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If I Already Have a Master’s in Accounting, Do I Need to Take the CPA Exam?

There’s an old joke in the accounting profession that says that if a client asks a question that an accountant doesn’t know the answer to, they should just say, “That depends…,” which will give the accountant time to look up the answer. Likewise, if the question, “I already have a master’s in accounting, do I need to take the CPA exam?” is asked, the immediate answer is, “That depends…,” although for entirely different reasons.

The most direct answer to this question is that in no state in the country is it required to have a master’s degree in accounting to take the CPA exam. In fact, although the successful completion of certain courses are required to take the CPA exam and these courses contain knowledge that would benefit anyone taking the exam, neither a graduate degree or an undergraduate degree in accounting is required.

MAcc vs CPA: Apples and Oranges

It is also important to note that the coursework required to earn a master’s degree in accounting would certainly be of benefit to anyone who would like to take the CPA exam, as it would count towards the needed hours to sit for the exam. A CPA license also differs from a master’s degree in accounting in that a CPA license entitles the holder to the right to practice before the IRS, one of only three professional designations that are allowed to do so. The other two being enrolled agents and attorneys.

Further, it should be clearly understood that there is a distinct difference between what can be done with a master’s degree in accounting as opposed to a CPA license. A master’s degree in accounting gives those who complete the coursework necessary to complete the degree the knowledge they need to have a more thorough understanding of accounting and its practice. This knowledge allows the recipient to gain a wider understanding of accounting practices and how it fits into the grand scheme of things in a business enterprise. A CPA license, however, is not an academic credential. Instead, a CPA license is a credential that is recognized by the state in which it is granted.

Different Requirements, Different Uses

To earn a master’s degree in accounting is an academic achievement. This gives those who earn the distinction the ability to practice accounting with a greater understanding and an appreciation for the accounting process. To earn a CPA license goes beyond this and allows those who earn it the right to practice as a CPA by offering their attesting authority to members of the public who might engage their services for a variety of purposes.

All of this is a long way around answering the “That depends…” question, but it is largely a matter of comparing apples and oranges. Although the knowledge required to obtain a master’s degree in accounting is of great benefit in earning a CPA license, and a CPA license can be earned without holding a master’s degree of any sort, the two are distinctly different with each having benefits of their own.

Further Reading
What It Takes–A Guide to Becoming a CPA