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Should I Become a CPA or Is An Accounting Degree Sufficient?

According to Forbes magazine, the accounting profession has grown by 3% in 3 years, adding more than 37,000 new jobs. Forbes gives accounting its number two ranks for jobs in 2013, and US News & World Report confirms that with a #3 ranking for best business jobs. With a median yearly income of over $60,000, accountants are almost $8,000 richer than the average household in the US, at just above $52,000. The main reason behind the growth in the accounting profession is the need for businesses to concentrate more on their financial condition, especially during times of tight credit and limited capital.

You may have considered joining the accounting profession yourself, but might be wondering whether the CPA exam is a worthwhile expenditure of time and money. The answer is dependent on the type of position you are looking to attain after college. Let’s look at some of the facts regarding the CPA exam so that you can make an informed decision for your future success.

A CPA Is not Mandatory

To work as an accountant in the United States, you do not have to be a Certified Public Accountant. Most jobs that require a CPA only do so because the training, testing, and additional schooling associated with this qualification give you more understanding of the business environment and accounting in particular. Many of these jobs are either partnerships in accounting firms or corporate positions, but if you are looking to work for a smaller business, the accounting degree will likely be sufficient for you. That being said, the CPA exam is a measurable benefit to you in your job search as well as in the workplace itself, and can help you land a much better job earlier in your career.

The CPA Exam Can Be Taken Later

If you choose to go straight into an accounting position as soon as you graduate college, don’t worry: the CPA exam can be taken at any time. And depending on the company where you are hired, with a few years under your belt and proven contributions to your employer, they may choose to pay the costs of your extra schooling, preparation, and the test itself. Plus, that extra experience in the working world will prepare you mentally and psychologically for the test, and give you a much better chance of passing the first time.

The Costs of the CPA Exam

According to information from, on average you will pay about $533 for the exam itself. But this cost does not include other necessary fees such as pre-exam training, more credit hours in school, and any retakes of the exam should the participant not pass. Of all these costs, the cost of additional education would likely be the largest and most unavoidable. You can graduate with a full accounting degree in only 120 credit hours, but all CPA exam entrants must have a minimum of 150 hours. This extra 30 hours is primarily composed of master’s level business and other classes designed to give you a better perspective on accounting as a whole. Once you achieve your 150 hours, you are then eligible to take the exam.

Regardless of whether you decide to take the CPA exam right after college, later in your career, or never at all, realize that the accounting profession is not going to disappear any time soon. With the skills necessary to manage the finances of businesses large and small, you will be well prepared to find employment, even during times of economic downturn. And best of all, accounting graduates are in high demand in many non-financial industries, yet another reason why accounting is one of the top jobs in recent history.

Further Reading: Top Jobs for 2013