Updated on April 15, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Difference Between CPA and MBA

The basic difference between Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Masters in Business Administration (MBA) is that the former is a credential and the latter is an academic degree. Often college students find it difficult to choose between a CPA license or an MBA degree. On one hand, CPA provides global recognition in the field of accountancy, while an MBA degree prepares a candidate for the overall business world.


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CPA vs MBA Infographics

CPA vs MBA Infographics

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CPA vs MBA Comparative Table

Organizing bodyAmerican Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)Various B-Schools or Business Schools
PatternOne level divide into 4 parts


  • Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR)
  • Business Environment & Concepts (BEC)
  • Audit & Attestation (AUD)
  • Regulation (REG)
The entire tenure is divided into semesters or trimesters, and each part of the tenure covers various subjects
Duration of course
  • 18 months
  • 1 year (Executive)
  • 2 years (Regular)
  • Financial Statement Accounts
  • Economic Concepts & Analysis
  • Entity Federal Taxation
  • Individual Federal Taxation
  • Corporate Governance
  • Professional Responsibilities
  • Ethics & General Principles
  • Accounting
  • Operational Research
  • Managerial Economics
  • Business Statistics
  • Human Resource Management
  • Financial Management
  • Marketing Management
  • Business Ethics
Exam fees$1,500Varies a lot and is mostly in the range of $40,000 to $55,000
  • Public Accountant
  • Forensic Accountant
  • Internal Auditor
  • Financial Analyst
  • Financial Analyst
  • Financial Advisor
  • Operations Manager
  • Marketing Manager
  • Human Resource Manager
DifficultyModerately difficult with a passing rate of ~50%Almost all the candidates who join can clear.
Exam dateContinuous Testing (as of 1st Jul 2020)Depends on the institute

CPA vs MBA – Which is Better?

This is a rhetorical question. A better question would be, “Which will better suit my career aspirations?” With this question in mind, we need to understand that both options lead to two different career paths. While CPA is best suited for candidates who intend to become specialists in accounting, MBA caters to the needs of candidates who wish to join in management roles. So, the answer to the question would vary from person to person based on their career goals.

Skills Obtained

Usually, CPA-certified professionals develop a knack for crunching numbers as their day-to-day job involves reviewing a large volume of accounting details. On the other hand, MBA graduates develop the ability to work under short turn-around times and handle pressure while also developing strategic thinking.


For successful completion of the CPA exam, a candidate should pass all four parts of the course within a period of 18 months, and the time starts from the day the candidate clears the exam for the first part. On the other hand, a candidate who joins an MBA program invariably completes the course within the stipulated time of 1 to 2 years, which depends on the type of program – full-time, part-time, executive, or regular.

Eligibility or Experience Required

An aspiring candidate for both a CPA license and an MBA degree should at least have a bachelor’s degree or related professional credential. Besides, a CPA candidate should also have two years of professional experience in public accounting. On the other hand, while an MBA degree doesn’t mandate the need for work experience, relevant professional experience can be quite useful.


The CPA course syllabus primarily covers topics that include financial statement accounts, economic concepts & analysis, entity federal taxation, individual federal taxation, corporate governance, professional responsibilities, ethics & general principles, etc. On the other hand, the syllabus of an MBA degree covers accounting, operations research, managerial economics, business statistics, human resource management, financial management, marketing management, business ethics, etc.

Career Opportunity and Salary

The career opportunities of a CPA-certified professional are usually restricted to that of a public accountant, forensic accountant, internal auditor, financial analyst, etc. On the other hand, an MBA graduate’s career opportunities are quite diverse as they can join as a financial analyst, financial advisor, operations manager, marketing manager, human resource manager, etc., in any organization.

In the US, a CPA-certified professional’s median salary is around $68,000, with the bottom 10% drawing a salary of around $49,000 while the top 10% earning more than $113,000 [Source: Payscale]. On the other hand, an MBA graduate in the US draws an average salary of around $89,000 [Source: Payscale].

Fees and Passing Rates

The cost of an MBA degree is not at all comparable to that of a CPA license. At the same time, a CPA qualification costs a mere $1,500, which includes exam fees and application fees. On the other hand, an MBA degree from a reputed B-school can cost in the range of $40,000 to $55,000. However, it should be noted that the fees for an MBA degree vary across colleges based on their location, program, faculties, and various other factors.

The CPA exams are much more difficult than the semester or trimester exams conducted in an MBA institute. The difficulty of the CPA exams can be ascertained from the year 2020, which shows that only 55%-65% of the students can clear each part of the CPA exams [Source: AICPA]. On the other hand, almost all the candidates who enroll in the MBA program clear the semester or trimester exams.

Exam Availability

As of 1st July 2020, AICPA has shifted the CPA exams to the Continuous Testing model, wherein the candidates can take the exam throughout the year with certain restrictions. On the other hand, the institutes decide their own exam schedule in an MBA program.

CPA vs MBA – How to Enroll?

For CPA, candidates should visit the official website of AICPA and follow the registration guidance provided there. On the other hand, candidates should register themselves for different competitive exams for the top B-schools for MBA.


The CPA exam requires the candidates to fill in a list of eligibility criteria, and among them is meeting the requirement of 150 hours of education. And surprisingly, to the benefit of a candidate, many states consider an MBA and your undergraduate degree toward that total. Thus if you are unclear about your career choices, it is advisable to go for an MBA and gain a perspective through some work experience because both will be an asset if you wish to pursue CPA in the future.

Those who are holders of the CPA designation and wish to go back to school to pursue an MBA will find the resources to study with the CPA firm. You can achieve an MBA even while working part-time as well as full-time at the CPA firm.

No one can guide you or spoon-feed you in your decision to earn an MBA. You need to introspect and decide by yourself, for it’s your career and, therefore, your decision. All the best!

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Reader Interactions


  1. Kai Loper says

    Thanks for this article. This was really valuable information for me.

  2. Camden Cartlon says

    Thanks for clearing my doubts between these two streams. I must say this is one of the best resource that I have ever found. As I am finance student and want to proceed for MBA degree so can you tell me what are the important things that I should concentrate during my MBA?

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      You are most welcome :-). I am really happy to know that you are a finance student and want to continue for MBA degree. Well during your MBA one of the most important things is not to lose your focus. And there are also some other important things you need to concentrate during your MBA. 1. Scoring an A++ in all subjects is not important. Developing passion for a particular area is utmost important. 2. Reading only course books is a big mistake. 3 copy and paste is the 3rd biggest problem. Instead of copy and paste the project from Google you may use free plagiarism software like etc. 4. Build your Resume. Building your resume effectively is of utmost important. Above mentioned are some of the important things you can consider during your MBA. Best of LUCK and keep learning!!

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