CMA vs MBA – Discover Which One Is Better For You!


Pursuing professional certifications is your best shot for a lucrative, exciting career. Finance and accounting are popular choices for ambitious people who are up for a challenge. Many people in this field consider which credential to pursue: CMA vs MBA.

What is a CMA? It’s a Certified Management Accountant.

An MBA is a Master of Business Administration. You can obtain this prestigious delineation with an accounting concentration.

With a CMA, you can become the CFO of a company and work in high-level, executive accounting positions.

With an MBA in accounting, you could work in investment banking or the stock market. Some MBAs also become CPAs, which opens the door to financial analysis or tax consulting.

There are some key differences between these that you should know before choosing either path.

Originally published in 2020, this article was updated and republished on January 19, 2022.

Differences Between a CMA vs MBA

Differences Between a CMA and an MBA

A CMA is a professional certification. There are academic and work-based requirements to become a CMA:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Passing the 2-part CMA exam
  • Two years of employment in the industry

Being a Certified Management Accountant means that you are an expert in both financial accounting and management, which sets you apart from other branches of accounting. This is a qualification that indicates to employers that you can make both business and financial decisions. As such, a CMA is eligible to hold positions at the highest level of financial leadership, which come with commensurate distinction and compensation.

An MBA is an academic degree. This is a master’s level degree, so there are academic requirements to be eligible for an MBA program:

  • Approved undergraduate degree
  • High GPA (varies by program)

You may also need faculty recommendations.

Having an MBA means that you can put those impressive three letters behind your name and boast this distinct title. An MBA in accounting means that you will spend the better part of your studies focused on things like financial records, tax laws, business valuations, auditing, and more.

There are further specifics you can pursue that will vary based on where you study. You may get an MBA in Finance or an MBA in Accounting. With an MBA in either, you can be eligible for C-suite jobs that include financial leadership of corporations.

The Focus of CMA vs MBA

The Focus of CMA vs MBA

Certified Management Accounting is recognized as a specialized qualification in management accounting. To achieve it, you have to indicate a high-level understanding of a broad scope of financial topics. Passing the CMA exam essentially proves that you are an expert in this field.

An MBA is a broad academic qualification. When you specialize in finance or accounting, you may be able to take the CMA exam or CPA exam to further your skills. It is a more general degree that has a broader coverage of financial topics.

CMA vs MBA Requirements

CMA vs MBA - Requirements

The requirements for getting an MBA are different from the requirements for getting a CMA. An MBA is only offered in academic institutions through a graduate level degree program. You must first complete a bachelor’s, or undergraduate, degree, then take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

Depending on how you score, you’ll be accepted into an MBA program. You’ll have to pass all of your classes to complete your MBA degree.

In contrast, the CMA requirements can be started and completed on a more flexible timeline: you can even begin preparing for the CMA exam before you’ve finished your college degree. To get started, all you need is an IMA membership and to pay the entrance fees to the CMA program.

You’ll have to pass a rigorous two-part exam. To actually obtain your certification, you will have to finish your undergraduate degree and log enough hours of qualified work experience.

Which is Easier: CMA or MBA?

CMA vs MBA - Which is easier

Asking whether the CMA is easier than the MBA — or the MBA is easier than the CMA — is a tricky question. The only real objective thing to look at is pass rates. The CMA exam pass rate is pretty reliable, because it’s collected from the tests by the IMA.

The CMA has a 45% pass rate for both parts of the exam. MBA pass rates are much harder to collect and compare, because MBA programs are offered in thousands of schools across the country, and programs vary in difficulty.

Some of the top U.S. business schools have moderate or low pass rates: NYU Stern has a 29% pass rate for its MBA program, and Carnegie Mellon has a 27% pass rate. What may be useful is to look into schools in your area or MBA programs you’re particularly interested in, and research their difficulty.

While the CMA pass rate may sound discouraging, people who invest in a solid CMA review course and follow a regular study routine have much better chances of passing on the first attempt. It’s also possible to repeat the exam if it takes you more than one attempt to be successful.

Getting a CMA or an MBA can set you up for career success in the world of finance, but only if you follow through and get the credentials. Regardless of which path you choose, be prepared to put in a lot of effort. In the decision-making process, consider the career path you want to embark on and research what requirements/certifications are needed to help you be successful at it.

Can I Do an MBA After Doing CMA?

Can I do an MBA after doing CMA?

You can certainly pursue an MBA after you’ve become a CMA. If you want to hit the ground running with an ambitious career trajectory, it may be hard to find the time to also engage in a challenging graduate degree program, but that’s up to you.

In some instances, an MBA may strengthen your proficiencies, adding to your qualifications as a CMA and equipping you to compete for powerful leadership roles. After earning your CMA, consider leveraging your new certification in the workplace for several years before deciding on enrolling in a graduate program. See how far the CMA can take you first.

Cost and ROI of CMA vs MBA

CMA vs MBA - Cost and ROI

As a numbers person, you’ve probably already considered the return on investment (ROI) of each credential. What you’ll spend, and what you stand to gain, can vary a little, but here are the basic differentiators:

The CMA exam costs include:

  • An IMA membership, which is $250 now, and will be $280 starting March 1, 2022
  • CMA entrance fee, which is $188 now, and will be $210 starting March 1, 2022
  • CMA exam fees, which are $311 per part now, and will be $345 per part starting March 1, 2022
  • A CMA exam review course, which can range from $800-$2500+

The average net income for a CMA is currently $107,817. This will significantly vary depending on how much experience you have and the type of company you work for. With a CMA salary in an executive level position, compensation can include performance bonuses, stock options, and other perks.

MBA costs include:

  • Graduate school admissions test exam preparation, which can range from $500-$2500+
  • Tuition to a graduate school program, which can range from $15,000-$50,000 a year

MBAs with a concentration in finance may earn $130,000, which is one of the highest salaries for MBA grads. This will also vary, because MBAs can work in a wide range of industries and roles.

You’ll also have to factor in the intangible returns, like quality of life and having a job you love, to make the final call on which of these is right for you.

CMA Salary vs MBA Salary

CMA Salary vs MBA Salary

The average earning potential for the CMA and MBA vary. CMAs and MBAs in Accounting both have access to executive positions. Depending on what kind of job you get and how long you work in the industry, here is what you could make:

CFO with an MBA Salary Estimate

CFO with a CMA Salary Estimate

Median salary



For CMAs, climbing the ladder to the C-suite is not a rough journey. Because this is the industry-best certification, it’s widely recognized and can open many doors. There are plenty of options to take your ambition into ever-higher income brackets as you climb the corporate ladder in an organization.

Also, consider the investment required to obtain each and calculate your ROI to determine which one makes the most sense for you. More on that later.

CMA vs MBA Education

CMA vs MBA Education

The CMA and MBA both require a bachelor’s degree. The MBA will be an additional degree program. The CMA is not another academic degree but a professional certification that requires several weeks, even months, of study. Before you can become certified, you’ll also have to meet the CMA work experience requirements.

MBA Education includes:

  • Entry into a competitive program
  • About two years of a rigorous academic degree
  • Maintaining high grades
  • Specialized courses

The average cost of an MBA: $60,000/year for a 2-year program.

The average salary for a CFO with an MBA starts at $151,000.

CMA Education includes:

  • Self-study or guided study with an online CMA exam review course
  • 8 months of rigorous study
  • Taking the CMA exam

The average cost to take the CMA exam: $1,080

The average salary for a CFO with a CMA starts at $143,000.

Go here to learn more about the CMA exam and your study options.

CMA Jobs vs MBA Jobs

CMA Jobs vs MBA Jobs

Once you have either qualification, there are many different job opportunities. Your ability to earn more and do more depends on several factors. For an MBA, where you went to school drastically impacts where you can get a job and what kinds of jobs you can get. In addition to there being a wide gap in earning potential, MBAs will find most opportunities in investment banking or securities.

CMAs have a wide variety of options. For people genuinely interested in accounting, a CMA will open more doors than an MBA. CMAs are considered highly specialized accounting and finance professionals who also have business skills. Immediately upon earning a CMA, you are eligible for a number of high-level jobs, including financial controller and CFO.

Click here for more information on CMA accounting jobs.

CMA vs MBA: Which one is Better?

CMA vs MBA: Which one is Better?

Earning an MBA in Accounting or an MBA in Finance is a great career choice. It will require about $60K/year as an initial investment. It also tends to take longer to increase pay and may take 5-10 years to become established in accounting.

A CMA is a great choice as well. With this inexpensive certification, you can fast-track a 6-figure high-paying career in management accounting. It is considered a prestigious qualification that instantly vets you as an expert in this field.

Because these are two different paths, of course, the decision of which to pursue is highly personal. You’ll make this decision based on how much money and time you have to invest in the process and what your ultimate career goals are.

Not sure which road to take? Comment below! I have helped thousands of people find the right path for them. I can help you learn how to become a CMA and set you on a course for success.

How to Become a CMA

How to Become a CMA

For more info on how to become a CMA, check out this article that’ll walk you step by step.

Nathan Liao

Hi, I’m Nathan Liao (aka the CMA Coach)! For the last 10 years, over 82,000 accounting and finance pros came knocking at my door seeking guidance and help. If you’re also aiming to conquer the CMA exam on your very first try—without wasting away time or money—you’ve found your ultimate guide. Dive in deeper to discover more about me and the dedicated team that powers CMA Exam Academy. Click here and let’s embark on this journey together!

51 Comments on “CMA vs MBA – Discover Which One Is Better For You!”

  1. Hey sir,
    I’m a student from a commerce background. And I’ve graduated this year only. Now I’m planing to go for MBA but a thought just arised that I can also try for CMA. So should I go for MBA only or try for CMA?

    1. Hi Ruham,

      Based on the article above the comment section, which one do you think would be a better fit for you?

  2. Hi ,

    I am Priyanshi. I am from engineering background from Computer Science. Now I am pursuing MBA (not a A or B tier of college) . I am planning to do CMA with MBA, will it help me ? Will it be a good move ?

    1. Hi Priyanshi,

      Certainly, the CMA will open a wider range of career paths for you including management accounting. You can learn more about the CMA here.


  3. Dear Nathan,

    I have a undergraduate degree in Business Administration.
    I have registered for CMA course in USA.
    Do you recommend me to pursue a Masters degree in Accounting or MBA for better Job opportunities?

    1. Hi Surabhi,

      If I were in your shoes, what I would do is complete my CMA certification first and then enter the workforce for a few years before investing in an MBA. I’ll have a clearer picture after a few years if I really need an MBA to move up the ranks or if it’s just a nice-to-have.


  4. Hi
    I am Alisha
    I have completed my bcom degree , I m confiused whether I should do CMA or MBA in finance. I have my interest in accountancy , please suggest what I should do next ?

    1. Hi Alisha,

      To help you decide, I suggest you review the syllabus of the MBA program and compare it against the CMA exam syllabus (Part 1 and Part 2). It’ll help you make a more informed decision so you can choose the path that matches your interests best 🙂


  5. Sir I am already qualified, persuing MBA and also want to do CMA with my MBA what are the opportunities that I will get and what will be my earning potential?

  6. Hi Nathan

    I have 09 years and 6 month of experience in finance and accounting after completion my Post graduate diploma in management
    how CMA will be beneficial to me ?

    1. Hi Kafil,

      The CMA certification will boost your career and will open new opportunities for you. 

      As a CMA you’ll have the necessary management skills to make financial decisions for a business or corporation, obtain an executive role and a higher salary.

      Please check out the link to my blog post on how else the CMA designation benefit you:

      Let me know if you have any other questions 🙂

  7. Hi,


    Good Evening,

    This is Naveen. I am a working person and I have opted for CMA course but I am still confused because I can’t enough time to study. I just want an idea for completing CMA how much time should be required if I am a working person. I couldn’t explore more as there is more work pressure so kindly suggest the way how to clear CMA.

    Thanks & Regards,


    1. Hi Naveen,

      If you self-study, allocate between 25 to 30 hours per week to start. After a few weeks you’ll be able to better gauge the amount of hours you’ll need to study every week.

      What type of course did you enroll in? self-study? in class? online coaching course? etc.

  8. hello sir my self swaleha khan i have completed am here am confused regarding MBA Course or CMA COURSE so plz give me a suggesion what is the best course in job For CMA OR MBA

    1. Hi Swaleha,

      The CMA is currently in high demand, and if you want to kick-start your career and get into management accounting field faster, then I recommend you to opt for the CMA designation.

    1. Hi Yami,

      Check here the education and experience qualifications you need to fulfill to become certified.

      Keep in mind that you can also fulfill them within 7 years after you’ve passed the exam.

  9. Dear Liao,
    This is Mustafa from Bangladesh. Will CMA qualification match with banking career? I have completed Masters degree from Bank Management. So that will CMA will add some value in future banking career.

    1. Hi Mustafa,

      If you aim for a managerial position, the CMA certification will definitely benefit you.

      Check this link to learn all the steps you need to take to obtain it.

  10. Dear nathan
    If I studied MBA course In my college. As well as my ICMA course in institution is it possible. My question is both thaa degree are in same value?

    1. The CMA certification will probably give you more benefits and opportunities than the MBA, so I recommend you to pursue the CMA designation regardless.

      Click here to learn more about the benefits of the CMA certification and how to obtain it.

  11. I am doing b com 2nd year .. i was planned to study for cat exam but i am under huge confusion abt my career.. cma is tough or mba (cat) is tough

    1. Hi Gokul,

      They are both relatively hard.

      A better question is which one is more beneficial for your career path?

    1. Hi Sakthivel,

      I would consider the CMA designation. It takes significantly less time to complete the CMA exams, you can study at your own pace, and the CMA certification will also boost your career faster.

      Click here to learn more about the CMA designation.



    1. Hi Faize,

      If you want to work in the finance and accounting field, choose the CMA. Otherwise, MBA would be preferable.

      Thanks and Regards,

    1. Hi Abhishek,

      You may take the CMA while studying provided that you are enrolled for at least six credits per semester during the academic year.


  13. Hi nathan

    I am doing 1st year my will be completed next year. Can I do CMA in usa after graduation and how much scope it has in Usa? I am from pakistan and it has 2 year will this be acceptable for cma?


  14. Hi lio,
    I’m preparing my self to go on final exam but unfortunately I’m too depressed when I have heard that the average salary is not high adequate in my country Egypt

    1. Hi Taha,

      I have written an article addressing this topic. Please check this link for the comparison of these two professional paths.

      Thanks and Regards,

  15. Hi Nathan,

    I was weighing my options whether to have an MBA or CMA. Are there specific requirements in order to take the CMA exam? I am a graduate of Management Accounting in University of Saint La Salle. Is the CMA title accepted here in the Philippines? When I search for job vacancies they always require CPA individuals.

  16. Dear Nathan ,

    As iam doing my second year of my graduation degree( It was a very helpful article. Though i wanted to know about that are there any job opportunities for CMA in INDIA.
    And can an Indian appear the exam from India

    1. Hi Srinjoy,

      I’m very glad the article was helpful. The CMA designation is popular in India and there are definitely job opportunities, but I don’t live there so you may have to reach out to a recruiters to get more specifics. The CMA designation is a global credential so you can most definitely appear for the exam in India. There are Prometric testing centers all over the world.

  17. Dear Nathan
    I found your page very motivating and helpful.
    I passed part one in 2013 and will sit for part 2 in 2015 due to some work pressure and unforeseen delays.
    i was wondering after passing part 2 based on the new changes do i need to sit again for part one?

    1. Hi Wassim,

      No, you don’t need to sit for Part-One again if you already passed it. Isn’t that great news? 🙂

      1. Sir can cma student got a leader ship of business? Yani become as a Businessman Or Enterpreneur cma is helpful Or mba is helpful?

  18. Dear Nathan,

    I have been through your website CMA Coach and it is very helpful and motivational tool for everybody. I have been preparing for both parts from Gleim 16th edition and unfortunately could not go through any part after attempting 3-4 times. Please help….!

    1. Sandeep,

      Have you considered going for an instructor-led course? If self-studying for 3 to 4 times is not giving you the results you want, perhaps changing your approach will help. What areas are you struggling with the most? Let me know what you think.

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