Are you a high school student curious about resumes? Or the CPA exam? Or the size of your future paycheck? Enter your question below and we’ll have a real-life CPA answer it.
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Jeff Dottl, Chief Financial Officer
I don’t think that completing your Masters without an internship will absolutely kill your chances of employment post-graduation, but it won’t help them much either. When firms (and specifically partners and managers) evaluate potential new hires one question they may ask themselves is, “how much am I going to have to babysit this person?” It is inevitable that you will need assistance once you’re in the workforce because you simply cannot learn everything in school. BUT, when you come out with an understanding of how a firm runs, how the software works that firms use and have experience with applying the principles learned in school to real life situations your resume is much stronger and you can enter the workforce confidently since you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. I had an internship when I was in college and it gave me a great advantage over several peers that started with me that had not been interns. When you are hunting for job offers you want to be able to differentiate yourself from others. Experience can do exactly that.
According to the Robert Half salary guide an employee with the CPA certification is paid, on average, 10% more than their non-CPA peers. This does not mean that everyone that gets their CPA automatically receives a 10% raise, but this is an average. There are many other factors involved such as geographic location, size of firm/company, responsibilities and duties, etc. Non salary benefits are also a big factor in this equation. Items such as vacation time, summer hours, medical coverage, and other non salary benefits can have a big influence on your overall compensation. The base salary of the position is only one piece of the compensation pie.
An Associate degree in business administration is a very good start down the path to becoming a CPA. Depending on the state you wish to earn your CPA the rules and regulations vary. I would encourage you to contact your state CPA society which can be found through the AICPA website here: www.aicpa.org
Generally speaking a CPA license requires 150 semester credit hours of education including a Baccalaureate degree and a required number of semester hours in accounting. A Baccalaureate degree in accounting is recommended since you would be studying the same subject matter that the CPA exam covers.
Heidi Brundage, Technical Manager - Human Capital
Congratulations on your future career! I assure you that no matter which route you take, in a CPA firm, you will have loads of opportunities to build your technical skills and grow both personally and professionally.
The theory goes that the Big 4 pay the highest salaries. In many cases this true, but not always. There are over 14,000 public firms who employ other CPAs. Some of those “other” firms are fierce competitors for good talent and will pay salaries equal to the big firms, if not more.
Money aside, I think it’s great that you are considering what type of firm would best suit your future goals. I started with the Big firms and found the experience to be quite rewarding and educational. Now I work with small and medium-sized firms. In these smaller firms, I see a tremendous sense of family and a wide range of opportunities. In the national firms, you’ll be on a very straight forward path of advancement for the first few years. You’ll probably also specialize in one area of practice (e.g. audit, tax, consulting) and perhaps an industry too (e.g. banking, manufacturing). National firms help you dive deep into a technical area fairly quickly. On the other hand, in smaller firms, you will see more of the business on day 1. The smaller the firm, the more extensive your scope will be. Also, I am told that you’ll have more exposure to your small clients and to the firm owners in smaller firms. Either way, you’ll off to a fantastic start. It’s just that the route will vary. Take at look at this page on the AICPA web site à www.aicpa.org
My advice to you is to meet as many people from the firms you’re pursing as possible. I highly recommend to any accounting student to gather a list of CPA firms in the area in which you hope to live after graduation and start learning about them now. (Thank goodness for the internet!) Ask yourself what is the firm’s reputation on campus? How large is the firm in terms of people and revenue? Do you know anyone from the firm? What type of clients do they serve? What service offerings do they have? What is their mission statement and how does it make you feel? Keep a good list that you can easily reference. Then, as you start to meet people from each firm, keep good notes. Who did you like or with whom did you resonate well? If you visited the office, how did it make you feel? Who made time to speak with you at the firm (e.g. partners, managers, associates, administrative staff)?
As you develop your list over the next few months (or year if you’re going for a 5th year), I think you’ll find that the firm you really want to join will be the one where you feel most comfortable and shares similar values with you. I have a feeling that you’ll be surprised to learn that your ultimate decision will be based on the environment of the specific office of each firm and not necessarily size. Some big firms have a small town feel in a local office. Some medium firms that are located all in one office really feel like a large firm.
When I was interviewing, I only looked at what was the Big 6 at the time (I’m old) and the few firms that had contacted me. If I had it to do all over again, I would have researched all sizes of firms and requested meetings with as many as possible.
You can meet the firms by attending every possible event on campus, requesting office visits/tours or a lunch date, asking your professors and others to introduce you to any CPAs that they know and getting involved with campus organizations that associate with CPA firms, like Beta Alpha Psi, business fraternities, NABA, etc... You could also demonstrate serious initiative by organizing a Meet the Firms night, where CPA firms come to meet accounting students, if your campus doesn’t have such a thing.
I wish you the best of luck in starting on the path that you desire. Remember that no matter what you chose, the CPA profession has awesome potential and that often your best choice of employer comes down to where you feel the most comfortable.
Information on becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the U.S. is available here: www.cpa-exam.org
The first thing you should know is that the AICPA is a voluntary membership organization and does not license CPAs in the U.S. Licenses are granted by the individual states. Once you decide in which state you would like to become licensed, you should contact the State Board of Accountancy in that state for further information on their requirements. You may be requested to send a copy of your university transcripts to that state in order for them to verify your educational qualifications. If applicable, they would then tell you what additional courses you need to complete before you would be permitted to sit for the CPA Exam. It is possible that you would be able to complete those courses in the country where you are located. For contact information on each of the State Boards of Accountancy, go to: www.nasba.org
Once your educational qualifications meet the requirements of the state board, you are then eligible to sit for the CPA exam. This exam is primarily offered only in the United States, although there are sites in Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. After passing the exam, and meeting necessary experience or other requirements, the State Board of Accountancy would then issue you a CPA license. Once you have been issued a CPA license, you are eligible for full membership in the AICPA.