If you want to work in the accounting industry, then the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) qualification is one you may have read about.
Although not every accountant you meet will be a CPA, if you do meet a CPA, then that means that they are a trained accountant.
There are quite a few differences between a CPA and an accountant that has no specific qualifications. The most common differentiators are:
- Certified or chartered accountants have to meet specific educational and professional experience requirements; and
- Certified or chartered accountants must pass specific examinations before they can become a certified or chartered accountant – accountants with no membership of a professional body often may not have completed any accountancy-specific exams.
There are tens of thousands of accountants across the world that hold the title of CPA, so you’d be in good company if you did decide to study this qualification.
The CPA is typically associated with the USA, so the designation carries particular weight if you happen to work in the United States, or would like to do so in the future. According to the AICPA’s website, “the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is the national professional organization for Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) in the United States.” The AICPA has in excess of 430,000 members.
Having the CPA qualification can also be helpful in your future career. This is because it is well regarded across a broad range of industries. For example, with the CPA you could choose to work in public accounting or in industry. Equally, there are roles for a CPA in the public sector, including roles within the government and not-for-profit organisations.
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How Many CPA Exams Are There?
The path to becoming a CPA isn't easy, and as part of the requirements to obtain the qualification you have to pass an exam known as the Uniform CPA Examination.
The exam is divided into four separate sections that take four hours each to sit. The sections are as follows:
- Auditing and Attestation;
- Business Environment and Concepts;
- Financial Accounting and Reporting; and
You are given a year and a half (18 months) to complete all the sections. You are deemed to pass a section if you score at least 75 on the exam.
There are numerous opportunities to sit the exams throughout the year, with testing windows running quarterly from January to December. For more details on the specific dates for testing windows, it’s best to consult the AICPA’s website.
The vast majority of CPA candidates will sit their tests in the United States, but there are a number of international test centres where overseas candidates can sit the exam.
For example, if you are a citizen or resident of the United Kingdom, then there are a number of test centres in England, Ireland, Scotland, as well as Germany that you could attend.
Given the requirement to score at least 75 on each section in order to pass the exam overall, it's definitely worth spending ample time revising and preparing for the exams if you do decide to pursue the CPA as a qualification.
Although it may mean that you have to juggle a variety of commitments, whether they relate to your social life, work life, or home life, the best chance you can give yourself to pass the exam is to ensure that you have spent enough time going through and understanding the material.
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Aside from the examination requirements, it’s worth bearing in mind that a prospective CPA will also have to fulfil education and professional experience requirements, in addition to passing the Uniform CPA Exam.
Note that in the case of the CPA, every state and jurisdiction has their own requirements when it comes to professional experience and education, so it’s worth checking what requirements you would have to comply with according to where you are based.
It’s very common to have to meet a combination of exam, work experience, and education requirements before you can qualify and become a member of a recognised accounting body, and so in that sense the CPA’s membership requirements are very similar to what you may expect if you wanted to become, for example, a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) or another similar professional body.
Additionally, it is also common to be taught and even examined in areas such as ethics and ethical behaviour when working towards becoming a chartered accountant.
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Who Should Consider Completing the CPA?
If you are looking to pursue a career in accounting, then you may have heard about the CPA qualification.
Whether you should undertake the CPA is a question of your own personal circumstances and where you would like to see your career develop.
Where Do You See Your Career Taking You?
There are a few key items to note when it comes to the CPA. Firstly, and most importantly, the CPA is an American accountancy qualification. This means that it may not be as suitable for those who would like to work as an accountant in the UK compared to other qualifications, such as the ACA and the ACCA.
If, on the other hand, you would like to work in the United States, or know that you will spend a good portion, or the majority of your working life over there, then it may be worthwhile pursuing the CPA over other qualifications.
Generally, the CPA is very highly regarded in the United States, whereas in the UK, having a qualification such as the ACA is likely to be more highly regarded when it comes to proving your skills and advancing your career prospects.
The other thing to note is that, while the CPA, ACA, ACCA, and other accountancy qualifications are often associated with just the accountancy profession, the fact is that these qualifications can be helpful in the wider areas of accounting and business.
For instance, individuals working in taxation may also have a CPA or ACA qualification to their name, while others may work in the field of audit. The point to note is that having a qualification such as the CPA is a great way to highlight that you are well-versed in matters relating to accounting, such as accounting standards, but that you are also able to utilise these skills and your credentials within areas aside from pure accounting.
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Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Advice
Ultimately, the choice of which qualification, if any, to pursue is yours to make. If you do need some further advice, it’s always a good idea to reach out to someone who is able to provide first-hand experience of the various qualifications on offer and see what their opinion is over whether you should study the CPA.
Equally, speaking to someone such as a careers counsellor at your school or university should also give you a chance to talk through your situation and your career aspirations, and hopefully find some clarity over which qualification is right for you.
If you do decide to study the CPA or think that it’s something that you’d like to pursue in the future, it may be worthwhile trying to develop the core skills that successfully certified accountants need in their working life.
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These skills are hugely diverse but can include things such as:
- Good communication and interpersonal skills;
- A strong analytical mindset;
- Knowledge of up-and-coming technologies that might impact the accounting or auditing industry; and
- An understanding of what makes businesses tick.
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Of course, any future accountant should also ensure that their numerical skills are strong. If you feel like you would like some extra help to get your mathematical knowledge up to scratch, or would like to learn about business studies and economics more generally, then you could reach out to an accounting tutor near me at Superprof for personalised lessons designed to help you achieve the learning outcome you require.
Regardless of whether you're currently at school or university, there is a range of Superprof tutors who are able to offer lessons designed to help you understand basic accounting concepts, or develop your numerical ability, at a pace that works for you.
You can find tutors based locally by entering your postcode, although it's also easy to find tutors that are happy to offer online-online lessons. You can also narrow down your search by selecting which subjects you would like to hire a tutor for. Lessons can be one to one, although group lessons or workshops are also available, so it’s a case of finding a teaching environment that works for you.
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