How to Become a CPA - Career Guide & Jobs


Are you interested in an office-based career that involves preparing complex reports and advising others? Do you have an interest in financial auditing and compliance? If so, a career as a CPA is worth considering. Here's a quick summary of what this career can offer:


• Excellent level of pay

• Long hours with very detail-oriented work

• Opportunity to apply your skills in financial compliance

• Outstanding opportunities for career development


If you want to know more about the ins and outs of this career, then read on; we’ll fill you in on the details, including an overview of what these accountants do, how much they can earn, and what you’ll need to qualify!



Education Needed to Become a CPA



To become a CPA in Canada, you first need to have an undergraduate degree. Your degree can be in any field, although a degree in Accounting, Finance or Business will give you an advantage, as they are likely to include all of your pre-requisites.


If your degree does not include the pre-requisite coursework, you can either pursue it at an accredited post-secondary institution, or you can take it through your local CPA Association’s PREP course, which takes around 2 years to complete on a part-time basis. 


United States:


The educational prerequisite to qualify for the CPA credential in the United States vary by state, although the typical qualification is having a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university (or an equivalent degree as determined by an independent evaluation agency).


Although most state CPA associations don't specify that your degree needs to be in a certain field, a degree in Accounting, Finance or Business will be the most to a career as a CPA. 





What is a CPA? 

Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) - Canada: 


The CPA designation is the new standard for professional accounting in Canada. The Chartered Professional Accountant credential represents the highest level of integrated accounting and strategic management experience. CPA’s have competencies in financial reporting, audit, taxation, management accounting, finance and strategy.



Certified Public Accountant (CPA) - United States:


A 'CPA' is a public accountant that's met certain academic and professional standards. CPAs are skilled in areas such as financial accounting and reporting, management accounting, financial analysis and treasury/cash management.



Certification for Becoming a CPA



To become a CPA in Canada, you first need to have an undergraduate degree. Your degree can be in any field, although a degree in Accounting, Finance or Business will give you an advantage, as they are likely to include all of your pre-requisites.


If your degree does not include the pre-requisite coursework, you can either pursue it at an accredited post-secondary institution, or you can take it through your local CPA Association’s PREP course, which takes around 2 years to complete on a part-time basis. To become a CPA in Canada, you also need to complete 30 months of practical work experience, and pass a series of qualifying exams.



United States:


To become a CPA in the United States, you must meet requirements that are set out by your state’s Board of Accountancy, which may differ from state to state.


Almost all states require CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework to be certified, which is 30 hours more than the usual 4-year bachelor’s degree. Many schools offer a 5-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree to meet the 150-hour requirement, but a master’s degree is not required.


Becoming a CPA in the United States also requires passing a national exam and meeting other state requirements, which may include completing a certain number of professional working hours. 


All states use the four-part Uniform CPA Examination from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). CPA candidates do not have to pass all four parts at once, but most states require that they pass all four parts within 18 months of successfully completing their first part.



CPA - General Job Description 

Chartered Professional Accountant (Canada):


CPAs are generally responsible for providing clients or management with trustworthy information concerning financial records and reports. Chartered Professional Accountants generally play a strategic role by providing professional advice, with the ultimate goal of maximizing profits while simultaneously ensuring proper financial reporting and adherence to all relevant legislation.



Certified Public Accountant (United States):


In general, certified public accountants are responsible for preparing and analyzing financial reports for individuals and companies. This usually involves performing such duties as conducting internal or external audits, reviewing financial statements, and they may represent clients before the IRS.



Typical Duties of the Job

Although the specific responsibilities will vary from job to job, CPAs are generally responsible for some, or all of the following duties:


• Providing individuals, businesses or in-house management with financial information and advice

• Reviewing the company’s financial systems, policies and procedures

• Advising clients on tax planning and tax issues surrounding activities such as acquisitions and mergers

• Preparing budgets and financial forecasts

• Managing junior colleagues and providing guidance

• Detecting and preventing fraud, or actions which may be interpreted as fraud

• Advising clients on bankruptcy or insolvency

• Maintaining accounting records

• May be involved in financial report preparation, such as corporate tax reporting





Traits Needed to Be Successful

To enjoy working as a certified public accountant, or a chartered professional accountant, you need certain personal characteristics and traits, including:


• Aptitude for and interest in numbers, math, and business management

• High ethical standards

• Willingness to work long hours

• Enjoy having clear rules and organized methods to guide work activities

• Enjoy working with and completing complex reports

• Enjoy developing innovative solutions to problems

• Enjoy advising others in an area in which you are knowledgeable



Crucial Skills to Have

While being able to work with numbers is important, you don't need advanced skills in mathematics to become an accountant with the CPA credential (Canadian or American). Below is an overview of the skills you’ll need to be effective in this profession:


• Knowledge of basic accounting, generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and basic tax principles

• Knowledge of cost accounting

• Knowledge of finance tools, such as discounted cash flow

• A good grounding in economics

• Knowledge in financial compliance 

• Well-versed in areas such as capital investment, operational structuring and foundational risk assessments

• Softer skills such as communication and presentation skills, writing, persuasion and interpersonal skills



Who Employs CPAs?

CPAs may be salaried employees (on a part or full-time basis) or work on a fee-for-service basis for individuals or organizations. They can be employed by a wide variety of organizations, including:


• Businesses

• Governmental agencies

• Non-profit organizations

• Educational institutions

• Management consultant practices

• Corporate and personal tax preparation offices

• Accounting practices

• Self-employment



CPA Average Salary Level

The salary level you could earn as a CPA can vary, depending on the following factors:


• Your level of education

• Your level of experience

• The size and type of your employer

• Your client base (if you’re self-employed)

• The region in which you work


CPA Salary - Canada: According to the 2016 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (themost recent figures available at the time of writing - June 5, 2019), Albertans working in the Accountants occupational group earn an average salary of $75,474 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories. 


CPA Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the Accountants and Auditors occupational group is $63,550 per year. 



Current CPA Job Openings in Your Area

Our job board below has "CPA" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



Similar Occupational Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are professions in our database that are similar in nature to CPA, as they may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities:


• Business Valuator

• Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

• Controller

• Cost Analyst

• Pricing Analyst

• Tax Accountant




Please consult the following resources to learn more about this profession:


Occupations in Alberta:Accountant.” (March 4, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Business & Financial:Accountants and Auditors.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Resource:Become a CPA.” (n.d.). Chartered Professional Accountants Canada website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Become a CPA:Getting Started.” (n.d.). American Institute of CPAs website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.



Scholarships Relevant to Becoming a CPA

Scholarships in our database are sorted by Major Field of Study, rather than by profession. Scholarships found on our Accounting Scholarships page will all be relevant for getting started in this profession.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Pursuing one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant, or a Certified Public Accountant. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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