Step by step guide to becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Becoming an accountant requires advanced education, formal certification and a firm commitment to learning the trade. Along the way, prospective accountants need to answer a number of questions: Do I possess the qualities needed to become an accountant or CPA? Can I start a successful career after four years of college or do I need to earn a master’s degree? Should I work for a large corporation or firm, or would I be better off on my own?

This comprehensive guide is designed to be a resource for individuals interested in a career as an accountant or CPA. Included are an explanation of what accountants do, a description accounting degrees, and a list of suggested steps one might take to get started.

What does a CPA do?

On the most basic level, accountants and CPAs keep and inspect financial accounts for companies, government groups and individual clients. However, there is a huge range in what jobs accountants and CPAs actually take on. Some are self-employed while others work for large firms with offices across the nation. While many accountants and CPAs work full-time, some work fewer hours throughout most of the year with long hours during tax season or the end of the budget year. Learn more

What kind of skills are required?

While associate degrees in accounting are available, most professionals in the field have at least a bachelor’s degree. Accountants with a four-year degree are able to complete most accounting duties. These include examining records, reconciling accounts, preparing financial reports and completing tax returns. In addition, these accountants may be called upon to evaluate business finances and make recommendations to improve efficiencies or reduce costs.

With more education and experience, accountants can become certified. Some financial documents, such as those submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, must be signed by a Certified Public Accountant. Individuals with certification may also find they have greater opportunities to advance their career to management positions or specialize in an area of interest, such as forensic accounting or taxation.

The steps to becoming a CPA

  1. Earn the right degree
  2. Pick a specialty
  3. Decide between accountant and CPA
  4. Pass CPA exam
  5. Land an entry-level job
  6. Look for continuing education opportunities