License applicants need 150 credit hours to become a CPA in most jurisdictions. Accounting students need to decide how they are going to complete those hours. The laws are written so that accounting majors can choose the path that best meets their interests, career opportunities, and personal goals.

Many public accounting firms will only hire candidates who have a plan to meet the 150-credit-hour requirement, offering a start date after completion of those credits. The firms generally do not require a graduate degree. They simply want candidates to have 150 credits before starting employment.  The traditional option of taking a few years off after earning an undergraduate degree with the plan of returning to graduate school part-time is no longer the best option for CPA candidates.

Here are four options to consider.

Option 1: Earn additional undergraduate credits such as a double major in accounting and finance, double major in accounting and information systems.

Option 2: Earn a master’s degree in accounting, taxation, finance, etc.

Option 3: Earn a master’s degree in business administration.

Option 4: Combine an undergraduate degree in another discipline with an advanced degree with a concentration in accounting or a certificate in accounting.

Which is the best option for you?

Option 1: Many colleges and universities offer qualified students the opportunity to enroll in one or two additional courses per semester at no additional cost. If you decide early in your undergraduate education that accounting is for you, try to plan a schedule of classes for each semester. By taking three to six additional credits each semester for eight semesters, you will be able to earn the 30 additional credits within four years at possibly no additional cost.

Option 2:  If you have a keen interest in accounting, taxation, or finance, the best option is a master’s degree. These degrees consist of 30 credits and focus and expand knowledge in a specific subject area.  Many colleges and universities have developed integrated five year programs that offer candidates the opportunity to earn both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree at the same institution in five years.

Option 3:  If you want to learn about different aspects of business, a master’s in business administration with a concentration in an accounting-related subject might be worth considering. These degrees consist of 30 to 60 credits and will provide a well-rounded business education. The goal of an MBA program is to develop functional knowledge within multiple areas of business. The master’s degree in business administration is commonly preferred for senior-level corporate accounting and finance positions.

Option 4:  Candidates who majored in other disciplines can also earn credits to become eligible to take the CPA Exam. Candidates can choose between a master’s degree in an accounting-related area or an accounting certificate program. The accounting certificate programs usually consist of 30 undergraduate credits in the specific courses required to become a CPA.

Not all states have the same requirements and candidates must know the specific education requirements outlined by the board of accountancy in the jurisdiction for which they are applying.