Although not required, most accountants attend college and earn a bachelor’s degree. However, a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field is considered the minimum education requirement for those who plan to become a CPA. Some states even require advanced coursework beyond the normal bachelor’s degree in subjects such as financial reporting, taxes, auditing and other non- accounting business areas. A total of 150 credit hours in accounting and related areas are commonly needed. Students interested in becoming a CPA should check the specific education requirements in their jurisdictions. Many CPAs also continue their post-secondary education and earn a master’s degree.
Accounting degree programs are very popular and commonly available at colleges and universities throughout the United States, as well as through distance learning. Prospective students should always confirm that a program is fully accredited before beginning a course of study.
Virtually all accountants and CPAs specialize in one or more areas of practice. The two general areas of specialization are public accounting and corporate or business accounting. A number of sub-specializations also exist, such as environmental accounting, internal auditing, managerial accounting and taxes. Often, the specialty you select coincides with the accounting degree you earned.
There is a difference between an accountant and a Certified Public Accountant. Accountants (also referred to as “public accountants”) are typically individuals hired to work in the accounting departments of businesses, but lack several of the qualifications of a CPA. Accountants, for example, may not possess state certification or licensure. Accountants can perform certain limited tasks, such as the preparation of financial statements. They may also prepare tax returns if they have passed the required IRS test or received a Preparer Tax Identification Number. They may not, however, conduct audits or review financial statements.
Certified Public Accountants must meet a number of specific requirements, including earning a college degree, passing all parts of the CPA exam, and working for a set number of hours (usually 1800) under the supervision of an actively licensed CPA. CPA’s can perform all of the same tasks as a public accountant, but additionally may conduct audits, review statements, and represent clients before the IRS.
In deciding which type of accountant career to pursue, an individual must honestly assess his or her personal goals and willingness to put in the considerable time and effort needed to become a CPA.
All states require CPA candidates to pass all four parts of the CPA exam. Those four parts are: Audit and Attestation; Financial Accounting and Reporting; Regulation; and Business Environment and Concepts. The CPA exam is offered during the first two months of every quarter, and typically over the course of several days. Candidates may take the test parts in any order they choose, but once they have passed one part, they must successfully complete the other three parts within 18 months. Given its degree of difficulty and breath of subject matter, most CPA test candidates enroll in private test preparation courses.
Before you graduate, try to get an accounting internship or find another way to get some experience to pump up your resume. Take the necessary steps to create a resume and sign up for a career-focused social media platform such as LinkedIn. When it’s time to apply for entry-level accounting positions, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running. Sites like LinkedIn have job postings and let you apply for these jobs directly from the site. Check your school’s job listings, watch out for networking opportunities, and visit both local and national job search sites.
Once you land your first job, it’s tempting to sit back and enjoy the ride after all the hard work of college. Now is the time, however, when you should be thinking about the next moves you’ll need to move up the career ladder. Earning a certification in an accounting specialization or a master’s degree in accounting could help boost career climbing, and if you haven’t earned your CPA, it’s something you may want to look at down the road.