Why Students are Choosing CPA Certification over Accounting Degrees

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There are many roads to travel when pursuing a career in the accounting industry. For example, you can become a bookkeeper, an accountant, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), or a Certified Management Accountant (CMA). However, most people choose to become accountants or CPAs.

Currently, most students are choosing to complete the educational requirements to obtain CPA certification. There has been an upward trend in CPA exam candidates for at least a decade. While there’s nothing wrong with earning a degree in accounting, becoming a CPA is ideal.

What’s the difference between CPA certification and an accounting degree?

Regardless of your career choice, you need to be passionate and accurate with numbers. However, there is a significant difference between earning a degree in accounting and earning a CPA certification.

In short, there are more steps to become a CPA. Accountants earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting while CPAs must complete a bachelor’s degree in a related field, have working experience as a CPA, and pass a rigorous 4-part exam. The CPA exam has a pass rate of just above 50%.

4 reasons CPA certification is ideal

While it’s easier to become an accountant, becoming a CPA is more rewarding. Here are four facts that make CPA certification ideal.

1. CPAs have a higher earning potential

As of 2020, $64,250 was the midpoint salary in the United States for accountants with a bachelor’s degree and three years of experience. That’s not bad, but CPA certification can drastically increase a person’s salary.

CPA salaries vary more than accountant salaries. CPAs earn more with greater levels of experience and specialization. For example, a CPA working as a Corporate Controller earns an average of $96,728 per year and working as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) generates an average of $131,194 annually.

 2. CPA certification can open doors to influential financial positions 

One of the best benefits of getting a CPA license is being able to work in some interesting positions. For example, the FBI routinely recruits CPAs to investigate criminal fraud. Most people wouldn’t think a CPA would be a candidate for getting hired by the FBI.

Other interesting responsibilities for CPAs include:

  • Holding a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) position
  • Holding a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position
  • Helping celebrities like musicians and actors manage their money
  • Helping businesses determine the value of their organization
  • Performing financial audits to uncover fraud
  • Personal financial planning

Holding a CPA license qualifies an individual to perform the appropriate work for anyone or any business. Filing tax returns doesn’t sound exciting on its own, but it can be interesting when those tax returns belong to interesting and famous people.

3. CPAs can take on more responsibilities than accountants

CPA certification allows an individual to perform more functions than someone with an accounting degree. For example, an accountant can only represent a person or business in an IRS audit if they prepared that entity’s tax return. A CPA can represent any individual or business.

Other duties CPAs can perform that accountants can’t include:

  • Analyzing tax returns and providing advice
  • Prepare an audited financial statement
  • Provide attest services
  • Helping a business make tax decisions

Aside from an increase in earning potential, taking on more responsibilities provides variety and keeps people from getting bored with routine, mundane tasks.

4. An increasing demand for CPAs is on the horizon

Along with an increase in CPA exam candidates, an increase in CPA demand is on the horizon. Thanks to the recent quick shift toward online business transactions, people are losing their jobs. To generate income, many are starting their own businesses, which means they’re going to need a CPA.

While businesses can hire bookkeepers and accountants, it makes more sense to fill an accountant position with a CPA-certified professional. With almost no overhead compared to brick-and-mortar organizations, new business owners should be able to budget for a CPA. In fact, if they hire a CPA before launching their business, they’ll probably end up with a more efficient budget than they could have created on their own.

CPAs are value in a remote work future

CPAs can perform all the duties of an accountant. However, accountants are limited in what they can do for an entity. The rising influx of CPA exam candidates shows that students understand the value of becoming a CPA.

While there will always be people who prefer to pursue an accounting degree, CPAs will dominate the industry in a remote-work-centered world.