5 Steps to Become a Successful CPA

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Ever since you were little, crunching numbers was your thing. Your parents joke that you were born with a calculator in hand. Sudoku is your weekend obsession. Why not use your love of digits as a certified public accountant? A CPA advises clients on financial and tax matters and sometimes performs audits within companies to ensure proper financial reporting. Although the certification requirements vary per state, the education path is fairly straightforward.

First and foremost, you must have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance. Beyond this, most states require 150 semester hours of postsecondary study, including some graduate-level work. Once this is completed, potential CPAs have to take four certification exams, and all have to be passed within 18 months. The greatest thing about this pursuit is the amount of growth in this field.

As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes via this study.com article, “Accountants and auditors will have a 11% growth in the years 2014-2024. In 2015, these workers earned an average annual salary of $75,2800, according to the same source.” In its 2017 salary guide, the finance recruitment firm Robert Half International stated that accounting professionals with a professional certification or master’s degree make 5% to 15% more, on average, with a CPA being the most desired credential.” In sum, getting your advanced degree makes a big salary difference in the accounting field.

If you’ve always been interested in becoming a certified public accountant, we can help. It might sound overwhelming but there is a fairly defined path, and we go over the steps to becoming a CPA below.

1- Get a Degree in Accounting

Most states require potential CPAs to complete 150 semester hours of study in this area to become licensed. However, most bachelor’s degrees only take about 120 hours of schooling. In order to rectify this difference, some schools offer the option to do a combined bachelor and master’s degree program in accounting that typically takes five years. The coursework starts with the fundamentals of accounting theory and moves on to things like cost accounting, as topics get more complex.

2- Decide on a Graduate Degree

This is typically not required in order to become a CPA but is a good option for those that didn’t go to a school with the combined bachelor’s and master’s program. If you didn’t go to a school with this option, you likely need to get a graduate degree in order to meet the credit hour requirements to become a CPA. You’ll learn things like financial controls and tax planning as you get your Master of Business Administration, Master of Arts in Accounting, or a Master of Science in Accounting.

3- Time to Get to Work!

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You might think this is out of order, as we haven’t mentioned the certification exams yet, but that’s because nearly all state boards require CPAs to complete at least two years of work in the field. You can work in the accounting department of any company, or go for a job at a public or private accounting firm. By enlisting the help of fixed asset software and learning from your peers, this type of on the job experience is invaluable.

4- Take the Certification Exams

After you’ve met your education and experience requirements, it’s time for appearing in and passing the CPA certification exams. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) administers four exams that have to be successfully completed in order to become a CPA. As this aicpa.org article notes, “The CPA Exam consists of four, four-hour sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG).” Once the first exam has been taken, candidates must complete the other three within 18 months. Those who pass the exams within this time frame earn their license to become CPAs.

5- Yep, More Education

If you like to learn, the CPA route is ideal for you. On top of the previous steps we’ve mentioned that are needed to become a CPA, accountants have to continue with education in order to meet renewal requirements. Also, some states require CPAs to take ethics courses as part of this continuing education.

The Bottom Line:

This might seem like a lot of work but, with the aforementioned growth in the field, it could be well worth the pursuit. Being a certified Public Accountant, you can not only get a highly paying job, but can start a highly profitable accounting firm.

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