CPA Certification, Certificate and Diploma Program Overviews

Aspiring financial specialists who complete a certificate or diploma program in accounting can apply college credits toward the CPA (certified public accountant) requirements and prepare for careers in public accounting. Find out what kind of requirements there are for program applicants and what sort of course content you can expect.

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Essential Information

Although not all accountants hold CPA certification, it is a distinction that many have obtained. A certificate program can provide credits to beginning students and to those who have degrees but are still short on accounting and business credits. If students need a greater amount of academic credits to reach the CPA requirements, a CPA diploma can provide more credits than a certificate program. For the majority of programs in both forms, students are required to have a high school diploma or GED.


Certificate Programs in Accounting

A certified public accountant (CPA) certificate prepares students for careers as public accountants. CPAs must have academic credits to become eligible to sit for the CPA exam. Most programs require one or two semesters of study.

Accounting certificate programs provide basic accounting, financial analysis, and business courses. Students become familiar with all types of business, bookkeeping concepts, financial formulas, and economics. Students learn to prepare taxes, evaluate financial budgets, and ensure financial efficiency for businesses and individuals. Common courses include:

  • Financial accounting
  • Bookkeeping strategies
  • Tax preparation and legal procedures
  • Business financial analysis
  • Cost accounting

Diploma Programs in Accounting

Most diploma programs require at least one year of study and can award various amounts of credits. Diploma programs teach accounting, financial management, and business operations courses that can be applied to many industries. A diploma program prepares students to pass the CPA exam once the appropriate academic qualifications are met.

A diploma program offers more courses than a certificate program and, therefore, can provide a greater understanding of accounting. Most courses are based on financial, legal, and business concepts that are essential to effective accounting and bookkeeping. Common courses include:

  • Advanced accounting principles
  • Auditing and financial regulation
  • Financial fraud examination
  • Accounting management
  • Microeconomics and macroeconomics

Employment Outlook and Career Information

In May 2015, the median annual salary among all accountants and auditors was reported as $67,190 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). In many cases, certification as a CPA can increase salary opportunities and job prospects. CPAs can find positions with tax, legal and payroll companies, businesses, and government agencies. Salaries and advancement opportunities depend on academic qualifications, accounting experience, and the type of employer. A CPA can also become self-employed by independently offering accounting services to businesses and individuals.

The BLS also says nearly 1.4 million accountants and auditors were employed throughout the U.S. in 2014. The BLS indicates that the field of employment for auditors and accountants could grow by as much as 11% between 2014 and 2024. It states that those holding CPA certification will likely have more job opportunities than those without.

Continuing Education Information

If students do not have enough accounting and business credits, students can pursue a diploma, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree in accounting. Both of these degrees can apply credits to the CPA requirements and provide students with a greater understanding of accounting principles. After meeting the academic and experiential requirements, students can sit for the CPA exam.

CPA certificates and diplomas are year long programs that can build upon accounting skills already learned in other educational programs and help you meet the requirements for CPA certification exams, making them an essential part of becoming a certified public accountant.

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