How to Become a CPA Online

Research what it takes to become a certified public accountant, making use of online opportunities. Learn about education requirements, job duties, median wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Accounting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Certified Public Accountant?

Certified public accountants prepare and examine the financial records of their clients. They may also file taxes on their client's behalf, or specialize in areas such as forensic accounting. As a CPA, your duties may include analyzing financial documents, developing record-keeping systems and preparing tax records. You may work for an individual, corporation or government.

Consider the information in the following table to determine if a career as a certified public accountant is right for you.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree minimum; master's degree may be required
Education Field of StudyAccounting
Key SkillsAnalytical, communication, math
CertificationProfessional certification required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 11% (for all accountants and auditors)*
Median Salary (2015) $67,190 (for all accountants and auditors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need to Become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?

A bachelor's program in accounting could train you in areas such as taxation, insurance, macroeconomics, microeconomics and databases. You could also learn about spreadsheet software, financial accounting, managerial accounting, business law and cost management. Courses in forensic accounting, fraud detection, government and non-profit accounting might be part of your curriculum as well. Some programs also require you to gain real-world accounting experience by completing an internship.

Some schools offer a bachelor's degree in accounting online. If you elect to enroll in a distance learning program, you might use e-mail, discussion boards, video chat or conference calls to communicate with your professors and classmates. Like campus-based programs, you may also have to purchase additional software and textbooks. Some online programs will expect you to complete an internship as well.

Are There Additional Educational Opportunities?

One option would be to enroll in an accounting master's program; these programs can be completed online and could strengthen your accountancy and business administration skills. You could also pursue a post-baccalaureate certificate program; this type of program takes less time than a traditional degree program and may help you complete the additional 30 credit hours needed to sit for the CPA exam.

Lastly, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) offers over 300 self-study courses covering areas such as financial management, ethics, fraud, accounting standards and taxation. These courses may be taken by individuals who need to meet continuing education requirements for CPA license renewal.

Can I Take the CPA Exam Online?

You cannot take the CPA exam online. It can only be taken at a registered testing center, and it is offered for two months every fiscal quarter. CPA exams are administered by state Boards of Accountancy; all states use the same 4-part exam developed by the AICPA. You don't have to take all four sections in one sitting, but most boards ask that you pass all sections within an 18-month period in order to be certified.

State boards may also enforce their own requirements; for example, some states may expect applicants to have professional work experience in accounting. This can include experience gained through a college internship.

What Is the Job Market Like for Accountants?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants experienced an average job growth rate of 11% between 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Nearly 142,400 accounting jobs were expected to materialize during this time period; Industry growth was mostly due to changing financial legislation and an increase in new businesses.

In 2015, the median annual salary for accountants was $67,190, as reported by the BLS. During the same year, the bottom ten percent of accountants made an annual salary of $41,400, while the top ten percent made upwards of $118,930.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Similar careers include those of financial managers and financial analysts, which also require a bachelor's degree. Financial analysts evaluate investments and look at trends to give their clients advice on making investments. Financial managers manage an organization's finances, and their job duties may include directing investment choices and preparing financial reports.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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