To ensure success in your career after you graduate from an accounting program, you will want to gain certification by passing a certification exam and earning some extra college credits on top of your degree. Essentially, certification proves to prospective employers and future clients that you are talented at what you do and are up to date on the latest knowledge and technology that applies to your field. Although obtaining certification is not required to work as an accountant, it is highly recommended. Many accountants become certified; so if you choose not to do so, you will be at a competitive disadvantage.
There are several certifications. One of the most common is Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Many auditors, government accountants, forensic accountants, and public accountants pursue CPA certification. Another common certification is Certified Management Accountant (CMA). This is designed for management accountants who work in-house preparing financial documents for large organizations. Certified Financial Planner (CFP) is another certification obtained by accountants who have moved their careers into financial planning. Many accountants earn CPA certification early in their careers and pursue other certifications once they have established a niche in the accounting field.
Certification exams are administered by the State Board of Accountancy. Many certification exams are composed of four sections. You need to complete all sections of the exam within one and a half years. You do not have to take all of the sections at once; many exam takers prefer to take half of the test one year and the other half the following year. That way, you can concentrate on studying for parts of the exam separately rather than trying to cram in a broader base of knowledge all at once.
You also need to complete extra coursework to gain certification. For example, to be eligible for CPA certification, you need about 150 college credits. A bachelor’s degree accounting program will require about 120 college credits to graduate, so to become CPA certified, you need to go above and beyond the qualifications for graduation.
As you choose between accounting programs, pay attention to the resources the accounting programs offer to help their students obtain certification. Some master’s degree accounting programs are designed specifically to help students pass the CPA exam. Other programs may offer students more academic independence but have fewer test-preparation resources. Some accounting programs offer preparation classes to help students pass accounting certification exams. Some bachelor’s degree programs have extra coursework geared toward helping students earn their extra 30 credits for certification, and other programs will leave it up to students to determine the course work that they need to complete.
You need to renew your certification every few years by taking continuing education classes. For example, to maintain CPA certification, you need to earn 120 credit hours every three years, and no fewer than 20 credits each year. As you research accounting programs, pay attention to what they have to offer for continuing education courses. You may want to earn your CPA renewal credits through your alma mater, or you may want to try a new program. Accounting is not a stagnant field, and the technology and practices used by accountants evolve. Taking certification renewal classes helps you stay informed about your field to better serve your clients and market yourself to potential employers.