What Degree Do I Need To Become A CPA?

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?

Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an increasingly popular career choice, but many people are unsure of what degrees or certifications they'll need to pursue this profession. If you're interested becoming a CPA but aren't quite sure how, then this article is for you.

Accounting Degree Options

The good news is that there's no single degree that is best for becoming a CPA, which means you'll have options. Most CPAs have earned either a Bachelor's of Accountancy or received their Bachelor's of Business before pursing either an MBA with a specialization in accounting or a Master's in Accountancy.

[Check out our rankings of the Best Accounting Schools for undergraduates and the Top Graduate Schools for Accounting.]

The reason that these are the most popular options are twofold. One, to become a licensed CPA you will first need to pass the CPA Exam, which can be rigorous. These two degree paths are generally your best bet for preparing for this difficult examination and successfully becoming a CPA.

Secondly, a simple 120-hour Bachelor's Degree is no longer enough to even take the CPA exam. Instead, most states require aspiring CPAs to complete a degree with 150 credit hours at minimum. For this reason, most people either pursue a Bachelor's of Accountancy at a university that offers a more rigorous, 150 credit hour option, or they take the business route and pursue an additional MBA to receive their extra credits.

Deciding Your Path

Education is a highly personalized subject, and different options will always be preferable for different people. For those who are seeking the fastest path to a degree and, by extension, a career as a CPA, then taking an extended degree in accountancy will typically be the best path. This degree is typically completed in five years, but can be finished in four by taking a larger course load.

On the other hand, there are undeniable advantages to pursuing an MBA as well. It typically takes six years to complete both a Bacheor's and Master's degree, which is only slightly longer than the typical time to complete a Bachelor's of Accountancy with 150 credit hours. Moreover, for those that want more versatility in their future career options, having an additional degree can present significant professional opportunities down the line. Thus, if someone were okay with taking more time to receive an extra degree, this route would probably be correct for them.

Students now also have the option of earning their accounting degree online. Several top online Bachelor's in Accounting and accredited online Master's in Accountancy programs are now available.

Taking the Exam

Regardless of what degree option you choose, the CPA Exam will be waiting for you at the end. The exam was created because CPAs must, as part of their jobs, access sensitive data on a daily basis. For this reason, the exam not only tests your knowledge of accounting procedures and mathematical ability, but it focuses on four crucial areas to being a CPA:

Audit and Attestation: This section ensures that you know how to perform audits, thoughtfully consider evidence and clearly document the auditing process.
Financial Accounting and Reporting: This section examines your knowledge of governmental and non-profit accounting, as well as your aptitude with financial statements.
Regulations: This section primarily focuses on business law as it relates to CPAs and tests your sense of ethics.
Business Environment and Concepts: The final section covers topics like corporate oversight and your ability to work with information systems.

As you can see, the test is split almost perfectly even between accounting and business, so either degree path will be helpful. Ultimately, the choice comes down to how much time you have to complete a degree, where you see your career going in the future and, of course, personal preference. Cost can also be a concern, so be sure to visit our rankings of the most affordable accounting degree programs, including most affordable accounting schools, most affordable graduate schools for accounting, most affordable online bachelor's in accounting, and most affordable online master's in accountancy programs.