What Degree Do You Need to Become a CPA?

by Cynthia Gomez; Updated September 26, 2017
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A certified public accountant (CPA) is a finance professional who has earned certification by testing. CPAs are qualified to provide financial advice and services to their clients in numerous areas, including tax law, business bookkeeping and retirement planning. If you’re hoping to become a CPA, you’ll first need to complete college work.

Education Level

In most states, you must have a bachelor’s degree to sit for the CPA exam. However, a few states, such as Delaware, allow you to sit for the exam with just an associate’s degree, as long as a certain number of your credit hours are from approved accounting-related courses. For instance, in Delaware, associate’s degree recipients wishing to sit for the CPA exam must have a concentration in accounting that includes a minimum of 21 semester hours in accounting, auditing and federal taxation.

Qualifying Majors

Various majors can adequately prepare you to become a CPA. While general accounting and financial accounting are common degrees pursued by students seeking to become CPAs, there are others. The Accounting Degree Guide lists managerial accounting, forensic accounting, bookkeeping, finance and financial management as others. You can often major in general accounting and then as part of the major choose an area of specialization.

Above and Beyond

While you may be able to take the CPA with just an associate’s degree in some states, a bachelor’s degree better prepares you to pass the rigorous exam. Some people pursue a master’s or doctoral degree before sitting for the exam to ensure they are as prepared as possible to succeed. After all, without a passing score, certification will be denied and test takers will be unable to work as CPAs. Additionally, more education tends to equal more pay.

Life after College

In addition to passing the exam, CPAs must work in public accounting for a couple of years before becoming fully certified. Additionally, they must meet continuing education requirements each year to remain licensed. According to the Accounting Degree Guide, CPAs must take 120 hours of continuing education every three years.

About the Author

Cynthia Gomez has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. She is currently an editor at a major publishing company, where she works on various trade journals. Gomez also spent many years working as a newspaper reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.

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