Keep Your Eye on the Prize: Pursuing the CPA

By Ronald J. Strauss, CPA, and Steven R. Markoff, CPA - Montclair State University – March 14, 2016
Keep Your Eye on the Prize: Pursuing the CPA

Imagine being an accountant for Usher, Adele or the New Jersey Devils, or being on the accounting staff at Google, Disney or one of the accounting firms in our area. This wide variety of career options is available for those interested in being a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Across industries, governments and geographies, from start-ups to behemoths, the employment and career options that CPAs enjoy are boundless and never have been more abundant. But to get involved, it all begins with taking and passing the CPA exam and earning the CPA license after graduating college.

Our Professional Journeys

Firstly, we want to explain that both of us, with a combined career span of several decades, are CPAs with extensive accounting and business experience. We have enjoyed many opportunities, as well as personal and professional growth, made possible by our CPA license. Today, we are both university professors and are very pleased to share our thoughts on the importance of earning the CPA license.

Studying for the CPA Exam

Although students and graduates will need to devote substantial time to studying for the CPA exam, which can clearly compete with other priorities, our view is quite clear: This investment of time is overwhelmingly worth it. The payback will last a lifetime and provide both personal and professional fulfillment.

The key areas that are most important to new graduates are:

  • Job acquisition
  • Promotions and career progression
  • Credibility in the business/financial world
  • Financial rewards

Job Acquisition

Undergraduate- and graduate-level students are enrolling in accounting programs at an increasing rate. Companies are hiring accounting graduates at higher rates, but the competition for those who are looking for their first job out of college is fierce.

Employers look favorably upon candidates who have made progress towards passing the CPA exam. Be it completing the 150- credit-hour requirement, enrolling in a CPA review course, or having passed one or more parts of the exam, employers take extra notice of new accounting graduates who take specific steps immediately upon graduation towards passing the CPA exam.

Promotions and Career Progression

For many companies and public accounting firms that employ accounting graduates, employees who have passed the CPA exam are more likely to get promoted. In many firms, passing the CPA exam is a necessity to get promoted to the position of senior accountant. The CPA credential opens up many more alternatives for individuals who want to explore their career options. Whether seeking to advance in a firm, competing for a position in another firm or company, the CPA license is a door opener that enables career options and creates opportunities for branching out in a variety of directions.

Credibility in the Business/Financial World

The deep educational background and knowledge that one needs to pass the CPA exam is excellent preparation for a wide variety of accounting jobs ranging from tax preparer, to controller of a company or a municipality, to auditor, or credit analyst.

Accounting is the language of business. This foundation in accounting brings enormous knowledge and skill to most aspects of the business world. An individual who has the CPA credential is licensed by the state as an accounting expert and has earned a stamp of approval as a professional with specialized and valuable knowledge and expertise. There are important functions in business that only CPAs can perform (such as providing the independent attest function). Additionally, CPAs are bound by a Code of Professional Conduct which establishes a high standard of professionalism that reinforces the reputation and credibility of the profession throughout society. The combination of deep financial knowledge combined with high standards of professional ethics, as well as continuing education requirements, places CPAs in an elite professional group.

Financial Rewards

Being a CPA can result in superior financial rewards. Current estimates are that CPAs earn 15 percent more per year compared to non-CPA accountants, which, over the course of a 40-year career, can add up to more than $1 million in additional income. Many companies award raises that are limited, however, where there is flexibility, CPAs are awarded a significantly higher percentage due to their marketability. The financial impact of having a CPA is measureable and substantial, which is an important factor individuals need to consider when they evaluate whether or not they should earn the CPA license.

Our Second Career

We each earned our CPA license shortly after our college graduation, and during the early years of our careers we worked for public accounting firms. While our specific career paths have differed, the common ground we both share is having been offered more business opportunities because of our CPA license. After the early years in public accounting, we each branched into varying positions including senior accounting roles at companies, controllership consulting roles, sole practitioners and more.

Currently, we are both gratified that we have been able to continue to branch out and leverage our CPA license as we have successfully achieved a goal to become an accounting professor at a leading university. While circumstances vary among various states and universities, having the CPA license was essential to each of us becoming a university professor. Teaching accounting is a significant and rewarding opportunity that, in many cases, is only made available to individuals with the CPA license. We look forward to the road ahead as we continue to educate and inform the next generation of CPAs.


Ron  Strauss

Ron Strauss

Ronald J. Strauss, Ph.D., CPA, is an accounting professor at Montclair State University. He holds a Ph.D. in business/accounting ethics from Rutgers University and has more than 30 years of global business and accounting experience primarily in the financial services industry.
Steven R. Markoff

Steven R. Markoff

Steven R. Markoff, CPA, CMA, CGMA, MBA, is an Instructional Specialist in Managerial and Cost Accounting at Montclair State University. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Lehigh University, and a MBA in Finance from the University of Rochester, Simon School of Management. He has more than 35 years of experience at the international and local levels, as well as on his own account in the areas of accounting, controllership, financial and investment management. He is a noted subject matter expert and speaker.