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How to choose between a Master of Taxation degree vs a Master of Accounting

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When you think of accountants, do you imagine someone poring over tax returns and figuring out ways to help their clients legally pay the taxes they owe and only what they owe?

It’s not a bad portrayal of accountants, but it’s not the whole picture. In addition to tax expertise, those who’ve earned Master of Accounting (MAC) degrees have additional knowledge. They’re also familiar with the highly regulated world of financial accounting, know how to conduct audits and are equipped to function as consultants, analysts, and creative decision makers.

So that view of accountants as tax specialists does help bring the difference between a Master of Taxation (M.Tax) degree and a MAC degree into focus.

A Master of Accounting will qualify you to take on tasks that require consulting or auditing skills, in addition to tax know-how.

Both degrees will can help you become a tax pro — especially for businesses. But typical M.Tax recipients will spend most of their careers focused just on taxes, a MAC degree gives you many more options.

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

For anyone considering a business-related master’s degree, here are the four main differences between an M.Tax and a MAC degree.

Broader skills

A Master of Taxation degree prepares people to work on both the theoretical and technical aspects of taxes, usually for businesses and other large organizations. A Master of Accounting, on the other hand, will qualify you to take on tasks that require consulting or auditing skills, in addition to tax know-how.

A MAC degree is also good preparation for corporate finance jobs, including C-suite positions like chief financial officer. That’s because with a MAC you’ll understand the impact of taxes, but you’ll also have deep knowledge about all the other aspects of accounting and finance that are critical in modern business.

Professional licensure

Accountants who want to maximize their career potential often become Certified Public Accountants (CPA).

The professional license allows accountants to take on a wide variety of accounting jobs, from preparing individual income tax returns to auditing the financial statements of global corporations. Some accounting roles, by law, require a CPA. As a result, CPAs are paid better and have more options than their non-CPA accounting peers.

Both M.Tax and MAC degrees will help prepare you for the CPA licensing exam. However, the preparation you get from an M.Tax degree will be focused on tax issues. Other critical accounting functions that are also covered in the CPA exam, such as auditing, will require additional study or an accounting background.

The MAC degree is focused from day 1 on preparing you prepare for all elements of the CPA exam.

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More career options

A business degree is rarely an end unto itself. Rather, a master’s degree is a way to advance in your current organization or make yourself more competitive for a new role at a different employer.

If the job and career you’re interested in is focused solely on tax issues, a Master of Taxation might work out. But if now — or at some point in the future — you want to go into auditing, consulting, or another field, a MAC degree is better preparation. MAC coursework formally covers those areas.

If you do want to focus just on taxes, a MAC has you covered there, too. MAC programs will allow you to take additional tax classes to deepen your knowledge in that area. But you don’t need to sacrifice other aspects of accounting to do so.

Strategic job roles

There’s no question that tax management is a critical function for businesses, and even for many nonprofits. But taxes will never be the single most important aspect of financial management for any organization.

The most senior finance and accounting executives, who help develop strategy and steer the overall direction of their organization, must have broader-based knowledge that includes financial reporting, financial analysis, and other skills.

Executives who take on these senior accounting and finance roles must also have strong business skills. That means they need to be good at verbal and written communications, be skilled at managing others and working as a team, and have the ability to see the big picture for an organization. MAC programs include classes on these subjects, because faculty know these are critical skills to be successful in accounting.

While a Master of Taxation degree will help you understand the tax issues a company faces, it won’t help with the other financial and accounting dimensions of an organization that top leaders must master.

The bottom line

When it comes to choosing between a Master of Taxation and a Master of Accounting degree, it comes down to this: Do you want a degree that will give you knowledge of tax issues, but limit your ability to work outside the tax function? Or do you want a degree that will give you tax expertise, plus knowledge of other critical areas of finance and accounting, and enable you to pursue a broad range of career opportunities?

If you’re more interested in the second, a MAC degree is the best option.