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CPA vs MBA: Which One is Right for You?

August 03, 2021
CPA vs MBA? Split image showing one male/female

CPA, MBA, MSA, MSBA. In a world of various degrees and credentials, you may find yourself wondering which one is worth your time. For those in business and finance, the master’s in business administration (MBA) and certified public accounting (CPA) designations frequently come up as options to further your education and advance your career.

Deciding which path to pursue can depend on a variety of factors: what your career goals are, how much time and money you can invest, and how soon you’d like to be finished. Keep reading to find a full breakdown of CPA vs. MBA to help guide your decision.

What’s the difference between a CPA vs. an MBA?

First, it’s important to highlight that the CPA is a credential while an MBA is an academic degree. You can become a CPA by finishing a certain amount of educational and professional requirements and passing all four parts of the Uniform CPA Examination®. Usually, accounting or finance majors are interested in the CPA since it often involves getting a Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) to meet the hours needed for the exam. However, anyone is welcome to take the exam if they qualify.

An MBA, on the other hand, is a graduate degree that appeals to several areas of business since it covers finance, marketing, management, information technology, and more, depending on the program. To enroll in an MBA program, you have to fulfill that school’s admissions requirements and submit an application. This usually includes sending official educational transcripts, a copy of your resume, and letters of recommendation or a personal statement. At Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business, we clearly spell out our application requirements to make the process as smooth as possible.


Outside of the standard degree names we’ve mentioned so far, there are specializations within the CPA vs. MBA categories that can help you focus your studies even further. For example, other accounting master’s degree options include a Master of Accountancy, Master of Professional Accounting, Master of Science in Professional Accountancy, or an MBA in Accounting.1 Pay attention to the degree name and curriculum, as it means that the course content is more niche and is likely designed for a specific career path.

As for the MBA-focused options, there is a large variety of specializations from which to choose because of the degree’s broad business coverage. According to the Princeton Review, the most in-demand MBA specialties are General Management, International Management, Strategy, Consulting, and Finance Leadership.2 However, many people choose to earn an MBA in the industry they’re already in; earning an MBA in marketing, for example, lets you hone skills in your craft while giving you more exposure to other business topics than, say, a Master’s in Marketing.

Career Paths

A key way to decide between CPA vs. MBA is by imagining where you see yourself in five or ten years. Do you want to be a staff accountant, auditor, or analyst? Or looking further ahead, do you hope to become a controller, manager, or CFO? If yes, then the CPA is the best route for you. Its distinction will open up several lucrative opportunities in accounting and finance (a CPA makes approximately 30% more than a non-certified accountant).3

If you want a wider selection of career opportunities, then an MBA might be a better fit. With this comprehensive business education, you could become or get promoted as a management consultant, investment banker, financial advisor, or chief information officer. Even teachers and healthcare workers have found use in receiving their MBA.

Average Cost

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact range for the cost of earning your CPA vs. MBA since so much depends on your location, university, number of hours required, and access to books and technology. To help with this, some universities will offer financial aid and tuition assistance that can significantly affect your costs. Your employer also may offer tuition reimbursement to offset some or all of graduate school tuition.

For the CPA path, it’s important to note that you’ll have to pay for prep courses and state registration fees for the exam. A safe estimate for the prep courses is $2,000, and another $1,500 to take all four sections of the exam.3 Finally, add $150 for the price of your CPA exam license.

MBA graduate school tuition is, on average, around $38,000.4 Full-time students should consider the income that will be lost during the course of the program as part of their total cost as well (knowing that the cost is an investment in yourself that will pay out over time). Because of this, online MBA programs specifically made for working professionals are becoming increasingly popular.

Time Requirements

Since there are a few different ways to complete an MBA program, there’s really no set time frame that you have to follow; that being said, the average is usually 2-3 years. The length of time is dependent on whether you take classes full or part-time and whether you’re on campus or online. A major benefit of taking classes online at YU Sy Syms is that all course content is available 24/7 and can be completed whenever works best for you. This gives you the flexibility to continue working at your current job and balance your time accordingly.

An MBA does not require any kind of formal examination. You simply graduate from the program and earn your certification.

Becoming a CPA is a longer process with more milestones to hit. First, you have to complete 150 undergraduate credit hours. Usually, accounting students will choose their classes very purposefully to fulfill this requirement. Depending on your state, you might also need a certain number of hours worked directly under a CPA. Then, you have 18 months to sit for and pass all four parts of the CPA exam: Auditing and Attestation; Business Environment and Concepts; Financial Accounting; and Reporting and Regulation. All together, it could take almost 8 1/2 years to become a CPA (four years of undergraduate work, one year for an MS in Accounting or more undergraduate hours, two years working, and 18 months to pass the CPA exam).

Find the Right Path at Yeshiva Sy Syms

Whether you decide to earn your MBA, CPA, or both, Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business can help you get there. Our online graduate programs are made to accommodate your goals and lifestyle with asynchronous classes, rigorous curricula, and engaging, experienced faculty. An Admissions Advisor will be happy to answer any questions you have to get started.