As an aspiring or accomplished accountant, you’re no doubt aware of one of the more important licenses available: Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

What you may not know is why you’d need it, when you should get it, or what you need to know to get it. Shaily Verma, PhD, accounting department faculty chair at Capella University, and Sam Sands, licensure consultant at Capella, recently offered answers.

How Can an Accounting Degree and a CPA Work Together?

“A bachelor’s in accounting would qualify someone for an entry level job,” said Verma. That means someone could get a job as a staff accountant or as an accounting specialist supervisor. But to reach higher levels of accounting responsibilities, including completing audits, representing a client in front of the IRS, or acting as an expert witness, a CPA is necessary.

“The CPA is a mark of distinction in today’s competitive employment environment,” said Verma. “Given the corporate scandals and financial crises of recent years, CPAs who can audit and advise companies on how to operate legally are especially in demand, as well as those who work in forensic accounting (accountants who uncover financial crimes within businesses).”

So why not just go straight for the CPA? “It isn’t necessarily required to get an accounting degree before the CPA,” said Sands, “but a bachelor’s in accounting will provide you with a foundation for the CPA exam itself.” This foundation includes fundamental accounting concepts such as budget analysis, investment planning, and internal control audits, plus deep knowledge in emerging areas that impact the profession today, including accounting ethics and international accounting.

Note: It’s important to understand that each state has different licensing requirements, and some states require an undergraduate accounting degree. Part of Sands’ work at Capella is to ensure students identify and have what they need to study for their specific state exams.

How Does a CPA Work with Graduate Accounting Degrees?

Additional credits beyond a bachelor’s degree are required for the CPA, so many students pursue a master’s in accounting as well (a Master of Science or Master of Business Administration). In fact, a master’s degree will help students meet the required number of credits set in most states. Additionally, successfully completing a master’s as part of your CPA preparation will make you more attractive to prospective employers.

A master’s degree would also be required for anyone considering a PhD in Accounting or Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in Accounting. The PhD is often pursued by those who wish to teach at the post-secondary level or conduct research. The DBA is a professional degree, helpful to accountants actively working and/or consulting in the field (many professionals with a DBA also teach). The high levels of practical knowledge gained through these doctoral degrees are designed to develop executive-level leadership.

Are There Other Certifications Important in Accounting?

Verma points to several certifications that can also broaden employment prospects.

  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA): provides more extensive education in accounting and bookkeeping practices, both for bookkeepers and those working in the finance industry.
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA): focuses on the investment world and provides more in-depth training for those professions.
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP): specializes in personal finance, including investments, estate planning, and insurance.

Although none of these certifications will teach basic audit and attestation, they are good ways to expand knowledge and stay current in the finance industry. Additionally, you may be able to earn credit for these certifications, which can save time and money toward earning a degree.


Capella University’s Bachelor of Science in Business Accounting CPA  degree program provides students with deep accounting skills, broad business knowledge, and many of the credits necessary for the CPA exam. This Accounting CPA pathway includes built-in flexibility for students to tailor their program to their state’s requirements.

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