Accounting: Accounting: Training & Continuing Education

"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them," stated Aristotle many centuries ago. In his day, as well as in modern times, experience and education go hand in hand. Becoming an accountant, with the potential of many specialized fields within the financial spectrum, is no exception. This winning combination can begin in high school and continue throughout a working career.

Accounting offers a wide array of business services that include public, management and government accounting, as well as internal auditing. In each of these major fields are specialties that prepare, analyze and verify financial documents in order to provide information to client entities. These environments are not stagnant, are ever evolving and the successful management of these entities requires strong credentials that must be kept current through ongoing education and training.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of accountants and auditor jobs is expected to grow by 22 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average of all occupations. Over this decade more than 279,000 new accounting jobs will be created. However, placement in and development of an accounting career are directly related to the level of education and licensure achieved.

Specialized Education for Accounting

Entry-Level Basics: Today's accountant must have strong business, interpersonal and computer skills with a strong command of information technology to communicate and share data on an "anytime, anywhere" basis. Although bookkeeping and entry level accounting positions may be obtained right out of high school or with an associate degree, most employers require a college education with a bachelor's degree in business, accounting or a related field.

Qualifications identified in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook suggest that some employers prefer applicants with a master's degree in accounting, or with a master's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting.

Any accountant filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is required by law to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). How to Become a CPA : A CPA certification is the most popular designation in accounting and requires licensing by the State Board of Accountancy in which the CPA candidate intends to practice. Most States require CPA candidates to be college graduates. Some States will substitute public accounting experience for a college degree.

As of 2009, 46 States and the District of Columbia required CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework - an additional 30 hours beyond the usual 4-year bachelor's degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only Colorado, California, New Hampshire and Vermont do not require the 150 semester hours.

CPA candidates are required to pass the 4-part Uniform CPA Examination prepared by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The advantage of the "uniform" exam is that it is now a computer-based test that is offered two months out of each quarter at various testing sites throughout the United States, and internationally. Each year, more than half the CPA candidates do not pass all four parts on the first try. However, most States do require that all four sections must be passed within 18 months of passing the first section.

Although the CPA exam is uniform for all States, specific requirements are not. Therefore, CPA candidates should apply through the Board of Accountancy in the State in which they will practice. Information on CPA licensure requirements by State may be obtained from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).

Continuing Professional Education for the CPA

CPA licensure is not for life, but requires periodic renewal - some States are annual, others are for a two or three year period. All license renewals require State-defined criteria which include continuing professional education (CPE) credits. CPE courses and providers should have the following features:

  • Be compliant with NASBA and AICPA standards
  • Be versatile in offerings, to enhance preferred interests
  • Be approved by the individual State Board of Accountancy
  • Be written by someone with experience in the field
  • Be prompt with grading and certificates

CPE providers charge a fee for courses and/or testing. A CPE provider may offer free CPE courses under specific circumstances. For instance:

  • In return for listing with them for employment purposes
  • In return for feedback regarding a pilot course
  • The course is free, but the provider charges fees for testing or grading
  • One free course to encourage sign up for other courses

Always verify that a course is Board approved and meets NASBA/AICPA standards.

Where to Acquire Specialized Accounting Education

A CPA certification is required and regulated by State law. However, professional certifications other than CPA often provide advantages to accountants or auditors in their career paths. Certifications can attest to professional competence in a specialized field. Some designations, such as Forensic Certified Public Accountant, require an initial CPA designation and licensure before the additional education and certification in forensic accounting is approved to practice as a FCPA.

Below is a list of specialty accounting designations, and the professional society that sponsors the certification and links to Websites for application and certification requirements for education, course offerings, fees, and testing. These certifications renew periodically and require CPE and often membership in the sponsoring organization.

A background in accounting offers competitive salaries and long-term growth potential no matter where one's career leads. Tomorrow's accountant will need a national and global perspective as well as disciplined education and specialized certifications.

As noted in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook, "Regardless of qualifications, competition will remain keen for the most prestigious jobs in major accounting and business firms."