What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming an Accountant?

When it comes to major decisions, like choosing a college program of study, it’s always good to consider the details of your future plans, including salary potential. For aspiring accountants, the news is good. Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is among the top five highest-paying jobs for business majors. Experienced accountants earn a median annual salary of $73,800. Becoming an accountant, and especially a CPA, requires an education path that includes years of study and successful completion of an exam.

An Accounting Education

The first step to becoming an accountant is to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting from a college or university. Accreditation may not be a requirement for state licensure, depending on the state in which the you plan to work. However, accreditation is required for additional certifications that could advance the accountant’s career. If you intend to apply for special certifications in the future you may want to select one of the more than 180 accounting programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

Undergraduate degree programs that prepare you to become a CPA require you to complete 150 semester hours of study rather than 120, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s because state CPA requirements typically mandate that candidates complete the additional 30 semester hours of education. If you aspire to become a CPA you should expect to spend five years earning your undergraduate degree.

To give themselves a further advantage in the job market, some students enroll in accelerated degree programs. In these programs you  earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree upon completing five years of study. You also should take advantage of any opportunities you have to gain hands-on experience in accounting through internships with accounting firms.

The Path to a CPA License

In addition to five years of study and a bachelor’s degree, you must pass the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)’s four-part Uniform CPA Examination. You have 18 months from the time you pass the first part of the test to pass the remaining parts. Of course, these aspiring accountants don’t have to wait 18 months to begin working in their chosen field. You may get hired for entry-level or junior-level positions in accounting. Then their employer will often pay for the expense of taking the CPA exam. Even after you pass the CPA exam and receive the license from your state’s Board of Accountancy, you typically must still fulfill continuing education requirements to maintain your license.

Becoming an accountant and especially a CPA requires commitment to five years of study and the  completion of a long, multi-part exam. If you enjoy the mathematical, analytical and organizational challenges of accounting, though, the rewards of the profession are well worth this investment.

For the right candidate, work as an accountant can be as personally satisfying as it is profitable.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief