The short answer is yes, you can. It just depends on the type of accountancy you want to work in. If you are more interested in private accountancy such as industry than in working in public accountancy, then you might not be interested in getting a CPA. Although there are certainly advantages to getting your CPA license regardless.

How do I become an accountant?

In order to become an accountant, you need to either complete an accountancy degree or similar qualification, or acquire the knowledge through experience. The latter choice is inadvisable if you wish to work for a company, as they will prefer someone who has been trained and has proof of their knowledge before they will hire them. But if you are starting your own business or starting out as a bookkeeper in a small business, this may be a position that you slowly grow into.

The amount of time it takes to acquire a degree varies from country to country. In the US, this entails a four-year bachelor’s degree in accountancy.  You can also go the extra mile with a master’s degree if you really want to stand out. However, as there are many accountants in the field, it may be worthwhile to acquire some sort of additional specialization certification on top of your bachelor’s degree to ensure you have an extra edge.

What can an accountant do?

Accountants are responsible for balancing financial accounts, performing other types of financial recording keeping and data production. Other tasks commonly performed by accountants include preparing tax returns and financial audits, handling the day-to-day financial records of the company and assisting in budget preparation, among others.

Why would you not want to get a CPA?

If you have just acquired your undergraduate degree in accounting, you might be wondering if it is necessary to go the extra mile and complete your CPA (Certified Public Accountant) examination. Earning your CPA credentials means more time and money dedicated to your education, so you will need to think carefully about the type of accountancy you would like to practice before deciding to take it.

To qualify for the CPA exam, you will need to have 150 college credits. A standard bachelor’s degree amounts to only 120 credits, which means that you will need to gather an extra 30 credits before you can apply. College credits are measured in ‘credit hours’, with 30 credits amounting to one full year of study before you can sit the exam. But passing the exam is not the only requirement for licensure. You will also need to meet the work experience requirements, as well as any age, citizenship or ethics exam or course requirements as well. Once you get your license, you will then need to renew it according to the state’s stipulations. This will also include meeting their continued professional education (CPE) requirements.

So, if you graduate college and find that you would rather jump straight into the working world, that is OK too! It is possible to be an accountant without a CPA.

Before you make this decision, however, it is a good idea to consider the pros and cons of getting your CPA license.

Saves money
Saves times
Avoid the tricky CPA exam
Earn less
Stagnant career
Limited to private accounting
Getting your CPA
Having a respected credential
Qualify for promotions
Earn more
Flexibility and freedom
Job security
Competitve edge
Advanced knowledge and skills
Complete an extra year of study
The CPA exam is difficult

Non-CPA Accountants

If you have a look at online accounting forums you will find countless stories of accountants who have succeeded in their career without a CPA. Sometimes this is because of their exceptional prior work experience, other times it is because they have put a great deal extra effort into advancing their career independently. 

As you may have already heard, the CPA examination is not easy. Consequently, you can also find several accounts from people who have started the CPA exam process and have given up halfway. Many of these individuals suggest that the stress of writing the CPA exam is not worth it. Take their advice with a pinch of salt. Although it is a lot of work, I would argue that education is never a waste of time. 

While some people do become successful accountants without their CPA, there is a slim chance of advancing your career without the certification. It is also worth noting that success without a CPA is only really possible if you want to work in a private firm. If you are interested in public accounting, getting your CPA is probably worth it. Although there are job opportunities for accountants without their CPA (for example, internal auditing or corporate finance), you might find that this is rather limiting in the long run. 

Accountants with a CPA

While you can be an accountant without a CPA, the credential can make possible a host of opportunities for you as a young professional. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants and auditors who have earned their CPAs have the best prospects in the industry. Generally, getting your CPA will set you up for greater success in your career, fast track you to a higher salary, a well-respected position, and more specialized accounting work

With the CPA credential behind your name, you are considered to be among the most trusted accountants in the business. This will give you a competitive edge over accountants without a CPA, as the qualification proves to potential employers that you have up-to-date skills and knowledge. A CPA credential may even open doors to a different sort of career in the future, such as teaching at a college, financial planning, or running a non-profit. 

Read more: What Jobs Can You Get with a CPA?

Forums like Reddit offer first-hand experience from accountants who describe the difficulties associated with forging a career in the field without a CPA. Some individuals find themselves stuck in administrative assistance, tax preparation, or bookkeeping positions. They explain that most companies are unlikely to consider promoting an accountant to the position of Accounting Supervisor if the accountant does not have CPA credentials. If you do have a CPA, however, exciting promotions become within reach. You will also find that your credentials open doors to careers outside of accounting – you could even move up the ranks to CFO (Chief Financial Officer)! 

CPA credentials automatically put you in good stead to earn a much higher salary during your career. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) reports that accountants with a CPA earn a salary 10-15% higher than those without a CPA. CPAs also benefit from greater job security than other accountants. This holds true regardless of the state of the economy. After all, accounting is essential to all businesses and with a CPA you are especially attractive to prospective employers.