When it comes to pursuing a career in accounting, students adhere to the
American Institute of CPAs' "Three E's:"
education, examination and experience. As they near graduation, students
begin to prepare for certification exams and look for internship
opportunities that will ready them for the professional world. This page
provides licensing and internship resources, definitions for common
accounting terms and links to organizations that can lead to additional
American Institute of CPAs
(AICPA) is the nationally-recognized Uniform CPA Examination authority,
does not grant licensure. It is the responsibility of
the individual U.S. state and territory accountancy boards to license
qualifying applicants. CPA candidates must complete the licensure
requirements in their state of preferred residence and employment. Below
we have outlined the three major steps an aspiring accountant must take
in their journey toward professional licensure: education, examination
Those interested in accounting can pursue degrees and certificates
from the associate to the doctoral levels.
Accounting Certificates: These are often
post-baccalaureate programs designed for students who are ready to
take licensing exams. Certificate programs add semester or quarter
hours to students' portfolios, bringing the total up to the
150 required to take the CPA exam by most states.
Bachelor's Degrees: According to the
Bureau of Labor Statistics, most employers prefer that potential employees have
least a bachelor's in accounting or a related field. This is
also the lowest degree accounting students can hold if they wish
to become licensed.
Graduate Degrees: Pursuing a graduate-level
accounting degree also qualifies students to take credentialing
exams. Many master's and doctoral programs focus on
accounting theory and research.
Since state CPA education requirements vary, the AICPA recommends
students pursue a
minimum of 150
at the undergraduate or graduate levels of study in order to meet
their state licensing requirements; 30 hours more than a typical
bachelor's program. These extra semester hours can be earned
by taking additional undergraduate, graduate or professional courses
on top of a bachelor's degree. Over 40 states have adopted
this academic benchmark, making the 150 hours a worthwhile
In many states, accountants are not required to be licensed in order
to find employment; holding at least a bachelor's degree in
accounting or a related field often suffices. However, obtaining
Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensing or other professional
credentials can increase employment opportunities and allow
accountants to take on more responsibilities and official tasks than
their uncertified counterparts.
The Uniform CPA Examination is a requirement for prospective
licensed accountants in all states and in some U.S. territories.
Visit your local state accountancy board to sign up for a test date
and refer to the
to find a supervised testing center near you. A partnering
organization, the National Association of State Boards of
Accountancy (NASBA), has created a thorough
for future test-takers. The exam is administered on a computer for
14 hours, spread over two days. Here are the four sections that are
Regulation (REG) – Federal legislation on taxes, accounting
Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) – Global business
workplace, financial valuations and financial reporting technology
Auditing and Attestation (AUD) – The tasks and professional
responsibilities associated with audits, assurance and attestation
Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) – Federal and
international accounting principles, component calculations,
consolidated financial statement preparation
Prospective test-takers can learn about these four sections in depth
by reading the AICPA exam
specifications outline. Once
you're ready to sign up for the exam, find your
state's accountancy board in the database below.
Accounting Licensure & Certification Options
As described earlier,
this is the only licensing track available within the United
States. Those who work as CPAs are required by all states and many
territories to hold this qualification. To earn licensure,
accountants must pass the Uniform CPA examination, gain relevant
work experience and earn 150 semester hours at a college or
Professionals who have at least two years of experience as
management accountants or financial managers are ideal candidates
for this credential. This CMA training program and two-part exam
take 12-36 months to complete.
Information Systems Auditor
This credential is for professionals who wish to specialize in
information auditing control and technology security.
Bachelor's and master's degree holders may be
qualified to earn this certification if they pass the CISA exam
and have 4-5 years of work experience in auditing or IT
Certified Financial Planner
Investments and planning are the areas of expertise for these
certified professionals. The two-part exam is open to management
accountants or financial managers who have two years of
professional experience and a bachelor's degree.
Certified Fraud Examiner
The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners provides accountants
and auditors with the option to specialize in fraud detection and
prevention. Test-takers can either study on their own or enroll in
prep course. The CFE exam is
divided into four sections: Fraud Prevention;
Deterrence, Investigation and Law; Financial Transactions; and
Institute of Internal Auditors
This credentialing agency offers six professional certification
tracks in field specializations like risk management assurance,
government auditing, internal auditing and financial services
auditing. Each exam has its own eligibility requirements and
This last "E" is extremely important and should not be
ignored. It is essential to concurrently fulfill the professional
and education prerequisites, since many states mandate that licensed
accountants have 1-3 years of work experience. These time
requirements vary based on specialization and state of residence.
stipulates one year of public accounting or two years of industry
teaching experience is needed; however,
allows the requirement to be completed by working in government,
industry or public practice settings for a single year. The
following section will help you get familiar with common academic
internship practices and resources.
Internships for Accounting Students
Many colleges and universities include internship experience
requirements within their plans of study and often forge partnerships
with local companies to accept undergraduate interns. Students may also
seek out their own preferred internship site and consult with their
program coordinator to gain approval.
Consider these points while searching for internships:
Can your work in this environment be applied to your educational and
experience requirements for CPA licensure?
Will you get to apply the theories you've learned by performing
relevant tasks in this accounting setting?
Will you gain exposure to relevant business technologies in the field
What types of networking opportunities will you have access to as an
intern for this organization/company?
One of the best ways to gain work experience, which is needed for CPA
licensure and many full-time job applications, is to become an intern.
Whether paid or unpaid, interning with an accounting firm or under a CPA
in a business setting allows students and recent graduates the
opportunity to put what they've learned into practice. The
following are links to websites with job boards dedicated to accounting
Future CPAs may see or hear references to "The Big Four"
while searching for internships. It's no surprise; the Big Four
are the biggest and most widely-known global auditing firms. According
Quartz, "Globally, the Big Four collect two-thirds of the accounting
industry's $165 billion in annual fees." Due to their widespread
prevalence among Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, prospective CPAs
can find a wealth of internship opportunities at the Big Four.
Interns shadow current PwC employees to observe their workday, attend
professional networking events and occasionally travel to
international sites to perform community services as financial
educators. The internship lasts for one semester. PwC pays for
interns' travel, housing and visa expenses.
Deloitte internships are comprised of three main concentrations:
direct work with clients, participation in the National Intern
Conference and collaborative work with a mentorship team. Internships
can last anywhere between 8 weeks to a full semester.
Ernst & Young
The EY internship experience teaches accounting students what it takes
to work for a top accounting firm. Interns are given responsibilities
similar to those given to first year graduates, and they learn to work
together on teams to complete client projects.
Prospective interns are encouraged to drive their own experience with
the Build Your Own Internship Program (BYOIP), allowing students to
choose from advisory, tax or auditing interactions with clients.
The following is a list of terms commonly found in accounting and
business. While the list is not an exhaustive representation of every
word and phrase accountants come across, we've included it with
our resources to give you an idea of what you'll be working with.
Funds to be received and accumulated over a period of time
A document that records business equity, assets and liabilities
Recorded on the right column of accounts; sum received
Recorded on the left column of accounts; amount owed
Also known as "capital"; the value of a company's assets
Total wages earned by an employee before taxes and other deductions
A document detailing a company's financial performance; break even,
gain or loss
Non-physical assets, such as copyrights or trademarks
The accessibility of turning an asset into cash
The profit margin
How much a business pays for a product
Also called a "promissory note"; an assurance in writing that an
amount will be paid on a certain date
A group of two or more business co-owners
Gains that have yet to be cashed in
Earned wages that have yet to be received by an employee
International Financial Reporting Standards
The IFRS Foundation is one of the organizing bodies working to create
an international accounting standard. Professionals can engage with
their industry on an international level by contributing feedback on
the worldwide financial reporting standards developed by IFRS.
Subscribers can take advantage of the newest standards and supporting
documents for £295 each year. Those who want both online and print
access may subscribe for £571 a year.
This is a 14-person, independent department within the IFRS that works
with the global business community to develop accounting standards.
You can register online to attend
for free or download audio recordings of past meetings.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board
This organization oversees financial standards for private sector
business. The public is invited to register for and attend public
meetings in-person or through live web conferences.
National Association of State Boards of Accountancy
This organization serves as a centralized resource on the 55 different
U.S. state and territory accountancy boards. NASBA members gain access
to perks like Uniform CPA Exam study materials, a CPA candidate
database, an accountancy licensing library and many other resources.
These services come at varying price points.
State Boards of Accountancy
The following includes links to boards of accountancy in U.S. states and
select territories. Prospective CPAs should carefully follow their state
board instructions from day one, since these offices set the education,
experience and examination terms unique to your locality. Each board has
its own fees for services like initial licensure, score certification,
license renewal and CPA firm registration.