CIMA vs MBA – What Suits You More?

Updated on March 29, 2024
Article bySayantan Mukhopadhyay
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

CIMA vs MBA – What Suits You More?

Today students can confuse about what to choose between CIMA certification and MBA? The confusion is natural. On one side, you have a certificate that offers a smart alternative to learning comprehensive business skills. On the other side, they are championed as a hero in the professional world as they now will complete what everyone dreams of doing, an MBA.

The question is often not what one wants. Rather, what is programmed to believe? Here in this article, we will provide the details of each of the courses hoping that we may put the aspirant’s beliefs in light and analyze what’s more important to them – a degree with charisma or certification with a promise to become something extraordinary? Ultimately, the choice is theirs.

Read the full article, and then decide what makes the best choice.

The article is articulated in this order:


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CIMA vs MBA Infographics

Reading time: 90 seconds

Let us understand the difference between these two streams with the help of CIMA vs. MBA infographics.


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CIMA vs MBA – Comparative Table

Organizing BodyThe Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), UK, manages and controls the exams.The individual institutions and universities manage and control the exams.
PatternThe course is divided into four parts: –
  • Operational levelManagement levelStrategic levelCertificate level
Different institutions follow different course patterns. For example, some divide the course into semesters, while others follow the trimester format.
Duration of the CourseA candidate may take around one year to complete each level and complete the entire course in  3 to 4 years.The course duration usually varies from 1 year to 2 years, depending on the type of program and the choice of institution.
SyllabusThe syllabus primarily includes-
  • Management AccountingFinance ManagementBusiness AccountingStrategic Marketing ManagementInformation Management
The syllabus primarily includes-
  • AccountingFinancial & Marketing ManagementManagerial EconomicsOperations ResearchBusiness StatisticsBusiness EthicsHuman Resource Management
Exam feesThe expenditure of the course may come from £2,500 to £3,000, including the cost of study materials and exam fees.The expenditure of an MBA degree usually depends on the type of program and the choice of institution. The cost varies from $40,000 to $60,000.
JobsSome of the common profiles include:
  • Finance ControllerManagement AccountantBusiness AnalystForensic AnalystProject Manager
Some of the common profiles include:
  • Marketing ManagerFinancial AdvisorOperations ManagerFinancial AnalystHuman Resource Manager
DifficultyThe difficulty level of the exams is moderate. For example, during May 2021, the pass rates for Operational, Management, and Strategic levels were 46%, 69%, and 68%, respectively.Although the difficulty level depends on the institution, it remains fairly reasonable. Hence, the pass rate for any MBA degree is almost 100%.
Exam DateThe schedule for the forthcoming exams during the year 2021: –
  • Feb 09 – Feb 25May 13 – May 27Aug 10 – Aug 26Nov 09 – Nov 25.
The exam schedule depends on the institution. For example, suppose the institution follows the semester system. In that case, the exams take place at an interval of every six months, and if it follows the trimester system, then the exams may take place at an interval of every four months.

What is the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification?

  • CIMA is not a course for the faint hearts. If the candidate wants to complete this course, they need to make the effort that very few are ready to be in professional life. A small percentage of people make a difference in their careers and organization globally. CIMA requires the candidate to complete the operational and management level first. Once they meet them, they can appear at the strategic level.  The pass mark is 50%, hard, but it is worth the truth to be told.
  • CIMA offers a comprehensive approach that emphasizes accounting and business, unlike other accounting courses. CIMA focuses on the accounting domain of knowledge and helps students understand strategy and mitigation of risk in business.
  • CIMA, founded in 1919, has been serving its students over the last 100 years to become one of the world’s leading professional bodies of accountants. So, it is inevitable that no course can sustain itself for so long without quality education. It is also committed to providing the students with value and excellence. There is no doubt why professionals prefer to join companies even as CEOs, MDs, etc.

What is the Master of Business Administration (MBA)?

  • It is the most popular course, and if the candidate is in the field of education or any professional field, they may know the value of an MBA. MBA is a course that many top-notch universities in the world offer. MBA is valuable if you can choose top-class business schools over the world’s second and third-tier business schools.
  • MBA is particularly beneficial when candidates put their heart and soul into the course. MBA is more comprehensive than any other professional qualification. They need to cover excessively in 2 years (sometimes a year). There will be almost no time to sleep (think IIM and Harvard), and they are on their way.
  • MBA allows a candidate to choose a specialization. By letting them choose their profession, they can select what they want to read more than other subjects and which direction they want to head. Very few professional courses have the flexibility of choosing their specialization.
  • MBA bridges the gap between a student and a professional. A candidate will succeed if they let go of the hype and give their whole heart to it.

Key Differences – CIMA vs MBA

There are significant differences between CIMA and MBA. Let us look at them individually.

  • Popularity: Every candidate knows that an MBA is a more famous professional degree than CIMA. Regardless of background, an MBA is available. New subjects like Corporate Social Responsibility, Leadership, Business Intelligence, etc., are being introduced as specialization. In comparison, CIMA is more popular in the UK. But gradually, professionals in the finance domain have realized the value of CIMA.
  • Fees: It has a huge difference. If a candidate wants to pursue an MBA, they need to spend a fortune, whereas CIMA is much more affordable. For example, if a candidate can pass all the CIMA exams on the first attempt, then the total cost of the CIMA qualification can be around £2,500 – £3,000. On the other hand, an MBA degree from a top-notch institution results in approximately $40,000 to $60,000, about 10 to 15 times the cost of the CIMA exams if a candidate desires to pursue CIMA and can afford the fees by themselves. Whereas for MBA, a candidate can take a loan from the bank or utilize savings to afford it.
  • Value: If compared costs with the value of both the courses that offer a salary at the end of the day, there is not much difference. The average salary after completing CIMA is around $89,000 a year. In contrast, if a candidate completes an MBA from a top-notch university like Harvard or Stanford, their average salary can be about $100,000 a year.
  • Comprehensiveness: MBA is much more comprehensive than CIMA. If a candidate wants to complete an MBA, they need to study at least 20-25 subjects on average. But in the case of CIMA, candidates need to learn only nine subjects. If looked at from another side, they get more time to study the subject in CIMA than can get in an MBA.
  • Focus: Recently, the top-notch institutes have understood the value of qualitative skill-building. Thus, along with teaching students about quantitative aptitude, they also concentrate on leadership, communication, interpersonal, and presentation skills. Therefore, MBA now prepares students for everything they need in a business setting. In comparison, CIMA focuses on accounting (fully) and business (partially). Therefore, students need to opt for an extra course to gain the soft skills of the company.
  • Residential: Top-notch MBA programs are mostly residential online and part-time MBAs. But if a candidate wants to pursue a full MBA, they must choose a residential program. At the same time, CIMA is not a residential program.

Why pursue CIMA?

  • Pursuing CIMA does not risk losing money for a long time. MBA does. The fees are affordable, the course is comprehensive (without the fluff), and the subjects covered are relevant. Why should one not pursue CIMA?
  • After completing CIMA, a candidate can earn a huge salary of around $90,000 (in the USA, it could be lower in developing countries). Now, compare the cost of the study and the benefit of the study. Surely, I will not have any second opinion.
  • A candidate need not study 20-30 subjects to get their certification. They can spend 3 hours for each level and are ready to go. Thus, the depth of these subjects will be better than one who studies 20 core subjects in two years. That is one of the biggest reasons why an aspirant should pursue CIMA.

Why pursue an MBA?

  • Now everyone knows that the fees for MBA are expensive and will take at least ten years to pay off the debt. But still, an MBA is a residential program (in most cases). The connections a candidate makes, the faculty candidate gets guidance from, and the group study they can do are different. That is how the company is shaped, and teamwork is performed. So then, why not an MBA?
  • We agree that an MBA is one of the most exciting courses ever. But why not? Global recognition, great placements, five digits salary, top-notch career, what not? Who will not want all these things and more?
  • MBA is a course that teaches only one thing but all the skills a candidate needs to learn to run a business. So why not do it then?


It would be very rare if a candidate opts for an MBA and CIMA afterward. If they have these qualifications together, they are the best of all. If they have pursued CIMA, they might think about doing an MBA. But, once they go to an MBA, they will not consider doing CIMA. So, from the above details, choose the course. Choose the one that speaks and makes you think better. And if they want to perform these two, choose CIMA and pursue an MBA career.

This article has been a guide to CIMA vs. MBA. Here, we have discussed the differences between CIMA and MBA, infographics, and a comparative table. You may also have a look at the following articles:  –

Reader Interactions


  1. Paul Barclay says

    Good article, but I feel not entirely accurate assumptions.

    I have an MBA (Distinction) from a UK university. After working in commercial finance at management level for over 20 years I was made redundant a couple of years ago.

    While meeting with recruitment companies for potential employment all I kept being told was you need to be a qualified accountant for us to place you!

    In the UK it seems much more emphasis is placed on “professional” qualifications, CIMA, ACCA etc. with the MBA becoming much more of a “Nice to have” qualification but not really important in the overall scheme of things.

    To summarise, I had a great time studying for my MBA and met some amazing people but I have now just completed my CIMA which has opened many more opportunities for me.

  2. Alisa says

    Great article! Makes it very clear what is what! Thanks!

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      thanks Alisa!

  3. Unknown says

    Awesome website! this really helped me out for mapping out my future career. Great article…Was really helpful.