As a new professional preparing to enter the field of accounting, you’ll find that a key part of moving forward is obtaining new skills, designations, and specialties.
Pursuing accounting certifications can help you advance your career, increase your marketability when seeking a promotion, and lend credibility to your qualifications in a competitive professional landscape.
However, most accounting certifications require comprehensive preparation and qualification exams. Since they take quite a bit of effort, it’s wise to take some time early on to determine which certifications best match your skill set and career goals. That way, you can focus your preparations and get the most out of your efforts.
Here is a comprehensive guide to the key certifications needed for accountants, their individual exam requirements, and the results aspiring accountants can expect to achieve by becoming certified.
Accounting’s Biggest Credential: Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the CPA designation is the most widely recognized and valued certification in the accounting field.
Earning your CPA can qualify you to practice in a variety of accounting specializations, including compliance, forensic accounting, risk management, auditing, tax accounting, appraisals, IT systems, and fraud examination.
Because the process for becoming a CPA is work-intensive, companies often place a high value on CPA candidates. Professionals with certified accounting credentials, especially the CPA, can help reduce organizational risk and improve valuation and reporting processes.
The Uniform CPA Examination is divided into four essential parts: Auditing and Attestation, Business Environment and Concepts, Financing Accounting and Reporting, and Regulation. All sections include multiple choice questions and simulations or written essays. Each portion of the exam takes four hours, and portions can be taken in any order on separate days.
Depending on your region, the CPA exam is typically offered throughout the week during four periods of the year: January and February, April and May, July and August, and October and November.
The CPA designation is regarded as one of the more difficult professional licenses and professional accounting certifications to obtain, and the historical passing rate for the exam is low: Fewer than half of all test takers pass in any given session. For this reason, CPA exam preparatory classes are extremely popular and can be worth the investment of time and money.
However, the best preparation for the CPA exam is a high-quality undergraduate accounting program that emphasizes the core and advanced skills needed to be a successful accountant. The curriculum in undergraduate accounting programs can prepare you for the CPA exam as well as the rigorous and rewarding challenges you’ll face in your day-to-day responsibilities as an accountant.
Accounting Designations: Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
The CPA designation is one of the most acclaimed in the field of accounting, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right accounting certification for everyone’s career goals and interests.
While earning a CPA is widely helpful across accounting roles, choosing to pursue a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation is a good option if you’re interested in more specialized areas, like financial analysis, strategic assessment, and organization performance.
Getting certified as a CMA can help prepare you for a strategic business management role that builds upon your base accounting skills.
The CMA exam includes two parts, and the testing window is open three times a year in January and February, May and June, and September and October. Like the CPA exam, only about half of all test takers pass the CMA qualification test. Again, some undergraduate accounting programs, as well as a CMA preparatory class, can help improve your chances of becoming certified.
It’s important to note that to earn a CMA, candidates must already have two years of work experience in a professional financial management or management accounting role. If you’re eager to become certified early in your career as an accountant, you might want to consider pursuing other accounting qualifications first as you build up to the CMA exam later.
Accounting Credentials: Industry-Specific Certifications
Depending on the particular job or industry you decide to pursue, a number of industry-specific accounting credentials and designations exist that can help elevate your career in certain niche roles.
However, because certifications such as Certified Internal Auditor or Certified Fraud Examiner are not widely useful for accounting careers in general, choosing to take these certification exams is best reserved for those accountants who are certain they want to commit to a specialty field.
If you’re interested in these industry-specific certifications, you should carefully consider if they are the right fit and work in conjunction with your experience level and career goals.
Higher Education for Accounting Careers
Although accounting milestones and certifications are important for career opportunities, they are just one piece of the puzzle in advancing your career as an accountant. Earning your online bachelor’s in accounting degree can be another key component of a successful career in any specialty field of the in-demand accounting industry.
If you’re interested in building a strong, versatile foundation for your accounting career — or if you want to enhance your accounting skills — we can help. Check out Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Accounting and see how we can help you get the most out of your career.