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5 big reasons to prioritize the CMA instead of an MBA

5 big reasons to prioritize the CMA instead of an MBA

The decision to pursue higher education is not one to take lightly. A graduate degree is a massive investment, and many students are questioning whether earning one is still necessary to achieve their professional goals. Earning your MBA as an accountant is a great way to get management training and show employers you are willing to go the extra mile.

However, ambitious accountants have multiple options to pursue their career goals. Earning your Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation from Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) is a great way to boost your career and earnings by demonstrating mastery in financial planning and strategic management. Plus, earning your CMA is often quicker, less expensive, and provides additional opportunities.

Even if you decide to get your MBA, getting your CMA first will help you achieve this degree. Both credentials focus on accounting, finance, and management topics to help you navigate an ever-evolving industry. When looking to fill prestigious roles such as CFO, organizations look for both MBAs and CMAs to hire, boosting your earning potential by as much as 40%!

We’ll explain five reasons why you should consider pursuing the CMA before an MBA and help you decide if the CMA is right for you!

1. Getting your CMA is more affordable

For students who aspire to land careers in management or fulfill leadership roles, earning your MBA is no doubt a worthwhile investment. However, recouping your losses can take years, or even decades, if the initial cost is high. Depending on your MBA program, tuition averages around $40,000 to $60,000 per year, with the top 10 business schools charging over $70,000 each year.

Tuition doesn’t include other essentials, such as books, school supplies, or a computer, which can easily cost a couple grand each year. Depending on the location of your program, you may also need to budget for boarding and other living expenses. If you are pursuing a full-time program, you also have to consider the opportunity cost of a missing salary.

In most cases, earning your CMA is significantly more affordable. The total cost of applying to the CMA program and taking the CMA exam ranges between $850-$1,325. After March, 1, 2022, the total cost will be $945 to $1,475, but that’s still less than 1% of average MBA tuition costs! Earning your CMA certification will boost your earnings, allowing you to save up to get your MBA in the future.

To obtain your CMA, all you really need is a review system to help you prepare for the exam. The price of a review system depends on your provider and what they offer, but even an all-in-one course costing $1,600 USD is less than half the cost of MBA materials and lasts for all three years you spend earning your CMA. Review systems vary in size and complexity, from a test bank of practice questions to an all-inclusive adaptive review, which helps you study more effectively.

Not only is the CMA less expensive, but you can study for the CMA exam while working full time. Although you will have to sacrifice some time to study, it pales in comparison to what is needed to earn your MBA.

How to save money on your MBA degree or CMA certification

Whether you plan to earn your CMA or MBA, there’s no reason not to look into cost-saving measures for both. The best way to save money is to have someone else pay for your MBA or CMA.

Many employers understand the value of additional certifications and are willing to help their employees with the cost. If you’re lucky, you may be able to get them to pay all the costs, allowing you to boost your career with little to no financial investment. If you’re not sure whether your employer provides financial support, it never hurts to ask politely!

Otherwise, research what scholarships are available. Scholarships for MBAs might be easier to find, but they do exist for the CMA as well. If you are still a student in college, try working for a Campus Rep program to earn a free review system!

Even if you don’t receive a full scholarship, every bit that goes towards your degree or certification will help you achieve your career goals.

2. The CMA takes less time

Full-time programs are still the preferred option among most MBA candidates, so most schools cater to this demand. There are part-time programs available, but they take longer to complete.

Typically, MBA students need 55 to 60 credit hours to earn their MBA. Sixty credit hours comprise roughly 2,700 hours of instruction and out-of-class studying. Over the course of a two-year program, that is 3.5 hours each day.

In the past, there were few ways to accelerate this process, although some schools have started offering accelerated programs, allowing some candidates to complete their degree within a year.

CMA candidates spend roughly the same amount of time completing their review course as an MBA student takes to complete two college courses. With the Gleim Premium CMA Review System, candidates can sit for each CMA exam part after 150 hours of studying or less.

Additionally, CMA candidates can choose how to spend those hours studying. MBA candidates must complete and pass a full semester of classes before earning credits. Most schools have 2-3 semesters in a school year, which doesn’t offer a ton of flexibility. On the other hand, a particularly studious candidate can earn their CMA in as little as two months or take their time and pass at a slower pace.

When the MBA is quicker

Accounting students still earning their bachelor’s degree can sit for their CMA exams but cannot earn the CMA until they have met both the education and experience requirements. Candidates must provide proof of two continuous years of full-time work.

If you are still a student or a recent graduate without experience, getting your MBA with an accelerated program may actually be faster. However, IMA accepts part-time work experience too. If you have been working at least 20 hours per week for a couple years (perhaps while finishing your bachelor’s degree) you may qualify sooner than you think!

Once you have your CMA certification and your study routine practiced, you can then weigh the time commitments of an MBA against your current personal and professional responsibilities.

3. CMAs make roughly the same amount as MBAs

According to IMA’s most recent salary survey, the average base salary of a CMA in the< Americas is $105,000. A survey from U.S. News showed the average combined salary and bonus paid to MBA graduates is $106,757.

Increasing your earnings by as much as 40% is quite attractive, making both credentials well worth the effort. However, considering how much less it costs to get the CMA, its rate of return is much higher. After comparing the amount of time spent earning the CMA over an MBA, it’s easy to see why the CMA is gaining popularity worldwide.

In addition to higher salaries, the most recent IMA salary survey indicates that most CMAs experience additional benefits from their certification, such as job security and mobility. Many high-level accountants, including CFOs, are CMAs, and many certificate holders say that it helps them achieve their career goals.

Of course, earning both your CMA certification and MBA degree can increase your earning potential above earning just one. If you are trying to get a higher management position, having both will help you stand out among your peers and show your expertise!

4. Networking opportunities

Without a strong network, your credentials can only take you so far. Building off of established networks can help you reap the benefits of your certification sooner.

For an MBA, there is always your alumni association and any clubs or groups you joined while in school. However, this network is often limited to your school’s influence. Typically, the larger the school or MBA program, the larger the alumni network. Additionally, your school may host events, either virtual or in-person, to help connect current students to professionals already established in the industry.

Even if you are still in school for your bachelor’s degree, you should consider building your network with the help of these groups. Employers looking to fill entry-level positions often attend career fairs or other events, which can help you get your first job after graduation or even an internship before you graduate.

However, if your school or MBA program doesn’t have a strong network of its own, there are other options. Many professional organizations like IMA provide their own channels for members to connect.

IMA also offers leadership opportunities for those looking to further their involvement in the community. There are CMAs all over the world in many industries. Every year IMA provides multiple opportunities for its members to attend conferences and other events to meet and learn from each other.

5. CMA is a global certification

In an increasingly global world, more companies and organizations need specialized talent to advise them on the world stage, and often the supply cannot meet the demand. Companies look for individuals who have proven themselves to be adaptive and knowledgeable about the various influences on their business. The CMA is a great way to show your skills and knowledge to potential employers.

The CMA certification is more widely used internationally than other common accounting certifications, such as the CPA. The CMA exam focuses on topics employers look for when filling senior positions in their organization such as performance management and decision analysis.

Even if you are looking for a position in the U.S., the CMA will help you stand out as a leader. The Big 4 firms specifically request the CMA for certain upper-level positions. If you’re looking to rise to a top-level position, the CMA will open doors you might not have considered!


Getting an MBA will undoubtedly help your career, and the sense of achievement you gain when you earn your degree makes it well worth the effort. However, for those looking for a less expensive option with all of the same perks, the CMA can boost your career in ways you may not have considered!

For more information on the CMA, check out our Resource Center. Are you ready to see if you’re prepared for the CMA exam? We have free CMA exam questions to help test your knowledge with our famous answers and explanations. See for yourself why Gleim is the #1 CMA Review provider.