Certified public accountants, commonly called CPAs, help corporations, nonprofit organizations, individuals and other entities with their financial and tax matters. Certified public accountant training can vary depending on the geographic region. In the United States, CPAs receive their certification, or licensing, from their state's Board of Accountancy. In all states, for a CPA to receive certification, he or she must pass the Uniform CPA Examination, which is given by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The different types of certified public accountant training include college courses in subjects such as accounting principles, business law and economics continuing education courses for people who already are licensed CPAs.
Different countries will have different specific requirements, but the requirements generally will be similar to those in the United States. The examination to receive CPA certification in the U.S. is the same in all 50 states and the District of Colombia, but training and coursework to be eligible to test to become a certified public accountant can differ. Almost all states require that people taking the CPA examination be college graduates who have completed 150 hours of coursework, which usually is more than the hours required for a typical bachelor's degree. A few different paths can be followed to meet this certified public accountant training requirement.
Some people pursue a bachelor's degree in accounting, business or a related field and take additional graduate-level courses to gain the additional coursework hours. Other prospective CPAs pursue a bachelor's degree in accounting followed by a master's degree in accounting or business administration. Still others enter five-year combined bachelor's and master's programs available at many schools specifically to meet the 150-hour requirement for public accountant certification.
The different coursework required while pursuing a degree program to become a CPA can vary by state or other region. Generally, it will include a specific number of hours of beginning, intermediate, advanced and cost-accounting courses. Accounting principles, governmental and nonprofit accounting and managerial accounting also are courses usually required for CPA certification. Professional auditing and federal taxation courses also normally are required. Other classes, such as business law, finance, business statistics, economics and more, also might be expected depending upon location.
Some of the different options when training to become a CPA include double majoring in accounting and an industry area. An example of a double major is combining accounting with criminal justice to work in a forensic accounting area. Another is combining accounting with environmental science to work in environmental accounting. Still another example of a double major is combining an accounting degree with an equine science degree to specialize in the horse industry.
A master's degree is not required in any state to become licensed as a certified public accountant, but achieving more advanced education in the field can result in higher starting salaries for CPAs. Most states do require people testing for the exam to have some experience working in the profession. The amount of experience required varies by state. Many people gain this experience through part-time jobs while in college or through summer internships. Others work in the profession as public accountants before seeking certification.
Most places require CPAs to be college graduates. A handful of places allow prospective CPAs to substitute their time spent working as public accountants for college courses. Anyone who wants to pursue certified public accountant training should find out the specific requirements where they live or where they plan to work.
Even after CPA licensing has been achieved, education is expected to continue. Most states require that CPAs take courses to keep their licenses current. Continuing education courses for certified public accountants are offered by the AICPA.