Top Reasons College Students Should Take the CPA Exam

CPA exam

College students, if you think you should put off taking the CPA exam for a few years, think again!  

Like many certifications and degrees, the certified public accountant (CPA) designation is so much more than just letters after a name or a piece of paper you can frame. It’s a marker of your competence and knowledge set, your ticket to professional success. Passing the exam is not easy, but the payoffs are enormous: Not only can you earn a progressively higher CPA salary, but you will also open more doors to career advancement.

College is the perfect time to prepare for and take this rigorous exam. I can offer 11 reasons why college students should start working toward the CPA exam now and take it within a year or two of graduation. Here are the first five reasons, and I’ll share another six in an upcoming blog post.

1. You can take advantage of school resources 

When you’re in college, you have access to an entire support network that won’t be so readily available after graduation. Most academic accounting departments offer free seminars, review courses and other tools to help you prepare and pass the exam. Some of your peers will be sitting for the exam as well, so you’ll benefit from the mutual encouragement and various study groups on campus. Since the test is so comprehensive and difficult to pass, you’ll need all the resources and support you can get!

2. You have the time and knowledge to prepare (and pass)

It takes hundreds of hours to prepare for the CPA exam, and chances are that your schedule will never be as free and flexible as it is now. Once you begin working full-time, you’ll find that the demands of a full-time job will restrict your free time considerably. And if you get married and start a family, you’ll have even less time to study.

As a student, you’re already absorbing, processing and analyzing vast amounts of information, and you’re used to preparing for and taking exams. In addition, studying for the CPA is a good complement to all the accounting principles, reporting standards, regulations and concepts you’re already learning. Yes, it’s time-consuming to study for this major exam in addition to all the other tests you have to take, but your last year of college and first year of employment is the optimal time to work toward this certification.

Although the requirements vary, most states require test takers to have a minimum of 150 semester hours of education. The experience requirement varies even more, ranging from one year of internship/volunteering to two years of public accounting employment or three years in private or government accounting. See the specific requirement for your state or territory for more details.

3. As college students, you qualify for financial support

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), together with Accountemps, offers scholarships each year to outstanding students who plan to pursue a CPA licensure. In order to qualify, you have to be an AICPA member, be enrolled full-time at an accredited U.S. college of university at the undergraduate or master’s level, have at least a 3.0 GPA, and have satisfactorily completed six semesters in an accounting-related major.

Graduate students without business degrees are eligible for funding through the AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship. The AICPA also offers scholarships for minority students and transfer students. The American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants has financial assistance programs for promising students who pursue the CPA credential. Also check your state’s CPA society for more scholarship opportunities.

4. Passing the CPA exam maximizes your marketability

Not all accounting jobs call for a certification, but many of the mid-level positions and most of the upper-level ones either prefer or require this accreditation — and pay a commensurate CPA salary for new hires. Passing the exam makes you more attractive to hiring managers than if you had just a bachelor's in accounting or finance.

The demand for certain skills is so great that top firms are upping their efforts to fill open positions, and three of the top five most in-demand majors just happen to be finance, accounting and business administration/management. To increase your chances of scoring a good job right out of school, make sure you’re on the CPA licensure trajectory.

According to Bryce Welker, founder of, “All the hard work, sacrifice and sweat I put into passing the CPA exam seems trivial compared with the many benefits it’s produced. It has landed me multiple job offers from both private and public companies, as well as given me new opportunities that I couldn’t even fathom just a few short months ago.”

5. Being a CPA qualifies you for the most in-demand finance jobs

An increasing number of baby boomer financial professionals are retiring or preparing to retire. This increases demand for people who have the skills to fill the key roles the boomers are vacating. The fact that this turnover is coming at the same time that accounting and finance firms are attempting to build their businesses makes professionals with in-depth knowledge in such areas as Sarbanes-Oxley provisions, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) guidelines and generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in even greater demand, according to Robert Half's Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance.

A CPA certification qualifies you for many of these hot jobs we've listed in our Accounting Job Search, as well as boosts your starting salary.

This article was originally published in New Accountant Magazine and adapted for the Accountemps blog.

More on the CPA exam 

Ready for the next six? Read Six More Reasons College Students Should Take the CPA Exam and, as a bonus, 4 Things to Know about the Uniform CPA Exam.