Most public accountants operate their own businesses or work for public accounting firms, where they perform a wide range of accounting services. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects job opportunities to be favorable through at least 2018, particularly for certified public accountants (CPAs). These accountants typically need a certain level of education beyond high school to qualify for professional certification. Aspiring CPAs must pass a national exam and meet any other specific requirements of their state.
Accountant Job Requirements
Most accountant jobs, including CPA positions, require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related subject, notes the BLS. However, some individuals with relevant work experience and some graduates of community colleges or business schools eventually advance to an accountant position.
Each state board of accountancy provides licenses for CPAs. Nearly all states require CPA candidates to have completed a bachelor's degree, which normally takes four years. A few states allow work experience in public accounting to substitute for the degree.
Nearly all states require CPA candidates to have completed 150 college credits, which is 30 more than the typical amount required for a bachelor's degree, as reported by the BLS. Many schools offer a five-year program for a combination bachelor's and master's degree that meets this requirement. A student might obtain a master's degree in accounting or in business administration with an emphasis in accounting. Only California, Colorado, New Hampshire and Vermont do not have this stipulation for public accountant certification, as of 2009.
An example of education requirements for admission to the CPA examination in one state, Ohio, includes a bachelor's degree with 150 semester hours--or 225 quarter hours--of college credits, or a few other options. The candidate may have a bachelor's degree with fewer semester hours or even an associate degree if he scores highly enough on the Graduate Record Examination General Test or the Graduate Management Admission Test. A candidate also is eligible if he has 24 semester hours in business courses other than accounting, along with 30 semester hours in accounting or 24 semester hours aside from principles of accounting. The credits must cover auditing, financial accounting, management accounting, taxation and professional ethics.
Nearly all states require a specified number of continuing education hours for CPA license renewal. Professional associations for accountants sponsor numerous courses and seminars that qualify, according to the BLS.
2016 Salary Information for Accountants and Auditors
Accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $68,150 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, accountants and auditors earned a 25th percentile salary of $53,240, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $90,670, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 1,397,700 people were employed in the U.S. as accountants and auditors.