CPCU vs MBA: 8 Keys to Choosing

As you may know from our prior articles, like this one, and this one, we are huge fans of continuing education and professional development here at InsNerds.com.  In yet another article on continuing education and professional development, we wrote about the difference between the CPCU and CIC designations. We have also gotten questions about whether to pursue the CPCU designation, an MBA, or both. The answer of course is: do both! But given that it’s very hard to do both at the same time here’s what you need to know about how the programs compare to each other.


1. If you’re committed to insurance CPCU might be a better bet:

CPCU is something akin to as a Master’s of Insurance, so if you are committed to the industry, (and you should be!), CPCU is a must. It is particularly well-regarded on the carrier side, and if you are planning a career in any of the traditional insurance functions like underwriting, claims, or sales, it provides a strong background level of knowledge.  If you are considering leaving the industry or are more interested in some of the auxiliary functions, marketing, HR, or IT, an MBA may serve you better.


2. If the goal is to maximize your options outside the industry go for MBA:

While the MBA will definitely serve you better if you choose to leave the industry, we believe the CPCU would be a good fit even if you are planning a career in one of the auxiliary functions. You would bring value to any team that is working cross-functionally with the background industry knowledge that the CPCU provides, and it would give you a deeper understanding of the concepts your business partners may be discussing.


3. CPCU is very self-directed:

CPCU can be done by self-study and as as slowly or as quickly as you want. Some online MBA programs may offer this same flexibility, but generally, for a part time program, you can expect at least a 3 year commitment and quite possibly a maximum time frame for finishing your degree. If you attend classes at a campus, as both of us did, your flexibility for obtaining the MBA is even less. Much of the learning in the MBA comes from the class discussion with other experienced professionals, but online programs are becoming more and more recognized.


4. CPCU is all multiple choice and has online practice tests:

CPCU is easier to prepare for since it’s all multiple choice and has great practice tests that are very similar to the real test while any MBA program will likely require a variety of types of assessments. In the program that we went through, we had presentations, exams, reports, and class participation. An MBA will certainly give you more diversified experience with non-test projects probably making up a good portion of your grade. Getting experience with professional presentations is very valuable (although you could get some of that by becoming active with Toastmasters).


5. Learning material for the MBA comes from many different industries:

Most MBA programs make extensive use of Harvard Business Cases which will cover a wide variety of industries. If you are open-minded and are interested in looking at the material through your own lens, you will likely still find the classes interesting and may even bring ideas from other industries back to your company that are valuable. The CPCU is built using only insurance industry topics and is most applicable though it won’t make you as well rounded as the MBA.


6. CPCU can be a solitary pursuit since it’s self-study:

CPCU is self-study while MBA is very social since class participation is required and there are usually a lot of group projects. CPCU does become very social once you finish and start going to society meetings which give you amazing networking opportunities. In addition, some companies or local society chapters may offer classes or study groups, so if you work better with social pressure, we suggest seeking out an opportunity like this. If you attend an actual campus, the MBA will be much more social, especially if there is group work. The program that we went to had a team-based approach, and we both found the built-in support network to be very motivating in getting through a challenging MBA as part-time students.


7. The CPCU Society is an amazing resource:

Getting your MBA gives you access to that school’s alumni network which could be amazing depending on which school you go to but quality will vary. Getting your CPCU gives you access to the CPCU Society which is the biggest professional group in the industry including local chapters, national events twice a year, and interest groups dealing with specific areas of the industry.


8. Tuition and tuition reimbursement:

If you work in the carrier world, chances are your company pays for 100% for the $4,000 or so it costs to get your CPCU so as long as you pass all your tests it won’t cost you anything out of pocket. The cost of an MBA program vary widely and chances are your company will only pay $5,250 per year in tuition reimbursement leaving you to cover the rest out of pocket or with student loans.

Bottom line is both of these are wonderful investments in your career. We both thoroughly enjoyed completing both. If you’re having trouble deciding which one to tackle first, consider your short-term goals and go with the one that best fits those goals.

About Antonio Canas

Tony started in insurance in 2009 and immediately became a designation addict and shortly thereafter a proud insurance nerd. He has worked in claims, underwriting, finance and sales management, at 4 carriers, 6 cities and 5 states. Tony is passionate about insurance, technology and especially helping the insurance industry figure out how to retain and engage the younger generation of insurance professionals. Tony is a co-founder of InsNerds.com and a passionate speaker.

3 thoughts on “CPCU vs MBA: 8 Keys to Choosing”

  1. I have an MBA. It’s useful for broadly understanding business topics. It’s true that if you go to a top school, you will benefit tangibly from the association with other grads and Alumni. However, presently doing my CPCU, i can say that you probably should plan to do both if your ambitions include senior management at a carrier or insurance related entity. The CPCU will give you the technical background to understand the core principles that govern our industry. If you add knowledge of capital markets, marketing, macroeconomics, accounting, organizational behavior, and all the other errata they pack into MBA programs you’d be well positioned to at least be in serious contention for the higher posts in your organization. Minimally, I’d consider an Executive MBA – which usually packs a lot of the core concepts into a shorter timeline for working professionals. That will give you enough of what you’d get in the full program to justify the endeavor. If you’re GMAT or other constraints don’t allow you to enter a full-time program a top B-school, many regional private colleges offer these as well as some of the major institutions. If your ambitions don’t include a title, I’d say the CPCU is probably plenty of study for a fruitful career solely within the insurance industry.

  2. Tony. Perhaps you could clarify the testing requirements. When I took the national examinations prior to receiving my CPCU designation in 1982, every exam was an “essay” exam. None of the exams were True/False and/or Multiple-Choice exams. All were proctored exams, and most had a pass rate of approximately 70%. Originally, there were 5 courses, with only an annual exam lasting four hours. In the late 70’s, the course work was modified from 5 annual courses to 10 courses, each lasting about 4 months in length. The exam length was shorted to 3 hours but continued to be 100% essay questions/answer. I would appreciate you clarifying this issue as many folks researching what CPCU means do not understand the rigors and discipline the older program required.

    • When I did it in 2011 some tests were short essays and some were multiple choice. I found them both challenging in very different ways. Today they are all multiple choice. In my experience they’re very tricky multiple-choice, but yes, they’re all multiple-choice today.


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