Unique CPA career paths for accounting students

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As an accounting educator, you know that many students are (rightfully so) concerned with their future accounting career prospects after they graduate. Students who have chosen to study accounting want to know that their time and monetary investment in their education will lead them to a wide array of career opportunities. As a result, it’s important to regularly highlight the different career paths that may become available to students upon graduation.

Especially if your students are interested in pursuing the CPA license, they’ll likely have access to a number of career paths. However, it’s important to explain and emphasize that the range of career possibilities for CPAs is wider than ever before, and can include careers that aren’t necessarily on the traditional firm path.  

Alternative careers for CPAs

Outside of the public accounting career path, your students will have the ability to work in many different business sectors and in a number of unique roles because of the versatility and usefulness of the skill sets they will develop in the accounting world. Therefore, it is important to present all of the available career options so they can best select what will fit their interests and lifestyles, especially the unique CPA career paths they may not be aware of. 

Here are just some of the many unique CPA careers you can present to students so that they are fully aware of the various career paths a CPA can embark on, whether traditional or nontraditional. 

1. Fashion buyer / purchaser

If your students like buying clothes from top retailers and have an interest in the world of fashion, the role of fashion purchaser may be the perfect fit.  

Explain to students that accountants in the fashion industry organize the books for major fashion companies and prepare regular financial statements. Fashion buyers specifically purchase clothing, shoes and accessories for retail store collections while using their accounting skills to secure the best deal. When negotiating contracts, they have one eye on fashion and the other eye on profit margins.

Accountants in this industry analyze all costs associated with a purchase and keep detailed records to evaluate the best deal for future purchases. For students who enjoy following fashion trends, negotiating deals and working with spreadsheets, this may be a great fit.

2. Film production manager

If you have students who are interested in cinema and the world of filmmaking, this CPA career path may be their ticket into the film industry.

Give students an overview of a film production manager’s day-to-day: film production managers meet with movie producers to estimate the cost of making a film and establish a budget. They also work with the producer throughout the production of the film to keep track of the budget and to help ensure that all expenses are accounted for and within the budget.

The parameters set by the film production manager largely determine the salaries that directors can offer to the actors in the film and to production staff. Therefore, production managers play an important role in the filmmaking process. Students who like being part of the behind-the-scenes action may thrive in this CPA career path.

3. Forensic auditor

Students who are detail oriented and interested in the forensic branch of accounting may want to take a closer look at the field of forensic accounting.

To help give students a general sense of what forensic auditors do, explain that these auditors  analyze financial data to detect fraud, embezzlement and other illegal activities. More specifically, explain that forensic auditors use evidence found in financial documents to establish a paper trail that can help convict financial criminals and testify as expert witnesses in cases that involve financial fraud. They can even work in government agencies like the CIA, FBI and the IRS, which employ forensic auditors to bring criminals to justice. 

For a real-life history example, explain that one of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century, Al Capone, was brought down by the IRS’s criminal investigation department. This will help better illustrate the role that forensic auditors play in fighting financial crime.

4. International tax specialist

Students who enjoy both traveling and tax may want to consider the career path of international tax specialist.

In today’s global economy, most large companies engage in foreign transactions and work with foreign subsidiaries. These companies require the assistance of accountants who can advise them of the tax implications of doing business abroad, a role your travel-enthusiast students may thrive in.

Explain to students that international tax specialists specialize in the rules of doing business internationally and are employed by companies with operations all over the world. This often grants opportunities to travel to countries near and far. International tax specialists also advise companies on the best ways to organize operations in a foreign country, and how to reduce the company’s overall tax burden. 

To give students better context of this role, list some potential employers: these specialists are often employed by Congress, the Treasury Department and the IRS. These government bodies all play a significant role in establishing global tax policy and need good advisors to make sure these policies are being implemented worldwide.

In summary, there are numerous career paths wherein students can use their CPA licenses. Whether it be in fashion, film, forensics, or other paths, students who become CPAs can open a world of career opportunities for themselves that they may have not thought were possible, which is why it’s important for educators to present them with all career possibilities, both traditional and nontraditional. 

All your students need is determination and a passing grade on all four sections of the exam to have the opportunity for these unique career paths. 

Interested in partnering with Becker to help your students succeed on their CPA Exam or CMA Exam? Learn about Becker’s university partnership opportunities here.
Read more of Becker’s content for accounting educators.


Tara Fisher has been practicing tax for over 20 years. Her professional background includes working for the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Taxation, the national tax practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the University of Pittsburgh, and American University in Washington D.C. She is a licensed CPA and holds both an undergraduate and graduate degree in accounting from the University of Virginia.


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