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. To become a CPA, candidates must pass a national exam and must take continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.
A high GPA score is required to enter a 5-year combined program, while a master's degree program may require previous accounting coursework.
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. 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
- 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 hours. 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
- 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
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The BLS expected a 11% job growth for accountants and auditors during the period from 2014-2024. 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 $67,190 for all accountants and auditors in May 2015.
Continuing Education 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.
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.
Those seeking licensure as a CPA need to complete a master's degree. While the BLS reports faster than average job growth for accountants and auditors, those with a CPA certification will have the best job prospects.