Become an Accountant

Accountants are highly trained financial professionals who prepare and examine financial records. Depending on your interests, you may find accounting to be an attractive profession. However, in order to become an accountant, you will need to meet a number of educational criteria and, depending on the type of accounting you want to do, gain certain certifications. With the right education and certifications, you will be able to become an accountant and quickly move up in the profession.


Meeting the Educational Requirements

  1. Graduate from high school. The first step on your journey to becoming an accountant is to graduate from high school or receive your GED. Focusing on math and business courses will give you a solid foundation for a future in accounting. Consider taking elective and AP courses in business and accounting.
    • You might also consider joining a business or accounting club at your school, like DECA and FBLA. This will help you gain further experience.[1]
  2. Receive a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Most accountant positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field, such as business management or administration. Depending on your state’s requirements, you may not need to have a degree in accounting, but you will likely need to complete a certain number of credits in accounting, business, and ethics. Each state has its own requirements, so talk with an academic counselor before you start a degree program.[2]
    • If you choose to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), most states require that you complete 150 hours of college coursework. This is 30 hours more than most bachelor’s degrees. Some schools will let you take a 5-year program and graduate with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.[3]
    • If you are not enrolled in a 5-year program, you can take extra courses through your college or university. Your school may have a program to help you get those extra 30 hours.
    • To help you become eligible to take the CPA exam, your employer may pay for you to take the extra 30 hours or coursework.
  3. Complete an internship with a firm. In order to gain practical experience, you will want to participate in an internship program. This will allow you to work in an accounting firm, often for college credit, and better familiarize yourself with the profession.[3]
    • Internships can be part-time during the school year or full-time in the summer months.
    • Internships are excellent opportunities to network and develop connections that may help you land a job in the future.
  4. Obtain a master’s degree. After completing your bachelor’s degree, you may choose to complete begin a graduate degree in accounting. Many employers prefer hiring a candidate who has a master’s degree in accounting. If you meet their requirements, follow the graduate program’s application requirements and apply. Once you are accepted, it should take you two years to finish your degree.[2]
    • You will want to consider whether you want a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) or a Master’s in Accounting (MAcc). An MAcc is geared mostly towards those interested in becoming CPAs or CMAs. The MBA provides a broader understanding of the relationship between business and accounting.

Obtaining Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

  1. Research your state’s requirements. Once you have obtained or are near completion of a college degree, you will want to begin looking into the various state and federal licenses and certifications you will need to receive. Each license has specific qualifications (education, experience, testing, and fees) that you will have to meet.
    • There are multiple roles that an accountant can fill, and each comes with a different type of certification.
    • Employers will often pay the fees for an employee to gain a certification.
  2. Become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). If you file any reports with the Security and Exchange Commission, the law requires that you be a CPA.[4] Becoming a CPA is particularly attractive if you are looking to advance in a firm or gain a larger clientele. In order to become a CPA you must pass a national exam and meet other state requirements. Check your state’s requirements before you begin the process of becoming a CPA.[3]
    • Most states require CPA candidates to complete at least 150 semester hours of college coursework
    • All states will require you to take the Uniform CPA Examination. Most states require that you pass all four parts of the exam within 18 months of passing the first part.[5]
  3. Obtain a management accountant certification. You may find yourself managing the finances of a large multinational firm and developing an interest in becoming a Certified Management Accountant (CMA). If you decide that you would like to become a CMA, you will need to have a bachelor’s degree, complete a two part exam, agree to the Institute of Management Accountants’ code of ethics, and have at least two years of experience.[6]
    • The exam covers a number of subjects, including financial statement analysis, working-capital policy, capital structure, valuation issues, and risk management.
  4. Receive an internal auditor certification. If you like evaluating the financial operations of a business and finding ways to streamline its operations, you might want to consider becoming a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA). In order to become a CIA, you must pass a four-part exam, hold a college degree, and have two years of experience as an internal auditor.[7]
    • Depending on what type of internal auditing you choose to do, there are further specialized certifications. These include the Certified in Control Self-Assessment (CCSA), Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA), and Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA).
  5. Obtain a certification in information systems analysis. You may find yourself managing and auditing information systems and want to move your career forward by becoming a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). In order to become a CISA, you will need to pass an exam with the ISACA and have 5 years of experience auditing information systems. You can also substitute education for experience in certain instances.[8]
    • Depending on your area of expertise, you may also choose further strengthen your credentials by obtaining a Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT), or Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC).[9]

Advancing in the Profession

  1. Work in a junior position. Because it can take some time to gain the needed experience to obtain certifications and move up in a firm or business, many accountants will initially find themselves working in a low level position for a few years before they are granted greater responsibility. Once you have obtained the necessary certifications and experience, you will likely begin moving into more senior positions. These posts can be supervisory and eventually turn into partnerships.[3]
    • It is extremely unlikely that you will become an executive overnight. It can take decades to move up the ladder of an accounting firm.
  2. Start your own firm. If you have the necessary experience and financial resources, you may also consider Build an Accounting Practice. It is unlikely that you will have the client base, experience, and financial backing necessary immediately after graduating from college. You may need to work at a firm for some time before you decide to strike out on your own.[3]
    • Most new businesses do not make a profit in their first few years, so make sure that you have saved up enough money to get you through this initial period.
  3. Continue your education. Almost every certification requires that you continue your professional education. This can often mean completing a certain number of educational hours, either through classes or seminars. It can also entail going to conferences and taking college courses to keep abreast of the latest developments in the field.[3]
    • Check with the certification organizations to make sure that you are meeting their requirements for continued education. These organizations also hold seminars and conferences to help you stay up to date on the latest trends in accounting.
    • Firms are often willing to pay the expenses for employees to continue their education.
    • Consulting firms and other organizations often hold seminars on topics in your field.
  4. Gain experience in different types of accounting. In order for you to progress in your field, you may find that you need to better acquaint yourself with a different area of accounting. For example, if you are a managing accountant, you may need to brush up on information systems, or vice versa. Not only will this help you get promoted, it may help you land a better job somewhere else later on.[3]
    • Your employer may be willing to pay for you to get this extra expertise.

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Sources and Citations

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