Certified public accountant: Explore careers and the value of an online MAc

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In the field of accounting and taxation, Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification is one of the most important marks of professional credibility, accomplishment, and potential. Becoming a CPA is a common goal for professionals invested in remaining in the industry long-term, whether they are most interested in corporate accounting or want to work with individual clients as part of an independent agency. The journey to CPA certification and the career opportunities that can follow often begins with a master’s degree in accounting.

An accountant uses a calculator to check figures

Applicants sit for the CPA exam after completing accounting degrees. The test isn’t something individuals can take without specialized education, making graduate studies necessary for professionals who want to add CPA credentials to their resumes. While earning their MAc diplomas, students can gain skills and expertise that serve them well in new accounting roles.

Before beginning on the path to CPA licensure, prospective students should learn how to become a certified public accountant while considering the opportunities they can seek after earning the credential. The CPA skill set is a specialized group of abilities and subject matter that can see great demand in times of economic expansion, recession, and everything in between.

What Makes a CPA?

Robert Half explains that because CPA credentials come from a strenuous and regulated process, companies across industries and regions are interested in adding certified employees to their teams. Complex requirements for experts in taxation and other accounting topics call for experienced workers, and CPA certification ensures that professionals have gone through rigorous examinations to reach their present status.

Certified public accountant definition

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) explains that certified public accountant is a term reserved for those who complete required education, pass the licensure exam, and keep up with ongoing training requirements set at the state level. While working as an accountant is possible for those who haven’t attained CPA status, being licensed is a sign of trustworthiness and accomplishment. CPAs may work in financial advisory roles for either individual clients or corporate employers, helping people and companies set up plans and pursue their monetary goals.

Certified public accountant requirements

Becoming a CPA requires what the AICPA refers to as the “3 E’s” — education, exam, and experience. The first E refers to the period of academic work that is necessary to sit for the CPA test. While that licensure exam is standardized across states and territories, local boards of accountancy set the qualifying rules to sit for the test. One universal requirement is a minimum of 150 semester hours, paired with an amount of accounting work that varies by state.

The exam is a four-section test, with multiple-choice questions, simulation problems, and written communication prompts. The sections are Adjusting and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation. Beyond the test, numerous states require CPA license applicants to serve as “candidates” for one to two years. These candidates work alongside licensed CPAs in their states to learn the trade up close.

Remaining a CPA over time means taking professional education courses, usually 40 hours of classwork per year, according to the AICPA. Depending on the state, accountants take various forms of courses, ranging from online work to group in-person sessions. Ethics training and regulatory compliance classes are part of the requirements in some states.

These stringent requirements set CPAs apart from other employees in the accounting world. This distinction may lead to greater career opportunities and salary advantages.

Certified public accountant job outlook and salary information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explains some of the advantages of becoming a CPA, including the fact that every accountant filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission must have a CPA license. The BLS adds that many employees in the field seek certification for the expanded job prospects it offers.

While the BLS report does not distinguish between CPAs and other accountants when noting the growth of demand for these financial professionals, the agency indicates that open roles for accountants and auditors will rise 10%, greater than the 7% average across all occupations. The BLS adds that increasing automation likely won’t harm accountancy employee numbers.

PayScale provides average salary information for CPAs across the U.S., stating that these professionals earn a mean of $64,644 per year. CPA career paths may include eventual promotions to financial controller, vice president of finance, or chief financial officer, according to PayScale. Accountants eager to progress within corporate finance departments may be able to use CPA licensure as an early stepping stone.

How does an online MAc help?

Prospective CPAs can graduate from an online master’s degree in accounting program to complete their 150-hour education requirements. These courses will get candidates ready for the CPA exam and their later roles by giving them the opportunity to learn up-to-date information about the financial industry from qualified faculty members. If students earn a MAc from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business, they can gain the comprehensive knowledge needed to pass the CPA exam, with flexible study schedules designed to accommodate full-time work.

Students don’t need to have a bachelor’s degree in a field related to accounting to enter the online MAc program. These applicants can be at any stage of a career in accountancy, from new professionals to those who have served in a related role for decades. The benefits associated with a master’s degree — such as in-depth lessons, important connections with peers and faculty, and the ability to develop problem-solving skills—are attainable entirely through online courses as part of the MAc program.

When wondering how to get an accountancy career off to a fast start or take the next step after years in the field, professionals may choose to pursue CPA licensure. The road to that credential can start in an online MAc program, with courses targeted at the pillars of accountancy work and updated to stay in step with the accounting field today.

Speak with an admissions advisor to learn more about the Collat School’s online MAc program.

Recommended Reading:
Opportunities for experience in the online MAc program
What you can learn about cost accounting


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Accountants and Auditors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2017 13-2011 Accountants and Auditors

PayScale – Average Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Salary

Robert Half – All You Need To Know About CPA Jobs – and Then Some

American Institute of CPAs – What does it take to become a CPA?

University of Alabama at Birmingham – Online Master’s Degree in Accounting