Your guide to accounting licenses, certifications and certificate programs
An accounting career doesn’t have to be linear. Whether you want to work in the public or private sector or have a preference for a specific type of accounting work or industry, you have a variety of paths you can explore to develop your skills. It’s never too early or late to invest in your professional development, but it can feel stressful to decide on a specialization that will bring you closer to a fulfilling career. From licenses to certifications to certificate programs, we’ve rounded up what you need to know about each one to help you make the right choice.
The ABCs of CPA licensure
The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license is a U.S.-based license that allows accountants to practice in both public and private sectors, affording a wide purview of potential experience and expertise.
To become a licensed CPA, candidates must fulfill core requirements as detailed by their licensing jurisdiction. For the most part, requirements include:
- Graduate with a bachelor’s degree with a specified number of hours of relevant coursework.
- Pass the CPA Exam within 18 months of start. Most candidates will need 350-450 hours to prepare for it. To pass, you’ll need a minimum score of 75 out of 99. We can help you pass! In fact, in 2020, Becker Exam Day ReadyTM students reported passing 94% of the CPA Exam sections they attempted.
- A certain amount of experience in public accounting or under the supervision of a certified public accountant.
- Newly licensed CPAs must pass the ethics exam with a 90% score to pass.
Some states may have special requirements unique to their jurisdiction (e.g. residency, age and coursework minimums), so it’s best to review yours to make sure you comply with their criteria. As a practicing CPA, you’re obligated to complete a set number of hours of continuing professional education (CPE) that’s determined by your jurisdiction.
The CPA license is a major investment in time and resources. So how do you know it’s right for you?
You’ll have more career mobility and opportunities. This includes a breadth of responsibilities that only a CPA license will allow you to perform, such as:
- Preparing financial statements
- The ability to represent your firm before the IRS to defend a return
- Conducting external company audits
- The flexibility to work in either the public or private sector
- Being considered for senior-level roles, in which a CPA license is often a must-have
CPAs tend to have greater earning potential. When compared to non-CPA accountants, CPAs generally make 10-15% more in salary (contingent upon experience, expertise, location, specialization, etc.)
CPAs are in demand. Companies always need top CPA talent who can deliver financial reports, support top-level decisions and consistently adhere to federal regulations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all types of accountants and auditors will see job growth rise to 7% each year through 2030.
You’ll also enjoy status distinction and respect from passing the exam. Completing your yearly CPE requirements also shows your commitment to being held to elevated professional standards and ethics.
CMA certification: the boardroom is calling
Getting your CPA license isn’t the only option that can open doors for your career. The Certified Management Accountant certification is an option if you’d rather hone your skills in business analysis and strategy, corporate management and financial planning. Unlike the CPA, the CMA is an internationally recognized, universal accreditation that doesn’t require retesting in other jurisdictions. But keep in mind that many CMAs are also licensed CPAs.
This certification is well suited for those who are interested in the behind-the-scenes, yet highly visible decision-making work that puts you in front of C-suite executives. By extension, preparing reports for executives and board meetings positions you on the fast track for management and leadership roles. Working with data analytics also prepares you to navigate the complexities of digital transformation currently unfolding in the field.
To earn a CMA certification, you must have
- A bachelor’s degree (in business, accounting, or economics) or professional certification
- Membership in the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)
- Two continuous years working in financial or managerial accounting
- A passing score of 360 out of 500 on the CMA Exam. This takes about 12-18 months to complete both parts and has a global pass rate of 45%.
- 30 hours per year of CPE after receiving CMA certification
Adapt your skills to market needs with a CPE certificate program
While CPE is a requirement for CPAs and CMAs to maintain their licenses, any accounting professional can take CPE to acquire knowledge in a specific topic. CPE certificate programs address business trends and sought-after skills that are relevant for all experience levels. It’s a practical yet comprehensive way to uplevel your skills and shows commitment to your professional development, particularly if a CPA license or CMA certification doesn’t align with your career goals.
For example, the Microsoft Excel Fundamentals & Data Analytics Certificate program--named one of Accounting Today's 2021 Top New Products--provides soup-to-nuts Excel training that touches on data analytics and visualization that’s good for all learning levels. Meanwhile, the Data & Analytics for Business Professionals Certificate program is suited for intermediate-to-advanced accountants who are looking for ways to leverage their skills to become strategic enablers in their organizations. This certificate program teaches you how to use data analytics to inform needle-moving decisions like long-term growth, talent retention and innovation strategy.
For managerially-minded professionals, the Cultivating a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace Foundational Certificate program shows you how to create an inclusive and diverse workplace in practical ways. The Leading Change for a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace Certificate program touches on similar concepts, but specifically discusses how to apply the core concepts of Diversity, Equality, Belonging and Inclusion (DEBI) to encourage allyship, recruit and retain diverse talent and inspire leaders in the workplace.
Participating in a Becker CPE certificate program means you have:
- Timely and relevant courses that reflect current trends in business, career coaching and key accounting updates
- A practical way to boost your expertise and quickly apply what you’ve learned to real-life work settings
- Curriculum designed with the working professional in mind, allowing for self-paced learning and optimal flexibility
Becker is your partner in career development at every stage
You’ll want all the support you can get when you’re preparing for the CMA Exam, CPA Exam, or looking to hone specific skills with a certificate program. With Becker, you’ll always have the resources to find your answers or tap on a (virtual) shoulder to discuss difficult concepts at your convenience. From curated practice exams to study tools and CPE credits, our licensure and certification exam reviews, and certificate programs, are developed to help you make your professional aspirations a reality. We invest in top-notch instructors, technology and content development to support your continuing education at every experience level.
No matter what you choose to grow your expertise, the best decision is the one in which you learn something new and relevant, that brings you closer to where you want to go next. For every fork in the road you encounter in your career, Becker has the guidance and support system to help you along your unique, professional journey.
So, what’s your next move? Get ready to develop your accounting career with Becker by your side.