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How a Master of Finance compares to the Master of Accounting

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You may be deciding on a business-related master’s degree, but your real goal is mastery of your career.

Maybe you want to accelerate your career within your current company. Or, maybe you’re interested in jumping to a new employer or even a new field. Whatever the case, figuring out which degree provides the most fuel to power your career ambitions is important.

>> Read our analysis: “The ROI of the Master of Accounting Degree for Working Professionals”

For people who like numbers or want to understand what drives financial results, the choice might come down to a Master of Finance (M.Fin) or a Master of Accounting (MAC). The two degrees overlap in some areas, but they are quite different in other ways.

People who earn Master of Accounting degrees learn accounting — the “language of business.” Accounting communicates what an organization is doing, where it gets capital, how it uses those funds and what the business result are.

Here are four critical differences between an M.Fin and the MAC and what they might mean for your career.

Knowledge and skills

People who earn a Master of Finance degree are typically focused on the theoretical and technical aspects of finance. They use advanced mathematics and statistics to drill into the details behind how assets and liabilities are allocated under different circumstances.

Managing investments and handling corporate finances are both areas where this highly mathematical approach to finance is important. Typically people with M.Fin degrees tend to focus on analysis and building quantitative models that executives use to make decisions.

People who earn Master of Accounting degrees learn accounting — the “language of business.” Accounting communicates what an organization is doing — where it gets capital, how it uses those funds and what the business result are. MAC students get a strong grounding in finance, along with accounting-specific skills such as preparing financial statements, handling taxes, and conducting audits.

MAC students also learn to apply math to many business tasks, but they focus on using math in smart ways, rather than applying esoteric formulas or high-level statistics. MAC students also get a broader range of general business education, plus classes focused on soft skills — such as writing, public speaking, and managing others — that are critical to business success.

Professional licensure

A master’s degree looks good on a résumé, of course, but sometimes it’s the gateway to additional credentials.

Some people who earn M.Fin degrees may go on to earn other credentials, such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation that many investment managers have. But many M.Fin recipients move forward without additional credentials — or the higher earnings and additional career prospects those credentials can bring.

MAC degree recipients, though, frequently become Certified Public Accountants. The CPA is a highly respected designation that permits its holders to oversee certain tax and auditing functions. MAC programs are designed to prepare individuals to become CPAs, but M.Fin programs do not.

MAC recipients can also earn additional credentials, including the CFA, based on specific career interests.

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Job duties

Some jobs, such as financial analyst, can be held by someone with a M.Fin or a MAC, or even other degrees. M.Fin recipients tend to take jobs focused more on the technical or theoretical aspects of finance.

A MAC degree provides a broad range of job opportunities from the moment of graduation. The most common career paths for MACs are focused on tax, auditing, or consulting. But MACs also work for businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies in accounting, finance, and auditing roles.

While someone with a MAC degree could do many of the same jobs as someone with an M.Fin, the reverse is not true. Accounting jobs require specific skills — and often a CPA credential — that only a MAC provides.

Career paths

Finally, while choosing between a MAC and an M.Fin, you should look beyond your next job. That master’s degree will launch you on a new career path. Will you still want to travel that path in 5, 10, or 15 years?

Most M.Fin graduates go into corporate finance or investment management. Of course, they’ll have chances to get promoted, but if they want to move beyond those fields, or launch their own business, or advance to the C-suite, an M.Fin may not be enough.

MAC recipients frequently start out in finance and accounting positions, but over the long term move into a wide variety of job roles. Their broad skill base, CPA credential, and the fact that every organization and many individuals need accounting professionals ensures that MAC recipients are always in demand.

MAC careers come in extraordinary variety: Some run start-ups and large companies, others travel the world as consultants. There are even MACs who’ve devoted themselves to hunting down terrorists and investigating organized crime. And, of course, there are many MACs who have lengthy, satisfying careers in accounting and finance.

Choosing a master’s degree to pursue is an individual decision. Your personal interests, professional background and career ambitions all play a role. When choosing between a M.Fin and a MAC the choice is between the M.Fin’s finance focus or the broader business opportunities a MAC provides.

Interested in how the MAC pays off? Download our analysis, “The ROI of the Master of Accounting Degree for Working Professionals”. It’s a concise, but instructive, perspective of several facets of the degree and the investment required to earn it.