A certified public accountant (CPA) in today's environment must not only have a high level of technical competence and a sense of commitment to service, but must also have good communications and analytical skills, and the ability to work well with people. Employers are looking for individuals who have the ability to analyze and evaluate complex business problems and the interpersonal skills and maturity to make decisions in a client- and customer-service environment.
To obtain the required body of knowledge and to develop the skills and abilities needed to be successful CPAs, students should complete 150 semester hours of education. Many states/jurisdictions now require or will require 150 semester hours of education for obtaining the CPA certification. Colleges and universities in these states/jurisdictions determine the curriculum for pre-licensure education of CPAs; it typically features a good balance of accounting, business, and general education.
Why an Emphasis on 150 Semester Hours of Education for Aspiring CPAs?
There are a number of reasons why a traditional four-year undergraduate program is no longer adequate for obtaining the requisite knowledge and skills to become a CPA:
- Significant increases in official accounting and auditing pronouncements and the proliferation of new tax laws have expanded the knowledge base that professional practice in accounting requires.
- Business methods have become increasingly complex. The proliferation of regulations from federal, state, and local governments requires well-educated individuals to ensure compliance. Also, improvements in technology have had a major effect on information systems design, internal control procedures, and auditing methods.
- The staffing needs of accounting firms and other employers of CPAs are changing rapidly. With more sophisticated approaches to auditing now in use, and with the increase in business demands for a variety of highly technical accounting services and greater audit efficiency, the requirements for effective professional practice have increased sharply. The demand for a large quantity of people to perform many routine auditing tasks is rapidly diminishing.
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How to Meet the 150-Hour Requirement
Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's and master's degree programs in accounting. To obtain 150 semester hours of education, students do not necessarily have to get a master's degree. They can meet the requirement at the undergraduate level or get a bachelor's degree and take some courses at the graduate level. Students can also choose any of the following:
- Combine an undergraduate accounting degree with a master's degree at the same school or at a different one;
- Combine an undergraduate degree in some other discipline with a master's in accounting or an MBA with a concentration in accounting;
- Enroll in an integrated five-year professional accounting school or program leading to a master's degree in accounting.
In most cases, the additional academic work needed to acquire the technical competence and develop the skills required by today's CPA is best obtained at the graduate level. Graduate-level programs are an excellent way to more fully develop skills such as communication, presentation, and interpersonal relations, and to integrate them with the technical knowledge being acquired.
In addition, it has been shown that students who get a graduate education have a substantially higher rate of success on the Uniform CPA Examination. Further, master's degree holders receive starting salaries that are approximately 10 to 20 percent higher than the starting salaries of those with only bachelor's degrees. Finally, there is evidence that promotions to manager and partner and to corporate managerial positions are increasingly going to individuals with master's degrees.
For these reasons, leading professional organizations such as the AICPA, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, and the Federation of Schools of Accountancy have consistently supported the 150-hour education requirement for entry into the accounting profession.
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States/Jurisdictions That Have the 150-Hour Education Requirement in Effect
Currently, over 40 states have adopted the 150-hour requirement, while the remaining states/jurisdictions continue to work toward adoption.
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