One of the biggest obstacles to earning the coveted CPA designation is, of course, the CPA exam. But in many states, to sit for the exam, a candidate has to have 150 credit-hours of education, and in nearly all states, 150 hours are required for licensure. This reality has many candidates considering obtaining a Masters of Accounting (MAcc) degree.

For many, this decision can be a difficult one for both personal and financial reasons. Some may cringe at the thought of going back to school for another 30 credit-hours while others are quite weary of paying upwards of $50,000 for a top-rated Masters in Accounting Program especially if they are already in debt of student loans. In addition, getting a MAcc degree may also lead to opportunity costs if foregoing the first year of paid employment is what is exchanged for the privilege.

The blog, Going Concern, brought up these same objections to pursuing a MAcc in a recent article. There has been quite a bit of discussion lately on this topic regarding whether this route is the most ideal one to take for CPA licensure. However, Id like to offer a more balanced perspective. None of these worst-case scenarios has to be true in your case, just as getting into shape doesn't mean that the only way to do so is by competing in the Ironman Triathlon. Im here to guide you through an option thats rarely mentioned when it comes to obtaining those 150 credit-hours of education. One thats affordable, doable and a great way to balance work, school and life.

There are many easy and affordable routes to obtaining a MAcc from a reputable online school. Online learning has been around for quite some time now, and the benefits of enrolling in a program with an online school are tremendous and have not only changed my life for the better, but have definitely afforded me with the free time and discipline I needed to be a student, employee, mom and wife.

I earned an online MAcc while working full-time and taking care of my family. I also studied for and passed the CPA exam during the MAcc program. Sounds a little crazy now, looking back, but in all honesty the discipline of taking online classes actually reinforced the discipline of studying for the exam. And the flexibility of the online format allowed me to take breaks or dip down to half-time status when I felt I needed extra time for CPA Exam study.

You too can enjoy the flexibility and added discipline of an online MAcc program. At the end of the article, I will provide a step-by-step process for you to put together a CPA Exam / 150-hour game plan for earning CPA licensure. But before that, lets talk about cost, learning experience, and image.

Cost

My MAcc classes (30 credit hours) cost $7,500. That total includes a discount I received for being a U.S. Army veteran. Without the discount, the cost would have been around $16,000, which is still significantly cheaper for a graduate education. There are similarly priced options out there, too.

Learning Experience

I attended the online component of a respectable, bricks-and-mortar nonprofit institution. The best professors I had were professors who also taught in-person at my school or at other schools. I learned through a lot of self-study and a lot of writing. The online program I attended was designed such that, if you turned in all the work especially the weekly discussion board posts and replies, which served as kind of a stand-in for classroom participation you would do just fine. I learned a lot from writing research papers on abstruse accounting topics and I especially enjoyed the Accounting Ethics course I took. Do I wish I would have gone to a fancier school and paid $50,000? Not for a moment!

A note about learning experience for those who need more professor engagement

The program I attended did not provide a lot of engagement with teachers, but I didn't really mind. If you prefer more interaction with professors, shop around until you find an online program that caters to your needs. At my university, I received an excellent level of interaction and mentorship.

Image

In reality, most employers are not going to care much about the school you attended. Other factors such as the quality of your work and even your personality are going to matter much, much more for promotions and opportunities than the campus you graduated from. If, perchance, someone really does seem more concerned about your college name rather than the abilities and effort you bring to the table, you probably dont want to work for that company. And besides, in our profession, we have an ace in the hole the CPA Exam. Passing an exam with a well-deserved reputation for brutal difficulty will instantly make you stand out to potential employers, no matter where you went to school.

Your CPA Licensure / MAcc Gamplan:

Note: The CPA license requires three Es: Education, Experience, and Exam. This article focuses on Education only.

  • Research the very specific education requirements your state has for both sitting for the exam and earning the CPA license. Usually a state requires a certain number of business credits and accounting credits, and the accounting credits are further broken down by specific subjects for instance, there may be at least 6 hours in Audit required, and at least three in Ethics. Write down exactly what your state requires. Note that the great state of Texas does not allow all credits to have been obtained online, but it is the only state to have such a restriction.
  • Research online MAcc programs; create a folder on your computer for the PDFs of the various schools MAcc degree plans. Study each one and compare it to your states requirements. Sometimes there are ambiguities or doubts, e.g., Does this BUSI541 class, Accounting for Decision Making, count as an accounting class? You may have to make some phone calls to your states Board of Accountancy to clear up some of these gray areas.
  • Plan B what if no combination of your Bachelors credits plus a MAcc will meet your states requirements? You may have to earn a MAcc and take an a la carte course or three. This will require more research and planning, and definitely dont be shy keep in touch with your states Board of Accountancy and make sure youre choosing an education plan that will satisfy the requirements for licensure.
  • Schedule your priorities obtaining your CPA license is a priority, and youll need to figure out how to fit it into your life. Where theres a will, theres a way!

I hope I was able to shed some light in giving you another option toward licensure. Good luck in exploring the best option for you to meet the education requirement to become a CPA!

-- Eva A., CPA