CPA or MBA: Which is Better for a General Business Career?

It’s no secret that having an MBA or CPA will open more career doors and increase your earning potential. But, the question remains, “What’s better, an MBA or CPA?” In this Ask Talance Group blog we’ll share our industry insights on this dilemma:


Benefits of an MBA

Career-wise, getting an MBA is generally seen as a vehicle that leads to either more finance roles or more business leadership roles. While you can certainly achieve these paths without it, an MBA is helpful in these specific pursuits. You can easily see this yourself by looking at job postings for these roles and finding an MBA listed as a requirement or strong preference in most of them. However, there is a big difference in the perceived quality of MBA programs. An MBA from a top 20 rated school is more highly regarded than those from lesser-known schools, and many MBA grads struggle to get the career or financial payoff they anticipated. So much depends on other factors such as finding an MBA oriented job, creating valuable professional business relationships that lead to future jobs, and most importantly, doing a great job in whatever role you find yourself in.

Pursuing an MBA degree involves a huge time and money commitment. You can expect to spend two years taking classes full time and much longer if pursuing part-time while costing on average $50,000 to $80,000. It’s essential you weigh these costs before undertaking this path because it can take many years to recoup the money spent and lost years of earnings or personal time. As with all things worth pursuing, a burning desire to make it happen and the willingness to work hard make it more likely you’ll achieve your career goals.


Benefits of a CPA

Having a CPA certification is almost always beneficial in finding an accounting oriented job and often beneficial in finding a finance-oriented job. As recruiters, we can’t think of any accounting specific role where having a CPA hurt your chances of landing a job. The exam is difficult, and hiring managers know immediately that you are capable of learning and understanding complex accounting principles and willing to work hard to achieve a worthy goal. As in the MBA discussion prior, you just have to look at job postings to see that the majority of professional-level accounting roles list the CPA as a requirement or strong preference. Practically all companies employ accountants so there is always a strong demand for good ones, and the CPA will boost your standing when competing for these roles. We’ve also found that other areas of the business appreciate the expertise that accountants bring, specifically an understanding of where the numbers come from and how they translate to the financial statements.

Getting your CPA takes a large investment of your time. In Texas, you need 150 hours of college (about one extra year of college) in order to sit for the exam. The exam itself is challenging and taken in four parts that must all be passed within an 18-month time frame or you will lose credit for the earlier parts passed. Only 10-20% pass all four parts their first try, so you should plan on the possibility of having to retake a few tests. There is a tremendous amount of studying to be done which can be difficult if you are currently working a full-time job. Once the exam is passed, you must work for one year under the guidance of someone with a CPA in order to complete the requirements. Thereafter, you must take 40 hours of CPE courses to maintain your license on an annual basis.


What’s Better?

This is a tough one!  It really depends on where you want your career to go and a determination of what you’re willing to give up in terms of time and money to get there.  If you know without a doubt that you want to pursue a more finance-oriented career, you should consider getting your MBA.  If you love your current company and they suggest you get your MBA to move up the ladder, that’s another good reason.  It is more costly in terms of money and time than the CPA, but it is certainly more geared towards finance and leadership. However, you can also move into finance/leadership roles with a CPA as well, so the choice is not strictly one or the other.  If you know you want to pursue a career in accounting, the CPA is your no-brainer choice.  Both have the potential to bring higher earnings, but the CPA is a bit more certain on that front. The CPA is less costly in terms of time and money, there are always more accounting jobs than finance jobs available, and you can attain many of the same roles with a CPA as you can with an MBA.


Work with Talance Group

At Talance Group, we’re passionate about helping candidates understand their career path and the tools available to them. If you have any questions about anything in this article or would like to talk to a professional, local recruiter about your career goals, contact Talance Group at (713)-357-9565 or visit our website: