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CPA: Employment Outlook and Career Profile

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a CPA (certified public accountant). Get a quick view of the requirements as well as job duties, degree programs and certification to see if this is the career for you.

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You must earn at least a bachelor's degree to even consider a career as a CPA. In addition to the degree, the key factor in becoming a CPA is to complete the required further training and to sit for the CPA examination.

Essential Information

Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs for short, are public accountants who have met the licensing requirements of their state. It is a growing occupation that may be a good fit for individuals who enjoy working with numbers. Most CPA candidates must have at least a bachelor's degree in accounting.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Licensure and Certification Required to attain the CPA credential; candidates must pass the Uniform CPA Examination
Projected 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

Employment Outlook for CPAs

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that accountant and auditor occupations, which includes Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) among other accounting professions, were projected to grow by 11 percent between 2014 and 2024. The BLS notes that job prospects for CPAs, especially individuals with graduate degrees, should be particularly favorable because the need for accounting services has grown due to the increased scrutiny resulting from new financial regulations.

Salary Statistics

The BLS reports that accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $67,190 in May 2015. Those employed in the District of Columbia received the highest wages of all states, with annual earnings averaging $93,000 as of May 2015.

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Career Profile for CPAs

There are four major categories of accountants: public, management, government accounting and internal auditing. All categories are similar in that they all prepare, evaluate, and confirm financial information and relay this information to their clients. Those who file reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must become Certified Public Accountants.

Public accountants can specialize in forensic accounting, tax advising, compensation of medical care benefits and client financial records, among other areas. They are employed in a variety of places from non-profit organizations to government agencies. Still other public accountants are self employed and have their own accounting practices.

Education

Although a few states allow work experience as a substitute for a bachelor's degree, the majority require candidates for licensure to have at least a bachelor's degree in accounting. The American Institute of CPAs notes that most states mandate that CPA candidates complete 150 semester hours of coursework, which is about 30 hours beyond a typical four-year degree. Many colleges and universities across the country offer bachelor's degree and master's degree programs in accounting. Coursework generally begins with topics in financial accounting and financial statements. Advanced topics may explore laws regarding taxation.

Licensure and Certification

Once educational requirements are met, CPA candidates must pass the 4-part Uniform CPA Examination, overseen by the American Institute of CPAs. Prior accounting experience is also a pre-requisite to licensure in most states. After entering the profession, CPAs must meet continuing education requirements to maintain their status in nearly every state.

Armed with a bachelor's degree in accounting or a similar field, you can complete an additional 30 semester hours of coursework and then sit for the Uniform CPA exam in order to become certified. Most states require that you earn continuing education credits in order to keep your certification current. CPAs can specialize in a number of different fields, including forensic accounting and tax advising.

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