What Is Certified Public Accounting?


Public accounting is a career field in accounting in which most individuals have a certified public accountant (CPA) license, which is issued through state accountancy boards. Certified public accounting careers offer great opportunities for individuals who enjoy working with numbers in a business environment.


  • The American Institute for Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is a professional organization that works with state accountancy boards to ensure strong technical skills of public accountants. The AICPA is governed by a board of directors that direct the research and reporting activities of AICPA committees. The committees for the AICPA review all aspects of accounting, audit and finance research and develop the standards by which all certified accountants must adhere.

    While the AICPA creates and reviews the CPA exam, requirements for taking the exam are set by the accountancy boards of each state.

CPA Exam

  • The CPA exam requires four sections to be completed with a passing grade of 75 percent or higher for each section. The test sections include auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting and regulation. The exam is given 8 months out of the year and is only offered in a computerized format. Education and experience requirements must be met and approved by each state accountancy board once the CPA exam is completed by candidates.

Public Accounting

  • Accountants who achieve the CPA license for their state have several career options available to them. Most public accountants work in accounting firms that offer accounting and consulting services to businesses. Public accountants can have several responsibilities working at a public accounting firm; most accountants are assigned clients for whom they complete the majority of accounting functions. Some accountants specialize in certain accounting functions, such as tax, fixed assets or mergers and acquisitions.


  • After the accounting scandals of Enron and Worldcom in 2002, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed requiring publicly held companies to undergo strict audits. Public accounting firms provide audit services for most public companies, using their audit staff to review and examine a company's financial transactions. Auditing is a great opportunity for young CPAs to learn about accounting and how financial information flows through a company.

Government Accounting

  • Some CPAs go into government accounting to provide accounting services to government local municipalities or the federal government. Some federal government agencies like the Congressional Budget Office or the Government Accountability Office rely on CPAs to help audit and account for several aspects of government budgets and spending. Local governments rely on CPAs to help run revenue divisions and tax agencies to ensure all income is accounted for by the local offices.

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