How to Become an Accountant
There are specific steps you should take if your goal is to become an accountant. But before any of that comes into play, a good self-assessment is in order. Do you have a fanatical attention to detail, like working with numbers, and count time-management and organization as ingrained traits? Are you a creative thinker? Creativity is not always associated with the field of accounting, but when a client presents a case that is not exactly textbook, you’ve got to be able to apply out-of-the-box thinking.
While not technically required in order to pass the exam for a certified professional accountant (CPA), you will have a hard time getting hired unless you have a post-secondary education that takes the form of a bachelor’s degree in accounting, or something very similar. An accounting major is no easy matter. Most respected institutions require students to complete around 150 undergraduate hours (about 25 more hours than most majors) to earn the degree. Though it is perfectly normal to sit for the CPA exam with only a bachelor’s degree, many students go on to get their master’s degree. The best thing to do is check on the particular requirements in your state.
Find Your Specialty
It might be more accurate to say that you might have to wait for your specialty to find you. The accounting field is so large and riddled with minutia that it is impossible to learn it all. As you progress through your bachelor’s degree, you’ll likely find some classes that interest you more than others. You’ll need to decide whether you want to go into public or corporate accounting. You can also narrow down your interest to taxes, managerial accounting, internal auditing, or a variety of other sub-specialties. The bottom line is that, by the time you graduate, you should have a good idea of where your interest lies.
Accountant or CPA
Simply put, an accountant is someone who works in the field but hasn’t taken or passed the CPA exam yet. The job prospects are good regardless of your choice. Accountants with no CPA certifications often work in the accounting department of a business or corporation. They have not gone through the process (and a daunting process it is) of passing all parts of the CPA exam, or worked a set number of hours under a licensed CPA. There are some things a CPA can do that an accountant cannot. In order to review and sign off on financial statements or represent a client before the IRS, a CPA is needed.
Pass the CPA Exam
The CPA exam is offered during the first two months of each quarter, and typically is taken over the course of several days. As far as certifications go, this one is right up there with the bar exam when it comes to difficulty. There are four parts: Audit and Attestation; Financial Accounting and Reporting; Regulation; Business Environment and Concepts. You can take the parts in any order you like, but after the first is complete, you must take the rest within 18 months. Though expensive to the tune of several thousand dollars, most prospective CPA’s enroll in private test prep courses.
The road to becoming an accountant or CPA is not easy. Nor should it be. This is a highly technical, professional field that is charged with the maintaining the public trust in financial records. Accounting is not a field to undertake lightly, but if you have the aptitude and motivation, go for it!