What is an MBA degree?

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a graduate degree obtained at a university. It provides both theoretical and practical study, helping graduates to gain a better understanding of general business management subjects. The MBA degree can have a specific concentration, such as marketing, finance or logistics among many others.

There are Full-time MBA and Executive MBA programmes. The Full-time MBA is spread over 3-4 semesters, with students attending full-time courses. The Executive MBA programme targets experienced managers across different industries and business sectors. The programme modules are held over long weekends and courses are very intensive.

Both Full-time MBA and Executive MBA programmes are equivalent academic programmes and the level of degree is equal. There is a difference in delivery and structure between the two.


The ACCA and CPA are both professional certifications connected with accounting. They are not degree porogrammes, but are highly reputable professional qualifications.

The ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is headquartered in the UK. The ACCA exam can be taken in 400+ testing centres located in more than 170 countries worldwide. The programme is much longer than that of the CPA. There are 14 papers divided into Fundamental Level (9 examinations) and Professional Level (5 examinations). Candidates generally need 3-4 years to complete all the papers and become an ACCA member.

The CPA (Certified Public Accountants) is based in the US. The CPA exam can be taken in fewer locations. Most candidates aim to pass the CPA exam within 12-18 months. In rare cases, the exams can be completed in just 3-6 months. There are four parts to the exam: Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Audit and Attestation (AUD), Regulation (REG) and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). There is a certain amount of flexibility in scheduling your time to take the exams.

What is your career focus?

When planning your career it is essential to identify your key areas of interests, the skills that you want to upgrade and the area that you want to develop professionally. Are you inclined to keep and deepen the focus on a particular area such as finance? Or you are looking more to gain general knowledge and understanding in a broader area. In the first case it might be more appropriate for you to go for certification in accounting and finance such as the CPA (more common in the US market) or the ACCA (well-recognised in the UK and European markets). If you aspire to improving your skills to manage and grow businesses, then an MBA will be the better next step for you.

When to choose an MBA?

The decision to enrol in an MBA programme is usually driven by two main factors, one being that you have reached a certain point of professional development in one company/business area and you need to enhance your general management skills including financial, strategic, marketing, logistics and operational knowledge.

The other reason could be that you are an entrepreneur who can generate brilliant ideas but might lack good planning and general management skills to run and develop your company successfully. If you feel you need to equip yourself with knowledge and competencies in areas where you are not necessarily strong, then you may consider an MBA degree that can help you build your strategy and operational model, plan necessary resources to make this happen and assess all risks.

The MBA degree can help you to acquire knowledge and an understanding of corporate business and operations. Many business schools provide further concentration in subjects such as finance/marketing/IT/entrepreneurship or certain industries – aviation, luxury goods, the wine industries -  where you can focus on one particular subject to become an expert.

An MBA degree is valuable to people who already have previous professional experience and can build on this base to enlarge their management skills and expertise.

Check out: Masters in Finance Career Paths and How to Get There

When to choose the ACCA and CPA?

If you decide to obtain CPA or ACCA certification you need to be sure that your professional interests are in this area and aware that your focus will be rather defined in the long term. There is little sense in investing your time, effort and money in CPA or ACCA certification and then deciding to make a career shift to logistics, engineering or marketing.

A client of ours, a Global FMCG company shares:

We prefer to have our key people with ACCA or CPA certificates, which allow us to communicate in one language.

The certification programmes are often an essential part of the attraction and retention strategy in companies such as Big 4 accounting and auditing companies. They invest in talent development programmes. In most other cases these certifications are undertaken in markets where there is no specific recognised academic accounting or finance programme or the certification is a specific requirement of the employing company.

Practice shows that, in most cases, those who decide to go for ACCA and CPA certification are most likely at the beginning of their career in accounting and finance, rather than having some years of accounting experience and then taking such a decision, unless it is required by the company they work for or would like to work for.

ACCA – the global body for professional accountants states:

ACCA membership equips you with the skills and knowledge to become a complete finance professional.

The American Institute of CPAs lists the diversity of career paths for CPA holders. In public accounting a CPA can work in audit, tax or management consulting.  In business and industry you can work in diverse areas such as financial accounting and reporting, management accounting, financial analysis and treasury. In government you can build a career on the federal, state or local level. CPA education has a lot to offer to non-profit organisations.

CPAs have a variety of career paths from which to choose across sectors.

Check out: How CFA Helps you Stand out for Investment Jobs

Can you combine an ACCA or CPA with an MBA?

Professional certification combined with an MBA will really strengthen your professional profile, putting you on a senior management track. There is no requirement as to which should come first – a professional certification such as the ACCA or CPA or an MBA. The order depends on how your professional interest and career evolves. However, it is more logical to have your professional certifications first and then, when you aim at senior general management positions in the industry, to take the step to add an MBA.

Sarah Datson, an ACCA Oxford Brookes’s global MBA graduate, shares:

It was one year after my ACCA qualification and into my first job post-qualification that I started looking into a more managerial position.

Some leading business schools offer combined or partnership programmes which lead to acquiring an MBA and a professional certification.

The career plan is among the important things in a person's life. It is better to plan it carefully from the beginning, bearing in mind what you are strong in and want you want to do, rather than challenging yourself with initiatives that might cost you money and time without necessarily making you happier and more successful.