How to Become an Accountant/CPA


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The field of accounting is projected to grow 11% between the years 2014 and 2024. Accountants work to help individuals and business with their finances. The responsibilities of an accountant require that individuals possess excellent analytical skills and have great attention to detail. Find out what it takes to break into the field of accounting.

1. Decide if accounting is right for you.

Not only must accountants possess great analytical and math skills, but they must also be exceptional communicators. Accountants must clearly understand the financial situations of their clients and clearly communicate their findings and recommendations to those who may not have an in-depth understanding of finance. Additionally, accountants must exhibit enormous attention to detail. As an accountant, it is your responsibility to take great care and integrity when handling sensitive information about others’ finances.

Accountants can work within the accounting department of a company or run their own accounting firm or small business. Due to the nature of the work, accountants may be subjected to work long hours to meet deadlines set by their company, clients, or the government, so they must also posses great time management and organizational skills.

2. Complete your undergraduate degree.

Both accountants and Certified Public Accountants should have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Suggested majors include: Business Administration and Management, Business and Management, Accounting, Business, and Finance.

However, it is advised that those pursuing a career as a Certified Public Accountant obtain additional education and earn their master’s degree. This will give students the opportunity to further their expertise in a specific field of accounting.

It is also important to supplement your learning with practical experience. Seeking out internship opportunities with a public accounting or business firm during your undergraduate career is a great way to build your professional network while also gaining valuable work experience.

Additionally, it may be beneficial to consider joining a finance or accounting organization on campus. This can help you form connections with alumni and other undergraduates seeking a career in finance or accounting. Often these organizations can help you find internship opportunities.

3. Decide if becoming a CPA is right for you.

Individuals can choose between becoming an accountant or a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). The difference between an accountant and a CPA is that a CPA is licensed and therefore able to perform higher level tasks such as conducting audits and financial planning. CPAs might have more opportunities to pursue leadership or management positions later on in their careers which generally require a higher level of education.

4. Pass Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.

You are required to take and pass this exam before being considered for certification or licensure. The CPA exam is uniform across the country and consists of multiple choice, written communication, and task-based simulations (case-studies) sections. It evaluates 4 major categories: Auditing and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financial Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation.

In total, this exam is 14 hours in duration. However, according to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, CPA candidates do not need to pass all four sections in one sitting. Most jurisdictions grant 18 months for individuals to complete all four sections of the exam. It is important that you verify your jurisdiction’s specific guidelines since they may vary. More information on the CPA exam’s organization and content can be found on the AICPA website.

5. Get licensed.

In order to work as a CPA, candidates must obtain both a certificate and license in the state they wish to practice. The requirements for certification and licensure may vary from state to state; however most require a minimum of 2 years’ work experience as a public accountant.

There are two systems that a given state may adopt when awarding certificates and licenses. The one-tier system awards both the certificate and license after an individual successfully fulfills the work experience requirement. However, the two-tier system requires the individual to pass the CPA exam in order to receive their certificate, and then obtain work experience (typically two years) in order to receive their license.

Nearly all states require continued education for CPAs to maintain their licensure. To find out more about your state’s requirements, visit

6. Pursue additional certification.

While your education certainly gives you a good foundation to work as a CPA, additional certification is a great way to specialize in a specific field of accounting. Further certification will give you additional knowledge and skill in a competitive industry.

The Institute of Management Accountants offers the Certified Management Accountant (CMA), an advanced-level credential that assesses accountants’ proficiency in financial planning and other professional skills. In order to earn the CMA, accountants must have earned their bachelor’s degree, completed a minimum of 2 years’ working experience, and passed both sections of the CMA exam.

The Institute of Internal Auditors offers the Certified Internal Auditors, Certified Government Auditing Professional, Certified Financial Services Auditor, Certification in Risk Management Assurance, and more. Each of these certifications have their own education and work experience requirements, so it is important that you check each individually to understand what is expected.


To learn more, check out these videos from PathSource to hear what real accountants have to say!

ACCOUNTANT: From Forestry To Taxes

CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTANT: Be Sure To Prepare For Your CPA Exam – It’s Tough!

TAX ACCOUNTANT – CPA: Good Job Security & Pay

If you have an iPhone, download our free app on the Apple App Store for unlimited access to videos about accounting and hundreds of other professions. For Android users, a light version is available to download on Google Play with videos coming soon!

PathSource Intern, Lauren Gong 



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