Every business, no matter the size and scope, has a financial component. When unpacking the requirements of a company and its monetary health, those businesses can consider a variety of professionals in accounting fields to handle long-term and day-to-day operations. This brings a fundamental question to the conversation; should an accountant holding a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Accounting or a certified personal accountant (CPA) come on board?

While both paths have a similar trajectory, there are notable differences in skill and education requirements that can result in varying responsibilities when individuals with these credentials enter the workforce. To understand the difference between a CPA vs BA in accounting, and to gain an insight into the requirements and capabilities needed to succeed with one or both of these credentials, read on for a comprehensive guide.

What Is a BA in Accounting?

A Bachelor of Arts in Accounting is a four-year undergraduate degree that builds a fundamental understanding of accounting concepts and is an integral step for financial careerists across several disciplines. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that a BA in accounting is synonymous to higher education in general finance and caters to students that hold select qualities such as:

Math skills: Having a keen understanding of finance systems, from software to data documentation, is one of the main components of accounting scopes.

Communication skills: Due to the necessary social nature of finance positions, understanding client needs and personalities is a handy component.

Detail oriented: Use of calculus, statistics, and other equation-based systems is paramount for financial professionals.

Analytical and critical thinking skills: Problem-solving and risk management play important roles in accountant careers, with demands varying based on the client or business in question.

Organizational skills: Maintaining sensitive information for several clients and through multiple financial institutions is often required for more general accounting positions.

While each type or field of accountant has unique deliverables, an all-encompassing skill set that derives from a diverse education is helpful regardless of position. According to Coursera, a BA in accounting can require coursework surrounding the following areas:

  • Principles of accounting
  • Financial and managerial accounting
  • Cost accounting
  • Auditing
  • Federal income taxation
  • Accounting information systems

For more information on careers in this occupational field, please visit the Department of Labor site.

What Is a CPA?

A CPA is professional who holds a bachelor’s degree and is licensed by the state board of accountancy. Essentially, obtaining a CPA license demonstrates the highest level of competence in the field. A CPA is a specialized version of a traditional accounting expert that handles higher-level functions that an organization demands. In addition to needing a bachelor’s degree, a CPA requires additional accreditation for filing certain reports and information, and the role constitutes representation of one entity or organization, whereas a traditional accountant can represent a larger client base.

Accreditations to become a CPA that require additional education can include the following certifications: Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), Certified Financial Forensics (CFF), Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP), and Personal Financial Specialist (PFS).

Select tests are required to become a CPA. The BLS handbook states that the four-part examination proctored by American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) must be completed within 18 months of taking the first section in order to start employment.

In addition, consult the O*NET Online database for a comprehensive list of career outcomes and industry potentials for a CPA.

Do I Need a CPA To Become an Accountant?

In short, you do not need a CPA to become an accountant. While all CPAs are accountants by definition, there are avenues for accounting professionals to take that do not always include CPA licensure.

Both fields have the potential for highly specialized responsibilities. No matter the job outcome, a bachelor's degree in accounting or other relevant financial area is usually required for consideration of any next step after the completion of a degree program. Notably, most CPA career paths are aided with a specialized education that prepares students for any testing and certifications to bolster their skill sets.

Is a CPA the Same as an Accountant?

One major question that surrounds the pursuit of either is: “Is a CPA the same thing as an accountant?”

At the core, several similarities exist between CPAs and those with a BA holding subsequent roles. While they might look different in practice, both positions should have prior knowledge or experience to completing tasks in the following areas:

  • Preparing audit findings lists
  • Collecting and analyzing data surrounding proper use of laws and regulations
  • Speak with company management about regulatory and financial matters
  • Evaluate and appraise financial management systems
  • Discuss asset utilization with management and suggest changes in operations and activities
  • Review accounts and inventories
  • Inspect accounting systems for accuracies, and record transactions based on findings
  • Analyze and prepare accounting records
  • Examine soundness in management practices
  • Check payroll and personal records to ensure policy compliance

Each job is expected to maintain select knowledge sets. Since being technology-savvy is a handy capability, companies seek out the expertise of professionals whose recommended tool usage include:

  • Analytical or scientific software
  • Compliance software
  • Desktop software
  • Database software
  • Tax preparation software
  • Time accounting and project management software
  • Financial analysis software
  • Operating system software

What Is the Difference Between CPA vs BA?

Ultimately, the difference between a BA and a CPA career lies in specialization.

A BA is the education component that provides context, knowledge, and resources for continued licensure and garnering of professional experience for a multitude of careers. Any instruction pursued for a CPA position typically takes place after earning a bachelor’s degree in said field, or in tandem as part of a combined program track, along with additional coursework that a workplace may require for consideration of employment.

For Department of Labor Information regarding this occupational field, consult the BLS handbook.

Resources for Accountant and CPA Positions

At present, financial career holders make up a large, robust community. Any individuals looking to network in their field can consult online databases that connect them to people, opportunities, and resources.

There are several outlets for both positions, with accounting resources available through entities such as:

The American Accounting Association: Established over 108 years ago, the American Accounting Association is a national organization steeped in academia that maintains an authoritative role in connecting professionals across many disciplines.

Additional resources for officially accredited CPA organizations are available through:

  • The Association of International Certified Personal Accountants, a U.S.-based membership association that provides resources for exam information and state-by-state requirements for testing procedures.
  • The American Institute of CPAs® (AICPA) and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants® (CIMA), a membership program committed to providing an international database for certification information and credential holdings.

Overview: CPA vs BA in Accounting

Prospective students may wonder if a CPA or BA in accounting is necessary for their professional path. In the world of finance, well-prepared workers will always be in demand. Using the skill sets higher education provides, along with niche knowledge of a chosen field and the proper credentials, the path to an accounting career or a CPA position starts with obtaining the right tools and education.


Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.

Successful completion of a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting or Master of Accountancy degree program a the University of Arizona Global Campus by itself does not qualify a student to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination. All prospective students should contact individual state boards of accounting for additional information relating to licensure requirements (e.g., education and work experience and any potential restrictions, such as prior criminal convictions) prior to enrolling. A list of state accounting boards is available here: http://www.nasba.org/stateboards. Students seeking licensure or certification in a particular profession should carefully research the requirements prior to enrollment. Requirements vary by state. Prospective students also should regularly review the state’s policies and procedures relating to licensure as those policies are subject to change. The University of Arizona Global Campus does not guarantee that any professional organization will accept a graduate’s application to sit for any exam for the purpose of professional certification and graduates may have to complete additional coursework to be eligible to sit for certain professional certification exams.

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