Career Options: Masters in Taxation, MBA or CPA Exam?

We’re often asked which way to go when it comes to pursuing additional education or tackling the CPA exam before moving on to grad school (if you’re in one of those awesome 120 states or somehow loaded up on units after graduation) so let’s see if we can offer some insight on the matter.

Reader question is as follows:

Hello, I am looking at a public accounting career in tax and will graduate with a bachelors and 150 credit hours after 4 years. I am wondering if there are benefits to a Masters in Tax or MBA versus entering the workforce.


Funny you ask, have you checked with Going Concern contributor Joe Kristan? He can tell you all about taking the Masters route AND tax work so hit him up (you’re welcome, Joe) for more insight. “I think if you have good grades otherwise, a M.Acc can give you an edge in getting hired, especially with big firms. For me it gave me a huge edge – my M.Acc beats my B.A. in history with CPA firms everywhere,” he told us awhile back. Somehow we’re not surprised to hear his history degree wasn’t useful once it came time to find a sweet number-crunching gig.

Back to School
I think your payoff depends on what exactly you’re trying to get out of your career and which direction you plan to go. An MBA offers you flexibility (which comes in handy when the economy is in the can and jobs are scarce) while a Masters would keep you tethered to whatever path you take but either would make you more desirable to employers – depending on who you are applying with.

Keep in mind that for some employers, an over-qualified, well-educated candidate also means someone who will need to be paid more and could (in a normal job environment completely unlike the one we’ve got going now) easily find a better, more well-paid position with any number of employers. People may be desperate nowadays but the economy will recover eventually and employers have to consider that when deciding to offer you a position.

The Real World – CPA
The advantage to heading straight into the workforce out of school is that you can get the CPA exam out of the way and then, should you want to, choose to head back after you have been licensed and pursue a Masters. The advantage to this is that you are less of a threat to employers once you actually have your CPA since they don’t have to worry about you leaving after 2 years to the day once you have your experience requirement met so you can leverage your additional education to land a better job. Then again, the advantage to staying in school – for the moment, at least, job market being what it is – is that you can buy yourself some time, make yourself more of an asset and hope that things look better from a hiring standpoint once you have completed your Masters program. Many are taking this route simply because they’re afraid of the job market (for good reason).

Under the getting your CPA now route, you have the advantage of getting to know your profession before committing to a specialty – that means being able to change your mind before you’ve given up another year of your life and the costs associated with a Masters (or MBA) program. I don’t want to talk you out of what you’ve decided to be when you grow up but there’s something to be said for real-world experience (and I’m sure more than one old timer can tell you they wish they knew what they were getting into before they did).

Keep in mind also that if you’re looking at an MBA, work experience may be a requirement for admission so you might not have a choice in the matter. Take the CPA/work route and come back later when you have a little experience under your belt and more insight to allow you to make an informed decision on where you want to go with your life.

We’re often asked which way to go when it comes to pursuing additional education or tackling the CPA exam before moving on to grad school (if you’re in one of those awesome 120 states or somehow loaded up on units after graduation) so let’s see if we can offer some insight on the matter.

Reader question is as follows:

Hello, I am looking at a public accounting career in tax and will graduate with a bachelors and 150 credit hours after 4 years. I am wondering if there are benefits to a Masters in Tax or MBA versus entering the workforce.


Funny you ask, have you checked with Going Concern contributor Joe Kristan? He can tell you all about taking the Masters route AND tax work so hit him up (you’re welcome, Joe) for more insight. “I think if you have good grades otherwise, a M.Acc can give you an edge in getting hired, especially with big firms. For me it gave me a huge edge – my M.Acc beats my B.A. in history with CPA firms everywhere,” he told us awhile back. Somehow we’re not surprised to hear his history degree wasn’t useful once it came time to find a sweet number-crunching gig.

Back to School
I think your payoff depends on what exactly you’re trying to get out of your career and which direction you plan to go. An MBA offers you flexibility (which comes in handy when the economy is in the can and jobs are scarce) while a Masters would keep you tethered to whatever path you take but either would make you more desirable to employers – depending on who you are applying with.

Keep in mind that for some employers, an over-qualified, well-educated candidate also means someone who will need to be paid more and could (in a normal job environment completely unlike the one we’ve got going now) easily find a better, more well-paid position with any number of employers. People may be desperate nowadays but the economy will recover eventually and employers have to consider that when deciding to offer you a position.

The Real World – CPA
The advantage to heading straight into the workforce out of school is that you can get the CPA exam out of the way and then, should you want to, choose to head back after you have been licensed and pursue a Masters. The advantage to this is that you are less of a threat to employers once you actually have your CPA since they don’t have to worry about you leaving after 2 years to the day once you have your experience requirement met so you can leverage your additional education to land a better job. Then again, the advantage to staying in school – for the moment, at least, job market being what it is – is that you can buy yourself some time, make yourself more of an asset and hope that things look better from a hiring standpoint once you have completed your Masters program. Many are taking this route simply because they’re afraid of the job market (for good reason).

Under the getting your CPA now route, you have the advantage of getting to know your profession before committing to a specialty – that means being able to change your mind before you’ve given up another year of your life and the costs associated with a Masters (or MBA) program. I don’t want to talk you out of what you’ve decided to be when you grow up but there’s something to be said for real-world experience (and I’m sure more than one old timer can tell you they wish they knew what they were getting into before they did).

Keep in mind also that if you’re looking at an MBA, work experience may be a requirement for admission so you might not have a choice in the matter. Take the CPA/work route and come back later when you have a little experience under your belt and more insight to allow you to make an informed decision on where you want to go with your life.

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