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ecoming a Certified Public Accountant requires more than just being hired for a job.
Anyone whose primary responsibilities involve recording and reporting financial transactions can call themselves an accountant, because it's not a protected title in most states. Certified Public Accountant (CPA), on the other hand, is protected. Only accountants who complete additional training and hold an active license granted by a state Board of Accountancy can legally call themselves CPAs.
Becoming a CPA in Virginia and elsewhere isn't easy, but the benefits are compelling. First, only Certified Public Accountants can perform audits for publicly traded companies and issue opinions on audited financial statements. CPAs are not only proficient in tax issues but also have expertise in accounting matters such as financial planning and auditing. And second, many public accounting firms won't promote you into management positions or consider you for partner unless you're a CPA. Consequently, CPAs earn substantially more than accountants and bookkeepers. According to the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants' 2019 Salary Insights Report, the average mid-career CPA salary in the U.S. is $122,000 and about $52,000 for non-certified accountants.
Taking the Uniform CPA Examination is generally a smart move. We created this guide to becoming a CPA in Virginia to help you understand those standards to make the best possible decision for your career. It covers the basic CPA requirements in Virginia, how earning an accounting certificate online makes getting certified easier, the benefits of becoming a CPA, and the job outlook for certified accountants in Virginia.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) sums up the benefits of becoming a CPA. According to the BLS, certification "provides an advantage in the job market because it shows professional competence in a specialized field of accounting and auditing." More opportunities are open to Certified Public Accountants, who have the option of working for themselves or public accounting firms, and CPAs earn more. Virginia accountants earn about $70,000 while Virginia CPAs earn $111,000, which is something to keep in mind as you calculate the ROI of fulfilling the CPA requirements in the state.
Demand is also strong for CPAs. There are plenty of jobs for Certified Public Accountants in Virginia and throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. There are many mid-level firms hiring accountants, like Thompson Greenspon and Homes, Lowry, Horn & Johnson in Fairfax and CST Group in Reston, plus Big Four firms including KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Richmond and Deloitte in both Falls Church and McLean.
Before we can answer this question, we need to explain what an accounting certificate is. The University of Virginia's accounting certificate program, which we cover in more detail below, is a post-baccalaureate professional pathway. Students in the program typically have one of two goals. Some come from other fields and want to transition into accountancy careers. Others already have degrees related to accounting and work in accountancy but need to fulfill additional education requirements to qualify to take the CPA exam.
What you can do with an accounting certificate differs depending on which path you take. You can start the process of becoming a CPA with an accounting certificate from UVA. You can also explore the many early-career and mid-career accounting certificate jobs and jobs for accountants in other sectors you can do without a CPA license.
Early-career and entry-level accounting certificate jobs include:
From there, accountancy professionals hold titles like:
After earning an accounting certificate online, you can also work in the finance sector, the second-largest employer of accountants after accountancy. Many accountants work as financial planners, finance operations managers, or financial advisors before advancing into senior-level financial controller positions.
There are jobs for accountants and jobs for CPAs around the state, but compensation varies greatly by region. According to user-reported data published by Indeed, accountants in Virginia earn the most in Alexandria and Arlington, while CPAs in Virginia earn the most in Fairfax and Norfolk. Other salary aggregators like PayScale agree CPA salaries are highest in areas like Virginia Beach, Richmond, Roanoke and Charlottesville (where accountants usually earn between $75,000 and $85,000 regardless of experience or skills) and lower in smaller cities like Lynchburg and Manassas.
Location isn't the only factor to consider when you're looking for CPA jobs in Virginia, however. Where firms go, opportunities follow. McLean has a much smaller population than Richmond, but Deloitte has an outpost in McLean, which means there are higher-paying jobs. Firm size may also influence salary more profoundly than zip code. If you join a small local partnership or regional firm in Fairfax or Norfolk after becoming a CPA, your salary may not reflect the averages associated with these cities.
People assume becoming a CPA in Virginia is a matter of taking and passing the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, but there's a lot more to it than that. The requirements CPAs must meet to attain and maintain licensure include earning a bachelor's degree, completing continuing education hours and accruing work experience. Aspiring CPAs in Virginia must have:
To satisfy this requirement, accounting, business and finance programs must include 24 semester hours of accounting courses focused on auditing, financial accounting, management accounting or cost accounting and taxation, plus an additional 24 credits of business courses. Most undergraduate programs require students to complete 120 credit hours of work to be eligible for graduation. The CPA requirements in Virginia specify that aspiring CPAs must complete 150 semester hours of education, leaving most accountants short. That's where accounting certificate programs come in.
Courses meet the CPA exam requirement only when offered by an accredited college or university recognized by the Virginia Board of Accountancy (VBOA). That doesn't mean you have to earn the required credits in a degree-granting program. Some CPAs enroll in traditional graduate programs and earn master's degrees in the process of fulfilling this requirement. Others get the continuing education hours they need by pursuing accounting certificates. VBOA has recommended changes to the CPA requirements in Virginia that would require candidates to take graduate-level courses like those offered in UVA's accounting certificate program but hasn't mandated any changes to existing requirements.
CPA candidates must show proof of 2,080 hours (or roughly one full-time year) of relevant work experience in academia, government, accountancy or industry when they apply to take the CPA exam. A licensed CPA reviews each candidates' Experience Verification Form to determine if their experience involved demonstrable use of accounting, financial, tax or related skills. Be aware that you can't meet the experience requirement by working as a freelance accountant.
Once you meet these requirements and complete the application process, you can schedule and take the CPA exam. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) launched a continuous testing model in 2020 that lets accountants in Virginia and other states take the exam year-round instead of waiting for specific CPA exam dates. The Virginia CPA exam fee includes a non-refundable $120 application fee plus $224.99 per exam section paid directly to the NASBA.
After taking and passing all four sections of the Uniform CPA exam, accountants still need to pass the AICPA Professional Ethics Exam.
Once you do all that, you can legally call yourself a Certified Public Accountant — for three years. To qualify for renewal at the end of those three years, CPAs must satisfy the state's rolling continuing professional education (CPE) requirements by completing courses and seminars like those offered by the Virginia Society of CPAs. To ensure CPAs keep their licenses up-to-date, the Virginia Board of Accountancy maintains a CPA search portal where anyone can verify an accountant's CPA status.
Applying for and maintaining licensure is relatively straightforward, so let's circle back to the educational requirements CPAs must meet in Virginia.
At first glance, accounting certificate programs do look a lot like degree programs — hence the confusion. Colleges and universities administer accounting certificate programs and those programs include bachelor's-level and master's-level coursework, but don't mistakenly equate the two. An accounting certificate isn't a degree but rather a professional education program designed to enhance students' knowledge and skills.
Students pursuing UVA's accounting certificate online through the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS), for instance, take 30 credits of core classes and electives covering practical topics like:
Accounting certificate programs differ from accounting master's degrees in a few meaningful ways. The audience of certificate programs is broad. UVA's 10-course certificate program is appropriate for aspiring accountants and mid-level accountancy professionals who want to advance in their careers. The range of topics covered is equally broad. The curriculum includes introductory and advanced core and elective options. More importantly, certificate programs tend to be less expensive than master's degree programs — UVA's costs just $15,990 — and accommodate working professionals' needs. SCPS students often work full-time while in the program.
Absolutely, and in more ways than one. We've already shown how becoming a Certified Public Accountant can increase your earning potential, and earning an accounting certificate is a relatively low-cost way to prepare for the CPA exam. What we haven't mentioned yet is the payoff for newcomers to accountancy. Becoming an accountant can boost your lifetime income, whether or not you go on to become a CPA. Median individual income in the United States rose to about $36,000 in 2019. Virginia accountants earn more than $50,000 on average, and those working in cities like Fairfax and Richmond typically make a lot more.
That's excellent ROI for a program that costs less than $20,000, can be completed part-time and online, and can help you advance your career in many different directions. The key to maximizing the value of an accounting certificate is choosing a program from a prestigious university like UVA. Having a CPA license will take you far. Having a CPA plus a certificate from UVA can take you even further.
As a member of the State Authorizations Reciprocity Agreement, the University of Virginia (UVA) is authorized to provide curriculum in a distance learning environment to students located in all states in the United States except for California. (34 CFR 668.43(a)(6)& 34 CFR 668.72(n)).
Upon completion of the Certificate in Accounting, graduates may be eligible for initial professional licensure in another U.S. state by applying to the licensing board or agency in that state.
Please visit the University’s state authorization web pages to make an informed decision regarding which states’ educational requirements for initial licensure are met by this program. (668.43(a)(5) (v)(A) - (C))
Enrolled students who change their current (or mailing) address to a state other than Virginia should update this information immediately in the Student Information System as it may impact their ability to complete internship, practicum, or clinical hours, use Title IV funds, or meet licensure or certification requirements in the new state. (34 CFR 668.402).