Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in an accounting career, take a strong math and business course load in high school. In particular, you must be very proficient in arithmetic and basic algebra. Familiarity with computers and their applications is equally important. Course work in English and communications will also be beneficial. Be sure to take as many business and accounting classes as possible. It never hurts to learn a foreign language, especially if you plan to work abroad.

Postsecondary Training

Postsecondary training in accounting may be obtained in a wide variety of institutions, such as private business schools, junior colleges, universities, and correspondence schools. A bachelor’s degree with a major in accounting, or a related field such as economics, finance, or business, is highly recommended by professional associations for those entering the field and is required by all states before taking the licensing exam. Large public accounting firms often prefer people with a master’s degree in accounting, taxation, or business, or those who have earned a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting. Accountants also earn master’s degrees in taxation and other specialized fields.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accredits postsecondary accounting and business programs. Visit for a list of accredited programs. Information about accounting education and scholarships for students can be accessed at

Other Education or Training

All accountants find it necessary to continue their study of accounting and related areas in their spare time. Even those who have already obtained college degrees, gained experience, and earned a CPA certificate may spend many hours studying to keep up with new industry developments. Thousands of practicing accountants enroll in formal courses offered by universities and professional associations to specialize in certain areas of accounting, broaden or update their professional skills, and become eligible for advancement and promotion.

Many professional accounting associations offer continuing-education opportunities. The AICPA, for example, provides webinars, self-study programs, and seminars at educational conferences. Topics include accounting industry trends, financial reporting, analytical procedures, and technology. 

Other organizations that provide continuing education include the Association for Computers & Taxation, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, Association of Financial Professionals, Association of Government Accountants, CFA Institute, Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, Financial Executives International, Institute of Management Accountants, Institute for Professionals in Taxation, ISACA, National Association of Corporate Treasurers, National Association of Enrolled Agents, National Association of Tax Professionals, National Society of Accountants, and the Tax Executives Institute. Contact these organizations for more information.

Tax service firms offer classes explaining tax preparation to both professionals and individual taxpayers, and accounting firms and other employers often provide in-house continuing-education resources.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

A large percentage of all accountants are certified. Certified public accountants (CPAs) must pass a qualifying examination and hold a certificate issued by the state in which they want to practice. The Uniform CPA Examination, which is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), is used by all states. Nearly all states require at least two years of public accounting experience or the equivalent before a CPA certificate can be earned.

In most states, a college degree is required for admission to the CPA examinations; a few states allow candidates to substitute years of public accounting experience for the college degree requirement. Currently, nearly all states and the District of Columbia require CPA candidates to have 150 hours of education, which represents an additional 30 hours beyond the standard bachelor’s degree requirement. (Check with the AICPA or your state accounting association for information on requirements in your state.) These criteria can be met by combining an undergraduate accounting program with graduate study or by participating in an integrated five-year professional accounting program. You can obtain information from your state board of accountancy or check out the AICPA Web site to read about new regulations and review last year’s exam.

The AICPA offers other credentialing programs (involving a test and additional requirements) for members with valid CPA certificates. These designations include accredited in business valuation, certified in financial forensics, certified information technology professional, and personal financial specialist. These credentials indicate that a CPA has developed skills in nontraditional areas in which accountants are starting to play larger roles.

Additional certifications are provided by

  • Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (accredited business accountant, accredited tax preparer, accredited tax advisor, and accredited retirement advisor)
  • Association of Financial Professionals (certified treasury professional)
  • Association of Government Accountants (certified government financial manager)
  • CFA Institute (chartered financial analyst)
  • Institute for Professionals in Taxation (certified member of the institute)
  • Institute of Management Accountants (certified management accountant, certified financial manager)

Contact these organizations for more information about certification requirements.

Accountants who work as tax preparers must be licensed. Licensing requirements for tax preparers vary by state, and you should be sure to find out what requirements there are in the state where you wish to practice.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers an examination for tax preparers. Those who complete the test successfully are called enrolled agents and are entitled to legally represent any taxpayer in any type of audit before the IRS or any state tax board. (Those with five years’ experience working for the IRS as auditors or in higher positions can become enrolled agents without taking the exam.) There are no education or experience requirements for taking the examination, but the questions are roughly equivalent to those asked in a college course. The IRS does not oversee seasonal tax preparers, but local IRS offices may monitor some commercial tax offices. Those who obtain the enrolled agent status must complete 72 hours of continuing education courses every three years.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Completion of at least one internship in college is highly recommended to prepare for entry-level accounting  positions. Specialized positions require 1 to 10 years of additional accounting experience. For example, management accountants need one to two years of accounting experience, and tax accountants need two to five years of general taxation experience. Aspiring financial officers need to obtain up to 10 years of experience in lower-level management positions of increasing responsibility.

To be a successful accountant you will need strong mathematical, analytical, and problem-solving skills. You need to be able to think logically and to interpret facts and figures accurately. Effective oral and written communication skills are essential in working with both clients and management. Since computers are vital to the accounting industry, accountants need to become experts in the use of accounting software and databases. 

Other important skills are attentiveness to detail, patience, and industriousness. Business acumen and the ability to generate clientele are crucial to service-oriented businesses, as are honesty, dedication, and a respect for the work of others.