Which one is better: the CMA or an MBA?

This article will break down the difference in cost, time and what kind of earning potential you have whether you get a CMA certification or become an MBA.

If you have a high ambition and want to get into a great career in management accounting, there are a few common paths you could take. Many people weigh the difference between getting an MBA, or becoming a CMA. An MBA is a Masters of Business Administration. A CMA is a Certified Management Accountant. These are two different paths, with different timelines and different outcomes. So, let's look at all of those differences, and help you figure out which one is right for you.

Which one is better: the CMA or an MBA?

An MBA is a Master's Degree in Business Administration. You are eligible to pursue this degree in any business school after you have an undergraduate degree. Depending on where you go to school, you may need a high GPA and recommendations as well to get into an MBA program. If you want a career in finance, you can get an MBA with a concentration in accounting. Examples of careers as finance or accounting oriented MBA in Finance are things like Investment Banking and Financial Services. With some additional credentials, you could become a Chief Financial Officer.  There are also various job opportunities in this field. 


CMA is a certification you receive from the Institute of Management Accountants. To get it, you need to have a four years degree, pass the CMA exam and have two years of work experience. As a CMA, you can hold leadership positions in finance and accounting. Examples of careers as a CMA are things like CFO, VP of Finance, Corporate Controller and Accounting Manager.  CMAs are considered as finance professionals or business leaders in the financial management and management accounting fields. 


I'll talk about the key differences between an MBA and the CMA in a second. But first, are you more inclined to pursue higher education or a certification that lets you get to work right away? These are both highly esteemed and respected pursuits. They open very similar doors. But let's talk about what those doors are and how to decide which one you want to walk through. The courses of action you take to get an MBA versus a CMA are very, very different. 


So first, is the huge difference in your investment of money and time. An MBA is a postgraduate degree that has an average cost of $60,000 and takes about two years to complete. In 2019, only 60% of students who entered an MBA program, finished it successfully. Students must have a bachelor's degree before they can apply for an MBA program. Experts estimate that it takes about two years for someone with an MBA to start making average income in a financial or accounting field. 


I'll talk more about earning potential in a second. But first, let's contrast what I've said with the process to getting a CMA. A CMA costs on average about $3,000.Candidates have up to three years to complete the exam. But with a program like CMA Exam Academy, students finish within only eight months. The global CMA exam pass rate is 45%. And once you pass, you have to work for two years before obtaining a certification. A bachelor's degree is a must before earning this certification. But, candidates can take the CMA exam before or after completing their undergraduate degree. 

Immediately upon having the certification, you can step into a high earning potential. So, let's talk about income, because I know that's one of the big considerations. MBAs with an accounting emphasis do have a high earning potential. An average salary as a CFO with an MBA is $151,000 a year. This important point is that this can vary significantly, depending on where you went to school. For example, people with an Ivy League degree, can make much more than that. But, of course, an ivy league MBA from Harvard for example, runs at $72,000 per year. So, it costs a lot more. 


CMAs also have a high earning potential. An average salary as a CFO with a CMA,is $143,000 a year. And there are regular increases to this base number. CMAs regularly establish themselves in the C-Suite of a company, and can be leaders in any business. The investment, in contrast, is only $3,000 compared to an MBA of $60,000 per year. For many people, the decision of which of these to pursue comes down to cost and time. 

An MBA costs 30 times as much as a CMA, but both can land you in similar jobs with similar earning potential. That doesn't mean an MBA is not for you, but it's worth thinking over in terms of your return on investment.


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