If you are aspiring to be or are already employed in the field of accounting, congratulations! You have chosen a field with vast opportunities and a solid future. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting is projected to grow at a rate of 10% through 2026, which is faster than the average of all other occupations! While most people enter accounting careers with a bachelor’s degree, a common question is whether a master’s degree or MBA is needed or even worth it. The answer is: It depends.

Does a degree or CPA designation matter?

As a staffing agency, we have placed accountants in a variety of positions over many years and are privy to job requirement trends just due to the nature of our business. Over the past several years, we have definitely seen an uptick in the number of clients that require a master’s degree, an MBA, or a CPA, especially for higher level positions such as Senior Accountant, Assistant Controller, and Financial Analyst. Enrollments in accounting master degree programs reflect the response to this increased demand. According to AICPA, 9,430 people were enrolled in master’s in accountancy programs in the 1995-1996 school year. Twenty years later, that number jumped to 29,429.

Why does it matter?

An MBA, CPA, or MAcc aren’t just meaningless letters added to a person’s email signature. Having those designations tells an employer that the candidate has a high level of commitment to their career and gained additional knowledge that will be beneficial to their employer. For example, a person with a CPA designation who works within a privately held company will know how to produce accurate financial statements and audit their work properly. A person with a master’s or MBA will understand the implications the numbers have on the big picture of the company’s operations and view reports with a more strategic mindset.

What does the degree or CPA designation get you?

Having the degree or CPA designation definitely opens more doors to a larger pool of career opportunities. As a CPA, you can work in public or private accounting, and with a master’s or MBA, you can move into high-level controller positions or even CFO. Not only that, your degree or designation will enable you to move up the ladder quicker, thereby increasing your responsibilities and your salary. The degree or designation also gives you the advantage in most cases over candidates with the same amount of experience who might not have the same level of education.

When does experience trump education?

From what we’ve seen, smaller companies (>$50m in revenue/year) are less concerned about education and certifications and more concerned about hiring a candidate with the right experience who can add immediate value to the organization. We have also seen candidates with master’s degrees or CPA designations get hired into positions where their academic knowledge far exceeds their on-the-job knowledge and they have had to take a step back into a lower-level position to gain the experience they need to perform the duties their title requires.

Ultimately, you have to make the decision whether or not pursuing a master’s degree, an MBA, or a CPA designation is worth it to you and your career. Your career and salary can only grow so far on a bachelor’s degree, and in the end, the money and time you spend to achieve the higher education or industry certifications will almost certainly be worth the investment. For more information about becoming a CPA in New Hampshire, visit the New Hampshire Board of Accountancy.