Both degrees are valuable credentials. How do you decide which to pursue?

From number-crunchers wearing stodgy green eyeshades to strategic business partners, the role of accountants continues to evolve, making the future of the accounting profession more promising than ever.

In "How CFO's Took Over the Boardroom," Jason Karaian writes:

"From back-office accountant to front-line executive, the rapid rise of the chief financial officer is unrivalled by any other corporate role… The number of CFOs promoted to CEO continues to rise… 'Number cruncher' was once considered an insult, but as the volume and velocity of data expand exponentially it is becoming a badge of honor…"

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics supports that bright outlook. The department's Occupational Outlook Handbooks predicts that employment of accountants and auditors will grow faster than average through 2024 at 11 percent versus the average growth rate for all jobs of 7 percent.

Salaries are increasing as well.

According to staffing and employment giant Robert Half's annual salary guide, starting salaries are expected to rise 4.1 percent on average for all professional positions in 2106, with even higher projections of 4.7 percent for accounting and finance.

A win-win choice: MAcc and MBA

If your undergraduate degree is in accounting, you may be wondering how to best capitalize on the demand for your specialized skills.

The answer is straightforward: continue your education and pursue a graduate degree, choosing between either a Master of Accounting (MAcc) degree program or a Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting. Both are available 100 percent online through Saint Leo.

Robert Half reports that a MAcc is excellent preparation for the CPA exam and provides the additional 30 credit hours needed to reach the 150-hour requirement to obtain CPA licensure. The coveted certification can increase your salary by 10-15 percent.

Robert Half also lists the MBA as one of the accounting and finance industry's most in-demand credentials. With a concentration in accounting, the advanced degree also can prepare you for the CPA exam and provides the necessary credit hours for licensure, the agency points out.

So how do you choose?

Saint Leo's professor of accounting, Dr. Passard Dean, provides some insight.

What are the main differences between a MAcc and an MBA-accounting?

Dr. Dean:  An MBA's primary focus is on general business. An MBA with an accounting concentration is for students who want those core courses in business with a secondary focus on accounting. That's why this program is 36 credits. It includes courses that address core business management functions, oral and written business communication, effective teamwork and collaboration, ethical decision-making and the business implications of the new economy.

A MAcc program offers some of the same courses as the MBA-accounting. However, the real intent for that program is to give students the additional 30 credit hours they need in order to become a licensed CPA. It's the dominant degree for accountants at the graduate level because it provides more in-depth knowledge in the specific field of accounting.

What are the career goals of students who opt for MAcc vs. the MBA?

Dr. Dean: Generally, the career goals for students who opt for the MAcc are to pass the CPA exam and work for a CPA firm.

Students who opt for the MBA usually plan to work in industry with the hope of moving quickly into management. For those who complete the MBA and go to work for a CPA firm, the degree can help when they move into management positions where more business skills are needed.

What are the advantages of a MAcc program?

Dr. Dean: A MAcc curriculum provides more accounting classes and requires less credits to complete – 30 versus an MBA's 36 credits. An in-depth study of advanced accounting principles, a MAcc provides solid preparation for the CPA exams since it helps you master challenging concepts such as auditing, financial statement analysis, cost accounting and forecasting.

What are the advantages of an MBA-accounting?

Dr. Dean:In addition to accounting knowledge, an MBA provides students with an understanding of business fundamentals, emphasizes leadership skills and prepares them for management positions. An MBA helps students see a broader picture of an organization.

Which of the two prepares one best if you want to be a CPA?

Dr. Dean: If your goal is to become a CPA, then the Master of Accounting is most probably what you should pursue. It gives you exactly the extra number of credit hours you need to be a CPA. The MBA with the accounting concentration is more credit hours.

What's the most important thing a student should consider when deciding between the two degrees?

Dr. Dean: Where do you plan to end up? If your plan is to become a partner in a CPA firm, the MAcc is all you need. If would like to become a senior executive in a major organization, the MBA may be a better option.

Either program can help you get where you want to go. I worked at various levels in management with a MAcc. The bottom line is that a degree provides you with tools and skills, but executing your career plan is up to you.

Did you know that Saint Leo offers one of the few totally online MAcc programs? Additionally, all of the university's MBA degree programs are available 100 percent online.

Image credit: Tom Wang on Shutterstock and Saint Leo University Communications