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CPA vs. CMA: Which Career is Right for You?

Accounting professionals have a lot of career options open to them, making it a versatile, practical discipline within the business world. In general, accountants provide all types of organizations with analysis of performance and a record of activities. They give companies the information they need to make informed and ethical decisions.

There are two main certifications within the accounting profession: certified public accountant (CPA) and certified management accountant (CMA). Several differences exist between these two types of certifications, and depending on your career goals and interests, one may appeal to you over the other. We’ve put together a guide to understanding CPA vs. CMA to help you decide which track is right for you.

CPA vs. CMA Job Descriptions

Certified public accountants work in many different types of industries and offer income tax information for both public and private clients. Many also perform business record-keeping tasks, auditing, and consultant work. In addition, CPAs prepare and analyze financial reports to ensure that companies comply with all federal and state laws. They may oversee budgets and perform financial management tasks. CPAs in a consulting role recommend fiscally advantageous methods that businesses can use to save money and be more efficient.

Certified management accountants, on the other hand, work specifically with a company to advise it on financial matters that affect it as a whole. This is in contrast to CPAs, who work at a more basic level to perform specific accounting tasks. Though CPAs can work for the public, CMAs solely work for private organizations. They serve as in-house consultants in all financial affairs. These professionals also perform control functions and inform decision-makers about the financial situation of the organization. CMAs are sometimes part of executive teams that participate in strategic planning.

Requirements and Certification

To become a CPA, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting. You will also need to pass the four-part CPA exam, which is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

The educational requirements for CMAs are broader. Although you must still hold a bachelor’s degree, you can choose to study disciplines outside of accounting, such as economics or finance. In terms of certification, you will need a GRE or GMAT score in or above the 50th percentile and two years of management accounting experience. This experience must be gained before applying for certification.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to PayScale, the average salary for a CPA is approximately $65,000 per year. CMAs, on the other hand, have an average annual salary of about $50,000.

The employment outlook for accountants of all types is strong. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of jobs for the profession will increase 10% through 2026.

It Starts With Education

Both CPAs and CMAs require a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. The online bachelor’s in accounting program from Concordia University, St. Paul can help you get the credentials you need and prepare for certification. Through the program, you’ll explore a strategic approach to problem solving, as well as industry trends, rules, and regulations. As you learn from faculty who have real-world experience in the accounting field, you will have the flexibility to study when it’s most convenient. In addition, our online program allows you to transfer in up to 90 credits.