Certified Public Accountant (CPA) programs allow prospective accountants to gain the education required to take the exam needed for CPA certification. Preparations for becoming a CPA include earning a bachelor's degree. Undergraduates can choose between an online or on-campus bachelor's degree program in accounting or earn a broader Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree with an accounting concentration. Many schools offer a combined bachelor's and master's program to meet the number of course hours required for licensure, which is typically 150.
In addition to degree programs, students can enroll in supplemental CPA preparation courses that focus specifically on the four parts of the CPA exam. Students in one of these courses would learn about regulation, business environment and concepts, auditing and attestation and financial accounting and reporting.
Certified Public Accountant is the legislated label for U.S. accountants who have proven their knowledge by passing the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination.
Requirements for taking the CPA test vary from state to state. While all states require a bachelor's degree, usually in accounting or business administration, some allow a degree in another major.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), as of August 2009, all states but California, Colorado, New Hampshire and Vermont require 150 semester hours of education for certification. In most cases, 24-30 of the required hours should be accounting courses and 24 hours should be in business. Usually 1-2 years of experience under the supervision of a CPA is also required. Additional study for the CPA exam is often necessary; in some states the pass rate is only about 30% for each test section.
In addition to educational and work prerequisites, some states require an ethics course, the passing of an independent ethics examination or an attestation of the applicant's moral character. CPAs must also receive a license from their State Board of Accountancy.
Bachelor's Degree in Accounting
Students can pursue a general accounting degree or one with a CPA track. Degree programs are available on campus or online.
Although each college program has its own course requirements, most of them include the following courses:
- Principles of accounting
- Cost management
- Federal income tax
- Finance principles
- Marketing principles
- Information systems and controls
Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration
Students pursuing this degree can earn a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) or Bachelor of Professional Studies in Business Administration (BPSBA). While some programs offer a general approach to business administration, others offer specific majors, such as accounting, finance, business administration or operations management.
Courses taken in a bachelor's degree program in business administration vary depending on the major. Basic courses generally include:
- Financial accounting
- Managerial accounting
- Information systems for accounting
Five-Year Bachelor's-Master's Degrees
Because of the new requirements launched in August 2009, students may find themselves needing to take additional hours beyond the completion of a 4-year program to meet the 150-semester-hour requirement. In response to this, many schools now offer a combined bachelor's and master's program to be completed in five years. These degree problems may offer the chance to combine a business administration and accounting major.
Coursework is similar to that of a bachelor's degree program, with some advanced courses added. Advanced coursework may include:
- Cost accounting
- Governmental accounting
- Financial management
- Assurance services
Optional CPA Preparation Programs
The CPA exam is usually taken a year or two after one receives his or her degree. Because the test can be difficult, with the average pass rate around 50% in 2013, according to the Uniform CPA Examination website (www.cpa-exam.org), colleges offer supplemental courses to help prospective CPAs prepare for the exam. Software companies may also offer programs. Interested individuals should carefully research the ones best suited to their needs. The exam has four sections, including business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, auditing and attestation, and regulation; each is taken at a different time, sometimes several months apart.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) anticipates an 11% increase in employment for all accountants and auditors between 2014 and 2024, but CPAs should have the best prospects. Though not required, a master's degree offers an advantage to the CPA. The average annual salary for accountants was $75,280 in May 2015, although those working in the securities and commodity exchanges industry earned an average of $95,540 that same year.
All states require CPAs to take regular Continuing Professional Education (CPE) courses. Most require either 120 hours every three years or 80 hours every two years with a minimum of 20-24 hours each year.
Accountants can earn a number of other certifications besides the CPA. While none is more prestigious than the CPA, some may add a welcome dimension to one's career. Income possibilities are found to be higher for those who are both a CPA and CMA (Certified Management Accountant). Other certifications include Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Certified Financial Manager (CFM), Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) and Enrolled Agent (EA).
Students who take a CPA program are well prepared to sit for the CPA examination, which leads to certification. While it is not the only designation an accountant can have, the CPA designation is typically most sought after and highly recognized.