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Accounting vs Finance: Which Masters Degree is Right for You?

Aug 21, 2019
Ask yourself these three questions before deciding between a masters degree in finance or accounting

By Jong Eun Jung

Cherrie Wilkerson

The Master of Science in Finance (MSF) and Masters of Accountancy (MAcc) are two quantitative business masters degrees that people may have a hard time choosing between. “The MSF degree and the MAcc degree are both excellent starting points for a successful careers,” said Cherrie Wilkerson, Assistant Dean for Young Professional Programs.

“The MSF degree positions students immediately in the finance field and is well suited to students who are clear that finance is their chosen field,” she continued. “The MAcc degree enables students to gain their CPA, a credential valued in both accounting and finance. MAcc degree holders can remain in accounting or branch off into finance later with a strong credential and valued work experience with a Big 4 accounting firm. Both degrees enhance career outcomes, without a doubt.”

If you’re curious about getting a masters degree in either of these fields, here are three questions to help you decide which one is right for you.

What are your interests?

Both degrees deal with numbers, which means that the ideal candidate for either needs to have a solid background in math. Candidates who apply to the MSF program have a strong interest in capital, markets, investment, and/or banking, and want to pursue careers in these finance fields. “(MSF candidates) are good with numbers. They like following the markets; that excites them,” said Maura Clark, Director of Admissions for the Vanderbilt MSF Program.

Emily O'Dell, Director of Admissions of the MAcc Program

Emily O’Dell

On the other hand, candidates who apply to the MAcc program are usually interested in analyzing and recording financial transactions and want a well-rounded education in the field of business. They also plan to earn a CPA, a credential for providing accounting services to the public. “There are certain (accounting jobs) that only a CPA can do. It’s kind of like a doctor, a lawyer; they’re specialists in their fields. You have to have a CPA for every business that’s public or private,” said Emily O’Dell, the Director of the Vanderbilt MAcc Programs.

Have you done your research?

When choosing a career, it’s important to research the future outlook of various jobs. O’Dell believes that although accounting has become more automated recently, businesses will always need accountants. “The future of public accounting, I think, is going to remain strong,” she said. “Companies are always going to need somebody in the accounting industry to help them with their business and as they move through different phases of their businesses growing.”

As for the field of finance, Clark notes that it changes periodically. “We’ve seen some areas really change and some areas shrink,” she said. “For example, sales and trading used to be an area where we would have students come every year… And while they did land full time jobs, lots of sales and trading has become more automated. And so there aren’t as many jobs as many people that are (being hired) for that area anymore.”

What careers do you see yourself in?

Maura Clark, Director of Admissions of MSF Program

Maura Clark

Both degrees set up graduates for entry-level job positions. “The students in the MAcc program are going to start in public accounting firms and MSF (graduates) are starting as financial advisors for financial advisory firms,” O’Dell explained.

On the one hand, MAcc graduates usually get their first accounting jobs in public accounting, but then have a broad range of positions to choose from further down the line. Public accountants who develop a strong understanding of how businesses run during the first five years of their careers go on to become managers, partners, and CEOs.

Meanwhile, students who pursue an MSF degree are usually committed to a career in finance, at least for the time being. Although the MSF prepares students to enter one particular field, there is a great deal of flexibility between different industries within finance, allowing students to switch into areas such as private equity or real estate in the future. “I think an MSF is a great degree to have a very structured job search within finance,” Clark said.

Want to learn more about accounting vs. finance? Visit the program pages for the Master of Science in Finance and Masters of Accountancy at Vanderbilt Business.

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