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What Should You Study? Finance Vs. Accounting MBA

finance accounting mba

Most MBAs pursue one of the FAME subjects in their graduate studies—No, that’s not acting, modeling, or songwriting—it’s finance, accounting, management, and economics. Of those four subjects critical to business, finance and accounting are the most popular among MBAs thanks to the high demand and highly specialized nature of many finance and accounting careers.

MBAs who specialize in finance or accounting benefit from a stronger understanding of the core concepts of those subjects, but which should you study? Let’s take a deeper dive.

The Finance MBA

The finance industry has always gone hand-in-hand with the MBA degree. Even as these advanced business degrees are becoming increasingly popular in other industries, finance is still one of the biggest MBA job sectors and accounts for many MBA jobs.

A finance MBA program instills students with knowledge in investing and portfolio management, along with leadership, management, marketing, and financial accountability. In their graduate studies, students study several valuation models, including Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), Arbitrage Pricing Theory (APT), and Equity Valuation, while sharpening their forecasting and financial analysis skills.

Other topics, concepts and coursework covered in your typical Finance MBA program include:

  • Advanced derivatives
  • Behavioral finance
  • Economics/econometrics
  • Financial management
  • Financial planning
  • Financial engineering
  • International finance
  • Private equity
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Venture capital

Some schools, like the Robert H. Smith School of Business, allow students to combine their MBA studies with additional graduate coursework to create a unique set of skills and knowledge. The MBA/Master of Science in Finance is one of a number of dual degree programs at the school. In this program, students leverage their managerial skills with studies that develop research and technological skills in the area of finance. At the end of the rigorous program, students walk away with both an MBA and a Masters of Science in Finance.

Accounting MBA

A bachelor’s degree in accounting can get you a job in the sector, but pursuing a graduate degree in the subject is a great option for folks who want to take their understanding further. According to TopAccountingDegrees.org, students who concentrate their degrees in accounting still take core courses in marketing, finance, and human resources as other MBAs, but also follow an accounting curriculum that acts as an addendum to the core requirements. An Accounting MBA often includes specialized coursework in financial reporting, taxation, risk assessment, international accounting, and management accounting.

Other topics, concepts and coursework covered in your typical Accounting MBA program include:

  • Auditing
  • Budget analysis
  • Business strategy
  • Financial accounting
  • Forensic accounting
  • Information systems
  • Macro/microeconomics
  • Management accounting
  • Professional standards and ethics
  • Quantitative analysis

Careers and Salaries

Of course, the biggest reason to pursue an MBA is the career doors that the degree opens.

According to Monster.com, finance is known as an MBA-heavy field with the most popular career in the sector being financial analyst. Analysts assist businesses and private individuals make investment decisions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for financial analysts is projected to grow 16 percent from 2012-2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

Many financial analysts and portfolio managers often either have an MBA or are working on one. “It’s very common,” Katie Bardaro, lead analyst at PayScale.com, told Monster.com. “If you want to stay in the field and everyone else in that field has an MBA, obviously, you don’t want to fall behind.”

The median mid-career pay for an MBA with a finance concentration is $121,000, while common jobs and salaries for MBAs with a finance concentration include:

  • Chief Financial Officer: $168,000
  • Finance Director: $151,000
  • Senior Financial Analyst: $85,600

Other jobs popular in finance include:

  • Commercial Banker
  • Financial Consultant
  • Financial Manager
  • Financial Trader
  • Hedge Fund Manager
  • Insurance Officer
  • Investment Banker

Meanwhile, most accounting students go on to become either accountants or auditors. Accountants become Certified Public Accountants, or go on to earn additional certifications accountants such as Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), and more. According to a survey, those with certifications—CPA, CMA or both—earn 31 percent more than those who aren’t certified. On top of that, job outlook for accountants and auditors is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Other jobs popular in accounting include:

  • Actuary
  • Bookkeeper
  • Budget Analyst
  • Credit Controller
  • Forensic Accountant
  • Payroll Administrator
  • Risk Assessor
  • Tax Advisor
  • Treasurer

The median mid-career pay for an MBA with an accounting concentration is $84,000, while common jobs and salaries for MBAs with an accounting concentration include:

  • Chief Financial Officer: $125,000
  • Financial Controller: $90,500
  • Senior Accountant: $60,800

Conclusion

So, which path should you take? Ultimately, there are benefits to working in either finance or accounting. While those entering finance are probably setting themselves up for higher pay, the job market is healthy in either sector. It’s comes down to selecting a path that best suits your interests and career aspirations when choosing between an MBA in finance vs. MBA in accounting.

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About the Author

Avatar
Max Pulcini

Max Pulcini is a Philadelphia-based writer and reporter. He has an affinity for Philly sports teams, Super Smash Bros. and cured meats and cheeses. Max has written for Philadelphia-based publications such as Spirit News, Philadelphia City Paper, and Billy Penn, as well as national news outlets like The Daily Beast.

One Comment

  1. Avatar

    Very good work!!! Thanks for the deeper dive on the subject. Though finance offers higher salary, I think the growth of a person purely depend on other personal abilities the person posses such as critical thinking, multi tasking, decision making, and management skills and so on.

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