How to Become a CPA Online: Education Roadmap

Oct 24, 2019

Should I Become a Certified Public Accountant Online?

Most states require aspiring CPAs to earn at least 150 credits in postsecondary public accountant education before being qualified to sit for the certification examination. CPAs can be self-employed or work for educational or governmental organizations, nonprofits or private corporations and often perform tax-related assistance. Other areas of work for these professionals might include employee benefits, estate planning, management consulting and financial accounting. Work hours may be especially long around tax time or various seasonal fluctuations.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is typically required; additional coursework up to 150 credits, which can be accomplished through a master's degree program, is commonly mandatory
Degree Field Accounting
Licensure and/or Certification Certified Public Accountant designation
Experience Experience may be required for eligibility
Key Skills Math skills, organizational skills, detail-oriented, computer required for online courses
Salary (2014) $65,940 yearly (median for all accountants and auditors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Clarion University, American Institute of CPAs.

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree

An online bachelor's degree program may be offered as a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science format and will typically take four years to complete. Through such a program, students can complete accounting coursework in areas like payroll accounting, income tax accounting, auditing, spreadsheets and statistics. Core business concepts, like organizational management, business law and marketing may also be covered. An online bachelor's degree program would mean independent study and a flexible schedule, but also commonly allows students to contact advisors and faculty members when needed.

It should be noted that select states do not require a college degree for CPA certification, and will instead accept years of accounting experience. However, accountants almost always need a bachelor's degree to find work, so even in those select states, a bachelor's degree will be advantageous to preparing to become a CPA.

Success Tips:

  • Prepare for the CPA examination. Certain bachelor's degree program offer courses that are specifically designed to prepare students for the CPA exam. This could include CPA review courses that deal with subjects like auditing, regulation, business and finance. Additionally, the American Institute of CPAs provides study materials for individuals preparing to take the test.
  • Review the requirements for CPA certification in the state. Although the Uniform CPA Exam is a standardized national test, eligibility to take it varies by state. Most require CPA candidates to complete a bachelor's degree in accounting, and then some additional coursework for a minimum of 150 credits. Other states require a bachelor's degree in any area, plus a certain number of units in accounting, while a few don't require a bachelor's degree. Some schools offer five-year programs combining bachelor's and master's degrees in accounting.

Step 2: Complete Additional Education

In many states, at least 150 credit hours of study are required for aspiring CPAs. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including completing an online master's degree program in accounting. These programs are available in Master of Accountancy, Master of Science in Accountancy and Master of Business Administration with accounting specialization formats. Programs may take from 1-3 years to complete, depending on format or full-time vs. part-time enrollment, and will commonly cover subjects like taxation, corporate finance, financial accounting, business law and managerial accounting. Additionally, most master's degree programs in accounting are specifically designed to prepare students for the CPA examination.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Experience is beneficial in learning about becoming a CPA. The majority of states require CPA applicants to possess some accounting experience before taking the CPA exam. Students should research their state's requirements in this area. Some states are more stringent than others, requiring candidates to complete a certain number of educational credit hours. In addition, some states might require a minimum number of accounting or business credits before permitting an individual to take the certification exam.

Step 4: Take the Uniform CPA Exam

This rigorous, four part examination is administered by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. It takes 14 hours to complete and fewer than half the candidates taking the test pass each part on the first try. Most states require that candidates pass all four parts within a year and a half of passing the first section. The CPA exam is offered four times per year at computerized testing centers across the country.

Step 5: Consider Becoming a Financial Manager

Advancement for the experienced CPA can be to become a financial manager. Employers will often seek a master's degree and it is helpful to have certification, such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) from the CFA Institute or the Certified Treasury Professional from the Association of Financial Professionals.

Expert Contributor: Stephen Mostrom Stephen has an MBA and JD and has significant financial experience at Fortune 500 banks, including JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America.

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