HomeAccounting Certifications

Accounting Certifications

There are many different accounting certifications to consider.

accounting certifications

If you’re in the business world and want to get to the next level, furthering your education is often a ticket to greater success. With more education, you can add a new area of specialization, enhance your current knowledge, and have an opportunity to meet other professionals and perhaps gain a new perspective on your career path. If you already have a Bachelor of Science, you are qualified to seek out certificate programs that will add credentials to your resume, but also put you on the road towards a Master of Science.

There are many different accounting certifications to consider. Starting at the top is the Certified Public Accountant, which is the gold standard for all accountants. It would be nearly impossible to land a job with one of the Big Four accounting firms without this certification. That is not to say that you can’t have a fruitful career with another certification. Still, it is beneficial to be aware of all the certificates available.

Certificate vs certification


A certificate is awarded by an educational institution, and signifies that a student has satisfactorily completed a given curriculum. Certificate programs can help students prepare for certification exams.


A certification is generally awarded by a trade group after an individual has met certain professional requirements (e.g. earned a specific degree, worked professionally in a given field for a set amount of time, etc.) and passed a certification exam.

In short, a certificate is evidence that someone has completed an educational program, while a certification denotes that someone has met a certain set of professional criteria and/or passed an exam.

Not all programs offered are designed to meet state educator licensing or advancement requirements; however, it may assist candidates in gaining these approvals in their state of residence depending on those requirements. Contact the state board of education in the applicable state(s) for requirements.

Certified Public Accountant

There is no higher certification available to accountants than the CPA. In fact, a CPA is a license and is the only professional license available to accountants. After you achieve a CPA credential, you might find yourself specializing in any number of fields: auditing, fraud examination, forensic accounting, IT, risk management, appraisals, corporate finance and mergers & acquisitions.

Though different states have different criteria, to achieve the level of a Certified Public Accountant, you will need to complete an additional 150 hours of coursework after completing your bachelor’s degree. After you complete the additional coursework, you must pass an examination. Once you have your certificate, you will need to maintain your license with 40 hours of continuing education coursework per year.

The CPA exam covers four areas that are tested individually:

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting
  • Auditing and Attestation
  • Regulation and Ethics
  • Business Environment and Concepts

Many consider the CPA exam to be as difficult and comprehensive as the Bar Exam that lawyers must all pass.

Certified Management Accountant

Though the CPA is the acme of accountancy, the CMA is also a top certificate. CMAs and CPAs have many overlapping duties and skills, and it is not easy to become a CMA.

To become a CMA, you will need a bachelor’s degree, a GRE or GMAT score that is in the top 50th percentile and two years of management accounting experience. Once you have met those standards, you must then join the Institute of Certified Management Accountants and pass their two-part written test. The first part covers these topics: financial reporting, planning, performance and control. The second part covers financial statement analysis, corporate finance, decision analysis, risk management, investment decisions and professional ethics. The test is administered electronically at specified times during the year. You can likely find a qualified testing center near you.

To maintain your certificate, each year the ICMA requires that you complete 30 hours of continuing education, including a minimum of two hours in ethics. These courses can be taken online so you will not need to commute and can integrate the additional learning into your daily routine.

Other Certifications

While the CPA is the certificate that almost all accountants covet, there are many sub-specialties that carry their own certifications. You can have a rich and rewarding career with any one of these and how they align with your particular personal and professional goals.

Certified Internal Auditor

An internal auditor performs vital duties for any organization that needs to stress compliance. Auditors also assess a company’s efficiency and will report to the top executives to give them a granular idea of how the company is operating. Auditors might work for the very company they audit, behind a barrier that ensures that they maintain objectivity in their work.

To become a CIA, you must receive the certificate from the Institute of Internal Auditors. Your eligibility will also hinge on you having a bachelor’s degree. Alternately, you can become eligible with only two years of post-secondary education and five years’ experience in the internal audit field. If you have seven verifiable years of experience in internal audit, you can also qualify for the CIA exam. After you receive the certificate, your number of continuing education hours will be determined according to whether you are active or inactive, practicing or not. However, once you pass the test, you must complete a total of 80 continuing education hours over two years, 40 hours per year starting with the current year.

Certified Fraud Examiner

This specialty is available through the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, who administer the CFE examination. As a CFE, you will be especially qualified to investigate instances of fraud and financial crimes. You will need to complete continuing education hours totaling a minimum of 20 per year. Ten of those hours must directly address fraud and two must concern ethics. If you exceed the 20 hours in a 12-month period, up to 10 of those extra hours can carry over to the next year.

Certified Information Systems Auditors

As a Certified Information Systems Auditor, you will be asked to audit computer systems rather than financial spreadsheets. This is an Information Systems designation that requires that you pass an examination, have at least one year of IS experience, either a two- or four-year degree, and five years of work experience in auditing, computer security or some equivalent. A bachelor’s or master’s degree can offset for one year of work experience, as can two years’ worth of experience as a university instructor in a related field. Note that the ISACA allows applicants to pass their exam prior to fulfilling the experience requirements. When you become a CISA, you will need to continue your education with an annual minimum of 20 continuing professional education hours. The exam will cover five areas:

  • Auditing Information Systems
  • Governing and Managing IT Systems
  • Information Systems Acquisition, Development and Implementation
  • Information Systems Operations, Maintenance, and Support
  • Protection of Information Assets

Accountants make for great CISAs because of their knowledge of business and finance. They are able to bridge the gap between the IT department and the executives, who may not be as familiar with technical jargon or its business implications. A CISA can, for example, assess exactly how a systems flaw can impact the debit column of a corporation’s balance sheets.