Become A CPA

A certified public accountant (CPA) has significant impact on the success of a company. Read ahead for an informative guide on how to become a CPA today.

The main purpose of most businesses is to earn a profit. Part of that process involves managing money, income and expenses in a way beneficial for the bottom line. A certified public accountant (CPA) has significant impact on the success of a company. The job also has flexibility because CPAs also have the ability to work independently for individuals, sole-proprietors and small businesses alike. Read ahead for an informative guide on how to become a CPA today.

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) - The Basics

Accounting is an essential part of a successful company. Balancing books, calculating profits and anticipating expenses are vital requirements for any business. A huge difference exists between a consumer balancing a personal checkbook and the calculations required to handle finances for a business. A certified public accountant (CPA) is a professional capable of handling these tasks and more. 

In addition to all math-specific processes a CPA handles financial planning, tax returns, financial document preparation and profit-and-loss (P&L) statements. Some CPAs are on payroll for larger corporations. Others set up their own businesses or work for smaller firms.

Comparing Accountants and CPAs

Accountants and CPAs both handle the same basic functions. Several main differences exist between the two, however. A CPA is licensed to operate a processional accounting business in the state where he or she lives. A regular accountant is not. CPAs are also required to pass specific state-issued examinations and adhere to state-mandated requirements and codes of ethics. A CPA is also considered a fiduciary, which means he or she is legally obliged and empowered to act on behalf of a company or client. While regular accountants are permitted to file official tax returns, CPAs have more training and education in doing so. Therefore a CPA has more beneficial insights into the proper processing of taxes and tax codes and can even represent a company or client in the event of an audit. Additional differences between an accountant and a CPA include:

  • CPAs have more job opportunities and earn higher salaries.

  • Job security is higher for CPAs.

  • More responsibility for CPAs leads to increased credibility and career advancement.

  • CPAs working for multinational corporations often experience travel and position flexibility. 

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) – Additional Job Descriptions

A CPA provides tax advice and financial planning for businesses of all sizes. Common practice is to prevent audits through careful financial management but when audits do occur, a CPA represents clients in the presence of an IRS representative. CPAs also conduct audits of their own, which are purposed to discover hidden errors in the books and flaws in a company’s financial roadmap each year. Additional tasks and roles handled by CPAs include:

  • Consulting.

  • Forensic accounting.

  • Payroll administration. 

How to Become a CPA – Steps and Requirements

To become a CPA you must first pass a state-specific Uniform CPA Examination, which is issued by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). Each U.S. state also has its own licensing requirements, which much be met in full in order to obtain permission to operate as an official CPA. While many CPAs choose to obtain a master’s degree in accounting to help boost job and salary potential, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is recommended. One hundred-fifty hours of college course work is required, which includes classes in core business practices, auditing and high-level accounting. Post-graduation requirements include gaining experience for one year under the supervision of an already-licensed CPA. The Uniform CPA Examination is administered at the conclusion of this yearlong process in addition to all state licensing-related processes. 

In-Person and Online Education Options

In-person, online and hybrid education modules are all available today. In-person classes, also referred to as traditional or on-campus learning, involve commutes (when attending local institutions) or relocation (when studying across state or in another part of the country). Online courses are convenient and flexible. Hybrid courses combine both in-person and online learning methods, dividing time between the two. Some schools offer all three options, but not all do. Prior to enrolling it is vital to consult with applicable staff at several schools to make sure your favorite options provide your preferred method of learning.  

How Long Does It Take?

Becoming a CPA is a serious process, which generally requires a minimum of seven years education to achieve. A bachelor’s degree is obtainable in four years but the one hundred-fifty hours of college course work required to become a CPA includes thirty more credit hours than are normally required for other bachelor’s degrees. Some states allow CPA candidates to complete a faster five-year undergraduate degree program, which meets all state-mandated CPA requirements. Others such as New York State only require one hundred-twenty hours of college course work. For a comprehensive list of all state-based CPA education requirements, click HERE

CPA Education Costs (plus grants and financial aid to make it affordable)

Education costs for becoming a CPA vary based on school tuition policies and your in-state or out-of-state status as a student. Bachelor’s degree programs cost an average of $28,000 per year. Obtaining a master’s degree costs an additional $18,000 to $35,000 per year. Taking your Uniform CPA Examination costs approximately $900. State licensing fees vary but generally add a few hundred more dollars to the total costs.

Grants and Financial Aid Options

Complete the Free Federal Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) form to apply for grants such as the Federal Pell Grants and other options for financial aid. Scholarship resources are available from the AICPA and individual schools. The National Scholarship Search and website also provide resources to help find financial aid.

Helpful Classes and Required Courses

General academic topics such as English, math and science are required courses. Cost accounting, auditing, managerial accounting and account information systems are also generally required. Additional required courses include financial accounting, generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and international financial reporting standards (IFRS). Any courses available to take in economics and financing are helpful. It is also helpful to take CPA preparatory classes through organization such as Coursera and Thinkrific

Top Schools for CPA Certification

Obtaining your CPA certification is a crucial part of becoming a CPA. You need the best options available to boost your viability in the job market and ensure you get the best training possible. The top schools for CPA certification in the U.S. today include: