Charting the CPA Journey: Education, Career Path, and Prospects

Growing up I loved math, working on my own, organizing anything I could get my hands on, taking on extra shifts at work, and taking my time to analyze before I spoke. Now that I am older, I still enjoy these things but I also enjoy spending time to relax, play, and travel. I have been questioning career options since I was in elementary school and I went through phases such as joining law enforcement, becoming a chef and opening my own restaurant, teaching, and becoming a stock day trader.

As I progressed through school and age I ruled many of these out because of lack of skill, dangers involved, pay scale, or high chances of failure. In high school I had the opportunity to take an accounting class and I quickly learned that I loved it. Although I still want to enter into some of the previous careers I decided I would pursue them part time after I followed what I knew I loved and could do.

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I have decided in pursuing a career as a Certified Public Accountant.

Job Description

There are many career paths in the world of accounting, many of which require you to have a CPA license. CPA in itself isn’t a career but rather a title or license given to accountants who have met the requirements. Although there are many paths in the accounting field the one thing that links them together is best stated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019):

Accountants and auditors prepare and examine financial records.

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They ensure that financial records are accurate and that taxes are paid properly and on time. Accountants and auditors assess financial operations and work to help ensure that organizations run efficiently.

This does not cover all of the responsibilities of accountants, however, it summarizes the career well enough to give potential candidates an overview. Like I stated before a CPA, or Certified Public Accountant, is a licensed accountant. Most of the accountants that get their CPA license going into public taxes. They review clients financial paperwork from the year in order to properly prepare their taxes and advise them on how to lower them the following year. These clients could include individuals or businesses of any size. (n.d.) also lists other branches of accounting as management, government, and auditing. Although these typically work for a single client many are required to earn their CPA license as well.

General Career Path

I would like to become a public accountant, so I will be focusing the rest of this paper on that path. When I interviewed Priestly he told me that every job in the tax field required the CPA license, and that those who practice without it usually end up calling in a CPA or getting in trouble with the law. His advice for beginning in the field was to get an internship while I work on the licensing in order to get my foot in the door and show that I have experience with taxes. He also stated that once I received my bachelors I would be able to get a job in a different branch of accounting to gain experience.

The Association of International Certified Public Accountants (n.d.) thoroughly lists the path once an individual received their CPA license. Near the beginning CPAs have the option of becoming a staff auditor, tax staff, or management and consulting staff which requires 1-3 years of experience. With 3-6 years of experience CPAs can replace their staff title with senior. This puts you in charge of the staff, given more say in decisions made, and can give advice to clients.

Following the senior level and with 6 years of experience you can become a manager in the previous job sections. At this level you would be over the seniors and staff, scheduling, typically given larger clients and make many of the decisions. The only thing above this are partners and senior partners. Many CPAs who get to this level stay for life, there are very few positions that open unless the accountant starts their own firm. There are typically 3 partners and one senior partner. Each partner is over a different branch of the firm.

General Education Experience

In order to become an accountant you need to have a bachelor's degree in accounting, although the specialization can vary, or a related degree. According to Priestley (2019), you should work on your CPA requirements as you work through other programs, as most employers don’t look at you until you’re beginning to apply for the certification exams.

The exams require you to have your bachelors degree with specific hours in related studies, which comes from a regular BS in accounting. However, in order to be licensed there are more requirements. According to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (n.d.) for Utah they require the hours for a MS program from an accredited school with a degree in taxation or business administration. They have in depth information as to what hours must go to which classes, however, many schools mix the BS and MS degrees with preparation for the examination.

Average Salary

Salary is very difficult to narrow down, as there are so many job titles and levels in the accounting department, especially with a CPA license. According to Tahiri (2019), “College graduates with accounting degrees average salaries of $50,500 in 2012. However, those who obtained a CPA license had a median salary of $73,800 and top salaries were around $124,000.” The accounting degree is a bachelors, CPA license is usually around the time of a masters degree.

When I asked Priestley (2019) if it was worth it to get a PhD he told me that it wasn’t, unless I wanted to teach at a college level. He also mentioned that many colleges are beginning to lose accounting professors as nobody is taking their place, and that I should think about becoming one. Most college professors also fall within the average range of the accountant as well, but highly depends on experience, the school being taught at, and the department.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) claims that the average growth of occupations is around 7%. The demand for accountants and auditors will increase 3% more than this at 10%. Globalization and more complex tax laws will increase the need for these positions and that those with their CPA license will have an advantage for more desired positions.

While I was working at a tax firm early 2019 I noticed that much of the preparation was done through a program on the computer. I saw an issue that the need for accountants might begin to dwindle as the firm became more efficient. I mentioned this to Priestly (2019) and he stated that the lower end jobs may be replaced, however, it is difficult to replicate decision making and consultation. Programs cannot do these tasks as well as humans, and cannot take human need and situations into account, that they can only advise and give statistical recommendations. This seems to be confirmed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019):

Technological change is expected to affect the role of accountants over the next 10 years. As platforms such as cloud computing become more widespread, some routine accounting tasks may become automated. Although this will allow accountants to become more efficient, this change is not expected to reduce the overall demand for accountants. Instead, with the automation of routine tasks, such as data entry, the advisory and analytical duties of accountants will become more prominent.

Pros and Cons

Just like every other job there are pros and cons to becoming an accountant, or CPA. some of the well known ones are listed by Flavin (2019). Beginning with pros, there is a clear career path and the skills and knowledge required is similar across the board. It is a stable and growing career, like stated in the previous section, accounting is growing at a quicker rate than most other jobs. Potential for professional growth such as licenses. The pay is usually higher than the average salary for the U.S. Accounting is everywhere and you can find a place to work depending on where you want to live, usually. The knowledge gained from this career transfers over into entrepreneurship, and it is more realistic to start your own firm than many other professions.

Cons include, continuing education throughout the career. As tax laws change and licensing changes there will be a constant need to learn and adapt. The work is similar day in and day out. There is a busy season, with a strict deadline. Finally, the work can be stressful as you deal with others finances.

Many of these translate into other jobs, such as stress, deadlines, and busy seasons. However, there are a few that were not listed that Priestly (2019) deemed important to know and even disagrees with some of the ones listed. He listed pros as having flexible schedules as you gain more experience, he believes there is variety in the work as there is always a new issue, a new law, or new clients. Finally, he agrees that there is a clear career path to follow. A few cons he mentioned are the long hours and having to take work home often in order to make deadlines.

Bio of Someone in the Profession

Upon interviewing Kelly Priestley, he gave me a bio which he would like me to use. Priestley (2019):

Kelly is an audit partner with Teuscher Walpole. He is a graduate from Brigham Young University where he received a Master’s degree in accounting with an emphasis in professional accounting. Kelly began his career with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, providing services to large multi-national [sic] and medium sized audit engagements for publicly and privately held businesses. He has serviced clients with annual sales from $100,000 to in excess of $30 billion. He has worked with multiple clients in real estate, manufacturing and distribution, investment management and retail industries.

He is a Certified Public Accountant in Utah, Texas and Alaska. Kelly is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants (UACPA)

When he isn’t working with our clients, Kelly enjoys spending time with his wife and kids, camping, golfing and skiing. He also enjoys relaxing with a good book or movie.

Your “fit” With This Career

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) lists qualities needed in the career as analytical skills, communication skills, detail oriented, math skills, and organizational skills. I believe that I do meet and have demonstrated all of these skills, although I need to work on in person communication skills.


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2019). Accountants and Auditors. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from
  2. Association of International Certified Public Accountants. (n.d.). CPA Career Paths. Retrieved from
  3. (n.d.). Careers in Accounting. Retrieved from
  4. Flavin, B. (2019). 10 Must-Know Pros and Cons of an Accounting Career. Retrieved from
  5. (n.d.). CPA-Accountant: Career Summary, Job Outlook, and Educational Requirements. Retrieved from
  6. National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. (n.d.). Applying for the Uniform CPA Examination. Retrieved from
  7. Tahiri, A. (2019). How Much Do CPAs Make. Retrieved from
  8. Priestly, K. (n.d.). Kelly Priestly, CPA, CVA. Retrieved from Priestly, K. (2019, July 3). Personal Interview.
Cite this page

Charting the CPA Journey: Education, Career Path, and Prospects. (2021, Jan 28). Retrieved from

Charting the CPA Journey: Education, Career Path, and Prospects
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