What Can I Do With An Accounting Degree? – Part 2 of 3


In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the different career paths that a student with an Accounting degree can pursue, as well as briefly described what it means to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

In Part 2, I’ll go into further details about how to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and describe the different types of services that are provided by CPAs.  I’ll also cover the topic of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) and introduce various professional accounting organizations.

CPA Exam Requirements

In order to become a CPA in the United States, you must sit for and pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Exam, which is created by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and administered by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).

The exam itself is computer-based and consists of 4 sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUDIT), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG).  Each exam consists of the following types of questions: multiple choice, simulations, and essays.  In order to pass each section of the exam, you must earn 75 points or higher on a 0-99 point scale.

As mentioned in Part 1, one of the 3 E’s necessary to earn the CPA designation is “Education.”  In order to sit for or take the CPA exam, you must have an undergraduate degree in Accounting and 150 semester hours (30 additional semester hours than normally required to earn an undergraduate degree).

The 30 additional semester hours must specifically consist of certain business and accounting courses.  Once this is achieved, you can apply to take the exam.  The time given to complete each section varies from 2 hours to 4.5 hours.  The cost of the exam varies by state.  On average, a first-time CPA candidate should expect to pay a total of $575 to $800.

Each section of the exam must be taken separately and you are given 18 months from the time you pass the first exam to pass the remaining three sections.  If all four sections of the exam are not passed within an 18 month window, then you must start from the beginning and re-take all sections of the exam.

Once all sections of the exam have been passed, you must also pass an Ethics exam.  The Ethics exam covers the specific rules for professional practice specifically in the state where the accountant will become licensed.  Although the Ethics exam is a lot easier to pass than the other sections of the CPA exam, a score of 90 is required in order to pass.

Once all sections of the exam have been passed (along with the Ethics exam) and you have obtained 1-2 years of job experience under a currently licensed CPA, you will be eligible to become a licensed CPA.

Continuing Professional Education (CPE)

In order to maintain and renew their licenses, CPAs must take continuing education courses each year.  The CPE requirements vary from state to state, however most states require 120 hours of CPE every three years with a minimum of 20 hours per calendar year.

This requirement can be fulfilled in a variety of different ways.  Many professional accounting organizations or public accounting firms will host live seminars, live conferences, or webcast seminars, all of which offer a certain amount of CPE hours.  An accountant can also attain these hours through self-study as well (i.e. reading textbooks or taking online courses), all of which require a mini-test to receive credit.

Services Provided by CPAs

CPAs provide a variety of different services including the following: Assurance and Attestation, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Estate Planning, Financial Accounting, Financial Analysis, Financial Planning, Forensic Accounting, Tax Preparation and Planning, and Information Technology.

Professional Accounting Organizations

There are several professional accounting organizations available for CPAs to join to stay current on accounting topics and regulations.  Some of these organizations are as follows:

  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
  • Illinois Certified Public Accountant Society (ICPAS)
  • National Association of Black Accountants (NABA)
  • Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA)

Brief Introduction: Part 3

Part 3, the last post for this series, will provide you with useful tips and strategies that you can utilize as a student to successfully enter into the field of accounting.

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Lauren Anderson is a certified school counselor who's passionate about helping students all over the world successfully transition from high school to college! After spending 6 years as a business professional, she obtained her Master’s degree in School Counseling and now spends her spare time helping students.

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