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CPA Degree Information | Career Education to Be a CPA

Certified public accountant (CPA) degree programs prepare students to deal with accounting issues such as fidelity to accounting principles, assurance services, and the complexity of business consultation.

Essential Information

Aspiring CPAs need to earn at least 150 credit hours in required accountancy courses to sit for the licensure exam. These can be earned through either a 5-year combined bachelor's and master's degree program in accounting or through a bachelor's degree program followed by a master's degree program in accounting. In either case, coursework will cover topics such as accounting systems, business law, and tax accounting. To become a CPA, candidates must pass a national exam and must take continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.

  • Program Levels: Bachelor's degrees, master's degrees
  • Prerequisites: A high school diploma and high GPA score is required to enter a five year combined program, while a master's degree program will require a bachelor's degree as well as proof of previous accounting studies
  • Program Specializations: Tax accounting and information systems are examples
  • Program Length: Students can combine their bachelor's and master's studies into a five year program

5-Year Bachelor's and Master's Program in Accounting

CPAs perform a variety of services related to financial management, tax preparation, accounting and auditing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most states require individuals to complete at least 150 postsecondary credit hours to qualify to sit for the CPA examination, so a bachelor's program alone is not typically sufficient to meet certification requirements (www.bls.gov). Aspiring CPAs may enroll in 5-year accounting programs that combine undergraduate and graduate study, allowing students to meet state CPA certification requirements. Students can complete the bachelor's program after about 120 credit hours, receive a bachelor's degree, then complete an additional year of courses to earn their master's degree in accounting.

A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum requirement for entry into an accounting bachelor's degree program. Most schools have specific grade point average requirements. Schools may also require special permission or a faculty recommendation for students to be considered for a 5-year program. In a 5-year accounting program, courses usually focus on business and accounting topics. Typical coursework can include:

  • Tax and managerial accounting
  • Accounting systems
  • Business law
  • Auditing
  • Statistics
  • Business communications

Master's Degree in Accountancy

A student who has completed a bachelor's degree in accounting or another field may complete a master's degree program in accounting to meet certification requirements to become a CPA. Offered as either a Master of Business Administration with an accountancy emphasis or a Master of Accountancy, such master's degree programs typically build upon the business or accounting foundations that students gained at the undergraduate level. Master's programs provide in-depth knowledge of accounting topics and prepare students for certification examinations. Master's degree programs in accounting typically consist of 30 credit hour. Admission to a graduate program in accounting requires an accredited bachelor's degree. Undergraduate coursework in accounting is typically required, and students may be asked to demonstrate competency in other areas, such as economics, management and finance.

The curriculum in a master's program can cover a range of advanced topics in accounting. Some programs require a research project. Other programs offer opportunities for concentrated study in an accounting specialization, such as information systems and tax accounting. Topics might include:

  • Financial and cost accounting
  • Economics
  • Management and auditing concepts
  • Income taxes
  • Accounting systems
  • International accounting

Popular Career Options

A graduate of a 5-year accounting program can work as a CPA for a variety of employers, including government agencies, private companies, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, non-profit organizations and small businesses. Individuals may seek positions with different job titles, including:

  • Tax accountant
  • Public accountant
  • Auditor

Certification Information

Through the Board of Accountancy in their own individual states, aspiring CPAs are required to successfully complete the Uniform CPA Examination in order to gain licensure. This examination is produced by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. CPAs are typically required to complete continuing education throughout their careers in order to maintain licensure.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The BLS expected a 13% job growth for accountants and auditors during the period from 2012-2022. Many factors are driving this growth, including changing laws and regulations and a growing demand for organizations to be accountable to their stakeholders. While employment for accountants was expected to be good in general, individuals who have earned the CPA designation were expected to have the best prospects, according to the BLS. The BLS reported a median annual salary of $65,940 for all accountants and auditors in May 2014.

Continuing Education Information

Beyond the master's degree level, accounting students can continue their education at the doctoral level through Ph.D. in Accountancy or Ph.D. in Business Administration programs. These programs can include coursework and concentration options in subjects like economic theory and finance, and may culminate in a dissertation. Such programs can prepare accounting professionals to work in research or academic capacities.

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