What Does a C.P.A. Do?

If you like working with numbers and analyzing financial data, the Certified Public Accountant (C.P.A.) profession may be right for you! Many C.P.A.s are independent auditors, financial consultants, and tax advisers who serve a diverse client list, including individuals, businesses, financial firms, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Besides having the certified public accountant designation, many C.P.A.s have a bachelor's degree in accounting or a closely related field. Schools offering Accounting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

Years ago, C.P.A.s crunched numbers and prepared taxes for businesses and individuals. Today, C.P.A.s handle a wide variety of responsibilities related to financial affairs, such as taxes and financial planning for personal and business customers. C.P.A.s who cater to the needs of private clients are generally self-employed and offer many services, including tax advice and preparation, retirement planning, and asset management services. C.P.A.s conduct internal reviews, such as financial compliance and risk assessment, and help organizations or corporations maintain and prepare records. You may also monitor prepared reports for inaccuracies, criminal activities, and wasteful expenditures in your career as a C.P.A.

Important Facts About C.P.A.s

On-the-Job Training None, traditional education required
Key Skills Mathematical prowess, active listening, reading comprehension, critical thinking, time management, decision making, problem solving
Work Environment Accounting services, government agencies, finance and insurance companies
Similar Occupations Budget analysts, cost estimators, financial analysts, financial managers, management analysts, personal finance advisors, revenue agents, tax examiners and collectors


There are several routes you can take to obtain the required education for becoming a C.P.A.; the most direct route is a bachelor's degree program, such as the Bachelor of Science in Accounting. These programs cover skills in financial accounting, taxation, legal issues, professional ethics, auditing, and the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Some schools offer internships leading to valuable experience and networking opportunities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), in 2018 most states required C.P.A. candidates to complete an additional 30 hours of college coursework after they'd earned their bachelor's degrees, and some states required accounting experience. The BLS notes that a few states allow experience in the field of public accounting to substitute for a degree. The BLS also notes that all states use a uniform, computerized C.P.A. exam prepared by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) for licensure.

Career Opportunities

As a C.P.A, you can explore employment in federal, state, and local government agencies, where you'd be responsible for ensuring that these public institutions maintain fiscal checks and balances. Government accountants monitor individuals and businesses that receive public funds, which are normally subject to corresponding regulation and laws. There are also specialized areas where you might work as a C.P.A., which include:

  • Financial, Auditing, and Regulation Accounting: In these specialties you might use GAAP to review changes, auditing procedures, and legal issues for businesses.
  • Forensic Accounting: In this field you'd investigate accounting fraud, which requires reviewing accounting reports, records, and systems to expose any evidence of criminal activities.
  • Consultation Services: As a consultant, you could provide objective advice and assistance on financial matters and strategy to private clients, not-for-profit organizations, government institutions, and financial firms.
  • Information Technology: The explosive use of technologies has spurred the demand for C.P.A.s with solid technical skills in designing and implementing computer networks and other technology.
  • International Accounting: Globalization has stimulated the need for C.P.A.s with a keen understanding of international trade regulations and compliance with local laws.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the median annual salary earned by accountants and auditors was $70,500 in May 2018. The employment of auditors and accountants is expected to grow by 10% between 2016 and 2026, per the BLS.

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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