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CPA vs MBA: Why Not Both?

Struggling to decide between a CPA vs MBA? From enhanced business knowledge to accessing top careers at EY—find out the benefits of studying a CPA and MBA dual degree

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By  Shannon Cook

Thu Nov 3 2022

BusinessBecause
Becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) doesn’t always mean the end to your business school journey. There are always opportunities to boost your skill set and enhance your knowledge of the accounting sphere and beyond. 

One of the ways that CPA graduates expand their knowledge is by adding on customizable MBA courses to their qualification. Pairing specialist accounting knowledge with fundamental business and managerial skills is likely to lead to a wide array of careers.

If you’re wondering whether to join a CPA vs MBA, we explore the benefits of studying both.


CPA vs MBA—what is it?

As a standalone professional qualification, a CPA shapes students in Canada into accounting professionals who work across areas such as financial accounting, finances and taxation, and assurance. 

Students who gain a Graduate Diploma in Chartered Professional Accountancy from Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business in Montreal can then opt to take MBA courses through the school’s CPA-to-MBA pathway.

With transferred credits from the CPA, John Molson CPA grads can fast-track their MBA degree, taking a mix of core courses in areas other than accounting and electives. Students can choose whether to study the CPA-to-MBA pathway on a part-time or full-time basis.

“The pathway particularly suits CPA graduates who are inspired to fast-track and pursue careers outside of their traditional professional accounting experiences,” says Li Yao (pictured), MBA program director at John Molson.


CPA vs MBA—why study both?

Studying for a CPA qualification is a huge achievement by itself but there is still room to push this accounting and business knowledge even further.

One John Molson CPA grad who was looking to challenge herself is Victoria Mili (pictured). Victoria joined the CPA-to-MBA pathway two years after completing the CPA as she wanted to expand her generalist knowledge of the business sphere.

“After I had finished the CPA, I just had an urge to go back to business school,” she says.

The fact that she could study the pathway in her spare time, enrolling on courses in the evening, meant that she could carry on progressing in her former career as a real estate investment analyst at a construction firm.


What you’ll learn in a CPA vs MBA pathway

Learning by doing is often one of the most useful ways of absorbing knowledge. 

To help students bridge the gap between their deep knowledge of the accounting sphere and the more general knowledge of the business world, the John Molson MBA and CPA pathway emphasizes experiential learning.

“A case-based curriculum helps students to apply their knowledge in real-world problems,” says Li Yao.

Aside from the core courses that help CPA grads understand management, leadership, and strategy principles, CPA-to-MBA pathway students can study electives such as ‘Small Business Consulting Bureau’ and ‘Community Service Initiatives’. These hands-on electives enable students to work with non-profit organizations, social institutions, and small businesses.

For Victoria, being able to complement her CPA knowledge of tax, audit, and financial auditing with more general MBA courses and electives has helped her on the path to real estate consulting.

She customized her learning by choosing MBA courses, such as management, marketing, and finance, that would help her branch out into this new field. 

“With every MBA course, you’re working in groups on marketing plans or management plans—you get to work with so many different people,” she says.


CPA vs MBA job prospects

With a dual designated CPA MBA degree, grads will be able to enter an array of careers.

“Students can work in various leadership positions in large corporations, public sectors, or small businesses. Getting into the C-suite becomes a very reachable goal,” says Li Yao.

Grads might also look to careers in management consulting or advisory services, helping clients grow their organizations, reposition their markets, or streamline their operation.

“A CPA MBA dual degree grad is uniquely equipped to tackle challenges in complex mergers and acquisition deals where a combination of knowledge in accounting, finance, strategy, and management is expected,” says Li Yao.

Victoria has used her blended knowledge of accounting and business to grow her career as a manager in the transaction real estate advisory team at consulting firm EY. 

On the side, she’s also completed her real estate license and plans to start selling real estate.

“Having the MBA and CPA dual degree makes you into such a well-rounded individual. On the CPA side, the level of training you receive helps to sharpen your analytical skills. While on the MBA side, thinking about business issues from a case perspective strengthens your ability to adapt to any issue,” she says.

When considering whether to study a CPA vs MBA, think about whether you’re looking to stick within the accounting sphere or whether you want to branch out into general management roles in the future.

Victoria believes that studying both the CPA and MBA was the right decision for her.

“I wouldn’t be where I am in my career now without the dual degree,” she says.

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