Forensic Accountants and Auditors


Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in entering this field, take as many math, accounting, and computer classes as possible in high school. You also should take business classes, because forensic accountants must understand basic business procedures in order to assess business interruption losses. Forensic accountants who eventually form their own accounting firms also will need management and administrative skills. Business classes can offer you a solid foundation in these areas.

Writing, speech, and communication classes are extremely useful courses to take. A forensic accountant's value to clients depends entirely on his or her ability to provide credible reports and convincing testimony for trial. For this reason, forensic accountants must be able to write clear, organized reports. They must be able to speak clearly and audibly in courtrooms. They must appear poised and confident when speaking publicly, and they must be able to convey complicated information in comprehensible language.

Postsecondary Training

Once in college, you should major in accounting or major in business administration with a minor in accounting. Also included in your course of study should be computer classes, as well as English or communication classes.

In the past several years, a few colleges (such as Carlow University, Franklin University, Ohio University, Webster University, and Waynesburg University) have started offering degrees and concentrations in forensic accounting, but most students still prepare for this field by majoring in accounting and learning forensic accounting techniques on the job. Typical classes in a forensic accounting degree program include Fraud Examination, Interviewing Techniques for Fraud Investigation, Legal Elements of Fraud, and Corporate Governance/Internal Control Assessment.

Some organizations prefer to hire accountants with master's degrees in accounting or master's in business administration. So, depending on what company you want to work for, you may need to continue your education beyond the college level.


The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants offers a Fundamentals of Forensic Accounting Certificate Program that features 19 required educational modules. Those who complete the program will receive a basic understanding of the following areas: bankruptcy, insolvency and reorganization, computer forensic analysis, economic damages calculations, family law, financial statement misrepresentation, valuation, and fraud prevention, detection, and response. Contact the institute to learn more. Some colleges and universities, such as Georgetown University, offer undergraduate and graduate certificates in forensic accounting and auditing. 

Other Education or Training

Keeping up with industry trends is key to being a successful accountant and auditor, and many associations require the completion of continuing education (CE) credits as a condition of membership or re-certification. Organizations that provide CE opportunities include the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, National Association of Forensic Accountants, and the National Society of Accountants. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Anyone who is interested in becoming a forensic accountant should first become a certified public accountant (CPA). While it is theoretically possible to practice as a forensic accountant without becoming a CPA, it is extremely unlikely that anyone would succeed in so doing. Clients hire forensic accountants with the idea that they may eventually serve as expert witnesses. A forensic accountant who is not certified could be easily discredited in a trial.

To become a CPA, most states require candidates to have completed 150 credit hours, or the equivalent of a master's degree, in an accounting program of study. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is working to make this a national standard for accounting education as accounting procedures and reporting laws become increasingly more complex. Candidates for the credential also must pass the Uniform CPA Examination, which is developed by the AICPA. Finally, many states require candidates to have a certain amount of professional experience (usually at least two years) to qualify for certification. Most states also require CPAs to earn about 40 hours of continuing education each year.

AICPA members who have valid CPA certificates may also earn the following specialty designations: certified in financial forensics, accredited in business valuation, certified information technology professional, certified in entity and intangible valuations, certified in the valuation of financial instruments, and personal financial specialist.

A CPA who has gained some experience should consider becoming a certified fraud examiner (CFE). Forensic accountants and fraud examiners use many of the same skills. In fact, the titles are sometimes used interchangeably, although, according to the National Association of Forensic Accountants (NAFA), fraud examiners are more often concerned with developing procedures and implementing measures to prevent fraud. However, the two areas are not mutually exclusive; many forensic accountants also work as fraud examiners and vice versa. To gain the CFE designation, a CPA must meet certain educational and professional experience requirements and pass the Uniform CFE Examination, which is administered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. The designation can help forensic accountants establish their credibility as expert witnesses. CFE's must complete a certain amount of continuing education classes each year.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Completion of at least one internship in college is highly recommended to prepare for entry-level accounting and auditing positions. Most people spend several years working as general accountants and auditors before obtaining enough experience to specialize in forensic accounting and auditing.

Forensic accountants are the sleuths of the financial world. Consequently, they must be curious and dogged in their pursuit of answers. They must have exceptional attention to detail and be capable of intense concentration. Like every professional involved within the judicial system, forensic accountants and auditors are frequently subject to abrupt schedule changes, so they also should be able to work under stressful conditions and meet exceptionally tight deadlines. They also must have excellent communication skills and be poised and confident.