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What are Some Professional Certifications for Accountants?

Since accounting is a broad discipline that consists of many different specialties, an accountant who wants to pursue a particular job within the field often takes additional training that leads to certification in an associated concentration area. Some professional certifications are legally required for accountants who want to work in certain positions. Other certifications serve to enhance the career options of both public and private accountants. Here are some popular professional accounting certifications, the requirements for these certifications and potential employment options for those holding the credentials.

Certified Public Accountants

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential is one of the most widely recognized of all accounting certifications, and it is legally required for accountants to have their CPA licenses to work in a number of jobs within the field. The requirements to get a CPA license include 150 semester hours of formal business and accounting education, an undergraduate degree in accounting from an accredited university and successful completion of the CPA exam. The exam covers four main areas within the discipline that include auditing and attestation, financial accounting and reporting, the business environment and regulation. To maintain their credentials, CPAs are required to do at least 40 hours of professional development training annually. Licensed CPAs go on to become corporate staff accountants, tax accounting specialists and controllers.

Certified Management Accountants

Management accountants analyze the financial data of organizations and use the information to help guide strategic decision making. The career options for these business professionals are enhanced by obtaining the certified management accounting (CMA) credential which focuses on financial analysis, budgeting and forecasting financial performance. The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) administers the credential, and one must be an IMA member to earn the CMA. Other requirements for the CMA credential include an undergraduate degree, two years of professional experience in management accounting or financial management and successful completion of the CMA examination. CMA exam takers can expect to see subject topics like business analysis, management accounting and reporting, and strategic management covered on the test. At least 20 hours of continuing management accounting education is needed annually to maintain the credential. CMAs are especially suited for jobs such as budget analysts and accounting managers.

Certified Government Auditing Professional

The Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP) is one of the niche accounting certifications that verifies competency for internal auditors working for all types of government agencies. The Institute of Internal Auditors administers this credential that certifies knowledge of the principles, regulations and processes used to audit government financial systems.  CGAP candidates must have a degree from an accredited institution, two years of professional auditing experience in the public sector, character references, proof of identification and a passing score on the CGAP exam. Some of the standards upon which the CGAP exam questions are based include the Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards and the International Standards for Professional Practice of Internal Auditing. Hours of continuing professional education are needed to maintain the CGAP credential, and those who have the CGAP credential are prepared for a variety of auditing roles within the public sector.


While professional training and certifications can be pursued at any time during the careers of accounting professionals, most accountants pursue these credentials soon after degree completion while the information that they have learned at the undergraduate or graduate school level is still fresh in their minds. An accountant can receive certification from select professional associations or public agencies that often allow them the flexibility to take training and examinations online.