Public Accounting Programs

Qualified accountants in the United States who provide accounting services to the public and are licensed to do the same are known as Certified Public Accountants (CPA). A CPA is responsible for inspecting and authenticating financial accounts for individuals, organizations as well as governmental entities. The CPA license is usually required by public accountants engaged in private practice or employed by companies that provide accounting services to other businesses or individuals.

Before an accountant becomes a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he/she must clear the national examination administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in addition to meeting education and experience requirements that have been set by the Board of Accountancy in the respective US where the accountant is employed or does business.

In general, there are three primary criteria that one needs to fulfill in order to become a licensed public accountant -
  • (1) a degree in accounting or equivalent,
  • (2) clearing the Uniform CPA examination and
  • (3) documented work experience.

    Educational requirement

    In the US, a candidate is required to have a bachelor's degree in order to qualify to be a CPA. While some states require 120 credits there are many that require completion of at least 150 credit hours at an accredited college or university before appearing for the exam.

    Types of degrees:
    One can opt for:
  • (i) Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accounting (or comparably a Bachelor of Accountancy) which is a 4 year degree that can equip students for entry-level positions in accounting in the public, private, or government sectors.
  • (ii) Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting is also a 4 year degree that is a combination of business studies, management, and economics along with analytical courses
  • (iii) Bachelor of Arts in Accounting is a lesser known option in comparison to BS in Accounting, a BA has more flexibility vis a vis a BS (which is more accounting oriented) in the form of optional and additional electives thereby making a minor or double major achievable

    Academic Requirements for a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting

    A high school diploma or GED. In case one has an associate's degree in accounting, there may be a provision to transfer some or all of the credits towards the bachelor's degree provided the school applied to allows it. A minimum GPA of 2.5 is required by most colleges and universities for admission into a bachelor's in accounting program. Competitive programs may ask for 3.0 and higher.

    Most schools require SAT or ACT scores. However, the weightage given to it depends on the admission process of the institution and program. For some schools, the SAT is optional or not required at all.

    CPA Examination

    In order to appear for the CPA Exam, a candidate must be at least 18 years old and a graduate of an accredited college or university with a bachelor or master's degree that includes a concentration in accounting (a minimum of 39 semester hours in business-related subjects, of which at least 27 semester hours consists of accounting courses). Coursework in accounting should include auditing, tax, accounting standards, principles or processes. Business-related subjects include business, finance, marketing, management, economics, computers, statistics, or accounting. (Source -


    Public accounting is the most diverse type of accounting. A public accountant works for an accounting firm that provides auditing, bookkeeping, financial analysis, tax, consulting and accounting services for other organizations, businesses, government agencies, non-government agencies as well as individuals.

    Every accountant who files a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or wants to set up their firm is required to have a CPA license. To become a CPA the individual is required to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework and clear four-part national exam within 18 months of clearing the first part. This uniform exam is designed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and is held by the NASBA. In most of the US states, CPAs are required to renew their license every 2-3 years along with continuing education requirements.

    Relevant work experience is another prerequisite to become a licensed CPA. As is the case with educational requirements, the rules are state specific. While there are states in the US that are quite flexible about what is considered as relevant work experience and are open to include private accounting, volunteer work, part-time work or even teaching, there are some states that make it mandatory to have a CPA as a supervisor.

    Potential public accounting aspirants need to meet quite a lot of requirements. Hence, it is prudent to know exactly what is needed to achieve one's goal.

    Career prospects and earning opportunity for a CPA licensee

    According to a report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2028, almost a hundred thousand new jobs are to be added to the accounting domain and the profession is set to see a 6% growth. Moreover, accountants hold the seventh highest rank in the list of Best Business Jobs.

    In addition to the more common roles of Bookkeeper, Auditor (the branch of accounting that identifies errors and discrepancies in financial records that indicate mismanagement) and Accountant, a CPA license holder can work as a Financial Manager in the private or public sector. Typically, a Financial Manager is responsible for overseeing investment activities and devise long term financial plans of the organization. A Financial Manager can hold specific roles such as that of a Chief Financial Officer, Finance Controller, Treasury Manager, Credit / Cash Manager and Risk / Insurance Manager.

    Furthermore, Financial Advisory is a sphere that licensee CPAs can explore and find employment in. A Financial Advisor offers suggestions and helps clients plan for seen and unforeseen circumstances by monitoring their finances and helping them meet their financial goals. They offer counsel on investments, higher education savings, insurance, taxes and retirement, mortgages, estate planning etc.

    Another public accounting role that is on the rise in the US is that of the Financial Analyst. A financial analyst keeps a close watch on stocks, mutual funds, bonds and other investment instruments to help businesses and private citizens make investment decisions. Over and above this, Certified Public Accountants can also engage in their own businesses and provide financial and tax-related counsel to organizations and individual clients.

    The average salary for a CPA is $119,000. The amount goes up substantially for CPAs with extensive accounting and finance experience.

    Different roles garner different pay. While bookkeeper or an audit clerk gets paid an average salary of $43,000, a Financial Analyst earns $101,000 on an average. The average income of a Financial Advisor is as much as $122,000, whereas, a Financial Manager with years of experience can earn an average salary of$147,000. Overall, it may be said that accounting plays a pivotal role in the running of an organization. Accounting skills are needed at every company, and every department within those companies is impacted by the work of the accounting team. Accounting solves real business problems and provides accurate data that is used in decision-making.

    MPA at University of Texas - Austin (McCombs)
    • One of the best programs in the country
    • Average GMAT for 2018 - 668
    • over 90% US students and over 75% International students received jobs offers before graduation.
    • Average GPA is 3.7 (for entering class)
    • Average CPA pass rates is around 77% (for students)
    *These are top schools in Public Accounting and do not represent any order in ranking.

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