challenging. What I know for sure is that I don’t want to go for an MBA. As the new year begins in the next week, I am very excited. Had a great 2016, but just have that curiosity. To me personally I would wish that the CPA exam would be more of the icing of the cake sort of thing that if I am able to do it, it would be my biggest accomplishment, but if not, and if I had an Accounting degree of some sort I can at least have that as a backup. Without an Accounting degree though, I kind of have a little bit more of that so called pressure to get it done because if I don’t pass the CPA exam then well I would just have to rely on the experience that I have gained and take it from there. Having said that I will do everything I can to succeed. Just need an advise if whether I should continue as is or should I strive for this Masters in Accounting as well even though I was told not to do it because of the cost and that employers don’t care about it as much? Will appreciate your response when you get a chance

    Thank you,

    Raul

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi Raul, would you please summarize your situation in one short paragraph? I have dozens of comments to response to every day. Thank you.

  • tamiesurok says:

    Dear Stephanie,

    I have a question regarding on the 150-credits hours. My situation is a bit complicated. I pursued a Bachelor degree in the US, but I transferred to a Canadian university before I completed my US degree. My major in Canada was Accounting. Generally speaking, I have more than 150 usable credits when adding up the credits that I have taken in two schools. And since my major was accounting, I qualified for the accounting credits requirement. So I am guessing I am eligible for the 150-credits requirement if I use the two school’s credits?

    Thank you,

  • Raul says:

    Alright, Stephanie. I’ll ask it in a shorter way. As not having an Accounting Bachelors Degree in Accounting, but having taking all my courses to sit for the CPA exam what would happen if I pass the pure CPA and don’t get any Master degrees? Would that be bad in your opinion?

    The reason I ask is because the majority of people take both the CPA and get a Masters. Most of them though it’s because of the units situation. I am just shooting to get my CPA. Any advises?

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Oh I see Raul. Shouldn’t be a problem — I am an Economics major myself and people don’t see any difference in terms of me being a CPA without an accounting major or master’s. In fact, it can only help because otherwise, without the title, it would be hard to convince people on my accounting knowledge.

      It is true that the vast majority of CPAs have their master’s, because it is the standard way to get the minimum accounting credit hours and the 150 credit hour of overall education. Hope it helps! Stephanie

  • lillprincesz says:

    Dear Stephanie,

    I am graduating in Public Administration Science concentration of Tax Administration. And I have worked in administration field for 5years.
    I want to be CPA or Certified Tax Consultant but I don’t have an experience in tax and accounting field.
    Because My degree is Bachelor of Public Administration (B.Ap) meanwhile tax or accounting are from business administration major.
    What should I do? I should take a Master of Tax or Accounting or CPA or Master of Public Administration again?
    Thankyou.

    • Stephanie Ng says:

      Hi lillprincesz,

      The experience is less of a concern for now, but it looks like you may be lacking accounting credit hours? Yes, taking a master’s in accounting or tax can solve the issue. But it is a big commitment so please make sure it’s worth it first ๐Ÿ™‚

      If you have taken accounting classes anyway, you can count to see how many you have, and get the rest through non-degree courses. If there aren’t a lot, it could work.

  • Maria says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    I am in my late 40’s and planning of taking CPA exam as I’ve met the requirements. However, I am now not sure if this is the right path for me. Should I go for CPA, CMA, CFA or MBA. In the last 10 years my career is mostly focused on commercial finance and project accounting.

    Please advise at this stage of my career, which one do you think I would benefit the most.

  • Sharmila says:

    Hi,

    I completed my B.COM and MCA in India . And I have 3.7 years of experience in IT. I’ m in USA as a dependant. I tried in h1b lottery for 2 years nothing turned good, so I would like to switch my career back to accountancy. Please advice if masters or cpa would work for me.

  • Conchita Heinly says:

    I was more than happy to search out this net-site.I needed to thanks in your time for this wonderful learn!! I undoubtedly having fun with every little bit of it and I’ve you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

  • charan says:

    Hi,

    Is there any difference between CPA (U.S) and CPA -PEP (Canada),or is it the same please share your thoughts, waiting to hear from you.

    • tamiesurok says:

      Hi,

      I am in Canada now. USCPA and CPA Canada are very different. I am taking CPA Canada now, you need to pass PREP courses in order to register for the official PEP. The PEP takes about 2 years to complete, and in order to obtain CPA Canada, you need to have at least 30 months relevant experience, pass PEP, and pass the final examination- CFE.

    • tamiesurok says:

      Hi Charan,

      I am sorry I just saw your comment. The CPA Canada and AICPA are two very different CPA programs. For CPA Canada, it’s like an actual post-graduate program. You will need to enroll in the program, take courses, take module exams, pass the common final exam (CFE), and complete 30 months of relevant experience in order to obtain CPA designation. The program itself takes about two years to complete.

      While achieving AICPA is easier in my perspective. Since you do not need to enroll in courses and just take the exams. And the difficulty level of AICPA is lower when compared to CPA Canada. I intend to obtain AICPA after I complete my CPA Canada (I only need to take the IQEX exam).

      If you are interested, you can find more information about CPA Canada: https://www.cpacanada.ca.
      https://nasba.org/exams/iqex/

  • chloe li says:

    Hi, I completed 150 credits toward CPA License and also I passed all CPA Exams. In addition, I only have one year experience in tax field. I’m considering to get a master degree in taxation. Do you think it is worthy to get the master degree in taxation? Can you give me some suggestions how to plan my career? Thank you!

  • Sree says:

    Hi,

    I’m a resident of India and currently has a B.Com degree and will qualify as a CA from Institute of Chartered Accountants of India in the coming year.
    Are these qualifications sufficient for me to attend the CPA Examinations?
    I’m more inclined towards taking up Masters in Accounts/Finance in the US to increase my chances of employment. Is this Advisable? If so, what are the potential colleges that I should aim for?

  • Katherine says:

    Hi
    I got a BS -accounting- in Dominican Republic. My problem is that I have not worked during 15 years. I would like come back to work and study, but I don’t know very well where I should start. Am I on time to take advantage of my bachelor degree or do I need to start from cero to be a accountant in US? What courses or programs could help me? Could be a master a solution for me?
    I am very confused and frustrated since I don’t know how come back to work in the field. I would appreciate your recommendations a lot.

  • Lara says:

    Hi

    i would like to know which is better to do MSC in international business with Finance or getting an ACCA degree .i am currently working int he middle East , and want to study further in the field of accounting and finance and pursue a career in that.i have a bachelors degree in accounting and Finance,

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