Public Accounting: Careers, Skills, and How to Become a CPA

what is a certified public accountant

A certified public accountant (CPA) is an accounting professional who has met certain education, exam, and experience requirements for licensure by a state board of accountancy. The CPA’s license is renewed if the state’s continuing professional education requirements are met. Acquiring your certified public accountant license takes time, patience and planning. Being a CPA also takes a commitment to continuing education even after earning your CPA designation. CPAs are often required to complete 40 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) each year, depending on state board requirements.

The accounting industry thrived in the late 1990s due to large accounting firms expanding their services to include various forms of consulting. The Enron scandal in 2001 resulted in major changes in the accounting industry, including the fact that Arthur Andersen, one of the nation’s top accounting firms, went out of business. Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed in 2002, accountants were subject to tougher restrictions about their consulting assignments. To acquire certification, CPA candidates need at least a bachelor’s degree and the equivalent of 150 semester hours of college credit. One year of relevant professional experience in academia, government, private industry, or public practice is also a common standard. As pioneers in online higher education since 1989, University of Phoenix is an accredited online university for working adults.

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Signing up for one exam at a time will cost you $252, but will give you more time to complete all four sections. In 2021, I decided to take the next step in my accounting career journey, and I am now a self-employed accounting consultant and business advisor. I was able to put my technical accounting and client service skills to use in working with my own clients. It’s been really interesting to see accounting from another perspective as part of an internal accounting team.

Cost accountants who embrace the latest software tools and tech will be able to enter more positions that already have tech-based systems in place. Tech-friendly accountants can also modernize companies that still rely on spreadsheets to balance their books. For example, a cost accountant might notice that one department’s expenses are increasing unexpectedly.

What do CPAs do?

This job board appeals particularly to accountants with international career aspirations. It lists openings in 19 global markets throughout North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions. While organizations may employ general accountants as part of their internal team, most look for CPAs when they hire external accountants. This is because CPAs can offer a full range of services, while ultimately a general accountant will run into legal limits on their authority. While experience and education will help someone do this job better, anyone can be a bookkeeper.

The CPA is an important credential to me, and I still get continuing education credits every year to keep up with our state requirements. This helps me keep current on issues happening in the industry and new accounting pronouncements. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an accounting professional who has met state licensing requirements to earn the CPA designation through educational training, experience and passing the CPA Exam. It’s a designation that allows accountants to work in the field of public accounting. These include forensic accounting, auditing, financial planning, and compliance.

What Are the Responsibilities of a CPA?

One of the things I really like about accounting is that there are many different jobs available. I decided that I wanted to start my career in public accounting in order to learn a lot in a short period of time and be exposed to different types of clients and different areas of accounting. I was fortunate to get a job offer from a mid-size CPA firm in New England while I was a senior in college, and I spent many years working there as an auditor. Most accounting majors can satisfy most of the educational requirements, although states require 150 semester hours of college credit before you’re eligible to take the exam.

  • Every jurisdiction also requires that CPAs complete a certain number of continuing education hours.
  • Earning the CPA credential is a big time commitment, and the exam process is difficult.
  • There are some workplaces that don’t want to consider someone for an accounting role who is not a CPA.
  • However, you may face limitations on your employment options and advancement potential.
  • All Integrity Network members are paid members of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) provides resources on obtaining the license. The CPA designation helps enforce professional standards in the accounting industry. Though many states do not require candidates to hold an accounting degree, educational requirements usually include a minimum number of upper-level accounting courses.

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This means you’ll need to take 30 additional hours of coursework above and beyond what’s required for your bachelor’s degree. That could mean doing a double major, taking additional college classes, or earning a master’s degree. Continuing professional education (CPE) is Bookkeeping for Solo and Small Law Firms also required to maintain licensure. In most U.S. states, only CPAs are legally able to provide attestation (including auditing) opinions on financial statements. Many CPAs are members of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and their state CPA society.

An exception applies to the business environments and concepts section, which is the only portion of the exam to include written response questions. The format is computerized, and you can take a 15-minute break during each section. Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.


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