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Accounting students who seek certification have more than one potential path to follow. The Certified Public Accountant and Certified Management Accountant credentials are two of the most prominent forms of recognition for accounting professionals, and receiving one of these credentials is a potentially helpful next step for recent graduates who have received master’s degrees in accounting.

An accountant works with tax documentation

With CPA and CMA certification each recognized by industry insiders as a demonstration of an accountant’s knowledge and commitment, choosing between these two paths may come down to individual preferences and interests. Becoming a CPA means a professional has widespread knowledge of accounting practices such as tax law compliance and accounting. While CPAs may thrive in the consumer or corporate worlds, CMAs tend to focus exclusively on business matters, operating in high-level financial roles at large firms.

While the exact content of CPA and CMA certification differ, the two credentials are similar in a few very important ways. Both paths may lead to increased responsibilities and higher salaries, and either type of certification may prove useful to MAc recipients.

What is CPA certification?

CPA certification is handed out at a state level. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is the body that designs the tests and exams used across each of the jurisdictions. Once applicants pass the test and become certified, they may find it easier to take on new roles within the accounting profession or receive improved salary offers.

Certified CPAs possess skills and knowledge valued by companies of all kinds. Government departments, Fortune 500 companies and smaller accountancy firms are all aware of the standardized skills tested by the CPA exam, meaning they have a clear picture of what credential recipients can provide for their companies.

CPA certification requirements

People can’t walk into the CPA exam without prior education. The AICPA requires test-takers to have completed 150 semester hours of college work on accountancy and related topics before they can sit for the exam. While having a master’s degree isn’t a hard requirement, it’s normal for CPAs to have an MAc or similar degree, as these programs are the place to take accountancy courses for the required amount of time.

Eligible individuals then study for and take the CPA exam, as administered by one of the 55 state- and territory-level licensing bodies. Those who pass become CPAs. They must then take professional education courses every year to maintain their certification status. This need to refresh the credential every 12 months enhances the value of being a CPA, as employers will know certification holders have updated their skills recently.

CPA certification salary and job outlook

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy explains that employment growth is above the national average for people with CPA certification, citing Department of Labor and Statistics predictions that stretch through 2024. Furthermore, being certified may lead to a 10 percent increase in salary over a professional lacking the credential.

The NASBA added that CPA licenses are attractive to leaders because managers see that credentialed employees are dedicated to accountancy as a long-term profession. Applying for leadership roles may become easier with CPA certification, as the candidate has a widely recognized seal of approval to serve as a differentiating factor.

What is CMA certification?

Certified Management Accountants receive their credentials from the Institute of Management Accountants, an international professional organization. The credential is designed to show off some of the most important skills related to corporate accountancy, divided into financial reporting and planning, and financial decision-making.

Becoming a CMA means being able to demonstrate value to corporate financial departments. Leaders who want to verify their employees understand the analytical foundation of accounting concepts can look to CMA certification as a sign of approval. As with CPA certification, CMA exam graduates may leverage this formalized support into higher-ranking roles or salary increases.

CMA certification requirements

The actual exam to become a CMA comes in two parts that can be taken in any order. In addition to passing these tests, CMAs must have bachelor’s degrees or be professionally certified to practice accountancy. Higher-learning students can take the two parts of the CMA exam while still in school. Test-takers must also be active members of the IMA, and have two years of continuous experience performing management accounting or financial management duties.

As with the CPA standard, keeping CMA certification means taking multiple hours or professional development courses every year. This helps employers place positive value on applicants and candidates, safe in the knowledge that these individuals have kept up to date with the best practices of their industry.

CMA certification salary and job outlook

The IMA emphasizes that employees with CMA certification tend to earn higher salaries that those without such a credential. For instance, research by the organization found salaries for CMAs are 47 percent higher than individuals who serve in similar roles who don’t have either CMA or CPA certification. The IMA adds that the true benefits of being a CMA go beyond raw salary and extend to networking—being a CMA makes an individual part of a group that can point the way to new opportunities.

Roles ideal for CMAs include internal auditor, treasurer, senior accountant, and financial analyst. Furthermore, certified employees who serve in essential financial roles for long enough may find themselves ideally positioned to apply for C-suite roles that open.

From a MAc to CPA or CMA

Students seeking the accountancy and financial knowledge they’ll need to ace CPA or CMA exams can work their way toward these industry credentials by joining an online MAc program. Studying online for a MAc at an accredited university, such as the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business allows professionals to gain the knowledge they need, both in passing their certification tests and excelling in professional roles that use the credentials.

Online students are free to study on schedules that suit them, fitting high-level studies in alongside current professional responsibilities. The curriculum at UAB is based on a cutting-edge, tech-driven view of the accounting field that represents the practice as it exists today. Applicants interested in the wide-ranging possibilities of becoming a CPA or the corporate focus of CMA certification can build toward those credentials in practical and relevant online courses.


Recommended Reading:

Accountant vs. auditor: What career should you pursue?

Chief Accounting Officer: Explore This Career


Institute of Management Accountants – CMA Certification

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy – What is a CPA?

Robert Half – CPA vs. CMA: Which Is the Best Certification for You?

AICPA – Frequently Asked Questions FAQs – Become A CPA