Certified Public Accountant: Degree and Training Programs

Certified public accountants (CPAs) are accountants who have completed the certification process to become eligible to file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Learn about the certification process, and find out which programs meet the education requirements to take the CPA exam. Schools offering Accounting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

Certified public accountants (CPAs) help manage the finances of businesses, governments, and individuals. In order to practice, CPAs must be certified by taking an exam through their state. The requirements vary, but most states look for a minimum number of coursework hours as well as a bachelor's degree.

Responsibilities Monitor financial records, perform audits, and give financial counsel
Programs Many schools offer combinations of bachelor's and master's programs that students can complete in five years
Certification Students must be certified through the board of accountancy in their state

What Does a Certified Public Accountant Do?

As an accountant, your job is to keep track of your employer's financial records, make sure that taxes are paid accurately, and sometimes offer advice on related matters. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated in 2016 that there were 1,397,700 accountants and auditors working in the country, and this number was expected to grow 10 percent by 2026 (www.bls.gov). In 2017, it was reported that accountants and auditors made a median annual wage of $69,350.

What Is the CPA Certification?

If you're filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), you must become a certified public accountant. You become certified through your state's public accountancy board by taking an examination. Each state's educational requirements for taking the CPA examination are different and in many states, you have more than one educational pathway open to you to become certified.

According to the BLS, in all but four states, you need to have completed 150 hours of coursework, which exceeds the number of hours typically needed to earn a bachelor's degree. However, in some states you might need to have acquired at least a baccalaureate degree or its equivalent for employment.

How Do I Get the Proper Education?

Although you should make sure to earn your degree from an accredited institution, you will not necessarily be required to major in accounting when obtaining the education necessary for the CPA certification. Professional experience is another common requirement for taking the CPA examination. You'll likely be studying these course topics in your training:

  • Accounting techniques
  • Business principles
  • Auditing
  • Business law
  • Ethics

What Kind of Degrees Are Available?

Many universities offer you the option of earning a combination bachelor's and master's degree in accounting in five years, which will let you complete the 150 hours of coursework required to sit for the CPA examination. For instance, with a bachelor's degree, even one that isn't in accounting or business, you can earn a Master of Professional Accountancy with only about a year's worth of coursework, although the exact timing depends on the nature of your bachelor's degree classes.

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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