Prospective CPAs do not get a “CPA degree.” Instead, schools offer various bachelor’s– and master’s-level accounting programs that provide sufficient hours of coursework per a state’s requirements to prepare a candidate to sit for and pass the Uniform CPA Examination. Those programs are explained on this page. In most states, CPA candidates are required to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework and typically 24-36 semester hours of accounting coursework.
To earn the required college experience involves completing a master’s degree program or additional graduate-level coursework in accounting after a bachelor’s degree is attained, at an accredited business school. Some schools offer an integrated 5th year CPA program that allows students to take an additional year of courses to earn a master’s degree and sit for the CPA exam. Some CPA-hopefuls choose to first get a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting with a concentration in Public Accountancy or Tax Accountancy. This path will prepare graduates for taking the necessary graduate-level coursework and subsequently taking the CPA exam. The most common path is to complete a master’s degree program in accounting such as a Master of Accounting (MAcc), Master of Professional Accountancy, Master of Science in Accounting, or MBA with a concentration in accounting.
Why Pursue a CPA Degree?
Becoming a Certified Public Accountant can lead to many rewarding career opportunities including working for a large auditing firm or starting your own accounting business. Completing a CPA degree prepares graduates to take the CPA exam and satisfies the state requirements for accounting coursework.
The demand for accountants is good with a projected growth of 13 percent from 2012 to 2022 to over 1.4 million jobs in the United States.1 Accounting graduates can land well paying jobs with an average annual salary of $73,670.1 The top 10 percent of accountants and auditors earn more than $115,9500.1 According to George Mason University, a junior staff accountant at a Big 4 accounting firm earns an average of $46,000-63,000.2 Students who graduate from a CPA degree program have higher earning potential than graduates of an accounting undergraduates and many CPAs are promoted to the C-Suite as their accounting background helps them become effective managers.
CPA Degree Requirements and Prerequisites
Generally you will need to have a bachelor’s degree to enroll in a CPA preparation program. These programs also typically require prerequisites of basic level business and accounting courses. Some programs may require a certain score on the GMAT or GRE exam for admittance.
The coursework for a CPA degree program typically involves core classes in accounting and elective courses that are specific to the career track of interest. An accelerated program can take a year or less and a part-time program can take a couple years or more.
Examples of courses found in a CPA degree program are:
- Advanced Accounting
- Cost Accounting
- Issues in Tax Policy
- Corporate Taxation
- Tax Research and Planning
- Advanced Income Tax
- Estate & Gift Taxation
- Governmental and Not-for-profit Accounting
- International Accounting and Taxation
- Principles of Auditing
- Analysis of Financial Statements
- Accounting Systems and Data Processing
Career Opportunities for Graduates
There are several promising career avenues for graduates of a CPA program who go on to receive a CPA license in their state. On the corporate side, businesses always need competent accountants to help managers and executives make sound decisions and help the company stay in compliance with the numerous tax laws. On the entrepreneur side, CPAs can start their own accounting firm that provides services to other businesses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do You Need a Master’s Degree to Become a CPA?
Not necessarily. 40 states require that individuals complete 150 semester credit hours with a certain number of semester credit hours in accounting to sit for the CPA exam.3 The required credit hours can be taken at the bachelor’s level only or both the bachelor’s and master’s level. The American Institute of CPAs notes that master’s degree graduates perform better on the Uniform CPA Examination and earn 10-20 percent more pay.3
Can You Become a CPA by Completing an MBA Program?
Depending on your state’s specific requirements, an MBA program with a concentration in accounting can fulfill the requirements to sit for the CPA exam and become a Certified Public Accountant.
Can You Take an Online Degree Program to Earn a CPA?
Yes, there are several options available for students who prefer to complete the coursework online rather than attend a physical campus. It is prudent to make sure that the program is accredited and will allow you to become licensed as a CPA in your state.
Research Accounting Schools in Your State
Learn about accounting degree programs in your state, local employment opportunities, salary by metro area, and top-ranked accounting schools in your state according to US News & World Report and Businessweek. Click on your state on the map or on one of the links below to find school information for your geographic location.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington DC
- West Virginia
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Accountants and Auditors: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm
2. George Mason University: https://business.gmu.edu/
3. American Institute of CPAs: https://www.aicpa.org/becomeacpa/licensure/requirements.html